Tuesday, May 31, 2005

NRW, a conspiracy unveiled

(Warning: This Post May Contain Sarcasm)

There is a grave and disturbing category of wine out there. Well, more accurately Wine that is ‘Not Really Wine’, or as those in the know refer to it, NRW. Certain wine writers and commentators have been trying to warn consumers but really we haven’t been heeding the warnings. I am going to lay out a short primer on this insidious conspiracy for you, just so you know, ‘Fore warned is fore armed’, as they say.

There is Wine, and then there is Not-Really-Wine (NRW). You have likely drank NRW, unknowingly, but fear not I will lead you through this minefield of deceit. It seems that what differentiates Wine from Not-Really-Wine is not whether or not it is fermented grape juice but rather other purely arbitrary and pretension laden factors. You will conclusively see that fermentation of grape juice is NO guarantee that something is actually wine. We will also learn how sheep’s bladders may be used to predict earth quakes, but more on that later.

We start with the anomaly: White Zinfandel. White Zinfandel is of course NRW. Yes it is fermented Zinfandel grape juice but it is made and stored in stainless steel and in high volumes, therefore it is truly NRW. Enough said, let us speak no more of this heresy.

Wine not aged in oak barrels is NRW. You see, you need wood to save wine from its own innate fruit character. Oak, preferably French Oak is needed to give the wine character Oh I know, you like your Kim Crawford Unoaked Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc but, sorry, it’s NRW. You can’t have wine that tastes TOO MUCH like fruit. That’s crazy talk. And oak chips and oak planks used to impart oak character, well, this is a PG rated blog, I can go only so far.

Wine that does not have a stopper made from cork is NRW but in some cases can be wine-like and in some cases excused. It is that shadowy almost wine category reserved for the non-Noble grape varietals. Sure, you can put a screw-top or synthetic cork on a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc or some crazy Australian creation, red or white, because, well, you can’t make some wines any more ignoble. But put a screw-top on a DOC Burgundy or Bordeaux, that doesn’t make that wine NRW it makes you a freakin’ charlatan that’s what it makes you. And a bottle cap, that’s just ‘right out’. And you Lancers fan, sorry, NRW.

Anything that does not come in a bottle is NRW, although be warned, NRW can be bottled, see ‘White Zinfandel’. Anything sold in a box (mylar bag o’ wine) or can (Sophia Mini) is NRW. Fermented grape juice put in a bag is an abomination. Of course the Europeans introduced ‘wine in a box’ before it became popular in the U.S. but that is a dirty secret we won’t broach right now. Frankly, any non-bottle packaging is simply a flirtation with the Devil himself.

Now prepare yourselves, Champagne and sparkling wine made in the methode champenoise (we won't even deign to recognize sparkling wine NOT made in the methode champenoise) are Not Really Wine either. This is more insidious than making wine without wood aging, most people disregard how champagne is made. This is the bottle cap rule, anything that does not have a cork stopper is NRW. Of course after disgorgement champagne gets a cork stopper but it sits ‘sur lie’ closed with . . .a bottlecap. Therefore Champagne is NRW.

Well, that is enough for now, the mind can only accept so much misery and suffering in one dose.

**Short note on proper wine reviews. This is an example of a wine review from the Wine Expectorator, this red burgundy received a 98 RATING!!

"A brilliant red. Wild and feral, yet refined, combining cherry, mineral, licorice, ANIMAL, and underbrush notes with sweet, concentrated fruit and ripe, vibrant tannins. Shows an underlying energy, with a long, long finish. 45 cases imported."

Come on people! Could you write a more contradictory and confusing wine review. Feral and refined - What?? "Animal" notes, oh ok you mean it's BRETT contaminated?? And "underbrush", what kind of underbrush? resinous or non resinous? Ripe and vibrant tannins, as opposed to underripe and dull tannins, of course, that is perfect. I'm convinced that someone has developed a computer program the randomly generates absurd reviews.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Anti-Cancer Tannin mechanism

Check the post at the following link: [Science Blog]

But it's an article about green tea. So what's it all mean?

If it's correct, then a chaperone protein (HSP90) is deactivated/inhibited by the epigallocatechingallate (EGCG) content of foods and beverages. Since the HSP90 is no longer active (temporarily) the aryl hydrocarbon (AH) site can't be 'turned on', keeping some rather nasty cancer genes from being expressed.

Even better news? Some similar compounds are found in red wine, and soon we may find the pathways they all use to be effective anti-cancer agents as well.

Am I geeking out?
Absolutely! Any time I see us getting closer to understanding the root mechanisms of how cancers work I feel the day that we can cure or control those diseases is that much closer.

But it's obvious that the inhibition of these proteins in question is not permanent, and that leads to the conclusion that small amounts of red wine spaced through the day would be more effective cancer protection than one large exposure. (Translation: have a short glass with lunch, then a short glass with dinner, so your intake is spread out and can give you the maximum benefits. I'm still trying to figure how to get some into my breakfast routine...but it clashes with the corn flakes. Maybe a late red wine night-cap would be effective instead?)


Trouble in Eden, or The Other White Meat...

“It seems so glamorous, the life of a winemaker. It’s all about lazing around on dreamy summer afternoons, counting profits in the shade of grapevines while birds sing a merry tune and cherubs flit about bringing snacks and replenishing beverages.” [link]

Well, I guess there’s no use trying to deny it any further…the secret’s out of the bag now.

Years ago it was all right - even downright ‘homey’ – to see the Cherubs and the birds flitting to and fro. But that all changed with the burgeoning number of winemakers here in Northern California. You see, according to nature’s plan each winemaker must have his (or her) own birds and Cherubs in attendance. With the boom in the number of wineries, almost all of which feel the need to have their own winemakers, there’s been a nearly a 100-fold increase in the number of song birds and Cherubs in the past 10 years.

