Thursday, February 23, 2006

Yeast and diversity in wine

"The French don't have a word for wine-maker, the yeast makes the wine. We just fashion or steward it. Indigenous yeast adds a layer of complexity. It's not a monoculture of yeast from which you would get a homogenized flavor profile.… If I am taking yeast out of a laboratory in Napa, I've just thrown you off track because I haven't got anything to do with Napa. The yeast is so fundamental to creating the flavors of the wine. It just makes sense to use indigenous yeast."
- Doug Tunnel, Brick House Vineyards (Oregon)

Just because the French vocabulary is defective and doesn't have a word for winemaker doesn't make that fact a good basis for an argument about how to make wine - does it? I mean Spanish doesn't have a word specifically for "winery" what?

But it’s an interesting thought; wines made in one region are different because of the natural yeast flora in their cellars as opposed to other regions – or even other producers within the same region. It’s quite romantic, but it’s not necessarily true. And if the above is true, why pay winemakers at all?

Yeast as Terroir
Would yeast contribute to terroir? Certainly it can be argued that it’s one component of what has been called terroir, but it’s a part of the larger subject of winemaking.

Weather, viticulture decisions and winemaking styles all influence the final wine. Whether to add yeast is an expression of the winemaker’s intentions and vision. However, it’s pretty doubtful that by using yeast from Napa I could disguise a wine made with grapes from the Dundee Hills in Oregon. Other winemaking decisions that were made, as well as the climate and viticulture would still be more influential than simply the choice of yeast I think. If that's not right, then Napa would be up a creek (sorry about the pun) as everyone in the world would use yeasts isolated there to produce wines that rivaled the originals (that was the idea with the original yeast collections in Burgundy and Bordeaux). Then there’s yet another question to be asked: how many consumers – or even serious wine collectors – would be able to tell the difference between two wines, one made with indigenous yeast and the other with commercially available yeast if they weren’t first alerted to that fact? Would they then prefer the indigenous yeast wine? Perhaps not universally...
And are those differences retained in the wine throughout its life, or are they transient in nature?

Monocultures, and risk management
Some argue (as above) that monocultures of yeast reduce desired complexity and produce homogenized (read here as “predictable”, “flat”, “unexciting”, “dull”) flavors and aromas. If over-used, and if you can entertain a vision of the entire wine world using but a single yeast regimen, then yes that would be a poor future. But it would also be a rather interesting failure of human innovation and imagination, and would require the prior homogenization of all human tastes in wine (culturally, and perhaps physically as well).
Reality is a bit different than that scenario.
Yeast monocultures (commercial yeast preparations) have been around for over 100 years in brewing, and over 70 in winemaking. C’mon now, shouldn’t the homogenization of flavors and aromas already have taken place – if it was going to take place at all?
In all that we have seen in the last century as far as increased diversity of wine styles and increased wine quality, is it reasonable to assume that suddenly humanity would lose sight of individuality and taste differences to adopt a single yeast to do all of its wine fermentations?
NO…I don’t think so.

Collection and propagation of wine yeast culture was originally done to preserve and to promulgate the styles of wines crafted by the great French Chateaux, and was carried out by French university professors back in the 1930’s (back in Steiner’s day, interestingly enough). The specimens collected were undoubtedly of mixed organisms, and were more than likely to have had variable results when applied. Some components of the original flora may have died during handling and storage to leave the more robust genera to dominate when finally pitched. There would have been no way for the yeasts purchased to have really been representative (in a viable sense) of what was in the winery where they were collected – and therefore no way for them to have possibly made the same wine as the original chateau where they were harvested – if indeed the premise is true that the driving reason for their final character was the indigenous yeast of the cellar they were made in…
That premise is of course central to the whole debate of indigenous vs. “commercial” yeasts, but falls apart when vinicultural styles and individuality of the winemaker are introduced to the equation, not to mention the differences in fruit sourcing.
In the end, I ask myself “do the French then have themselves partly to blame for what now is railed against by le petite artisane vigneron?”
[see Cultured Yeast, Wine Business Monthly, for some interesting viewpoints]
The answer to that is yes, but I wouldn’t disallow the French to change their minds.

