Friday, December 15, 2017

Breaking all the Rules in WA

Great article about the Argentine winemaker at Columbia Crest who makes wines in huge concrete eggs, and leaves the wine on its skins for nine months (9 months! That is quite unusual). And check out the part about the artist's "Lady in Red" paintings-nice!

(photo credit: This image is included in the linked article. I don't know who owns the image. It shows the artist Zimer making a Lady in red mural.)

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The "H" word--and why smart people focus on the wine and what it tastes like, instead of bashing an entire segment of the industry

In wines, "hybrid" has been a bad word. It's a word used by those who want to tar an entire segment of the winemaking industry. It is borne out of wine snobbery. These critics dismiss the idea that a grape, which is bred by crossing a European winegrape with some other (probably American, maybe Asian) grape, cannot make a good wine. Nothing could be further from the truth. And there are good reasons to make these crosses of grapes, which I like to call "modern varieties:" earlier ripening, better disease resistance, and greater resistance to deep freezes. The challenge is to do this in a way that creates interesting flavors which are appreciated by consumers. This challenge has been ongoing for over a century now, as university professors and growers and winemakers have collaborated to breed new grapes and make good wines from these newer varieties.

I cannot count the good wines I've had, made from modern varieties grown in such places as Vermont and Virginia and New Mexico and Montana. I've been growing and testing modern varieties for a long time now, even though I live in vinifera country (SW Washington state, where classic winegrapes are extensively grown).

Hey--we appreciate new varieties of apples (such as Honeycrisp)--why not grapes too?

If you want to be a smarter wine lover, then take each wine on its own merits, and either like it or not, but consider it based on what it is like, not based on whether it is a modern or classical grape variety. Please don't dismiss a huge segment of the industry as no good, when that is clearly untrue.

Enjoy your winesearch!

Here is the article.

Here is a photo of the Epona Vineyard (all modern varieties of grapes) taken a couple of weeks ago, as the vines fell into the slumber of late Fall.

Friday, October 27, 2017

On Farming and Winemaking

 On Farming and Winemaking:

It is said that farmers do not grow plants. They grow dirt. And that is correct. Yes, they tend plants and that is important, but the plants know what to do, and growing plants is secondary to growing good dirt. Our South African Peppadew peppers are still chugging away outside, turning a new set of peppers red every week or so (when I pick and pickle them), laughing at the ridiculous improbability that it is still sunny and warm and dry on October 27??? But it's the dirt--the mix of compost, manure tea, other organic material, and native soil, and sand, and gravel, that makes earthworms and microbes and the peppers' roots happy.  

In the same way, winemakers do not really make wine. Winemakers grow yeast. And if we create a good environment for yeast, they make wine for us. Yes, understanding the chemistry, and intervening in different ways when necessary, are important, but those are secondary to growing yeast. Some winemakers just cut open a yeast packet and dump the yeast on the pomace, thinking the yeast will find their way to the wine and do their job, and in trruth they probably will, but that is like unloading your high school soccer player ten miles away from the game, without having fed him lunch or dinner before the game, and telling him, "Good luck!" I've researched yeast-growing for many years, and have written a pamphlet for winemakers explaining how to treat yeast, and why. If your yeast grow throughout the grape juice rapidly, and start fermenting earlier, then you have just radically reduced the time during which bad things can happen to your wine. 'Nuff said.

​Look for the new wine offer coming soon, and in the meantime please enjoy this truly spectacular Fall!

And to anyone in the ether who may read this: I am a virtual wine retailer (no shop, so low overhead and low prices), and a small commercial winery (Epona brand). If you would like to be added to my email list, please email me at . And there is never an obligation to buy anything. Thank you!

The photo is of the lovely Epona Vineyard this week, near Woodland WA.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Cayuse Bombshell!

Lest you think that Epona Wines are the only ones that have to deal with quality problems from time to time, check out this bombshell from Cayuse, my favorite winery in the entire state of WA: They are pouring out most of their 2015 wines, including the flagship Bionic Frog, the Widowmaker, the Camaspelo and Impulsivo, and many others, due to bad corks. Customers will receive refunds, and Cayuse will make a claim against the cork company. 

This is awful news, a major hit to an industry--those wines have already scored in the high 90s, before bottling. Some cork manufacturer's reputation will take a major (perhaps fatal) hit from this. And Cayuse's reputation will also take a major hit, so I expect them to make a huge claim against the cork company, which could result in litigation.

Awful news. Over the years I've built up a position as a fairly large Cayuse buyer (in the scheme of things--Cayuse starts you out at only one three-pack of wines, and that can grow slowly over time if you stay in the club). 

​We winemakers do our best to maintain quality at every step. The list of times/places where a wine flaw can appear is very long--liiterally thousands of opportunities for a wine to "go wrong," between harvest and the time you pull the cork out. I feel for Christophe Baron and all winemakers today.