These days the shrill cacophony from the song birds is enough to deafen even the most ardent music lover, and the Cherubs – The Cherubs!...the sky is lousy with Cherubs! – it’s a rare day that you can drive from your doorstep to the market without having half a dozen of them face planted on your windshield or smeared on the grill of your new Thunderbird (man! And I just washed it too…). And at large tastings with many different winemaker guests there’s so many Cherubs in attendance, it can get so dark it’s like there’s a partial solar eclipse going on. It’s certainly enough to give any claustrophobe (or for that matter any fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds) pause for thought.

And be careful where you step…they aren’t known for wearing, well, anything really. And when nature calls, oh boy! – too late, now your best wool jacket’s completely ruined (people have been mistakenly blaming the wild turkeys all these years for the mess)…

The time has come to take care of this problem before it gets worse, and as I see it, there are two options: get rid of either the winemakers or the Cherubs. With fewer winemakers there will be a natural decline in the song bird and Cherubic air traffic, as the Cherubs, out of boredom, will find other areas to haunt. However, that would probably be opposed by those who fear the ‘homogenization of wine’ (fewer winemakers = less diversity, so they say).

Now there are potential benefits from both of these paths, but let’s be real: there are laws against culling humans, and for good reason, while there are none on the books about Cherubs. So in the tradition of my Italian progenitori (I think his name was Facillus Descensus of Averno), on viewing anything with wings that flies overhead as potentially something that might go well with polenta, I say we get the duck blind & shotguns out.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Is Bordeaux burning??!!

Oh Good Lord! Rioting, monkey wrenching, what is going on over there??? http://www.decanter.com/news/64394.html

Do you remember when the Big Three automakers in Detroit started getting clobbered by foreign imports? Aging production processes and equipment, poor quality control, almost no customer focus in design and marketing, the result: Declining market share. Who was defending the Big Three in the business press, almost no one outside of Detroit (lots of Americans bashed the Japanese producers but still bought Japanese cars). The expectation was that the Big Three would adapt or go out of business. Chrysler borrowed a BILLION dollars from the U.S. Government to stay afloat, and they overhauled their processes and, essentially, adapted to market conditions.

Now, what is the difference with that and the current situation with the French wine industry?

Here are some of the irrelevant and illogical excuses I have heard recently (all from separate people), if they sound a little redundant too, well, they are:
-France is the PREMIER wine producing region in the world
-No other country can match the quality of wine France produces
-Burgundian wines are without peer in the world
-Even California ‘cult’ wines cannot compete with the premier wines of Bordeaux (note here the author of this statement said ‘premier’ wines of Bordeaux)
-Bordeaux produces the finest red wines in the world, no other region comes close
-France is the center of the world of wine

Sorry, the quality argument is dead. Except for, and in my opinion, inclusive of the ultra premium category brands, the quality of French wines is now BELOW the quality of ‘New World’ wines and Spanish and Italian wines. (I will exclude champagnes from this)

Why apologize for the condition of the French wine industry. As a whole they failed to adapt. They failed to convince the consumer that they should buy French wine instead of Australian wine. They failed to study what the foreign consumer wanted, how they shopped, what they looked for.

Why apologize for that? How can you apologize for that? Remember General Motors marketing the Nova (No Va, in spanish = Does not GO) in Mexico? Remember the Big Three trying to sell left hand side mounted steering wheeled cars in Japan and Asia? Recognized UTTER FAILURES. Yet, the French do the exact wine equivalent and are defended in all quarters??? How? WHY??? TELL ME WHY??? Terroirist apologists just don’t get it, hopefully French producers will.

So where does that leave France? Simple, in the position of having to compete in the world market (exclude the super-premium market, snob appeal will sell those brands), or continue to be marginalized. Sure, get the French government to bail producers out, but if there isn’t a systemic change in the way French wine is marketed in the UK, US, etc., the situation will continue.

And kudos to the Wine Spectator and their article on 2002 and 2003 Burgundy. The top 7 wines listed in Bruce Sanderson’s 2002 Red Burgundy Values have a COMBINED total of LESS THAN 1000 CASES IMPORTED. Merde!! That is a stunning quantity being imported for U.S. consumption. Fan-fricken-tastic strategy!

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Wine Group buying Argentinian Bulk Supplier?

In an interesting strategic move, the Wine Group is reportedly buying Argentina's largest bulk wine exporter, Trapiche-Penaflor. Penaflor exports nearly half of its production, which amounted to 760,000 cases in 2004. I mentioned previously that Wine Group was due to buy something, though I confess that this purchase, if it happens, caught me a bit by surprise.

The story behind the acquisition is reportedly that Wine Group has changed its appellation on its wine-in-the-box products to "American" which allows them to use 25% non-US produced wine. Since Penaflor has been exporting for about $17 per case ($1.42 per bottle), even after shipment costs it makes sense to have this supply ready, particularly given a short 2004 harvest and the recent removal of 100,000 acres of central valley grapes in California that together are putting upward price pressure on the shrinking bulk wine supply.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

ABC, ABM, NRW, and You

Recently, while attending some industry related meetings in another state, I visited friends of mine. While there they asked me to go to a weekly tasting event at the local wine bar, I somewhat dreaded the thought but agreed, these were, after all, friends. The establishment in question was a very nice wine bar, serving about 40 different wines by the glass, a variety of different flights, and a retail section. Every Thursday a local wine ‘educator’, I’m using her term, would conducted a structured tasting and, well, educate. There were about 16 people participating, most fairly new to regular wine consumption.

