Monday, July 31, 2006

Breaking News!!!

The word is out - Bonny Doon vineyards sells off Cardinal Zin & Big House Red!

The Wine Group (see the-biggest-wine-company-you've-never-heard-of from Feb '05) has purchased them for an undisclosed undisclosed amount that I hear has Randall Graham smiling quite broadly right now...

Read the release to find out what they say about their transaction, though I believe it has a two-pronged approach to it...

1) it cleaves a portion of the brand away which was not BioD (biodynamic) and was probably consuming much of his energy (when if recent appearances by Randall are the bellweather - he'd rather be espousing the dogma of BioD...
2) gives him a large war chest to carry out that very crusade...

It's interesting to note, however, that he hasn't sold off the PacRim wines, which he IS distancing and separating from the hallowed Bonny-Doon grounds by moving it up to Washington state...which I find rather curious...

And I mean this: as Randall positions himself continually in the Terroir camp, it seems antithetical to keep blending a wine which cannot, willnot show Terroir because it is blended from wines of both the EU and the USA!...or at least that's the story if you follow the arguments he makes while wearing the mantle of Terroirist Rex...but if he's looking at what makes good wine "good" and marketable - and Randall's quite savvy on that subject - it appears the blending of wines from around the world is not only acceptable, but quite profitable!

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Ire of Shanken

Mark Fisher got a choice sarcastic response from Marvin Shanken himself on his blog entry on Wine Spectator's annual wine list awards. I made similar observations a couple of years ago.

I particularly like Mr. Shanken's inference that he is merely providing a service. Would that we could all be so charitable! - and they've raised the price for this service and are now generating 50% more fees than two years ago.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Sonoma Coast AVA

I've noted before that I think the Sonoma Coast AVA makes sense to me, in fact perhaps it's more deserved than some other less 'logical' AVA's which I might mention at a later date. As for the inclusion of the Carneros Sonoma AVA in the Sonoma Coast AVA, I think that makes sense for the following reasons...

You may observe that the area along the coast in the north where the temps are lower, and also that the elevation is generally below 1000' MSL (Mean Sea Level) and demarcates the fog zone. As one looks southward, the Russian River channel allows fog to move in, and the land flattens out along the 'Petaluma gap' - which is the main area that allows the fog & maritime breezes to travel inland unhindered (elevations are 100~400'). The fog then fills the Santa Rosa plain, and the areas south of Sonoma in the Carneros region (elevation from MSL~120'). This 'fog bowl' as it could be viewed as, collects the cooling maritime layers and holds it through much of the morning, and sometimes well into the afternoon. A secondary route for the fog is northwards from San Pablo bay (which is how Napa County generally receives its fog, though some may flow through Calistoga from Knight's Valley in the north)...

Another piece of evidence supporting the idea that the AVA is pertinent is provided by satellite imagery. The following is from the visible camera of the GOES-10 satellite on July 14th, about 10 AM, and shows quite clearly the area in question under a contiguous layer of fog:

(Please note also how the fog has spread into Napa & Sonoma from the San Pablo bay, as well as heading into Sonoma County from the coast...)

To further this argument, I'd like to point out the temps throughout the area which are very similar (my rough outline of the AVA is lightly overlaid) :

So it would appear that the Sonoma Coast AVA shares more characteristics than one would assume just by looking at, say, a road map of the Bay Area. Sure, there are soil differences across the area, but there are also soil differences across something as small as a vineyard, and generally that shouldn't be considered a primary factor in AVA designation. And the fact that the Carneros region is further inland from the Pacific really doesn't change things too much as there is still ample fog & similar temps which unify the area.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Put a Cap On It?

Domaine Chandon has announced some "unconventional" packaging for its etoile program. They will be using bottle caps (okay "crown caps" - it sounds sexier). This is yet another blow to corks and reminds me of a funny story I posted a while back.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

What Price Will be Paid to Protect Napa?

Over a year ago, I pointed out the potential fallout from the Napa Vintners' success in their court battle with Bronco and Fred Franzia. I pointed out that other wines using geographic names could be put at risk.