FWIW, I use Diem corks, which are processed with superheated steam to drive out the chemical precursors that can cause TCA, or cork taint. They are more expensive, but worth it. I believe in them. So far ;)

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Wine theory for Leon Millot rouge, grown in SW Washington state

Here are my thoughts re my 2017 big red Leon Millot, made in a big red style (I also make it in a deep rose style, off the skins, so the following is regarding its being made on the skins, in a style that ends up similar to Pinot Noir):

1. Harvested on 9-17-17 at 23.3 Brix, which suggests a dry wine at 13% alcohol. pH 3.38 which is very good for Leon (would be higher for a vinifera red). TA = 0.72% (this is from the free run juice after the crusher/destemmer, and before pressing).

2. We added 5% white grapes, just as 5% Viognier is added to Syrah in Europe, to fix the color. I have never had Leon turn "Bricky" when I've added white grapes, and for some reason adding white grapes at that level does not seem to dilute the red color (at least not much, if at all). We used Blattner Epicure, and a little Monastery Muscat. I plan to plant one Lakemont white grape (dependable, heavy yield, fairly neutral flavor, and early ripening), for this purpose in the future, as I'm not sure about putting Muscat into my big red Leon, and I plan to use my Monastery Muscat in a Muscat rose (with Jupiter and NY Muscat, IF we decide to keep those two varieties).

3. I added Pectic Enzyme (to help break down the pulp), and tannin (Leon has little), and Yeast Nutrient (reduces the chance that a yeast will be stressed and produce H2S). Fermented on RC212 (a yeast often used for Pinot Noir, with which I see many similarities with Leon) for 5.5 days. Max temp (on heating pad) was 85F, which many Leon winemakers say is important for color fixing and for correct flavor extraction.  Once it reached 85F, I removed pads and blankets/towels, and it finished at 82F (it generates a lot of heat internally), falling to 78F at the end. RC212 needs 68F or more--always be careful to maintain no cooler than your yeast's minimum operating temp. I also didn't use a red extraction enzyme, because I didn't want to over-extract the herbaceousness in the skins of Leon. Note: Others are more adventurous than I am, with yeast choice and with enzymes; this is a personal preference with no right or wrong answers IMO.

I am devout about making a healthy yeast starter; have never had a long lag phase or a misferment, with my approach. I pitched at noon on 9-18-17 (78F starter, into 65F must), and sometime before 6am on 9-19-17 we had vigorous fermentation and good cap lift on the must. I am pretty sure that if I had just sprinkled yeast over the must, it would not have started ferm that quickly. I want to minimize the lag phase because wild yeasts and spoilage bacteria would eventually overtake the juice if the wine yeast is slow to begin.

4. At 8am on 9-20-17, I pitched MLF (Vineflora Oenos, freeze-dried white clumps--keep it in the deep freezer) on the 2nd day of primary fermentation, at 80F. Read up on the four things that MLF bacteria do not want; my approach works for me and I am reluctant to use a more-exotic MLF culture because (even though other varieties will produce a bit less diacetyl) Oenos is so robust and dependable for me, at least so far.

Leon can have a lot of Malic acid, so you can see a large increase in pH and a large decrease in TA, after MLF, in most years. I'm a bit confused now, because after 3 days (see #5 below) my pH is only slightly higher and TA is also barely higher; this is an odd result, but it might reflect slight differences in wine chemistry between free run juice and post-ferm pressed juice. Perhaps MLF just needs more time. MLF likes at least 65F, so instead of putting the carboys in the 61F cellar now, they are in my 68F garage (which will soon get warmer, with the coming two 80F days). The danger is that those higher temps, with no sulfite in the wine, could cause spoilage issues in the wine--the only protection I have against that, now, is the 13% alcohol in there, and the slight continue outgassing of CO2 from the yeast, which helps. Also, the pH of 3.66 is probably low enough to prevent spoilage in the face of 13% alcohol, but one never knows for sure. I can't add more acid (I would add tartaric, if the wine's TA was too low now) because TA is already 0.76% now, which is a bit high for a big red. I can lower that by about .05% during Cold Stabilization (CS) later, and if MLF is ongoing, that will lower it as well. My best guess is that MLF is only barely through its cycle so far. It can take a week or two even under ideal conditions. I hope to see TA fall to about 0.60-0.65%, before CS, ideally. If it falls more than that, I'll add tartaric to reach 0.60%.

5. Today, after 5.5 days ferm, SG-1000 with good lift of the cap (this sounds like full dryness but I read that there's still 1% of RS or so, at this point, and the still-lifted cap proves that ferm is still ongoing). The skins are a depleted, flat, brownish light purple, and all the pulp is gone, and the seeds are all loose. (The yeasts truly are like sharks). I pressed, using a nylon mesh bag in a sterile bucket, scooping must and wine out of the primary (44 gal white plastic rolling tank) with a plastic pitcher, and pouring it into a mesh bag which was in a bucket, then poured the wine from the bucket through a sterile funnel into the carboys. If it had been much more than 11 gallons of wine, I would use the bladder press. Now, pH is (temp-adjusted) 3.66, and TA is 0.76%

​6. MLF should drop the TA by .15%-.40. I will occasionally retest TA, to see if I can satisfy myself that MLF is done. If my MLF doesn't finish (gets stuck), and if the wine chemistry is good, another advantage of CS (besides lowering the TA) is that at 25F, MLF bacteria are killed. And I can insert a bit more sulfite, on bottling (say, 75ppm rather than 50ppm), to also help guard against MLF restarting in bottle (that's a disaster for flavor; can ruin the wine). ​And carrying the wine a long time in carboys, through next summer, also provides the heat needed for MLF to perhaps restart and finish--another reason not to rush bottling (though I will sulfite once ferm is finished, and that reduces the chance of renewed MLF, but still I've seen it happen, as sulfite levels fall over time inside the carboys). I believe Leon (like apple cider) needs at least a 2 year production cycle, unlike Cayuga which is fine on a one-year cycle.