It was quickly evident that this woman was part of the ABC crowd (Anything But Chardonnay, or Cabernet), and rather stridently so, she also declared some heavy (a la Sideways) ABM tendencies (Anything But Merlot, not Anti Ballistic Missile). Strangely, White Zin was ‘not really wine’ (NRW), BUT you could drink it when you first started, you know, before you knew better. Of course, I was informed that “wine goes best with food”. And then the denouement, the definitive proscription against wine hooliganism, “You should never have to RESORT to buying Two Buck Chuck, there is so much more out there to choose from”. I got up and wandered over to the retail section of the store before giving into the urge of launching Wing Attack Plan R against this person.

This passes for Wine education?? I would like to think this isn’t typical, but you know what, pathetically, it is. This person had dispensed with traditional wine pretension and replaced that with exclusion and exoticentrism (you know, whatever is exotic, far away, is best better goodestest). In an effort to broaden my wine horizons I had to EXCLUDE huge segments of the wine world, making wine not a beverage but a symbol, a series of exclusive rules to follow.

So let me summate:
-You can like Sauvignon Blanc but you have to like it from a winery in South Africa that exported 350 cases and retails for $14.95.
-You will fall into the abyss of banality if you drink chardonnay or cabernet .
-Consistent consumption of Two Buck Chuck will likely cause an permanent and excruciating decrease in your household income.
-If you or your relatives drink White Zinfandel, you will be burned upon a pyre of grape vines (most likely the ones they have been pulling up in many regions of France).

-German Reisling = GOOD; White Zinfandel = BAD
-French Table Wine = GOOD; Charles Shaw = BAD
-If you drink wine as a beverage, without the dignified accompaniment of food, you are simply an irredeemable PHILISTINE.

So let’s be careful out there people, there are RULES and you need to follow them!

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

I Would Be Remiss.....

If I didn't continue to lead people to read a great piece of wine-related writing:

The National Vinquirer

"Your Wine May Have Cooties"
"Santa Margherita Decanonized, Large Scale Recall of Pinot Grigio Planned"
"Mysterious 'P' Force"
"Noted Wine Critic Explodes"
are all classics.

Looking forward to another similar issue from BD.

Monday, May 23, 2005

So, you want to live in a vineyard...

Your in-laws marvel that you’ve ‘made it to the top’. Your coworkers are all envious. The corporate secretary asks how your spouse is, hoping to hear that you’ve broken up, so he/she can put the moves on you. That girl you had the crush on in high school hears the news and starts emailing you on the sly. Acquaintances from ‘back east’ want to know how many famous neighbors you have, how many winemakers you now know...
Your family’s already planning sleepovers at your gorgeous country estate without your knowledge.
So who are you? Retired Hollywood pornstar? No…
The latest cast contestant on reality TV? No…

You are…the proud new owner of a vineyard ‘trophy’ home in the heart of Wine Country.

Yes! You’ve made the escape, taken the savings from your high paying jobs and leveraged them into a fantasy house in California’s veritable Eden. You don’t care about commuting – it’s a price you’re willing to pay, both in fuel and time so that you can live a bucolic existence that others only dream about. If you’re truly the golden child then you get to telecommute…

Maybe it’s your retirement, the return to nature. The gentleman farmer’s retreat form technology and stress. Or your time to play fantasy winemaker with 2 tons of high end Cabernet every year in your garage.

Too dreamy?
Ok. Let’s look at some of the reality that you bought unknowingly with your new house…

“Honey, what’s that smell?”
This can sometimes be a fun game, if you’re blindfolded and the sources chosen are seductive and (ooops! Better stop here and save that line for another forum!)…
Anyway, this game isn’t nearly as much fun when it’s forced on you at odd hours of the early morning (think 3 AM) and the aroma ISN’T Pinot Noir…
“Bullsh*t.” you mumble, and try desperately to roll over and reclaim what’s left of your sleep.
Congratulations, by the way! Your guess was correct.

“Honey, what’s that noise?”
Similar to the above, only it’s not an aroma.
It’s a tractor. And it’s not going away for several hours.
(Other variations on this theme can be vineyard workers pruning vines, harvesting, leaf pulling, etc. You’d also be surprised how much noise frost protection sprinklers can make.)

“…is there anymore lemon Pledge?”
Dust. Disking, plowing, mowing, harvesting…all these operations happen when the weather is nice and warm…and you’ve probably left the windows open.
Pretty much any activity in the vineyard will raise some dust, which inevitably will deposit itself inside your beautiful home on your priceless heirlooms.
(BTW, lemony aromas help cover up the manure notes from the “what’s that smell” exercise.)

“I’ve got this rash, Doc…”
Pesticides and herbicides are also applied, depending on who’s growing the crop around you. Sulfur also is distributed through the rows (go back and play “What’s that smell?” again.)
There are periods after spraying some substances that you shouldn’t enter the vineyard. These can range from a day to several weeks, again, depending on what the substance applied was.
Not the type of thing you want your kids/grandkids playing in…

“I like to meet new people.”
Hope this applies to you.
If there’s a winery next door, then prepare to meet LOTS of new people, maybe a hundred thousand or so per year. If they have vineyard tours then get more Lemon Pledge, there’ll be even more dust.
Don’t be surprised if they show up in your front/back yards unannounced either (“We thought this was the tasting room…”). Plan on spending 3 hours a week rerouting people off your property. Even if there ISN’T a winery next door, people get lost and show up at your house anyway.

Nothing ruins that relaxtion you've worked so hard to get than a group of lost tourists showing up in your yard, looking longingly at your BBQ chicken...