Its interesting to note that supporters of the protectionist bill created to preserve the use of appellation names in Napa have now taken a prejudicial stance against protecting other regions. A bill by state Senator Wes Chesbro is attempting to give parity between the counties by protecting more of their names from being used "incorrectly". Initially, Chesbro’s bill restricted the use of California county names to those labels actually using grapes from ALL California counties. Needless to say, Sutter Home (Sutter County is where gold was discovered in California) was less than pleased about the proposed bill. After rethinking his approach, Chesbro has essentially redacted his draft to include only the counties producing the highest-value grapes (Sonoma, Mendocino, San Benito, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Monterey), though he isn’t phrasing it in that way for fear it be seen as a bill protecting the higher-end growing regions. Methinks the Kautz family, who own Sonoma Creek and use non-Sonoma fruit, are using their extensive political connections to beat this bill by creating opposition from the
Wine Institute and probably other political channels.

Fred Franzia of Bronco has seen this bill for what it is, and has asked the Wine Institute to reconsider its opposition to the bill (which doesn’t align with their endorsement of the Napa protectionist law). Oddly, the Wine Institute endorsed the Napa law, but feels that Chesbro’s bill would interfere with “long-term intellectual property rights”. Odd that they didn’t feel that way about Mr. Franzia’s IP rights on his Napa Ridge brand for which he paid $40 million!

Therefore, I suggest Mr. Franzia rename his Napa Ridge brand to conform with the Napa law. My suggestions include:

“Napah Ridge”
“Nearly Napa”
“DCTN (Darn Close to Napa) Ridge”
“BRINCO (Blended Right In Napa County) Ridge”

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Going dry...

It just doesn't mean what it used to mean...instead of temperance it now serves an alert to the effects of global warming, and the expected shift in premium wine growing regions.
(Damn! and I just posted on this a few weeks ago!...see
[Global Wine Temp] from Thursday June 1st...)

Today's article on the front page of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat (Tim Tesconi, with material from the Associated Press & L.A. Times) showcases a graphic which is just too scary to believe...unfortunately it isn't linked to the story on their website, so I've included it here...

(click pic to enlarge)

Notice how California is left with just the areas right on the coast, and a few spots up in the Sierra Nevada range. Yikes!

From the article:
"Rising temperatures could transform Wine Country's mild climate into one as sweltering as Tijuana, Mexico, eliminating Sonoma and Napa counties' competitive edge in producing world-class wines.

That's the conclusion of a study released Monday and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.Areas in California suitable for growing premium wine grapes could be reduced by 50 percent -- and possibly as much as 81 percent -- by the end of this century because of global warming."

Not a good sign. Note how Napa is especially hard hit...see anything left there?
Perhaps Napa will later become known for premium wheat & barley used for ultra-pricey micro beers...

"Nick Frey, executive director of the Sonoma County Grape Growers Association, said the Pacific Ocean and its cooling maritime influence are the most critical factors in producing Sonoma County's premium-quality grapes. He said even if there are more hot days in the future, the Pacific Ocean will still be there to cool things down at night, creating the sugar-acid balance essential for fine wine.

"It's the cooling nighttime temperatures and fog from the Pacific Ocean that make Sonoma County such a great wine region," said Frey.The primary change in the weather will be an increase in the frequency of extremely hot days, said Noah Diffenbaugh, a co-author of Monday's report and a scientist in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Purdue University.

Damn, that's what I've been saying for years! Well, at least the portion about the fog & temps being the dominant factor in premium wine regions....
Read the article on the link provided, or pick up a copy of the paper.

Prepare to be very, very scared...

Monday, July 10, 2006

Oddball Chard

Non-malolactic fermented wines are fun sometimes, as are wines which only see partial malo conversion, and both certainly could see more production volume (especially in the hotter inland counties of California), but there are many chard's produced which have a quite different model...