7. The Leon will get oak (medium toast; I like vanilla flavors) after it's calm and racked off the lees. I might stir the lees a couple of times per week; this can add body/mouthfeel, or maybe more-complex flavors. Lees stirring is called "battonage" ("Baton" is the French word for "stick").


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

now, THAT is a blue grape!

Look how populous my Leon Millot clusters are--with a super-healthy canopy. Don't adjust your monitor--these are blue-skinned grapes. And don't worry-those blue skins, through the mysteries of organic chemistry, indeed make a red red wine. We're only a few weeks away from harvest now, on these. I'm going to make half as a deep red rose, and the other half as a big, ageable, oaked red.

Leon Millot was bred in 1911, in Alsace, by Eugene Kuhlmann. It is early and healthy and productive here. Early enough that I don't have to hang nets and still don't get much bird damage.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Muscat Madness!

One of the more-confusing grapes must be the Muscat varieties. Here is some light shed on it:

1. There are about 200 varieties of Muscat grapes. All are varieties within the species Vitis vinifera.

2. They are white, yellow, pink, blue, and black.

3. It might be the oldest domesticated grape varieties. Nations claiming them include Saudi Arabia, Iran (Persia), and Egypt.

4. Muscats almost always have a strong flowery, musky aroma. (I love it.) This is caused by the presence of more than forty "monoterpenes," including  citronellolgeraniollinalool and nerol. (You will recognize some of those as in such products as citronella candles, or geraniums. Linalool is a terpene found in various strains of marijuana. Nerol is new to me.)

5. Many languages are possible sources of the Muscat name: Persian (muchk), Greek (moskos), Latin (muscus), French (musc), and Italian (mosca, which refers to fruit flies, which are attracted to the grapes' sugar and musky aroma).

6. Here are some of the confusing parts:
a. Vitis rotundifolia (a grape native to the SE United States) is called "muscadines," though they have nothing to do with Muscat grapes.
b. The German winegrape "Morio Muskat" is not in the Muscat grape family.
c. The Bordeaux winegrape "Muscadelle" has strong aromatics and is often confused with Muscat grapes.

7. Muscats have been bred into modern grape varieties, through crosses with native American and Asian grapes. One of the many examples is Muscat of Norway, which some think is really Donskoi, a Russian-bred grape that can ripen in cold climates and thus somehow got named for Norway.

Here is the Wiki article on Muscat grapes.

Pictured is Muscat of Alexandria. (photo credit to Wikipedia)

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Expensive wine tricks our minds into thinking it tastes better

Thanks to Robert for this article.

Not a huge surprise, but research has confirmed that we are wired for wine snobbery: If we are served the same wine twice, but the first time we're told it's $7 and the second time we're told it's $21, guess which one we'll say tastes better?

You know what this means. It means we must work very hard to avoid being tricked into paying too much for wine. This is what I work so hard on--finding great wines at low prices. I think I have lost some customers over the years, who want to pay more for wines than most of the wines I offer. It's sad that they have bought so hard into the myth that most $50 bottles taste far better than most $20 bottles. I sell a few $10 bottles that have won major, major awards over much-more expensive wines. I even found a $7 wine (Chat St Michelle's Dry Riesling) that won Double Gold over wines costing twice as much, five times as much, even TEN TIMES AS MUCH. Just think about that.

Not sure about you, but I have better things to do with my money, than to waste it by overpaying for wines. Train your mind to work for you, not against you!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

More on the Effort to Synthesize Wine in the Lab

Ava Winery studies the many chemicals in wine, and attempts to synthesize fine wine in the lab. So far, their best synth wines cannot fool the wine experts, who find the synth wines "off" in many ways.

Here's the article about it.

As a matter of science fiction, I wouldn't be surprised if someday all our beef, potatoes, and wine came from labs. Chunks of muscle cells can be grown in nutrient-rich tanks; probably potatoes are the same. And once we've mastered the thousands of chemicals in wine, why couldn't you just whistle up a synthetic wine equivalent to a 1948 Lafite?  I'm fully confident that, once the science is fully understood, such wine could be replicated. It could be an exact chemical match for the real thing.

Where would leave our descendants? Imagine a life with no farms, no vineyards. Few people will have to work, either, because most jobs will have been mechanized and humans will be paid a living wage, just for doing nothing.  Would we then turn to artistic and educational pursuits, or would be become even more lazy--perhaps doing little more than living in a virtual reality world where we can be sexy and athletic and wealthy. Maybe our poor health wouldn't matter then, because there would be medical machines to address any health problem. In that faux world, nothing would be real, except for the machines and the machines' products, and the humans so dependent on them.