“I hate parties…”
Good. You weren’t invited to the wedding/family reunion/ anniversary anyway. It’s not even your family/friends that are over there…all 200 of them. And they’re staying up dancing ‘til midnight. Then there’s concerts, and barrel tasting weekends, etc.
(Hope you got the 5 car driveway. You’ll be lucky if nobody’s used up all the spaces, or if you can even get up the drive to the house.)

“Bring it on!”
You’re a fighter! You're thinking it’s no problem. You’ll just call the cops. The Sheriff will shut these people down so you can sleep.
But maybe not.
It’s a good chance it’s in their use permit. And if it’s the vineyard operations you object to, then you’re even out of luck there too. Read the
Right to Farm information here. These ordinances were passed because of people like YOU who move in and expect the world to change to fit their expectations. This ain't the city, Bub. You don't like it? Then move back where you came from...

Don’t get me wrong! Living in Wine Country can be one of the most rewarding experiences ever…there’s good reason that people from all over the world aspire to this lifestyle.
It’s fan-frickin-tastic.

But ‘caveat emptor’ applies here. Look around and make sure you’re ready for it.
Because there’s NOTHING a local hates more than some city slicker showing up and thinking they’re going to make the country bumpkins change the area to their liking.
It’s the country. These are farms. That noise you hear incessantly starting at 2:15 AM everyday may be a wild turkey…or a rooster…or wild pigs roaming through the vineyard. And sometimes there’s mountain lions as well…
It’s called agriculture.
And ‘NO’ I don’t care what you paid for your house or how much you have to dust it.

And for Pete’s sake, TALK with your neighbors, people! Don’t jump on the phone to the Sheriff the first chance you get, you’ll only make enemies. Find out what’s going on. What they’re doing, how they’re doing it.
You’ll be surprised what a little common courtesy and civil dialog can achieve.
After all, your neighbors are people just like you…

Friday, May 20, 2005

Ancient Egyptian Wine Found

Read the brief article here.

Omitted from the article was the following blub: "it is uncertain how the ceramic wine jars were supposed be opened as they were sealed with a primitive closure made from the bark of trees. Many of the bottles were apparently spoiled by these closures, leading us to conclude that their primitive technology did not allow them to store foods safely"

Thursday, May 19, 2005

San Franciso 2317AD

[S.F. Presidio Wine Bunker link]


Archaeologists announced today new discoveries at the ‘Military Park’ site.
Vast quantities of wine were stored in massive underground bunkers before the 21st century nuclear war occurred.

“There are several competing theories as to why the former inhabitants went to such lengths to secure their wine,” says Dr. Y. Torrima, professor of pre-Armageddon studies at NSFU, “it’s a thrilling yet perplexing find. We have not found any other food commodity stored with as much attention and effort as wine.”

“The majority favor the idea that this beverage played an important ceremonial role in their everyday lives,” she said.

Dr. Torrima has stated that only a fraction of the site has been explored at this time, and that “the lack of a surviving site map from before the nuclear strikes” is hindering the speed with which they can excavate.

“Since the structure is underground and has no visible outline, we have to guess where to dig test pits. It really is frustrating at times.”

The Dr. continues “We also believe that the structures at the current water line extend below the surface of the bay, which lends credence to the thought that the water level was once about 100 feet lover than it is now. Perhaps there is some truth to the legends that Knob Island was once connected to the mainland, and was known as ‘Knob Hill’.

“Furthermore, the discovery of this site supports the Wisconsin Hypothesis put forward two years ago. After the discovery of the huge warehouses filled to the rafters with cheeses in the middle of the country, the explanation was floated that the war was a battle for food resources and took place primarily between this country and a country on the European continent called ‘France’, with which there are stories of heated conflicts over cheese, wine and culture.

“Purportedly, our country stockpiled it’s most valuable items in separate locations, to avoid the possibility that their enemies could gain control of all of them at the same time. It’s difficult to piece together an accurate picture and timeline since the French culture didn’t survive the conflict, and the country itself was reduced to ashes in the exchange…except for one curious example.” she said, in apparent reference to the Maginot site on the continent, where a similar bunker structure has been found, but contained no wine.

“Perhaps the inhabitants of France had depleted their supplies of wine and cheese and needed to invade. We probably won’t know the truth for some time yet, if ever.”

Asked what she thinks the next big find will be, Dr. Torrima replied “Stockpiles of berets and baguettes, I’d wager…”

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Napa Winery Permit Issues

The situation I wrote about in Temecula is an interesting one, given what continues to evolve in Napa.

Napa county closely regulates winery permits - that is, they administer at the county level who can and who cannot make wine on their property and in what volumes. In 1990, Napa county defined what a "winery" is and limited new wineries to land parcels of 10 or more acres. Parcels of 10 or more acres now have substantially more value as many of them can (theoretically) be enhanced with a winery or at least a winery permit.

This has, of course, gradually created a NIMBY atmosphere where those who own or have recently purchased nice homes with a view of the valley on small parcels are fighting against those with larger parcels who want to put in a winery. Property rights, viewshed considerations, noise and traffic impact, water use, etc. are all being weighed for the "greater public good". It appears that, for now, the NIMBYs are turning the tide.

Interestingly, the county has started to move away from granting new winery permits (unless they come with severe restrictions on use) and granting expanded permits to existing wineries. I suppose the thinking here is that there are enough wineries in the valley and ending up with 3,000 ten-acre parcels, each with its own chateau might seem a little like, oh I don't know, France?

The downside for this is that smaller growers will either be forced to sell their grapes (for lack of a winery of their own), or make their wines at someone else's facility ("custom crush"). While many of Napa's cult wines are currently made this way, the risk is that this latest evolution will favor larger wineries who can grow their business to the point of shutting out the custom crush clients and ultimately reduce the number of branded wines, and therefore variety, on the market.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Smokey says "Only you can prevent forest fires."