The problems with spontaneous (indigenous) ferments are the variability. Some years may be good, while other years, with say late rains which help strip yeast from the fruit, may have problems getting started. Pitching a commercial yeast culture decreases the chances of failure, allows for more wine to be of increased quality, and decreases the price the consumer pays by reducing the amount of substandard wine produced and decreasing waste. Pitching a few pounds of a quality known yeast into a 10-ton vat with the grapes you just paid $50,000 alone for is insurance and piece of mind that you haven’t just committed yourself to the poor house (it's always easier for people to call for indigenous ferments when it's NOT their money in the tank!). Less lag time for other nasty organisms to establish themselves means better chances of not having lactic or acetic bacteria screw up your wine. There’s also a case to be made that a population of known S. carlbergensis will help to ferment to dryness and thereby make your wine less likely to be a breeding ground for Brettanomyces…it would be an interesting study to see what proportion of the wines which test positive for Brett later in their lives were actually fermented with indigenous yeasts compared to pitched commercial yeasts. Guess I just found my next homework project…

That commercial yeast strains have flourished in the last 30~40 years is part of the progress of mankind and technology. The incidence of ferments which stop when we don’t want them to is down. Greater numbers of yeasts and variations of those strains have been identified. The ability to enhance varietal aromas by choice yeast selections, or to decrease the amount of alcohol that would otherwise result from fermentations
[Aussie modified yeast link], or degrade malic acid [Mauri yeast] without producing creamy or buttery notes, or a host of other alternative production variables can all now be part of the selection process.
This has led to MORE diversity in the wines humanity makes, with greater variability…

Some have even forged ahead with co-fermentations where several strains of “pure” yeasts have been added simultaneously to ferment side by side, or sequentially added during different stages of the ferment. The “cold soaking” of musts for a few days prior to actual fermentation has also potentially played a hand in the selection and promotion of cryo-tolerant yeasts during the first few days, populations of which also play a hand in the final wine profile.

It seems to me that progress in this case is a much desired thing.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Springtime & GWSS...

It that time of year again - for sharpshooter spotters!

Last year there were several instances of Glassy-winged Sharpshooter (GWSS) eggs being shipped into Napa and Sonoma Counties on landscaping from southern California. As the weather warms up, and the rains (and snow!) subside, shipments will increase to the northern nurseries as it has in the past. Hopefully, this year there won’t be any such instances, but it’s better to be prepared. And maybe – just maybe – the people doing the inspections down south will get it right 100% of the time this year.

[post 4/15/05] [post 4/19/05] [post 4/26/05] [post 5/10/05] [post 5/13/05]

And with a slightly early spring and plenty of water this past season, there’s a possibility that there has been better over-winter survival, and the potential for more habitat for this pest to utilize.

This is not a situation I like at all. It's time again to get the homeguard armed and posted in the field!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Kramer: a little wide of the mark

Dana Nigro penned an article about Wine Spectator columnist Matt Kramer's continued championing of "wines of conviction" - specifically Biodynamic (aka BioD) wines.
(Wine Spectator, 12/31/05~1/15/06 issue, pg 100)

He's a little wide of the mark on several points, in my opinion.

1. "...whether ritual aspects work is not really important."
So why bother with them if they don't matter? Why pay money for certification and esoteric vineyard additives, as well as consultants? I think those rituals ARE important to BioD And frankly, after you strip those rituals away, there isn't anything left to really differentiate it from organic viticulture...not to mention that those rituals would've gotten you burned at the stake just a few hundred years ago. (They were only traditional rituals in Steiner's mind, I doubt there's much evidence to support his practices historically...) And as I pointed out a few days ago in my review of Steiner's 'agriculture lectures', "the process [read here as ritual] - not the substance - is important", which is clearly at odds with Kramer's statement above.

2. All growers and winemakers are vulnerable to Nature's whims, not just BioD growers. A better point would've been for Kramer to point out that wines made without recourse to modern technologies have potential for greater monetary losses in bad vintages.

