Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Sioux nation beer ban

This article from the Houston Chronicle:

Mark Vasina, president of Nebraskans for Peace, a mostly non-Indian activist group that tried to end alcohol sales in the border town, said the blockade is the only option left.

"They said, `Nebraska is not going to do anything. The only recourse is to do something on the reservation.' So the blockade was on in a flash," Vasina said. He added: "It's not for a day, not for a week, not for a month. The intention is to have an ongoing blockade there."

Lance Lintt, who works at the Jumping Eagle Inn, one of the four stores in Whiteclay, said of the blockade: "I just don't know how it's going to work or how they have any legal grounds to confiscate any beer. I just don't think they'll get anyone to stop for them."

The plan is to set up checkpoints just inside the reservation's boundaries. Volunteers in Whiteclay will use radios to tell workers at the checkpoints which vehicles should be stopped and searched for beer. Other vehicles will not have to pull over.

Tribal police will not enforce the blockade but will be present to maintain order, said Alex White Plume, vice president of the tribal council.

I just have to go on record saying that this is a bad idea.
Yes, alcohol is being abused there. But the availability of alcohol is not the real problem. Massive, pernicious and chronic unemployment is the problem.
The Pine Ridge reservation has had unemployment in the 75~85% range for a decade that I'm aware of, and some 95% of the population lives below the federal poverty level.

Sadly, it doesn't appear that there will be any new jobs created for the tribe by the enforcement policy, so unemployment will not be affected and the price of beer inside the reservation will only skyrocket due to the ban.
Hmmm... sounds like the only jobs that will emerge from this will be in the transport (blockade runners) and distribution of beer or other alcoholic beverages.

Have we lost the lessons of prohibition so soon?

knocking the dust off

A few light sprinkles fell this morning.
Nothing to be alarmed about, every vine where I am has already flowered and has set a crop ( if it was going to...).

The "rain" - if you can even call it that - only woke me up this morning because I heard it hitting the wheelbarrow I left outside the bedroom window instead of putting back into the shed last night. My dogs stirring on the floor is probably what really woke me: with mountain lions sightings this last week within the cities of Santa Rosa and Windsor, I'm feeling kind of restless in bed. We're out in a vineyard, so it's doubtful the sheriff would just be passing by to lend a hand in case we did have one in our yard or vineyard. Marlowe & Sam are fairly good sized and would probably attack the lion, but probably get badly mauled if not killed. Mrs. Johnson's ankle-biter Princess would only cower in shame.

Anyway, the rain isn't really of import, except to note that the last two years have had more instances of "summer" rain - which isn't what we traditionally have here in California.
Nothing fell that will be of consequence to the vineyards, but extra moisture and mold pressures are never welcome.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Two great quotes from Richard Branson in Megan's blog:

"Wine, like life, is meant to be enjoyed," said Branson. "All the pomp and ceremony currently associated with wine just gets in the way of enjoying it."

"Dare to enjoy this wine without dashes of pretentiousness or hints of snootiness. Virgin Vines believes wine should be all about having fun and loving the taste ... not waxing poetically about meaningless wine-speak and food pairings."


Friday, June 16, 2006

A Revisionist Judgment of the Judgment of Paris

Those who follow Dan Berger's column know that the author has shown growing discontent with his perception of overripeness in California wines. His, to my mind, rather odd interpretation of the 2006 (re)Judgment of Paris reflects what I can only think to be a rather bizarre slant on this tasting.

To wit: " was assumed one reason (that the California wines won) was that the evaluators in 1976 had pretty much ignored the terroir aspect of the judging and simply voted on which wines were best."

This strikes me as a profound statement. Profoundly odd, that is. If one believes that wines can be judged in a competitive setting (as Mr. Berger must as he has served as a judge in thousands of them), then wouldn't it necessarily follow that the criteria for determining the best wine is to agree on which is best? If a competition were held to determine the wine that the most austere, flinty, earthy, barnyardy, what-have-you, then I could see a terroir-based competition. However, if one is to have a competition (which implies a winner), mustn't one vote for the wine one believes is best?