I was at a friend's vineyard this past weekend, waiting for him to finish cutting the grass between the rows. Sad thing is that this was the second time this year he's mown.

With the large amount of rain we've had, and the lateness into the season that it's progressed (Yes, there's even showers forecast for today through Thursday...AGAIN!), there's not only the potential for grape crops to be affected but also for a much higher than normal fire danger this summer.

The Geysers Fire smoke plume from space

We've just gotten through two fires in Napa and Sonoma counties last year, and this season has the possibility for even more fuel to be available up in the hills from all the wild grasses getting these extra shots of rain. Luckily the Rumsey and Geysers fires both were contained and extinguished, but there could be more damage this year to both real property and grapes planted on the ridges (hopefully there will be no injuries).

We may get lucky and avoid any fires this season...then again we may not. With more and more people attracted to the idea of living in the wine country, and the attractiveness of the pocket canyons and ridges for 'trophy homes' amidst vineyards, there's a good reason to believe that the financial costs associated with wildland fires in northern California will continue to climb. And that people searching for their little slice of Eden will continue to put themselves in harm's way.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Supreme Court Victory - Well a Small One Anyway

The Supreme Court has handed down a (narrow) victory for wineries over liquor wholesalers. In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that states could not simultaneously allow shipments from in-state wineries while banning shipments from out-of-state wineries. Unfortunately, the decision wasn't broadened to prevent states from allowing shipments from out-of-state wineries period. States can still ban ALL shipments. However, progress is progress, I suppose.

Of note, Clarence Thomas vigorously opposed the decision, citing a risk to minors if shipments go unmonitored. Frankly, I would have expected better of the man and I'm disappointed that Juanita Duggan and her scare-tactics got through to him (at least I think it was the scare tactics, surely it couldn't have been anything else? nah....)

Friday, May 13, 2005

I've got a bad feeling about this...


This year it seems there's enough news items about the GWSS (glassy winged sharpshooter) to fill a separate blog of it's own.

I have no intention of making that a reality, but the idea that the pest seems to be gaining a foothold in Solano County (just South-East of the North Coast wine region) is very disturbing, and I feel the need to include it here as well.
Essentially, all the little blighters would have to do is round the corridor from Fairfield, then hop to Cordelia, Vallejo, and finally into Napa county.

This is a time for all agricultural trades to be extra vigilant and re-commit to preventing the spread of the GWSS at all costs. Not just for the wine and grape markets, but citrus, ornamental, other fruit growers as well...

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Temecula - 4 new wineries?!

A new way to rid yourself of sharpshooters: pave everything & plant houses!

They haven't yet gotten the Glassy-winged Sharpshooters (GWSS) under control, and yet the desire is to plant more vines? Aren't they just feeding the fire by providing more habitat for these pests?

You can bet your last dollar on the fact that Callaway would still be farming the 330 acres in question - if there was any money to be made on it.
The fact of the matter is that Temecula is a fading player in the California wine scene. That appellation hasn't ever sold well...and the wines don't really command much of the total market share outside of itself. The plague of Pierce's disease, exacerbated by the ideal climate for the GWSS, has been the latest nail in that coffin.

So let's see...
The homes would be nestled among 60 acres of newly planted vineyards and likely cost between $1 million and $2 million each. Stephenson said the vineyards are a key component of the development and would be farmed and managed by Ben Drake of Drake Enterprises Inc. of Temecula.
Translation:...they want to charge $1~2 mil just for the privilege of sitting on your veranda and watching the 'newly planted vineyards' wither from the sharpshooters onslaught?

The residential part of the plan ---- Temecula Vineyard Estates ---- would feature 58 5-acre home sites immediately north of Hart and Callaway wineries in a gated community with the main entry located along Butterfield Stage Road. A secondary gate would be situated along La Serena Way.
Nice...the poor farm workers making 25¢ per 40# grape lug they haul have to drive thru/past this ritzy gated community to get to the winery and vineyards to work? Ohhhh...the irony!

Lastly, the plan is for 4 new wineries to be created, each on 10 acres of it's own vineyards (which would support ~3,300 cases of production just by itself).
Wait! 4 new wineries? and each is only 'boutique' sized? How're they going to make that work when the larger wineries in that same appellation aren't doing that great in getting market share and the new players don't have a war chest to advertise with? That's the type of thing that becomes a marketing nightmare...

There's a reason Callaway isn't farming those acres anymore...and it's not because they need more wineries to increase the competition...

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The Real 'Sideways' Effect

I haven't really posted much about the movie Sideways until now, just never really had anything to add. Fun movie, wine in the plot but not really what the movie was about, just a setting really.

It recently occurred to me, however, that what I liked most about it was the low-brow humor. I liked that it wasn't an art-house film that would only be seen by a few dozen either dedicated wine or art lovers. I like that it was raw, unpretentious and often crude. I'm glad that it didn't put on airs and have Miles keep his '61 Cheval Blanc for an appropriate dinner party - I love that he drank it from a styrofoam cup with a cheeseburger. I even liked the physical comedy in the movie too.

Why do I like all this? Because it made the wine seem more everyday and less elitist. Rather than spending two hours talking up wine as an ethereal beverage destined only for the lips of the elite, it showed people with common flaws and problems sharing their enjoyment of a drink that brings joy and complexity to their lives.

For that reason alone, this blog owes a bit of gratitude. Any time wine is removed from its pedestal (and drunk straight from the bottle!) is a good thing.

Texas Governor signs the law!