Friday, August 11, 2017

New potatoes vs D-flawless diamonds

I submit to you the word "fresh." You can be fresh with a girl (though fear not--I am not the type, I hope and think, to get too fresh with a woman, though I am the type to wax reminiscent for a time when "fresh with a girl" meant you tried to hold her hand, and you wanted to kiss her, but she didn't want you to, and so you didn't). But today I refer to "fresh" in regard to potatoes. Who knew? Yes, of course a fresh ripe fig or peach is remarkable (as certainly one cannot find such things in a store). Yet I am here today, my friends, to represent to you that "fresh" has significance even as to the lowly potato. Indeed, my fresh friendly faces, a newly-dug potato, when lovingly parboiled and fried in vegetable oil, with the right spices and care, can turn into something quite extraordinary. Quite extraordinary, indeed. One simply has to imagine Nirvana, and there you are. Why should a potato be considered any more common than a D-flawless diamond? You can't eat a diamond, or at least you should not. You can't fry a diamond, or at least you should not. Diamonds are not made more exquisite with the applicaton of ketchup. And yet one comes out of the ground with a $64,000 price tag, and the other comes out with hardly any value at all. Yet the value-less one giveth all the more pleasure. It yields itself up to instantaneous destruction, to bring you joy--can a diamond do that? In such paradoxy doth life reign. Good night.

PS- 2010 Chateau Caleches de Lanessan.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The major grape species of the world

There are eight major species of grapes in the world, and six are native to the USA:

Europe: Vitis vinifera, to which all the classical wine grapes belong.

Asia: Vitis amurensis.

1. Vitis rotundifolia: Muscadines--large flavorful grapes.  The best-known example is the Scuppernong. There is a Muscadine "mother vine" in North Carolina (see photo) that is hundreds of years old. I've rejected trying to grow these grapes here in the PacNW, as they would be (climatologically) so far from their Southeastern US home.

2. Vitis rupestris: The Sand Grape, it grows in warm prairies and sandy areas such as wet/dry creekbanks, in places like the Ozark hills of Missouri and Arkansas. As it is found principally on riverbanks, our practice of damming and draining wetlands has severely threatened this grape in the US.

3. Vitis mustangensis: The Mustang Grape is found in Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana, and has very acidic juice (acidic enough to burn my lips!).

4. Vitis labrusca: Best known for its varieties Concord and Niagara. This grape is the one used in Welch's grape juice or grape jelly, and its flavor is called "welchy" or "grapey." It does not make good wine.

5. Vitis riparia: The "Frost Grape" grows well in cold climates and is found from New England to Montana to Texas.

6. Vitis aestivalis: Called "bicolor" by grapebreeders due to its leaves' silver-colored undersides. Found from Maine to Florida, to Oklahoma and Texas. This grape is a parent of Norton, one of the best-known winegrapes bred in America, from only American grapes.

All these species of grapes have been bred with Vitis vinifera, to make modern varieties of grapes. The aim of grapebreeding is to create new varieties with the flavor of vinifera and the disease resistance, cold-hardiness and earlier ripening of the US grapes.

Cayuga is a great example. It tastes like a cross between Riesling and Viognier, with a taste profile that is very familiar to vinifera winelovers, and yet it has outstanding disease resistance (never needs antifungal spray) and ripens early, with huge yields of large clusters. It is currently my favorite white winegrape here in SW Washington state. Cayuga is 56% vinifera (including Zinfandel, a red wine grape, oddly enough), and some rupetris and other US varieties. It was bred in 1945 by Univeristy of Cornell at the Finger Lakes, NY, but not released until 1972.

Photo credit: In the article, discussing the above grape species, found here.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Regent Bloom

If you love grapes, you must love grape blooms. One of the world's smallest flowers--so small that the slightest movement of it in the wind is sufficient to pollinate it--no bees or wasps needed (though sometimes they do gather pollen or nectar from grapes).

This is a closeup of a blooming Regent grape. There are five stamens (male), which surround each uva (female)--looking like rays around a little green hill. Once fertilized, the green hill grows into a grape.

You don't have to be big, to be good

OK, that title needs explaining. What it means is: "your business can be small, and still demonstrate high quality."

Now that I see that statement in writing, I think it's a truism. Too obvious to have to write. Heck, a better argument is that once a business gets large, it is more likely to demonstrate LESS quality, not more.

I am moving from bemused to tired, in hearing the first question so often asked by people who find out I have a small vineyard and small commercial winery: "How many acres [of grapes] do you have?" Also popular is, "How many cases [of wine] do you make?"

Don't be those people. They don't mean any ill will, but they just can't think of a better question. We Americans are so conditioned to worry about size, about rank. These folks have no idea how much work it is to care for even a FRACTION of an acre of winegrapes. Especially when those grapes are growing on a 33-degree slope, carefully chosen for its ability to emulate a lower (warmer) latitude. Especially when each vinerow is kept mulched, fed, and weeded, and each aisle is kept mowed (try pushmowing up a 33 degree slope sometime). I'm not trying to be the biggest in anything. I am only trying to be one of the best grapegrowers and vintners in my area who is showing the world what modern grape varieties can do, and why more of us should be growing them and drinking them. That is quite enough of a goal for anybody.