3. Low yields can be obtained by anyone, not just those who follow BioD. And I've read quite a bit of material on BioD, and nowhere does Steiner ever really set limits on yields - other than to advocate not overcropping or the use of fertilizers...both of which are ideals anyone can adopt without following BioD.

4. "...drinking wines [made with modern technologies] we become untethered...we and our wines become grotesque."
I'm not sure where to go with this, except to state that it's false. Does everyone who drinks Cognac become more erudite, affluent and sophisticated? Contrary to popular advertising, the answer is "No". You are what you are, period. Drinking a particular wine won't change you at any level, and would be entirely subjective anyway.

5. "You can taste courage."
Oh Bullshit. that statement is as ludicrous as Joly or Nossiter stating they can "taste authenticity" in wines. "Courage" receptors just ain't there, Kramer. What's more is that all he's really espousing is the power of image, suggestion and expectations. No wonder this piece didn't garner more than two columns in the Spectator.

6. A mere 3 wines are brought forth as examples.
Wouldn't (shouldn't) there be more correlation that just a few wines? How can someone present 3 bottles then claim it applies to wines made using those techniques? And a Sierra Foothills Cab for $41? - get real! When a Foothills Cab costs as much as a Napa Cab (which is already overpriced) you've gotta ask "Why?"...
Is that what BioD's going to do - raise the prices of all wines through the roof? Can't say I'm in favor of that, and the Foothills Cab was the only of the three that was under $100!

7. "...a religious and philosophical group..."
That phrase is a little eerie these days...I mean just what type of group are we talking about here?

The Reverend Jim Jones and his Peoples' Temple?
Or something a bit more in-the-news like millitant radical Islamists, or the 700 Club?

This article shows yet another reason to be wary of BioD - nationally syndicated wine critics espouse it's use with one breath while discounting it's myriad ritual formulae with another. Why bother with it then? It's a somewhat schizophrenic point of view in my opinion - emotionally he's saying 'use this system', while logically he's dismissing its' core beliefs and ritual.

What he should be saying is that he favors winemaking without much intervention, ferments without pitched yeasts, and minimal use of sulfites, all using grapes which were grown on vineyards with no herbicides/pesticides/fertilizer used and very low yields.

Look at that - I encapsulated it in one (run-on) sentence for him to use in the future!


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Still wondering about Hang Time?

The debate about the amount of time after ripeness that grapes remain on the vine before picking (aka "hang time") was a much hotter topic last year and the preceding harvest.

But since about August 2005, there hasn't been much coverage of the topic.
November 2005 was to be the third seminar of the Napa Grape Growers Hang Time series, but there hasn't been a word about the results of the seminar, or if it even took place or not.
[See here for the releases]

The reason for putting it on the back-burner?
Probably the larger than normal harvest we've just experienced put a damper on it. Quite a bit of the noise being made was due to the perceived shortchanging of the growers by allowing the fruit to dehydrate a bit before picking. This allowed wineries to pay less for the fruit (which wieghed less), and possibly add water to rehydrate it at the crush pad.

Now practices like this are a serious detriment to the grower-vintner relationship. Growers experience more financial difficulties due to lower returns per acre of fruit, even though their crop levels were the same as in the past. Wineries reaped the rewards by getting more concentrated fruit, and paying less overall. Discussion also centered on the styles of wine which were produced from the fruit, with some lamenting the change from past practices of a lighter wine style.

Anyway, a larger crop (~40% over what was expected just for Chardonnay) decreased the impetus of the discussion, as growers realized more income from the "bonus" tons which were harvested. Afterall, these bonus tons were harvested without any significant increase in their farming costs. With vintners and growers both busy with the super-sized harvest, November was perhaps NOT the best time to have scheduled the seminar (fruit was still being harvested then).

Hopefully there will be some word on this subject - but in the meantime, here are some links to previous posts on hang time...
More on Hang Time 4/18/05
Last word on Hang Time 6/9/05
Heart of the Matter... 7/10/05

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Yesterday's news

Sonoma State University (CSU Sonoma) has announced it may have to cancel the current offering of Wine Entrepreneurship if there isn't increased enrollment.

