Tuesday, December 1, 2015

You can fight nature only for so long

Read this:

California's Central Valley is sinking 2" per MONTH, destroying roads and vineyards, canals and buildings. Wow. This is because farmers are drilling ever-deeper wells.  There is a limit--at some point there is no more water and you hit magma. But it is a very serious matter, as it affects the lives of many millions, for their jobs, for their food, for the future of our largest state (economically). We need stronger government; aquifers need to be protected. I do  not believe we have the right to completely destroy a precious resource, to deprive future generations of it. We must be stewards and not rapists.  This is a nightmare that one strong El Nino cannot remediate.

Just as we must pay the price of switching from such heavy dependence on fossil fuels, we must also convert to more water-smart practices, maybe capturing some snowmelt in some different state, to irrigate some other massive valley with good soil. And it wouldn't hurt many of us if there was a little less food available in the US.

And there may be a mass migration from CA resulting from this as well, which could cripple the mighty state. And Oregon and Washington are not prepared for a mass in-migration; Oregon has strict land-control laws and is already unable to provide housing to all at affordable prices.

This photo is of a dead almond orchard in CA:

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Oregon lands five Pinots on Spectator's 2015 best 100 list, and guess what?

Here is Spectator's list. The five Oregon wines are:

#3 - Evening Land 2012 Seven Springs Pinot Noir
#11 - Big Table Farm 2012 Pinot Noir
#14 - Bergstrom 2013 Ribbon Ridge Pinot Noir
#38 - Solena 2012 Grande Cuvee Pinot Noir
#45 - Colene Clemens 2012 Margo Pinot Noir

What we see, first, is that all the wines are Pinot Noirs. I think it's unfortunate that Oregon is best known for that grape, to the exclusion of some wonderful Chardonnays, Rieslings, Pinot Gris, and even (in the southern part of the state, and up near the Gorge and near Walla Walla) Syrahs, Merlots, etc.
The next point is that of that list, only one is what most folks would think of as a prominent, long-standing Pinot label, such as Beaux Freres or Domaine Drouhin, or Dom. Serene, or Ken Wright. Only Bergstrom is that. I barely know Evening Land and Solena, and I don't know Big Table Farm or Colene Clemens, even after 16 years of visiting wineries in the area. Congrats to the lesser-known wineries.
Next up for consideration is the vintage year: Of course some 2012 Oregon Pinots will prevail; it was a magnificent year. But look at Bergstrom's 2013 at #14 on the list! 2013 was a wet, disappointing year, and at Bergstrom they made the tough decision to harvest early, and ended up with this result. Kudos to Oregonian winemakers, who can create great results from mediocre weather. All Pinot enthusiasts need to applaud that kind of risk-taking and skill.
Finally, it must be said that:
a. All wines change, over time, in the bottle. I just finished my last 2009 Tamarack Syrah, which got 94 points Spectator, and it was spent, with no nose, hardly any fruit noticeable, and just not a pleasure to drink. And yet, just four short years ago it was a thing of magic. If Spectator re-sampled its Top 100 list today, I bet more than half of the honored wines would be replaced by something else.
b. Rest assured there are plenty of GREAT Oregon wines in the market, which didn't make this list. Any Top 100 list is going to create catastrophic sins of omission.  But we all love lists, so there you go.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Animals that eat grapes

This article addresses five animals around the world that eat grapes. A lot of grapes. In fact, they can decimate entire crops. The deer I knew about, and in Tuscany we learned why wild boar is on every menu, but baboons?

Pity the poor grape, or, more, the poor grape grower. Around here, it's the deer and birds that cause th
e most trouble. Fighting them is a full-time occupation.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Sparkling wines from England? No--GREAT sparkling wines from England

Read this:

The Romans made wine in southern England, and then it got too cold for winegrapes there, for the past 2000 years. But with climate change, the south of England is warming again, and winegrape growers have moved in with enthusiasm. Even some French Champagne houses are buying land there--is Norway far behind?