When you root, plant, grow, and care for, each vine by hand, with frequent "touch" throughout the year... when you make wine in small batches, and hand-process it, and hand-bottle it, always striving to learn more, to become better... then you can (or at least might) achieve high quality, regardless of the number of plants you have.

We appreciate "small quality" in various ways, like when a chef leaves her restaurant to cook in your kitchen for you and your friends, or when the local tailor in a tiny shop resizes one of your favorite jackets, by hand, or when you get a handmade Japanese "Santoku" high-carbon steel chef's knife, instead of a mass-produced one. That prized, small-scale quality does not depend on the size of the shop or the number of customers. 

Growing grapes and making wine are no different.

Better questions to ask me would be, "What are you doing that is different, and why are you doing it?"

(photo credit: Crate and Barrel)


Friday, July 14, 2017

More proof that you shouldn't overpay for wine

Check this out. In a blind tasting, a $6 Cab won over all the expensive wines! Not a surprise to me--I always say it is the easiest thing to overpay for a wine--any fool can do it. But why would you? The real skill comes in finding great wines that don't cost much. They exist, in great numbers, and that space is where I can help winelovers a lot. Of course, I can sell the expensive bottles also, and in (some, rare) occasions, those are good to have.

Thanks to Robert for pointing me to this article!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Clark County Fair - Wine Competition

I was chosen to help judge this competition. After growing grapes for 25 years and making wine for 22 years and retailing wine for 10 years, it will be a blast to judge wines!

Update: I judged others' winesm but not mine--I would not ever judge my own wines in a competition--and happy to report I won a blue ribbon (1st place), a red ribbon (2nd place), and a 3rd place ribbon for the three Epona wines I entered.

Monday, June 26, 2017

2016 Rombauer Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc

Wow! This is $20 from me. Might still be available; contact me, to buy some.

I'll start at the end. I had one large glass' worth left over, and stuck the bottle (umpumped; see my earlier posts why that does little good) in the fridge. It sat there for perhaps SIX days before I could get to it. I didn't expect much, but the wine was DIVINE (with grilled tilapia, rosemary-roasted potatoes, and our own snow peas). It had a strong lime note and a hint of stone. Wow!

And it was even better when just uncorked.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

To you gardeners who want to save seed, for replanting next year:

I'm in a grapebreeding group, where there was discussion today about how to make sure a vegetable seed, from a vegetable you're growing this year, will grow true to type next year. A really great answer was posted by Bill S, recently retired from the Univ of Illinois and a very respected expert. Here's what he said:

"Here are some things you need to know about hybrids and heirlooms that might answer some of the questions in this thread. The quote Texas A&M was good, but it may not be clear to everyone. I suspect some of you do know the differences, but here's my explanation.

Some plants are called self-pollinating, and others are cross pollinated. Usually with self-pollinating plants, like tomatoes, its a simple mechanical arrangement. the stamens are attached to inside of the corolla. When the stigma is ready for pollination, the pollen falls out of the corolla onto the stigma. Much of it misses and falls to the ground. In cross-pollinating plants, the pollen moves away from the host plant and fertilizes adjacent plants. In pumpkins, bees do much of the work. In corn, because females parts emerges midway up on the plant, they intercept pollen that falls from above, often from adjacent plants.

So, heirloom varieties are simply old varieties that were passed down, generation to generation. For the most part, they are true to the variety. BUT, when bees visit peppers and tomatoes, they pick up pollen and share the pollen with other plants. Even the wind moves pollen of these plants enough to cause "outcrossing', or unintentional crosses. Ever wonder how so many varieties of heirloom tomatoes were developed. Mostly, it was unintentional. Either by bees working over a garden or by wind moving pollen, crosses were made in "self"-pollinating plants. So when the seed was saved, there were odd plants that emerged. Many gardeners would find this interesting, and save those seeds separately. The original variety is preserved by selecting plants that bore "true-to-type". If you really want to keep an heirloom tomato, true -to-type, bag a couple of clusters of flowers before they open. They will truly self-pollinate and will be true to type.

If you have cross pollinating varieties like corn or pumpkins, you need to manage pollen flow. Heirloom varieties of these crops must be carefully managed to retain their "True-to-type" characteristics, or "wild" pollen will move in and change the variety.

Have you checked to see how many 'Brandywine' varieties there are? Probably dozens. That's because the pollen flow wasn't managed. So Kenton, you should bag a few flowers of your peppadew peppers, jut to be sure. You can self-pollinate them yourself if that helps.

Hybrids, as Texas A&M explains, are a whole different ballgame in annual crops than they are in grapes. You have to create breeding lines that are very homozygous through selfing. You must maintain those lines separate from the hybrid variety production process. Every year, you produce new hybrid variety seed from the breeding line seed you produced the previous year. But these kinds of hybrids are extremely true-to-type. You can find outliers but they need to be less than 0.01%, at the most. The reason they are so true to type is because of the extreme homozygosity of the parent breeding lines.