From PRNewswire, a follow-up to my March post on Texas:

Texas Governor Rick Perry yesterday signed SB 877, a bill authored by State Senator Frank Madla (D-San Antonio), which opens Texas by declaring the entire state "wet" for wine shipments. In late 2003, the Texas ABC declared that the state was "open" for direct shipments but ruled that all wineries must comply with existing wet/dry rules. This compliance requirement, since it could not be delineated based on zip codes or other standard geographic boundaries, had stymied the efforts of wineries to ship to Texas consumers. SB 877 solves this problem by declaring the entire state "wet" for wine shipments.

"We applaud Governor Perry, Senator Madla and the entire Texas legislaturefor addressing this problem and opening up the great state of Texas to the legal, regulated direct shipping of wine to consumers," said Robert P. Koch,President and CEO of the Wine Institute. "Declaring the entire state of Texas 'wet' for wine shipments is a strong signal of support for the local Texas wine industry and for consumer choice."

For those of you living in locales that never established "dry" (e.g., areas without any alcoholic beverages) and "wet" areas (where alcohol was/is allowed)...well, it's an odd concept even for those of us living in the USA.

Essentially, after the end of prohibition, certain areas of prohibitionists managed to pass local laws which in effect had banned alcoholic beverages (read that as ALL alcoholic beverages…the universal exception being sacramental wines). That was the slow erosion of our rights that I had mentioned in my March post regarding prohibition and Carrie Nation. Ever since repeal of the 18th Amendment, certain communities have tried to ressurect prohibition (or merely hang onto prohibition's rotting corpse).

Texas was one of those states, and even with this law still remains a dry/wet state in regards to liquor.

What this law does allow is the differentiation between liquor and wine. Liquor will still be subject to the Dry/Wet regulations, while wine will now be allowed throughout the great state. The lumping of wine into the same category as hard alcohol has always been a troubled issue, one which the puritanical prohibitionists have been happy to promote (their battle cry: “all alcohol is evil”).

With the removal of wine from this “universally evil” grouping, wine can now be regarded as the healthy beverage it is - one that compliments meals and is generally enjoyed in moderation. At least in Texas....

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Tiny Heroes! Gtriguttatus, et al…

“… I had scrambled up the earthen rampart and stood upon its crest....And scattered about it …were the Martians--DEAD!-- …slain, after all man's devices had failed, by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth.”
HG Wells, War of the Worlds

This article about the release of tiny parasitic wasps is from the Bakersfield area. I still hold out hope that these little fellas will stem the sharpshooter spread northward. More information can be read here at the website of the California Dept. of Agriculture's spring sharpshooter update.

Gtriguttatus (0.5 mm long aprox.)

(pronounced "guh-tri-gut-taht-uhs"...I think)

They are really tiny, some smaller than a grain of rice, but quite happy to fly about and lay their own eggs on the egg masses from the sharpshooters. When the wasp eggs hatch they feed on the sharpshooter eggs, thus disrupting the pest’s reproduction cycle. Several different species are being used, depending where the release is needed. (I thought I'd include this post right after the GMO post - not because these wasps are GMO bred, but because the GMO post had me focusing on environmental issues in general this morning.)

With the wetter than normal year we've just had (or are still having, since it's still raining!) we'll be seeing more problems with the sharpshooters...

Generally they migrate using riparian corridors, and with this much extra water available, and so late in the season (July 1st thru June 30th is the annual rain season, and the Sonoma County Airport got 1.25" of rain Sunday, and perhaps almost an inch again yesterday and last night...), there'll be plenty of water to help them thrive and expand. [Really, it's May 10th, and the forecast for the Sierras last night was for up to 2 FEET of SNOW!]

Now, if they can only teach these tiny heroes to swim...or snowboard...

Monday, May 09, 2005

More Anti-GMO news...

This article is from the Western Farm Press regarding the Kern County Supervisors who opposed the GMO ban recently in their area:

...Anti-GM0 factions were turned back last fall in the efforts to ban biotechnology crops with ballot initiatives in agriculturally-significant Butte and San Luis Obispo counties and in Humboldt County. They have been successful in getting anti-GMO initiatives passed only in Mendocino County, where there is significant agriculture, primarily wine grapes, and in Marin County just north of San Francisco, where there is basically no agriculture....[ouch! Marin must've felt that stinger...read some Marin Pinot Noir reviews here on Mark Squires BBS /huge]

...The ordinance also could preclude the use of immunization vaccines used to combat West Nile virus in horses, rabies, distemper and feline leukemia because they contain living GMOs. It could also impact human health or the livestock industry by limiting sale, distribution or use of currently used or emergency vaccines....

My feelings after I had read the initiative were slightly supportive, and I do feel that all biotechnology should be evaluated fully before being dispersed into the environment. But my apprehensions of this statute grow almost daily.
[Read the
text of the initiative here]

I had asked in my post (in February) about whether this directive would ban the growing of agricultural crops for medical uses which may have been modified…and I could see their point about the organic decertification as a valid (perhaps their most useful and compelling) argument in favor of passage. But if the article from Western Farm Press is accurate, then ‘pollen drift’ as an issue is dead for me. Without the threat of decertification, the argument that GMO’s will make it impossible to farm organically within the County is invalid, and those farmers have no risk on that topic.

Also, I find it very troubling that this group went to the effort to bypass the voters and look to the Sonoma County supervisors to pass their initiative by fiat. When that failed they then looked to have a "quick' special election for only their initiative, which doesn't reflect well on them either...
My thoughts: If one of your stated goals is to provide "rigorous, public scientific review and extensive public debate" [as set forth in §3(c) of the initiative], then it seems rather strange that they would look to railroad the initiative onto the books on the sly by trying to bypass the public in the first place, or minimize the amount of time available for the topic to be discussed.