Monday, September 21, 2015

Pennsylvania gets part of it right and part of it wrong, in arresting a wine collection's owner

Read this , and then let's talk.

1. Yes, it is illegal in every U.S. state to sell wine to various members of the public, without a license from the applicable state liquor control commission.
2. Yes, it seems that this gentleman knew it was wrong to sell his own wines, and to buy and resell other wines, to many members of the public, without a license.

3. Many owners of fine wine collections will sell or trade bottles amongst themselves, or they will use various auction houses to sell their wines. The law seems to turn a blind eye towards that. I think the problem here was that this gentleman would sell wine to anyone who contacted him--operating more like a wine shop than an occasional seller of personal wine--and this was made worse by his offering to obtain other wines for customers to purchase. But admittedly there is not a lot of distinction between those examples, and it should either all be legal or all be illegal.

4. State liquor laws are insanely antiquated. The three-tier distribution system (maker sells to distributor; distributor sells to retailer; retailers sells to consumer) involves price markups at each sale, and is insanely inefficient. The only reason it exists is the immense lobbying power of the distributors. Also, the law views wine as immoral and sinful, a view I cannot share.

5. Destroying a fine wine collection is nuts.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Why growing vinifera (the classic winegrapes) is wrong:

Check this out:

France uses noxious inorganic chemicals to kill fungal diseases in its famous vineyards. Most non-organic grapegrowers in the US do, also. These chemical sprays kill beneficial insects, worms, etc, and sterilize the soil. Such sprays should be illegal due to the harm they cause to the earth. And now, we see that they injure vineyard workers as well (and in France, many vineyard workers have to wear hazmat suits when they spray the vineyards).

We humans caused this problem: We prevented the classic winegrapes (Vitis vinifera) from evolving over the past five or six millennia. Here's what the grapes want to do: They want to make tasty grapes that are eaten by animals who then move somewhere else and poop out the seeds, which grow into slightly different "children" of the parent grape (just as human kids are different from their parents). The next generation might be better or might be worse. If it's better, then the grape is more likely to succeed. That, in short, is evolution.

But we like the taste of, say, Cab Sauv, so we take cuttings of the vine and root them and plant an identical copy of the parent somewhere else. We don't let the grape continue to evolve defenses against its predators such as fungal diseases. Meanwhile, the fungi continue to evolve, and by now the poor vinifera grapes cannot protect themselves from the fungal attack, and the grapes either die out or the fruit quality suffers.

There are at least a couple of solutions:
1. Make growers use ORGANIC sprays. These are more expensive. But the vineyard owner still has to pay for tractor fuel and labor to apply the spray.

2. Grow modern varieties of grapes (ta-da!). These are crosses of vinifera grapes with other grape species which have wonderful defenses against fungi, so good that in my vineyard in SW Washington, I never have to apply any spray and the grapes are super healthy. If the crossing is done right, you get a vinifera-like flavor that wine lovers want and expect, but you also get disease resistance, earlier ripening, and more cold tolerance. This is the "green" solution; this is the direction we should all head.

(The photo is of a Jupiter grape leafing out at Epona Vineyard in Woodland WA.)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Spring! (early, but we'll take it)

I always try to remember to post a photo of one of my grapes emerging from winter's slumber. This is Jupiter, a superb seedless, oval, purple grape bred by the University of Arkansas. It grows well in the PacNW. It is emerging about 3 weeks early this year, but I think we won't have a late freeze (and it was a very mild winter), so the grape leaves/flowers should be OK.

It does mean we may have an early harvest, though.

More great Spanish Garnachas by Bodega Borsao!

Garnacha is called Grenache in France, and in France it's a common part of the "GSM blend" -  Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre in a Rhone blend wine. In Spain, Garnacha finds a special and perfect combination, where high altitude vineyards enjoy bright sun and cool nights, and the vineyards there are often old vines (a hundred years or more), and as a result the wines are remarkable.