So heirlooms are easy to mix up. They are "generally" true-to-type, but if you want to keep them that way, protect them from "wild" pollen. I actually have an "heirloom" tomato variety I selected from an outcrossed plant. The parent plant produced several huge (12 oz, mol) fruit. The plant I selected and am trying to purify has 6-8 oz fruit that are very uniform and smooth. Otherwise, they look and taste like the parent plant. If you've grown 'Striped German' or 'Big Rainbow' tomato, you'll know what I have. They are beautiful and tasty. If I succeed, I'll probably try to patent it.

So, I help that helps clear up some confusion as to what constitutes heirlooms, hybrids and heresy.


(photo credit: Bon Appetit. Pictured are Peppadew Peppers.)

How I plant grapes: "Amiel in Cage"

"Amiel in Cage"  -- No, this is not a post about S&M between consenting adults. Amiel is a great white winegrape bred by Valentin Blattner in Switzerland. I am one of the first in the US to be growing it. Cuttings of it, and the other Blattner grapes I'm growing, will be available for purchase in a year or two, but will require a payment of royalty and a strict non-propagaion agreement.

The photo shows what I do, to protect newly-planted grapes from rabbits and deer, while the grape establishes itself.  Bamboo stick holds the cage at the lower part, and I also attach the top of the cage to the lower trellis wire... The cage is 2' hi and an 8-10" diameter is perfect. Keep the cage easy to open cuz for removal u can't lift it up off the grape, like u can for a fruit tree (because the grape will have permanent cordons (arms).

Grow tubes also work but it's a myth that they help grapes grow faster. I don't mess with them. Why buy plastic when you don't have to?

And: Notice the slope of my vineyard! Row 1 is 33 degree slope! and Row 6 is 27 degrees. Sloping my vineyard to the south means I can ripen grapes earlier (more sunshine energy per square foot falls on the slope), and in a cool year I can ripen fruit when flat vineyards can't. Come check out Epona Vineyard! Not large but since when does size matter? It is ideas, and quality of execution, that matter most. 

Rose sales climbing fast! Why not try Olequa's Brilliant 2016 Foch Rose?

Thanks to Steve for turning me towards this article.

I also found this one.

Some salient points:
1. Rose wine sales are headed sharply up.
2. In France, more rose is drunk now than whites!
3. Men are drinking more and more rose.

This is great news. All colors of wine need to be enjoyed by all winelovers!

I am particularly enjoying Olequa's Rose of Marechal Foch. It has a brilliant clarity, a bright and inviting deep red color, and loads and loads of jam-packed strawberries, cherries, and cranberries, riding on a strong acid backbone. This is a wine for summer! Serve it chilled. Keep some for Thanksgiving! because this would be awesome awesome awesome with turkey. Don't worry any more about gerrymandering Pinot Noir or Merlot or Gewurz or Riesling into the Turkey Tango--just use this wine! I promise. If you want to buy this one from me, it's just $13 with more flavor in each bottle than you have ever had! Email me at . Epona Wines (virtual wine retailer)...

(image credit to Google stock images)

Friday, June 2, 2017

Compare: 2012 Guido K Vintners Sangiovese

Wow! We enjoyed this tonight with Italian-style grilled chicken (slathered in olive oil, Tuscan spices, and fresh Oregano and Rosemary), with whole-wheat egg noodles and a wonderful veggie-heavy cream sauce. This wine came with our K Vintners allocation. The wine is about $42 Retail; wine club members get it at a cheaper tariff.

Wow! What a nice wine. Not too fruit-forward, though truth be told I appreciate nice fruit notes in a wine. Compared to a good Italian Sangio, this was fruitier, and had much better bouquet, and was delightful with the above dinner. We drank the bottle effortlessly, with gusto.

This wine came to us through our K Vintners club membership. Not sure how difficult it is to find on the market. But what a pleasure!

Monday, May 29, 2017

2012 Turley Old Vines Zin

I think five proper storage years is about perfect for this wine! The bouquet is rich, jammy. On the palate, there is succulent fruit, mostly plummy and quite forward.  The body's a little unctuous, but fresh and crisp. Young.  Spectator gave it 91 points; I'd say 92.

Four days later: Update: The leftover wine was finished tonight. Sadly, this wine didn't survive four days in the refrigerator. Perhaps a four-day survival of a half bottle is too much to ask, but for $50 one might be excused for hoping so. Tonight, the four-day-old Turley Old Vines Zin was gone to prunes and hardly drinkable. The wine wasn't that old, so I view this as a serious flaw. As Baby Boomers age, a bottle of wine that's not very old (and which is quite spendy) should be able to survive a mere four days in the fridge without falling apart.

There are more good Zins coming out of Lodi now. Lodi CA used to be a place where no true wine lover would dare to tread, but now many wineries are making very good, lower-priced Zins from there. Sure, maybe they harvest in July and that is weird, but what the hay! Give them a try--you can buy four or five of them for the price of one bottle of Turley Old Vines Zin!  (P.S. - And in my opinion, they're just as good) Give up on this Turley wine. There are many better Zins out there for far less money.

Here's a general rule: Once a wine has achieved cult status, be very cautious about buying it. I've learned that the number of wineries who can sustain truly high quality after achieving acclaim, is rather small.