I'm really leaning against this proposed ordinance now...

Email: Preservative & stabilizers

Bill writes in an email…
Most wines are pumped full of stabilizers and preservatives. They're drinkable but have no character. Why not admit this and put an end to all the hokum used to describe them ?

Hmmm...this is really two issues: preservatives (which are usually present in the final wine) and stabilizers (usually applied to the wine and then are removed). So for the preservatives let's see...there's Sorbate, Sulfur, and Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C).
Vitamin C is useful against oxidation of the wines, but is usually used in conjunction with a small amount of sulfur dioxide, as it doesn’t directly inhibit growth of yeasts and bacteria. Some vintners utilize it to produce wines with less SO2 in the final blend.
Sorbate isn’t used very often for two main reasons: first it needs to be in concentrations which usually cause some sensory effects (off aromas), and second, it can be metabolized by lactic acid bacteria (LAB) into some substances like geraniol (oil of geraniums), which isn’t good for the nose of the wine either.
Sulfur (sulphur) is the most common preservative used in winemaking, and has been in use in one form or the other since the dark ages. It’s very broad spectrum in its effects, working at lower levels as an anti-bacterial agent, and anti-yeast agent at higher levels. People who are prone to asthmatic reactions may experience problems at higher concentrations (say above 40 to 50 ppm free SO2), but again, concentrations at those levels and greater usually cause some sensory problems for the wine, and most vintners avoid excessive use.

That's what MOST wines would have as preservatives, and all those substances are FDA coded as GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe).
DMDC (almost exclusively used as a wine-in-box preservative) might also be seen from time to time, though it's expensive and requires special handling and dosage equipment.

All these substances are usually applied at levels less than 100 ppm which leaves the wine 99.99+% pure wine minus any water percentage they used during the process, which again is minimal (unless you want to discuss the very small minority of truly unscrupulous vintners) and controlled by federal law. (I believe the legal max concentration of DMDC is ~200 ppm.)

Filtering, fining and stabilizing aids are added to a wine where they react with whatever substance in the wine you’d like to remove, then fall out or are filtered away from the wine. For example, egg whites can be used to remove too much tannin from a wine (tannins react with the albumen [protein] which then precipitates, and the wine is racked off of the solids). Other proteins (casein [milk] and isinglass [swim bladders from sturgeon] being the most common) may be used depending on what country you’re in. Some producers in France’s Rhone had used bull’s blood (another source of protein) for centuries as a traditional way too remove excess tannin from their wines.
Other processes may use bentonite or kaolin clays to remove proteins, or household cream of tartar to keep excess acid from forming crystals in the bottle when chilled. Almost all of these are GRAS substances as well.

There are some more uncommon additives, but only really low quality vintners would be using those in any sort of ‘regular’ basis. Otherwise you just wouldn’t see those used in mainstream wine production (at least not in the USA).

And my experience is that wineries who have used stabilizers do so sparingly, and infrequently (those additives aren't cheap to buy & put in there). Stabilizers are (generally) used when the fruit sourced for the wine is falling apart and doesn't clarify easily (translation: really inexpensive wine)...so there's a strong economic incentive to NOT place those substances in the wine (e.g., higher overhead and less return on your investment $).

The complete list of those substances which can be used for the Storage, Treatment and Finishing of Wine can be found here:
[the list differs in other areas (e.g., the EU) but I'll address that more in the future]

Happy reading!

Friday, May 06, 2005

"Wine Spectator" - preaching to the choir?

I believe one should have goals in life, it keeps one focused, realistic and motivated. With that in mind, I ask "What are the goals of Wine Spectator?"

(It might be cynical, but I would have to say that the goal of WS is to sell copies and thus advertising. It seems almost ancillary that wine is the publications theme. It is a lifestyle magazine, nominally wine themed. Oh, but let’s go on with the exercise....)

Is it to educate? Perhaps, but their level of writing is only geared toward those with a graduate- level understanding of wine. They are certainly not interested in "remedial" students or those just starting out.

Is it to expand wine's sphere of influence in the beverage world? Hardly. WS appeals to elitist views of wine and those who can afford its pricy annual subscription. Hell, just look at the non-wine advertisers and its pretty clear where the demographics fall (Tiffany, Cartier, Hummer, personal aircraft, etc). Further, look at the large number of high-priced inaccessible wines (as in less than 500 cases) that they review.

Visit the "Forum" on the website and you can see topics like " Who sees their cellar as stellar vs. 90% of restaurant lists" and "Did you get your allocation of (overpriced Napa wine) yet?" and "Chateau Fortia Chat du Pape - Who's got this scored properly?"

Is it to promote the beverage as a vibrant part of one's life, that, enjoyed in moderation, can bring years of joy, health, and good meals? Perhaps, but that's not what I get when I read it.

When I read WS (usually if I'm on the can as I find that's the only time I'm a "captive audience" desperate enough to crack the pages open) I can't help but wonder if the magazine isn't missing a huge opportunity to broaden wine's appeal. I'm not suggesting they "dumb down" their reviews to the lowest common denominator (pairing wines with Taco Bell), but an attempt to make wine less elitist seems like it would be a beneficial thing for the magazine's own circulation!

Let me explain another way, can you imagine "Golf" or "Outdoors" or "Sunset" or "Shape" etc. actually trying not to promote their industry? Picture "Golf" magazine actively snubbing young hackers at the local pitch and putt.....those people make up the future of hard-core retired daily golfers with the disposable income that drives the industry (and the pro tours too!). To my mind, WS is doing just that by ignoring the vast majority of wine consumers.

