Wednesday, May 24, 2006

GWSS: WHY do we keep tempting fate?

[Napa Valley Register Online]

In all of last year there were several (5) instances of glassy-winged sharp shooter egg masses found in Napa County, and a few in Sonoma County as well. ALL of them were on ornamental plants shipped in from Southern California.


This is a serious pest that can wipe out many different types of agriculture, and the only way to stop the spread on ornamental plants is to stop shipping them around & BUY LOCAL plants for your garden.
And “NO” that doesn’t mean just buying at your local nursery instead of the Home Depot or other national big chain retailer…it’s not the size or ownership of the store that is the problem or even that they’re a small Ma & Pa Kettle type operation. ANY RETAILER can order plants from Southern California’s infected counties, regardless of size…

If you’re buying plants – buy ones that were raised locally. It’s the only way to be sure.
I keep posting on this topic, and hopefully someone has been or will be alerted by it all.
And these lines from the linked article have me worried:

"All the egg-carrying plants that reached Napa County were labeled, per California agricultural regulations, with a blue tag, signifying that the plants originated from sharpshooter-infested counties. Three of the four plant recipients followed the tag's instructions and contacted Napa County's Agricultural Commissioner's Office, which sent out plant inspectors immediately. The latest recipient of a high-risk plant failed to call, but the southern California nursery that sent the plant followed protocol by notifying Napa's agricultural authority, said [Greg Clark, Napa County assistant agricultural commissioner].

The consequences of ignoring a blue tag can range from a warning letter to being fined, to losing one's nursery license, Clark said."
That’s not nearly stringent enough penalties in my mind…

"Beyond the individual penalties, the social repercussions of letting the vineyard menace into Napa County would be grave, Clark said."

Remember that scene in the original Frankenstein movie with the peasants storming the castle with pitchforks & burning torches?
I'm thinking that's what would a start. It would get worse from there...

CDFA web site contains an updated listing of host plants for the GWSS – as well as current info on the spread of the pest, and the research being done to stop it. Read it, and arm yourselves with knowledge!

This is the
CDFA plant quarantine manual with the steps listed to be taken.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

"Single vineyard" - is it what you think it is?

The "single vineyard" (SV) wines...single vintage, unblended, unfined, etc., are held aloft as the pinnacles of that expression of "place". Mere mention of a vineyard designation causes wine geeks to recite their perceived virtues like Linus explaining the true meaning of Christmas...
But are they really "all that", and as "pure", "true" and virtuous as popular wine culture would lead us to think?
Not necessarily so...and more often than not they're blended in some way - though primarily with other wines from the same vineyard (different blocks) and vintage.

These wines are viewed as being purer for a number of reasons, in part due to TTB regulations defining what a single vineyard is, and when that name may appear on the label [see 27CFR4.39(m) if you're really bored or have a legalese fetish].
But what those regulations really say is the name must be approved by the TTB and declares a 95% minimum sourcing be from the vineyard so designated on the label.

Great! Wait...that's it?

Well, I guess it's pretty good, but not as pure as say, Ivory soap's 99 and 44/100ths purity. As far as minimums go, it's the most stringent requirement of any TTB regulation (matched only by the vintage requirement for AVA wines, which still stands as 95% of designated vintage). Yet there are some serious holes in the reg's that producers get to play with - mind you I don't think that's a bad thing, afterall the wines that carry the vineyard designation are almost always unique, even though these production techniques (vinting & blending choices) have been employed. I'll describe problems I see with that below. But first, we should discuss why the designation is important...
  1. if produced from a small single block vineyard the wine is likely to be the closest thing we'll ever get to an expression of "terroir" (vinting choices notwithstanding)
  2. the grapes were all (or at least 95% of them) from one delimited area
  3. it's possible those grapes were harvested at the same time/day and fermented in one batch (reducing many winemaking variables from tank-to-tank)
  4. it's pretty much unblended beyond that vineyard- and even if the vintner does utilize the 5% "other" option it's still pretty pure
  5. it's federally regulated, and any designation must be TTB approved prior to use

Having said that, let's look at some of the problems which could arise with the popular concept of what it should mean:

  1. wineries would/could have many different labels if producers decided to play up SV designations (think 'brand dilution' like Rosenblum, which has many good wines, but rarely can one remember all the different offerings, or find their favorite in a restaurant - or the corresponding nightmare of restaurants trying to stock them all...)
  2. many of the 'extra labels' which would be created by adopting an SV philosophy would be of academic interest only, and would have contributed better to a blend rather than being bottled alone (it's great so many people are interested in those block-to-block variations, but unlikely they'd return for seconds on most leaving wineries with many bottles to decant & reblend)
  3. variations in fermentations from the same fruit picked and fermented the same way still produces different wines even when everything humanly possible is done to prevent that, and unless the winery has a single tank to put all the fruit into, it will more than likely be a blend of those wines produced from the ranch
  4. a "single vineyard" can be quite large, with many different blocks and varietals planted, which is NOT what the popular "ideal" of a single vineyard is...(consider the vineyard below - it IS just one part of one large vineyard, btw...the frame is about 1 mile corner to a pic to enlarge)

And within that vineyard are various elevations, drainages and exposures to weather and sunlight, different trellis systems, different row orientation, spacing, soils...
...which contributes to varying vine vigor, and brings different areas to ripeness at different times...yet it is all considered a single vineyard or ranch (there's no max acreage stipulation in the reg's). All this produces many different wines from the different blocks in the vineyard. And some of those blocks can be quite large and non-homogenous...which some say possibly "dilutes" the terroir expression further.