For those of you in CA, please check out the better wines from Walla Walla WA. Many of them are FAR superior to CA wines of higher price. What are you waiting for? At what point will you finally admit you are wasting money, and will have to retire two years later than you'd like, just because of the money you spent on so-called great CA wines, when you could spend half as much for far better wines from WA? Wake up! Open your mninds! You are good people. You lead the nation in Progressive political thinking. So, get just as smart on wine!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

2011 No Girls Grenache: Tasting Notes

I'm feeling chuffed tonight--I manned a table at the Woodland Chamber of Commerce, and got quite a few new wine customers, including the mayor and the rising Chamber President! So I pulled out a 2011 No Girls Grenache (this is by Christophe Baron of Cayuse):

- Bouquet: Hits initially of a heavy barnyard note, coexisting nicely with cherries.
- Palate: This is a BIG wine. Those cherries are dark dark dark, and heavy. There is much acid here; will go great with lamp chops being grilled with olive oil, mint, and rosemary (and S&P and garlic).
- Finish: Light. The wine is still very young. Oh, there's a finish-a bitter note, like citrus peel.

This wine isn't as popular in places like California as their Syrahs are, but I'm glad to have it, and to have opened it!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Tesoaria wine

During a visit to Tesoaria's wine room on N. Mississippi a few years ago, we loved, and I bought a bottle of, their 2012 Coeur Noir, which if I recall correctly was a Sangiovese-Barbera blend. Pretty expensive bottle--maybe $40?

Five years on, it didn't age well at all. It was easily the worst of the three wines I opened for a dinner party featuring Italian dishes. The other wines were 2012 La Quercia Riserva Montepulciano de Abruzzo (this was the best wine) tand 2010 San Rustico Amarone (second best).

I don't know why the Tesoaria fell apart with just three years in our cellar.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Blattner modern grape varieties do well on Vancouver Island

Here's an article about Valentin Blattner's grapes' succeeding in Canada. (Note: The link doesn't work right--you have to go the magazine's website, then enter "Blattner" in the magazine's search box, and then you can get the article.)

Exciting stuff! I imported these grapes to SW WA, at Epona Vineyard, and will have cuttings available in a couple of years. I've met Paul (that's him in the photo) and one of the winemakers mentioned in the article. And that fruit--48.05.83--is very special. It makes a good Bordeaux-blend style of wine.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Is there not some limit to Walla Walla's wine growth?

Every time I visit Walla Walla, I find many more new wineries, many of them opened by Assistant Winemakers who learned their craft well and are making really good wines. But it makes one wonder: Is there not some limit to what the market will bear? Downtown in this tiny town there are enough wine bars for a city of half a million. And the prices! No longer the bargain it once was, but still among the very best wines on the planet.

I asked a gentleman pouring at Sinclair (See-have you heard of that one? Wines there are great) how many wineries went out of business, and he said it only happens when there is some personal crisis such as a failure of good health or a divorce. That suggests there is still room for growth. I think the economic boom in Seattle (and Portland) is allowing these wineries to print money like mad...

Photo is of K Vintners' downtown tasting room; a great space. 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Flowers flowers!

Wow! We deserve Spring this year, after a very long, cold, wet winter. What a view from the front porch at Epona Farm.


Feels both odd, and fun, to buy t-shirts and have them printed with your own winery's name and logo. If anybody sees this and can't live without one, let me know. I buy heavy-weight all-cotton T's. The same company that prints my labels is printing my shirts...

(sorry--Blogger is turning my photos, and everyone--I mean lots of Blogger users--are complaining about it...)

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Javier Alfonso makes very good wines under the Pomum label. He's from Spain, and suggests that eastern Washington is the best place in the US for Spanish grape varieties. He's quoted in this article about the Taste Washington event.

I love what Abacela is doing in southern Oregon, but why not plant more Spanish grapes in Washington? How about some old vine Garnacha?


It's been a tough winter: Record rainfall and cooler than normal, with more snow thrown in than we usually see. So it's a welcome transition to Spring flowers. Pictured is a wild plum that produces small, bronze-red, very tasty plums.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Wine snobbery versus lower-cost wines

This excellent opinion piece from the New York Times makes the argument that while wine snobbery is at an all-time high, the quality of cheap wines is closer to the quality of very fine wines than it has ever been. This is due to vast increases in winemakers' skills and toolsets.

The average price of a bottle of wine drunk in the US now is $10. I have long believed that it isn't necessary to pay $30, $50, or $100 to get a fantastic bottle of wine. Studies show that even if you work really hard to waste money, it's difficult for a winery to have fixed and variable costs greater than about $25 per bottle, so when you see prices of $125 for an Oregon Pinot, you are paying at least $100 profit PER BOTTLE to the winery's lucky owner. Meanwhile, there are countless (truly a vast number) of $20-and-under wines that are just as good. Wow.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Beer vs Wine, in popularity survey

This survey tells us that most American adults prefer beer, but wine is preferred by women, folks over 65, and the wealthy.