Perhaps they feel that they can't compete for the younger, hipper audience since Wine X mag has that locked up. Perhaps they feel that occasional articles on basic concepts would lose regular readers. Perhaps they think there is less to write about when covering broad-market wines and concepts. Perhaps they don't think that drinkers of "everyday" wines will bother to read/buy WS.

Whatever the reason, it seems a shame that the standard-bearer for wine publications (whether we like it or not) is neglecting an opportunity to reach out and educate the "huddled masses" of the wine world. Today's drinker of [yellow tail] is tomorrow's buyer of Silver Oak, they just need a chance to learn and expand their knowledge and appreciation. . . . .

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Rain, rain, go away...

This morning it stopped raining long enough for the fog to roll back in.

Luckily, even with yesterday and today’s rain (and a bit more forecast for the weekend and into next week), the vines really haven’t started flowering yet. Sure there’s undeveloped florettes (inflorescences) that have appeared, but they’re not open yet (flowering is their most vulnerable time), and the rain is not predicted to be heavy enough to do any other damage.

Grape flowers developing

It’d be nice to have the next few weeks dry and warm to kick the vines into gear…

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

This just doesn’t sound right

While I believe strongly that the traditional borders of winemaking need to be continually explored and pushed, I find this statement disturbing:
Peg Melnik, Santa Rosa Press Democrat]

Dennis Martin, vice president of winemaking at Hopland's Fetzer Vineyards, says his winery has used Smith's filtration processes to remove alcohol and aromas of vinegar and fingernail polish from some wines.

Eh? Vinegar and fingernail polish...
What’s the story here…was this wine neglected somehow in the cellar? Perhaps the sulfite level was too low, or the barrels (if they used any on the wine in question) weren’t cleaned properly. It’s hard to tell as there’s no information given as to why the problem occurred. To be sure, there’s variation in barrels from one to the next, and no one’s expected to have 100% success harvest after harvest. But even if this was just an isolated event, somewhere a mistake was made with this particular wine. Yet today a winery can just wave a magic wand over the tank and have that corrected (for a fee to be sure). Are there no consequences other than paying out a bit of money to have the wine treated? (I have tasted some ion exchange treated wines in the past and they generally lost a little aroma during the process, but it's usually not as detrimental as the 'off' flavors which spur the process to be applied in the first place.)

My hat’s off to Clark Smith & the crew at
Vinovation for figuring out how to do that on a production scale...
But I may put that hat back on…suddenly it’s feeling a bit chilly in here.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

A Recommendation

I have been neglectful in not pointing out www.wineforall.com previously. Tish runs a very good site, and one that I particularly like because, like HJWOW his site is meant to encourage wine exploration and to reject elitism and snobbery. Witness:

"In events and writings alike, we reject the notion that wine is complicated and upper-crusty. Wine is fun—and always best when shared."

Of note, be sure to sign up for his emailed newsletter, the latest was one of the best bits of wine writing I've read in quite some time. Among the gems:

Mondovino Analysis - In my opinion, Tish hits the nail on the head with a very fair look at the documentary. I know several people in the film, and based on the way they were portrayed, I can't help but wonder how Nossiter hoped to ever call his work even-handed and anything but manipulative.

Comments about ratings - Excellent observation that food pairings can change wine's "score" to the consumer dramatically (try Italian wines with and without food!). Also, the Gallo of Sonoma abuse from a Speculator score of '55' highlights what I've mentioned
previously about the problem of "following one's (super) nose".

Red Truck outperforming Domaine Balaquère - Red Truck has become a favorite burger/pizza wine around my house and I love to see examples of what I've been saying for a while - take the label (and price tag) off of a bottle and consumers will follow their palate, not their ego, or someone else ratings. Drink what you like....

Dan Berger refusing to taste a wine based on its sell sheet - “I have already tasted this kind of wine,” he wrote. “Not this exact wine, but many like it… " Odd, is Dan lining himself up for the position of crown prince (with the associated ego trip) now that Jim Laube is becoming irrelevant?

Again, check out the site and when you sign up for the newsletter, ask for the May edition, its a classic.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

I was right again...

In an earlier post I had speculated that the EU (Cognac specifically) was going to have problems ‘digesting’ the huge amount of raw brandy that would be produced from the mass distillation they were contemplating. I suggested that one alternative to stem a large impact on the Cognac producers was to use it for fuel or disinfectants.

Bloomberg now reports that the EU will be producing the alcohol for fuel & disinfectants (frankly, it’s the only option that really made sense anyway).
It’s also reported that the amount has risen from the original 1 million hl to 1.5 million hl for France, and an additional 0.4 million hl of Spanish table wine to be distilled as well.

From the Aussie perspective (Bloomberg):

Better branding and increased use of technology helped Australian companies win over consumers while Europe's system has discouraged innovation, according to Brian McGuigan, chief executive of McGuigan Simeon Wines Ltd., Australia's third- biggest publicly traded winemaker.

EU aid has “got to be bad for us, but it's also got to be bad for them because all it's doing is offering a subsidy where there isn't a basis for businesses to exist,” McGuigan said. Europe “should become more specific, it should get out of the bulk areas and concentrate on what it can do well.”

"...where there isn't a basis for businesses to exist..."

McGuigan sure nailed that one on the head.

Continued economic support of the system which produced their current problem –without modifying it first to avoid a repeat of the problem- is not that wise in the long run. Unfortunately, the EU has yet to truly define what the problem is, much less come up with a viable solution. Thus they are stuck for the short term just maintaining their current actions trying to buy time…

But with increasing discontent among producers, especially among the lower end producers in France, that time appears to be running out.