Some 13 people have signed up in a class which usually draws 30~40 student, according to the Director of the Wine Business Program Mack Schwing.

Hey, Mack -
Just a wild thought, but it might be due to the $495 fee to enroll...

Saturday, February 11, 2006

How to practice Biodynamics...?

Previously I have reviewed Nicholas Joly's book Wine, from Earth to Sky on this site. That was after reading it while trying to determine exactly what BioD was.

His work was impossible to make any sense out of, and it left me troubled that so many people have jumped on the BioD bandwagon without even a thought as to what other practices it entails, or philosophy it espouses. I mean, just because you had a good wine that someone said was made using a certain philosophy doesn't automatically and universally make that philosophy a good one, does it?

I still had a hankering to find out exactly what it was that Rudolf Steiner had said seven decades ago that started this whole mess of BioD farming. Perhaps my disappointment with Joly's book was that he (Steiner) was subjected to two layers of translation (German > French, then French > English) and one "interpretation" (by Joly) before I got to it...and that doesn't even account for various editors in that chain either...

So - I rationed - if I read the original Steiner work, as translated by the people who belong to the official Rudolf Steiner Press (their own publishing house) that I would cut out some misinterpretation on Joly's part, as well as possible misunderstandings of Steiner's ideas during another round of translation...


The original is about as impenetrable and insubstantial as anything ever put together.

In fact, it reinforces the idea that if there is any improvement in BioD wines from other methods they are due to something other than BioD practices - with ONE possible exception...
...the fact that growers and vintners are actually in the fields watching and reacting to growing conditions that much faster.

His (Steiner's) philosophy is so backwards, and so completely ignores anything contrary to it, that at the end it remains totally unsupported - no true foundation for the dogmatic regulations and theory is ever laid.

Some gems of Steiner's thought:

- Classic cosmology is borrowed from Greek, Roman and Ptolemaic system (Earth at center, then in order, Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn revolve around the Earth. Neptune and Uranus are both completely ignored although both were discovered well before Steiner formed his theories..Pluto was discovered after his death, so he gets a "bye" on that one point). It is using this system that came to his "conclusions" about how these planets influence agriculture

- it's a polyglot of Hindu, asceticism and other "historical" religions (as reconstructed and adapted by Steiner - some writers calling the resulting practices "pseudo-folk practices"), with peasant folklore and primitivism as central driving forces and ideals

- Modernism (progress) is viewed as a disease which distances us from primitivism and "authenticity" (which ignores the fact that very progress was a product of those 'authentic' people to start with)

- access to your "authentic" self is somehow blocked...though the arguments for that are rudimentary, speculative, dogmatic, and eventually self-contradicting

- Cosmic influences travel into the Earth and must be liberated before they can be utilized by plants and animals (which ignores the conclusion that these forces would have to travel through the organic matter before they could lodge in the Earth...)

- Mars influence is represented by plants with the color Red (yeah, like that wasn't an obvious choice), Jupiter by all plants White or Yellow, and Saturn obviously is controlling all plants which have Blue flowering parts ...whatever...

- Calcium is brought into agriculture preferably via skulls and bones, because they are in a "form created by nature", which ignores the fact that limestone, diatomaceous earth and chalk are ALSO formed from small shells and are biological in their origins

- it is transcendental in nature - experimentation is eschewed for "direct feeling" (intuition), and though exprimentation is always suggested, it seems to consist of "intuit" experimentation - which suggests just thinking of what needs to be done or what is the proper remedy for a problem is sufficient

- because of the preceding point, it consists almost entirely of what can only be called a "lazy man's philosophy" at it's most arrogant, with rampant unsupported conclusions which somehow are used to justify further conclusions later on

- YEAST is mentioned but once in the entire work (pg 104), and then only in a passing example of how we use some substances to make our foods that we wouldn't eat by themselves (right after that he continues "[s]o many strange ideas are prevalent." in apparent reference to everyone else's ideas without considering his own. He was obviously a bit myopic...)