Bodega Borsao is located northwest of Zaragoza (Spain's fifth-largest city), in northern Spain. They make several wonderful Garnachas. I have sold a lot of their Tres Picos Garnacha (in the $12-14 range), but lately I discovered their midpriced Monte Oton Garnacha (which I'm selling for just $8; it is "grown on the windswept slopes of the extinct Moncayo volcano"), and they have a lower-end Garnacha which is sold out here in Oregon presently. All these wines show great purple fruits and are round and smooth, with just enough structure to support a wonderful meal (which should include a red meat, if you eat that way).

We get to visit Bodega Borsao in just a few weeks; can't wait!

Monday, February 2, 2015


Friends, as you know, this is an important question. I've been a wine retailer for eight years now, and approximately 400 of you over that time have bought far more SE Washington wines from me, and other wines (many from Spain and Italy, which easily win the QPR (quality-to-price ratio) contest), compared to our Oregon Pinots. I think for most of you, it's either about the taste, the flavor profile, or the cost, of that wine, and/or you have been frustrated with what you perceive as these traits of Oregon Pinots:

1. They can be inconsistent from bottle to bottle;
2. They mutate, over time, more than any other grape I've known, whipsawing the poor wine lover into fear and indecision;
3. The French like to say (as they have told me, in Burgundy), that Oregon Pinots are good while young but "do they age?"; and
4. They are pretty darn expensive.

Despite all that, you have to admit, as I freely do, that, at their best, they are some of the best wines in the world. And Oregon Pinot is "Portland's Wine," and deserves our attention for that reason also.

I have had an aged Echezeaux (grown next to DRC), sold from under the table to me at a great restaurant in Dijon, and held for a few years, and, when finally opened, it was very good but not as good as the best Oregon Pinots I've had, from the likes of J.K. Carierre, Anderson Family Vineyards, Beaux Freres, Adelsheim, and Domaines Drouhin and Serene (and others; not trying to make an exclusive list here).

Fast forward to J. K. Carriere. Jim Prosser built his winery a few years ago, uphill from Harry's Chehalem landmark; before that, Jim was in the barn at a B&B with a hazelnut orchard near Newberg (with a really cool representation of a viking longboat in the attic). I first learned about Jim when Cliff Anderson, my first (and best) mentor in Willamette Valley grapegrowing and winemaking, sold fruit to him, so I went to taste Jim's wines, and like Cliff, Jim was a real artist. He had some older bottles open for special customers. I wheedled a taste of his 1999 Pinot, and I'm sure glad I did--it was unbelievably great--truly outstanding in about 2004, and it cemented in me an opinion that Jim knew how to make ageworthy Pinots (because that '99 seemed built to last).

Fast forward to 2015. We're selling our city house (having moved to a farm near Woodland WA), and I'm selling some wines at auction, because our new home's cellar (and house) are smaller and we have too much wine. I have been holding a 2002 J.K. Carriere Pinot Noir with a note on the neck saying simply, "Purchased Sept 2004: Keep til 2010; drink by 2020."

If you're paying attention, and if you understand the discussions about Oregon Pinots, you will be wondering, "Can a good Oregon Pinot really last 13 years?" If you really understand Oregon Pinots, you'll know that 2002 was a special year: very good conditions for the fruit, and likely to age well. So, this bottle presented a fair test.

Life with Oregon Pinot Noirs is all about data points, like taking snapshots of a running cheetah. You can talk about the snapshots, but you cannot make too many sweeping conclusions about the "movie," because the data is too varied. Unlike Christophe Baron's marvelous, inexplicably-high pH Syrahs from The Rocks vineyard, which establish their nature early on, and then hold it, only refining and tweaking their upscale flavor profile, the best Oregon Pinots have this mystique in which we don't really know how they will evolve, or whether they will be so subtle that we miss the point, and we don't often know what we'll get when we pull the bottle out. Sometimes, the wines go dumb and just shut down for a while. Enjoying Oregon Pinots takes WORK and a willingness to take risks. It's also an expensive habit, especially when not every bottle is what you hoped for. A good Oregon Pinot is a will-o-the-wisp. You pull the cork and you ask, "what have we here?" and even if you drank its sister yesterday, today its sister may be different. Warmer summers are not necessarily a friend of Pinot Noir, either, though Gamay and Syrah may be creeping northwards. Pinot in Bellingham, anyone? So, even how Pinot grows here is changing.