There is a revered place for good craft beer, certainly, and there is a place for cheap lager beer (we like it for a hot day, or for barbecue). But it is gratifying to see wine continue to gain. I don't want to anger beer lovers, but allow me to pontificate on wine's pleasures: the diversity of fruit flavors seems to find fuller expression in wine, and if you don't care for the bitterness of hops, then wine is better. I'm glad to have a choice of both, depending on the situation, but if I had to choose only one for the rest of my life-wine or beer?-there isn't even a second thought-it's wine, by a landslide!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Why and how to decant wine

We decant wines for two reasons:
1. To remove sediment from the bottle (usually an issue only for older red wines); and
2. To aerate (oxidize) a young wine (usually a red wine).

If you will decant your younger red wines, they will taste better, and their nose will be more forthcoming.

Here's how to decant a younger red wine: open it, about two hours before drinking, and pour it slowly into the decanter. Put a bright light source behind the bottle's neck, so you can watch the wine that passes by the neck and stop decanting if you see sediment. Let the wine sit in the decanter for a few minutes or up to twenty minutes (I think most of the oxidizing happens through the act of pouring/splashing, so it's not critical to let the wine sit in the decanter for a long time.) Feel free to swirl the wine in the decanter, if you like. If you have more bottles to decant, you can rinse out the bottle (let it drip out well) and then refill it from the decanter back into the bottle (use a small funnel and pour slowly). I like doing this, so guests can see what wine they are drinking.

Older red wines: If a red wine is more than twenty years old, then it might be best to NOT decant it, as decanting can destroy (use up) a fleeting flash of wine greatness that can be captured by the wine lover only when the wine goes direct from just-opened to being drunk. But older red wines can have serious sedimentation issues, and nobody wants to drink sediment. One way to deal with this is to set the bottle upright for several days before opening, and then open it carefully, never jostling the bottle, and pour it slowly into the glasses. If you do this, any sediment will remain at the bottom. An alternative is to decant the bottle, just before drinking, very carefully, to keep any sediment in the bottle.

Here's a decanter I like (see photo below):

a. It's inexpensive! $22 plus S&H, versus about $60-$100 for equivalent styles from other suppliers.
b. It's large enough to have a huge surface area for a 750ml bottle, and at 60 oz size it can also hold a magnum (which is approximately 50 oz). Many other decanters will barely hold one bottle, which isn't ideal.
c. Don't use the decanters with a large bowl and a vertical neck--it's difficult to pour from those, because to get the last of the wine out, you have to hold the decanter upside down vertically, which is awkward to do. The "slant" or "duck" style is much easier to use (and to clean).
d. Don't wash your decanter with soap, except in occasional circumstances when you are wiling to rinse repeatedly (seriously, maybe fifty times) and check with your nose for any residual soap smell.
e. Decanters with a "wine swirling" feature (sometimes called "venturi" feature) are great, but that feature costs more and might be more difficult to clean.

Happy decanting!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

More on that $9 dry Riesling that won the Wine Press NW's Platinum competition

2015 Chateau St. Michelle Dry Riesling

I can't (or, more properly, shouldn't, and therefore won't) sell this to my customers, because my minimum markup is $2 per bottle, and at the extremely low end of the price range, it is almost always cheaper for them to shop at the grocery stores. Safeway is selling this wine now at $6.99, and even cheaper if you buy six, whereas my price would be $7.75. So don't get it from me.

But why would you want to buy it at all? Let me count the ways:

1. It just was awarded Wine Press Northwest's top wine in the Platinum wine judging--this humble mass-market dry Riesling, which was probably made in sufficient volume to cover the entire country of Belgium two feet deep, beat out all the $15 and $25 and $50 and $100 wines that were tasted, and a whole great many of those were tasted in that competition.  So when I noticed that, I went out to buy one, to try it. I opened it last night with homemade Thai curry, and:
2. It really is outstanding. It's good enough to make me keep saying "wow." The nose is redolent with honey/floral notes, with a subtle petrochem hint. (The better Rieslings from Germany have powerful petrochem notes, not a flaw but a prized attribute, which I don't much care for, but in trace amounts it adds to the complexity and somehow seems to be a real positive.) The wine has great citrus notes on the palate and good body for a Riesling, with enough acidic zip to keep it fresh. And it is dry! (Yes, the copious fruit will fool you into thinking it's sweet, but if you measured the sugar in it, you would see it is dry--maybe only a very small amount of RS.) And, in case you're wondering, the wineries don't add diesel to the grape juice--it's just that one of the many many biochemicals naturally present in this grape happens to smell and taste like that.
3. Wine experts of the world ALWAYS class Riesling as one of the world's top six winegrapes (Cab Sauv, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling). That means they agree it's better than: Syrah, Viognier, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Pinot Gris! Just think about that! Yes, I know that many of you eschew Riesling--maybe you drank cheap sweet versions of it when you were younger (as did I), and your logical mind convinces you that better versions of it surely cannot exist. Get over it ;)

Marry this wine to Asian foods, or salads, or poultry, or most vegetarian dinners, or drink it by itself. If you know young people on a budget, who want to learn about fine wine, direct them to their nearest large grocery store to buy some.

This is one more nail in the coffin of the myth that says, "Wine has to be expensive, to be good."  Anybody can overpay for wine; it requires no skill at all. Why waste your money? Much smarter to let others do that.

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