- "The process - not the substance - is important." (pg 104, emphasis in original) This one statement tells more than almost any other about what he's looking for: the ritual is what he's interested in, not whether it's effective or not...

-VINES are mentioned 3 times: first in answer to a question about whether the manures can be used on vines (yes); second as he suggests that the Phylloxera epidemic was a result of the loss of "peasant values" (which it obviously wasn't), and that BioD would 'cure it' (which it obviously hasn't) in the past 70 years; lastly when asked if "as anthroposophists" if it was legitimate for them "to resuscitate vine-growing" AT ALL...(meaning viticulture, and implying winemaking and consumption as well as apparently many members were temperance oriented)...Steiner gave a pretty wimpy 'well-it-depends' type of answer, noting that some members did while others chose to support abstinence. Doesn't sound like someone who really cared about viticulture or wine quality at all...

- WINE is never mentioned in the text other than as an example in the preceding point, as one Anthroposophist was apparently a promoter of a German (Austrian or Swiss?) sparkling wine

...I'll leave the readers to wade through the balance of the weirdness in this book, but I can say that it's a most dissatisfying feeling to start this book and see just how slipshod Steiner's thinking was. That there was some winemaking system ever laid down by Steiner is laughable - everything which is passed off as BioD winemaking is based on inference and individual interpretation of Steiner. This contributes to the lack of a consistent outcome when applying BioD to wine - there is no clear set of directives ever laid out. It shouldn't be a big surprise then that there are so many different interpretations about what BioD really is and what it encompasses; Steiner's self-contradiction and ambiguous teachings allow that one person could say it supported "X" and the next could say it prohibited "X" on most points. It's plain that Steiner just didn't know the answers and speculated wildly, or was deliberately equivocating to try to please everyone. And the dogma which is used to support the overall theme is obviously why the biodynamic theory is viewed as religion by most outsiders: it requires blind faith in the lunatic ramblings of Steiner...

In conclusion, I'll call attention to the dangers inherent with directing valid ecological concerns in the wrong direction. That's a recipe for disaster as many try "remedies" which have no affect on the root causes. In fact, the fantasy bucolic society Steiner imagines and advocates never existed, and the effect of his fallacious image is - though an alluring alternative to modernity - neither soundly ecologically based nor an acceptable solution to unchecked progress. That it has been associated with quality wines seems to be rather by luck than anything of substance, assigning it as the reason for any increased quality is a spurious speculative assertion.

Steiner's work was also used as supporting theory for the Nazi-eco policies (as well as some racial theories of his) in the 1930's~40's.
In fact Demeter itself had a very pro-racist stance in 1930's which reappears from time to time in published works from some of their supporters, admin and editorial staff. Steiner's Anthroposophy is still used today by some eco-fascists and neo-Nazi Skinheads as justification for their views.

[See the following links Anthroposophy and Ecofascism, Ecofascism / Fascist Ideology ]
PLEASE NOTE: I'm NOT suggesting all followers of Steiner (or Anthroposophy in general) are racists or neo-Nazi supporters, just that Steiner himself WAS apparently a member of the Nazi party in the 1920's before his death, and that his published theories on racial purity, and the superiority of the "Aryan" race are still in circulation today to justify some rather scary elements of humanity. If he was that wrong on this point (and a myriad of other points as well), why would anyone believe he's beyond questioning on these agricultural and philosophical issues? He wasn't the genius he's been made out to be, period. And if indeed his published statements on these racial matters are to be dismissed, it undercuts any authority he speaks with on all other subjects, and indicates that his equivication to try to please all listeners leaves him sounding hollow, insincere, and confused at best.
[See the following for a few Steiner defenders ~ Coulee de Serrant, Defending, New Myths About Rudolf Steiner]

My viewpoint? Well, if it wasn't already obvious from my earlier posts or the present one, I think the above parody book cover makes it quite clear. If you find a wine you like, drink it - regardless of how it was produced. I won't be searching out BioD wines specifically, but if I find one that works for me I might try other wines from that same producer - regardless of how they were produced.

Cow's horns....sheeesh!