So, the '02 J.K. Carriere. It was a fascinating bottle to open tonight (with a gorgeous Steelhead, roasted simply with just lemon, salt, and pepper). The first thing I noticed, AT THIRTEEN YEARS OF AGE, was the vibrancy of youthfulness--deep purple color and pleasant purple fruits in the nose.  Game over. A wine past its prime cannot, will not, look young. Without any delay or decant, this wine was energetic and ready to go--first sip was delightful. It didn't change much in the glass, but stayed faithful for a good hour or so: Wonderfully balanced, smooth, just subdued enough to support the food without clamoring for attention, and yet so elegant that through some sense of feigned shyness it drew attention to its excellence. Wow! This bottle, a snapshot in time, was pretty high up on the Pinot Noir quality scale. Vibrant purple fruits! Smoothness! A good finish! It referred not to other wines; it made its own statement. In its way, in its time tonight, it was perfect.

And chalk up one data point for Oregon's excellence in ageworthiness. Say that Oregon Pinots are too spendy (correct). Say that Pinot Noir can be unpredictable or inconsistent (correct). Say that too many wine lovers don't understand or appreciate good Pinot (correct).  Say that California Pinots are quite different (correct, and many prefer them to Oregon Pinots). But tonight, this Pinot was perfect. I just wish I had more of them. If more of them would be like this ;)

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Chateau Pichon Lalande

Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande is my favorite Bordeaux label. A Super-Second Growth (a Second Growth that is widely considered as First-Growth quality), it presents excellent quality for a price, while still high, that is much lower than the price of the First Growths. Thus, it's "Bordeaux QPR" is very good.

For me, Pichon Lalande's characteristic uniqueness includes notes of blackcurrants and violets. Even from an average year, at about 25 years old, a Pichon Lalande recently blew me away as the best old Bordeaux tasted, at one of my Bordeaux tastings. I have sped up my search to find more, ever since that wonderful day.

Excited to visit the winery during our upcoming trip back to Bordeaux. We also get to see the Mouton wine museum, and taste from barrel there. Talk about bucket list!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Tannins in tea and wine - why cheese works with red wine!:

Interesting report from Univ of Minnesota:

Tannins are found throughout the plant world, and at least one of their properties has been known for some time. The word ‘tannin’ is derived from the process of using plant extracts to cure leather (tanning). This highlights one of the principal chemical aspects of tannins – they are highly reactive with proteins. Tannins play an important role in both grapes and wines. In wine, the perception of astringency on the palate is attributed to tannins.  In your mouth they bind with salivary proteins and cause the proteins to precipitate. The end result is that your mouth will lack the lubrication that saliva provides. Thus, astringency caused by tannins are very much a tactile sensation in your mouth. This is why we often will describe the sensation of tannins as silky or rough.

The British learned long-ago that a splash of milk in their black tea can make it more palatable. This works because instead of reacting with the salivary proteins in the mouth, the tannin extracted from the tea leaves reacts with milk protein (casein), resulting in a beverage that is less astringent. The same thing occurs when one consumes red wine with cheese. The proteins in the cheese react with the tannins in the wine, making the wine seem less harsh. Tannins are what make drinking red wine with a high-protein food like steak such an enjoyable experience.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

2011 Alto Cinco Garnacha

Wow! What a great wine, and I am selling it for just $9. Fantastic bouquet including flowers and spices and purple fruits, and great in the mouth. Smoother and more complex than other wines costing four times as much! I am hoping to visit this winery in April this year.

I have sold 33 cases of this wine over the past month. Getting rave reviews from my customers. So glad I found it!

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...