Would the resulting wines really show what the "place" was?

Maybe? Probably? Is it just romanticism?

If I was really looking for it, I'd tend to stay with single vineyard wines made by estate producers when looking for a consistent benchmark to judge terroir. My experience is that fruit sold to other vintners wouldn't have as much consistency as that controlled from the start of the process through to bottling (say Mondavi Tokolon Cab vs. another producer purchasing Tokolon fruit and vinting it). The terroir would be fairly easily swamped or masked by vinting techniques...consistent techniques might let you peek through to the terroir underneath.

But being estate bottled still doesn't prohibit a producer from blending wines from adjacent vineyard blocks, or even blending in some different varietals produced on the same ranch - if it isn't already a field blend (like the Bucklin's vineyard - which is picked all at once I imagine...Tom, how do they label that anyway?).

However, single vineyard designated wines are probably as close as we'll get commercially to the romantic idea of what terroir should be. And it can be a boon for producers to have several of their vineyards bottled up in various combinations of vinting techniques to showcase how those choices influence the final product.


No bottle of wine is worth more than $10

Whether he believes all this or not (and I think he does), Fred Franzia always makes for an entertaining read......

Particularly interesting are his implications that Constellation has over-leveraged itself and that Australia will collapse soon. No shortage of opinions here.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

EU to reduce wine relief

From [link]

The EU is going to reduce aid to winemakers in a bid to break what is becoming a vicious cycle of subsides (aka “throwing money”) to a system which overproduces.

If aid is split between the member states in a fashion relative to previous production over say, the last 5~10 years, then it should be quite equitable to vignerons over the entire area. But I’d expect to hear A LOT more rumbling from the low-end producers before the end of the next harvest…

I fact, I’d be willing to bet the move will cause more rioting, civil unrest and general mayhem like that we witnessed this past year.

It’s necessary to break the cycle, but nigh impossible to get the producers to feel “OK” with the fact that they’ll have to find something else to plant than grapes for wine use (here’s a REAL problem with tradition based systems: change is viewed as anathema….).

Good luck.

BioD: Why should anyone care?

Why post about biodynamic [BioD] viticulture and winemaking anyway?
Does anyone care?
Should they?

The answer should be "Yes".

Jancis Robinson wrote
More French wineries go biodynamic [see link] at the start of February, and had this to say about BioD producers that she "...most respect[s] have adapted biodynamic methods to their own particular environment and are deeply embarrassed by some of the wilder claims associated with the theory." She then goes on to point out the increased prices of BioD produced wine - noting that the example vintner she uses [Gerard Gauby] has production costs of 8 times what he paid out before he went BioD. Are you prepared to pay 8 times what you're paying now, and have production cut to what, ~25% maybe, of what it is right now?
I know I'm not.

But in favor of more of the French adopting BioD it may make some economic sense: massive overproduction of wine right now is hampering the EU budget as it becomes a yearly mission to bail out producers by distilling that bulk excess into industrial alcohol. A reduction in amounts produced would alleviate some of that financial burden, and would reduce grower/producer economic stresses which are the primary cause of the recent riots in France.
I mean think about it - you only produce a quarter of what used to, but charge 8 times more to make up for production costs. With a little manipulation you could increase your profit at the same time...

I know problems with that scenario are numerous, but the first four on the top of my list are thus:
  1. wine will no longer be affordable to many who drink it now, and will fall back to the default image as a beverage of the wealthy elite, and will stiffle growth during a time when many producers are in need of increased consumer base
  2. consumers would have to see the resulting wines produced as being worth all that extra cabbage they shell out, which is doubtful, and might drive the already dropping number of EU consumers further down
  3. the EU would then have to rely further on its export market, while its' international share is currently declining as the New World wines are gaining favor - economically this would be virtual suicide as New World wines would be much less expensive and gain even more ground (small unknown producers would be hardest hit - provoking more riots)
  4. the BioD movement is based on it having benefits which are not available to organic producers, which evidence does not support to date (not that production costs for organic viticulture are not above those of conventional methods - which generally they are)
Strange, I don't see all that as possible - there are just too many assumptions which aren't likely to happen.