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

A Dedication to Caveman

If the idea of man intervening in the natural process of making wine (you know, the "natural" process of selection the best cuttings, grafting them onto a rootstock, mixing in ox blood, etc.), then you shouldn't read this article. Professor Biegler is going to take the wine industry's infamous variation in its manufacturing process and do for it what he did for petroleum and pharmaceutical companies - give it consistency! [evil chortling]

The article is rather humorous if you read carefully. It notes that wines become "more fruity" with age and implies that California wineries add sugar as well as water (though I think they're referring to the French but don't understand the difference).

Just think - someday the horrible nuisance of vintage variation will be eradicated, just like polio!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Terroir: Masked by mankind

I've been thinking for the past few years about the idea of terroir, and came to the conclusion long ago that Mankind's influence upon wine was sure to mask many aspects that terroir would contribute to the equation ( to use Tom's analogy from Fermentation).

Since V. vinifera has such a wide range of growing habitats, it's somewhat easy to see what different macroclimates influence on wine grapes is. It's widely acknowledged that the hot interior of California is less favorable to premium wine production than the coast for example. The primacy of climate and weather is important in thinking about what terroir truly is, because it's the one aspect of growing grapes that is truly out of mankind's control. Everything else (microclimate induced by viticulture decisions, rootstock, varietal, harvest decisions, and winemanking style chosen) is so influenced by mankind that the description of a(ny) wine as 'Natural' is preposterous in my mind...and further arguments made regarding wines which are 'more natural' than another are misleading. So then are the arguments that one can taste terroir - in fact we are always tasting some winemakers interpretation of what terroir should be. There is no wine unadulterated, nor can there be, by mankinds influences.

The following blog entry from Hand to Mouth (a South African wine blog) is a good article in how it approaches the subject. The conclusion of the piece, that one can approach terroir by a minimalist winemaking style is perhaps correct, but still too far off the mark to taste terroir by itself. They acknowledge that as well.

I think they also are on the mark with the suggestion that "the ability to taste terroir " may be a wholely romantic idea.

Jamie Goode also recently penned an article about 'naturalness in wines' (and how winemakers view technology), and I think it contains a jewel of a quote by Michael Havens of Havens Wine Cellars (see article), which reinforces the point I was trying to make last October when I wrote about 'authentic wines': the ideas of naturalness, and authenticity (and terroir, IMO) are rooted in the Romanticism of the past 200 years. It's a very attractive idea, but too insubstantial to be of real use on anything but a broad level.

The conclusion that there is any real substance that we can point to and definitively say "this is terroir" or "this is natural wine" - much less taste that ethereal quality - is doubtful at best. The use of the term is abused, over-used, and under defined.

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Monday, February 06, 2006

Slaying the Barley Dragon

I started this blog in July of 2004 with the hope that I could try, in my small way, to knock wine off its high horse and remove a bit of the elitism that Americans associate with the beverage (after all, at the end of the day, that's all it is - a beverage). I hoped that wine consumption in this country would become a common, everyday thing - that people would routinely look to their wine rack/cellar/cupboard at mealtime to open a bottle with family and friends, not in celebration of an event, but merely because wine tastes damn good with food and vice versa. I have often hoped that one day, America would pass Uruguay in per-capita consumption!

It appears that I have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams (written with tongue embedded in cheek). New 2005 IRI data, as compiled by Rich Cartiere's Wine Market Report shows that wine is outpacing beer growth by a significant margin (9.6% growth versus .7% growth, respectively). Although total beer sales in dollars are still double those of wine, wine (should both maintain their growth rates) would actually pass beer in 9 or 10 years. These troubles for beer are reflected in Bud's recent poor earnings report (why don't they buy a big winery or something?).

IRI did show that domestic volume sales were up in 2005 by just 1.9%, and imports were up 7.5%. However, as I'd theorized previously, most of this shift to imports was in the below $9 range. Take out [yellow tail] and you find very little change. This is reinforced by the fact that the domestic and imported sales growth was the same at 10.3% (is the US losing the sub $10 battle? - maybe so).