Revisionist history notwithstanding, I can't see the relevance of applauding the French wines of 1976 with a posthumous pat on the back for exhibiting terroir since the judges at the competition were French and believed they were voting for French wines! (read the
Judgment of Paris for the full story)

Applauding the French vintners for keeping terroir, but losing the competition is akin to congratulating Dennis Rodman for his new tattoo and piercing, despite his team being outscored by 40 points.


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Temps, water & quality wine

One of the points of my post on flavor wheels and environmental warming was the changes in temperatures which will change the way our favorite wines taste. Humidity will also play an important role, though it seems harder to make a generalization about whether it will be rising or dropping due to the increased temps (likely will vary with contrasts between areas becoming more pronounced).

Rainfall patterns will be affected, and may require vintners to irrigate where they haven't previously done so, wetter areas may dry out, etc. But one way to visualize the possible changes would be to compare the California Coast to it's much hotter (and drier) Central and San Joaquin valleys.
Since today's date is 6/6/06, it seemed as good of day as any to put them side by side for a fiendish comparison...
[we'll look at Santa Rosa for a spot representing the North Coast, Monterey both because it represents the central coast area and also because it's on nearly the same latitude as Fresno, and of course -Fresno!- because it'
s a perfect example of the typical San Joaquin Valley environment...]

Here we have the 4:00 AM PDT relative humidity (%RH) which will help illustrate the drying effects of the different areas...(uncontrolled dehydration is not a good thing if you're trying to keep the sugars from shooting skyward while you await maximum flavor development...)

Note that both Monterey and Santa Rosa start at 96% RH (which means there isn't really any dehydration to speak of during this time)...

Now we see 7 AM PDT and the areas are starting to warm up & their %RH drops - but faster when you're away from the more humid coastal area...Fresno now starts to drop much faster as it heats up without the influx of more humid cool air to moderate the drying effect of a hot sunny day. Then again it did start the day @ only 61% RH, so there was some water evaporation from the vines & fruit even during the night.

10 AM local time & it's getting worse. The air in the central valley is really sucking up available water...but it still pales in comparison to the values at 1 PM local time today...

Fresno is at 29% while Santa Rosa is 45%; Monterey remains almost at 70% near the hottest part of the day. And it's not muggy either - the high temp in Monterey was only supposed to reach 65°F.

High temps for 6/6/06...

The beauty of the North and Central Coasts are that the temps and the RH will reverse course again, allowing the vines to get a rest from the continual drying that areas in the San Joaquin Valley & Central Valley experience. This recharging period for the vines allows much longer time on the vine itself, and a slow development of flavor without the loss of acidity that warmer areas produce. The results: deeper and more layered, flavorful wines.

That 94°F "cooking" and "dehydrating" on the fruit leaves a telltale note in the flavors and aromas of wines suffering from the "Big Valley" wine syndrome: flabby body, lack of acidity, flavors leaning toward the over-ripe and burnt areas of the flavor wheels I described before. Unfortunate as it is, this area still pumps out quite a bit of inferior wine when it coould be better used to produce grains and vegetables people need.

The biggest problem with stearing the current growers towards other crops is the most powerful one to combat: money. Winegrapes continue to be the most lucrative (legal) agricultural crop...

Monday, June 05, 2006

Great Blog Focusing on the Business End

Check out Megan Haverkorn's blog Wine & Spirits Daily. She does a great job of publishing current info as well as detailed analysis of the market. Its been around for seven months, but somehow escaped my attention.

Note that she dispells the wide-spread rumor about Southern Wine and Spirits buying Glazers. I, for one, hope she's right.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Global wine temp

Some interesting news from last week, but not really unexpected from a viticultural perspective:

Global Warming Hurts Spain's Vineyards, Forces Vintners to Move
Winemakers from Europe's largest grape-growing nation are shading vineyards, developing heat-resistance crops and moving to mountainside locations. Temperatures may rise 7 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, said Jose Manuel Moreno, professor of climatology at the University of Castilla La Mancha. …
Miguel Torres SA, based near Barcelona, is buying fields in the peaks of northeastern Spain, where the weather is cooler, said Sort. Castell d'Encus vintner Raul Bobet has picked a spot 1,000 meters (3,281 feet) high in the Pyrenees for his label. …
Heat and sunlight increase sugar levels in wine grapes, which can boost alcohol content beyond what is palatable. Hotter weather may also curb grape acidity, changing the flavor, and unexpectedly rainy and cold seasons can devastate a year's crop.
In Malaga and Cadiz, the most southern wine-growing regions, temperatures can top 40 degrees during the summer months. Spain is the closest major European wine producer to the equator, making it particularly vulnerable to climate changes.
``Climate change is the biggest environmental challenge modern society faces,'' said Jose Ramon Picatoste, an official in Spain's Environmental Ministry, at a conference in Barcelona in March. ``Industries will need to adapt.''
One degree of climate changes makes wine-growing regions in the Northern Hemisphere similar to regions 200 kilometers further south, said Bernard Seguin, a scientist at France's National Institute for Agronomic Research.

Their move is based on what's called the Environmental Lapse Rate, the variation or change of temperature with a rise in altitude in a relatively stationary atmosphere. The lapse rate at a given place varies slightly day by day, but is generally defined as a teperature decrease of 6.5 °C per km (3.6 °F/1000 ft) from sea level to ~11 km. So the move will just about offset the expected rise in temps over the next century. Latitudes formerly known for their quality wine will be abandoned, and become better known for more tropical agricultural products. Latitudes toward the poles will then become the new wine growing regions [Hmmm...Klondike Chard, Patagonian Pinot?].

Let's examine this dilemma for a moment. Say the following diagram shows common Cab Sauv descriptors based on the environment as it stands right now, progressing from green & under-ripe to burnt & over-ripe (click any pic to enlarge):

Where we are right now might be represented like this...

Climate and viticultural decisions (sun exposure, canopy management and temperature) would dictate where a region would be above the ring. In fact the ring could be viewed as an indicator of how much sunlight was hitting the vines in a certain area. That way, though I've placed Bordeaux and California's coast above the ring as generalities, they could be shifted either direction due to vintage variation and viticulture.

But imagine what the changes in the environment will bring about for winemaking. Increased sunlight in some areas previously known for foggy/cloudy weather will change all those flavor precursors available, as well as tannins. And therefore more fruit protection will be required to keep the fruit from the flavors & aromas at the "over-ripe" end of the spectrum. Denser canopy management like that in Australia will become more of the “norm” to help keep the fruit from getting too sunburnt...

This new warmer environment would modify the cab flavor wheel...

Note how the descriptors are compressed into a smaller angle on the wheel. Imagine also that this wheel can rotate to the left or reflect warmer or cooler temperatures and viticultural decisions as mentioned above. In the warmer scenario you would see both the compression of descriptors and a rotation to the left, and possibly shifting of the traditional areas into the riper zones.

Scary...but what will the real impacts be?
Will Bordeaux shift to California-style descriptors? Will California shift to Texas descriptors? Will Judy leave Mark and start living with the twice-divorced and penniless but handsome Gary?...uhhm...sorry...scratch that last part...

It's all speculation what actually will happen, but I feel pretty safe in saying that there will be a shift towards wine growing in the coastal regions at higher latitudes where the sun's rays will be less intense, and where the maritime influence might still moderate the temps. It might be helpful to hedge the bet by going to a higher altitude in addition to that ...
Then again, coastal areas may not see temps rise as fast as inland areas, but they may become more humid and wetter during the summer months, which might lead to more mold issues with V. vinifera grapes. Hmmmm...

Oooohhh-kay, "Plan B" will be inland a bit more with at least one mountain range between us & the coast (to sap some of the moisture through rainfall formation), but definitely higher altitude, and more extreme latitude...

But is the Spanish move to higher ground a tacit acknowledgment that soil is only of a secondary or tertiary importance in “terroir”? Obviously it’s an admission that weather and clime are supreme in their terroir equation, otherwise they wouldn’t dare move, right?

Still don't believe in global warming?
Check out the Union of Concerned Scientists website [link] which puts it into a sobering perspective (Migrating Climates: scariest of all is Illinois, which has winters more like Oklahoma & summers like East Texas by 2095!)...