And look how these producers get coverage by Robinson - actually by nearly anyone writing about BioD: this is a small field right now, and the wineries which go BioD have an obvious economic reason to adopt it for the PR alone (not the production costs which are prohibitive to apply to the industry as a whole)...
...that's where this movement get most of it's payback - in increased marketing hype, and differentiating it's products from other producers.

Arguments can be made for increased environmental responsibility with BioD, but there are strong counter arguments which can also be brought in response, including the charge that by adopting that system we ignore remedies for many pests and problems by denying an approach based on scientific evidence.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Franco-Japanese wine drive

This forwarded to me from a friend:

"The Tokyo office of Sopexa, France’s Societe pour l’expansion des ventes des produits agricoles et alimentaires (Society for the Expansion of Sales of Agricultural and Food Products) is presently running a contest where restaurants get a chance in a draw with each eight Bordeaux wine bottle corks they collect.Ten winners receive 100,000 yen ($860) worth of Bordeaux wine."

So, what is $860 in Bordeaux these days?
Like 1 bottle of Petrus, and maybe enough left over to buy a cheap corkscrew...

Wow...the restaurants are getting pretty hosed on that one.

Can't really say that the french are taking much of a risk at all with that...not even a full case of Petrus...

French pour resources into Japan wine market [link]

Meanwhile, the Aussies report more penetration of the Japanese market as well..

"But, although wine's share of the total Japanese alcoholic beverages market remains stuck around 2.7 per cent - where it has been for five years - imports of Australian still (bottled, non-sparkling) wines grew last year almost 24 per cent to 8.7 million litres.

At the same time French sales, which have long dominated the Japanese market, declined 9.4 per cent, while total import volumes of still wines contracted 5 per cent."
[the Australian online - link]

Bonny Doon crop circle found!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Wine spies discover GM wine?

Interesting thoughts about GM organisms being used to produce wine:
Wine Spies blog
Interesting in that one person commenting suggests that perhaps that the way to greater public acceptance of GM technology is through the wine/alcohol markets.

I'm not sure that's the best avenue as the industry for wine production is fairly conservative.
Ok – so the post is really about the fact that a French company has a GM yeast available on the US market…

But isn’t that how it starts? Just like micro-Ox, the French seem to have a penchant (or nefarious vein?) for inventing technologies to use in wine production, then sell them in export markets…

…while back home in France, the vignerons then rail against the countries using them as being “unnatural” or “not authentic”.

Sounds like something Sun Tzu would have proposed in his book The Art of War.

And where’s the debate about GMO usage in/for wine production? Here's a link to one post, but other than a handful of sites in the last 5 months there really isn't one going on right now (maybe since the Sonoma County GMO ban lost in the election last November by a 60:40 margin the issue has gone dormant?)...
GMO use in wine debate (Amorim)

Weird – it’s from Amorim SA cork supply company…other than the fact that Amorim makes/markets a natural product (corks) I don't understand the reason for them to be carrying it...

The hypothetical heat resistant vine they envision would be an interesting application.


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Here we go again! (BioD)

In today’s Press Democrat [5/3/06 Life & Travel, pgs D1, D7] we have yet another example of reporters trying to get a story out, but not bothering to get the facts straight.

“The Biodynamic Way”, penned by Virginia Boone, is an article which essentially can be reduced to an interview with Mike Benziger. (Which is kind of the point of BioD, being able to get more press and differentiate your products from the sea of other producers out there.)
The same mistakes are made again and again: it reports that the consultant Alan York touts the BioD products as not better, but “that they are more authentic”; it reports that the quartz preparation “both toughens leaves and boosts their ability to photosynthesize” – which is a wild claim & needs some evidence to support it considering that the quartz is insoluable in water, and has nothing to impart to the vine; and misleads readers by declaring at the start of the article that BioD is “the highest form of organic farming” - which is a supposition.

I've railed against the 'authentic' label many times (see [don’t make wines for high scores],
[wine is made in the vineyard] , [Authentic wines] , [how to practice biodynamics]) and really don't see anything new in this article to support their claim. And it's a pretty sly way to slam someone else's products by stating "we're not saying we're better...oh, but did we tell you about how they're lying to you?" - which is in effect what the BioD crowd does with the not-better-but-authentic differentiation they constantly offer to consumers.

Oh, please, stop it already!

An interesting quote from Benziger, in reference to the newer generation of wine drinkers is relayed thusly:
“They are very sensitive about being marketed to or sold to and they’re very sensitive about the truth…”
Interesting, isn’t it? Yet where is this “truth” he’s supposedly offering them, and what’s it based on? Pretty lofty words for someone who is doing just that - marketing to the same people he says are somewhat gun-shy to marketing crap. It seems to me that BioD is merely the tool by which they can then charge $80 for their “Tribute” Cab…

I’ll let you read the article, but it appears the manure’s heaped pretty high right now....

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