Varietally speaking, Pinot Noir continued to show dramatic growth (volumes up 67% over 2004), but beware the Sideways Hangover as mediocre Pinot will soon be flooding the market and turning off many new fans. Zinfandel showed nice gains (yay!) of 12% by volume and in whites, Pinot Grigio/Gris was up 25%.

In any case, no matter how the import/domestic and varietal mixes come out, its good to see Americans drinking more vino!

Friday, February 03, 2006

Additives conversation

This link is an great conversation going on over at Vinography right now, which all started with an observation by Alder as to why a wine additive called Mega Purple would have been put into a wine blend.

His feeling is that it's a pretty unsavory situation, and there's been quite a bit of discussion on the's definitely worth a read...

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Update - Virginia Wineries Lose

As an update to an earlier post, Virginia wineries are set to lose their ability to self distribute their products in Virginia as house bill 1288 was tabled in the Virginia Legislature.

The passage of this bill is essential for the mostly small (averaging 2,500 cases) Virginia wineries to be able to continue to self-distribute their products to restaurants and retailers. Without this legislation, they would be forced to add another 25-35% markup to their wines for nothing more than distributor profit.

Let's hope this doesn't stop the roll that the forces of good have had recently over liquor distributors.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Redwoods and mineral notes...

Mendocino County's growing reputation (pun intended - though it was weak) for premium wine grapes will be boosted this year by higher acid levels than normal.

Couple that with the affordable land they have (at the moment) and you have a rather attractive area for the next 'hot' wine appelation in California. And maybe it's that Mendocino's somewhat a late arrival, wineries really started popping up there in the mid 1970's I think, but also that laid-back feeling the county exudes...even more so than Sonoma County (especially relative to the feeling that one gets in Napa). That they have enacted one of those goofy anti-GMO bans is indicative of many of the ex-hippies who still live up there, as well as a vociferous (as well as some who are slightly militant) number of eco-concerned citizens. Hopefully the odd mix which is Mendocino will have the ability to guide the wine industry of their area towards land use which supports tourism, commerce and their environment...

The fact that vintners are looking to expand the industry up there is already causing some concern among the residents. I wish both sides good luck in finding compromises to their wishes.

Anyway, it's a land of towering redwoods, beautiful ocean vistas, sharp ridges, and wonderful mineral notes. After malic fermentation this year there should be plenty of that signature 'mineral' character and 'gravelly texture' for everyone to enjoy. The few Anderson Valley Chards (~15) from the '05 vintage that I've been invited to taste so far have the makings of yet another great vintage for them.

I think the Anderson Valley is best for Pinot, Chards & some other white wines, but is still searching for its own signature wine (Chard?). Mendocino County has a growers and vintners coalition to help promote the region, and strive to make the best wines they can and try to elevate Mendocino's reputation even further. I hear that some of their members even are making reserve bottlings that command prices of around $40/btl. Not too shabby...

The Ukiah and Willits areas do have more Cab, Merlot and Zin grapes than the Anderson Valley/Navarro river watershed does, and rightly so – the Anderson Valley tends to be much colder and more suited to Pinot & white grapes. To the North of Ukiah, Potter and Redwood Valleys also produce very good Pinot, and some very nice Sauv Blanc as well, but again tend to be much cooler than Ukiah or Hopland.
And the Ukiah plain has some wonderful old vine Zin and Carignane still being farmed, and makes a wonderful zin in the older ‘California Bordeaux’ (cringe) style. Not being as hot as Lodi or Napa, nor Sonoma’s Dry Creek, it allows for higher acids in the Zinfandels much like the Russian River AVA, while retaining moisture for fewer raisins than hotter areas (always seems to be a problem for zinfandel vines due to it’s wild flowering habits).

-BUT It's NOT the Soil!-
I have a bet going on right now to see how many wine writers make the mistake of declaring the wines "show more terroir this year" and falsely ascribe the mineral notes to the soils of the region...
An ancillary bet is to see which wineries then jump on the wagon, and further perpetuate that myth...

Time will tell if I win or not. A surf & turf dinner is on the line with my choice of wines to accompany it...something tells me this one's in the bag.