I had the "pleasure" of tasting what was the oddest style ever for producing Chardonnay at a "BYOB" party this weekend where one of the guests had brought it as their submission for the evening (they disclaimed it by saying it had been a gift from a friend who just traveled thru there...yeah, but why bring this wine back?). It was a bottle of 2004 Ballisteri Chard (aka "the Un-Chardonnay") from Central Colorado (I'm not sure I should thank my pals for pointing that wine out...). And it drank like a disaster.

2004 Colorado Chardonnay ($19) The "Un Chardonnay." Fermented on the skins and stems like a "Red," this Chard is full of body and complex fruit flavors. (Balisteri Wines)

But what made it such a disaster? Certainly it wasn't the region, varietal or a poor vintage...

This white wine is deliberately produced in a red-wine style ~ it's fermented on the skins, seeds, and stems. The makers claim it's "the white that drinks like a red"...which I guess is correct if the red you're drinking is crappy, lacks color, is thin, somewhat bitter and tannic (kinda like a divorce a pal of mine went through once). No one finished what was in their glasses. I'm surprised that their website lists the wine @ $19/btl. I don't imagine they can keep their business afloat with this offering, and I won't be in any rush to seek out other wines form them based on that experience.

Sad but true is the fact that California winemakers tried this style back in the 70's - and then immediately abandoned it. I can barely recall the taste of those wines, and won't bother to compare them for lack of fresh tasting notes. But I will go on record as stating that in my memory those 70's experiments were truly "bad"...

For the life of me, I can't imagine why someone would resurrect this style.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Carneros inland?

Eric Asimov penned an article recently about California Chardonnay, and the desireable characteristics of higher acidity than the current focus of most Cali producers. I have to say I'm in agreement with him on the majority of his points, as well as the main theme. His observations about the Sonoma Coast AVA, and how many of the Sonoma AVA's overlap somewhat is true on the face of it. But the following seems a little off base, especially when he states -

[t]hat the Sonoma-Cutrer actually takes the Sonoma Coast appellation illustrates some of the issues with the designation. The grapes come from five different vineyards. Four are in the Russian River Valley, and the fifth is near the Carneros region, inland. But the wine qualifies for the catchall Sonoma Coast on the label. Go figure.

Well technically it IS further East and inland when compared to the Pacific coast of Sonoma County. But it sits right on the San Francisco Bay, and routinely has higher winds and lower temps with much more fog than say Calistoga, Cloverdale, Saint Helena, or even Napa or Sonoma proper.

One of the reasons is that the Carneros region is the fog's southern pathway to the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, and on days that the fog won't travel far enough inland to get to the upper locations of the valleys, it will more than likely still be sitting over the Carneros. So I think we can disregard that as a detriment to the wine's acidity.

The Sonoma Coast app is about fog coverage and maritime influence, not about soil types (which as I've mentioned before, are of a secondary interest in winemaking). If one WERE to define AVA's by soil type, then I think most people would be in for a surprise - soils change across something as geographically small as VINEYARDS, so there would be a need to have many, many AVA's, potentially several for even a small producer!

Many American Viticultural Areas, as the American appellations are formally called, are unwieldy designations, with boundaries chosen for political reasons rather than because they circumscribe areas with discrete characteristics of climate and soil. The Sonoma Coast region stretches way too far inland, for example, lumping vineyards east of Highway 101 with those actually near the coast, from as far north as Annapolis to as far south as Occidental. Meanwhile, the Russian River appellation meanders west from Santa Rosa and Healdsburg, following the river to the Pacific, crossing over other appellations like Green Valley, Chalk Valley and Sonoma Coast.

I'm pretty sure the criteria for the area was based on the weather and cooling effects of the fog. The mention of HWY 101 is misleading...the California DMV never intended to have the highway serve as a demarcation of coastal weather - it follows the NWP railway lines, and was placed almost on top of the original road north through Sonoma County (what is now referred to as the "Old Redwood Highway"). If you want to take the position of that side of the valley (or Santa Rosa plain if you wish) being too hot, then do so...but to use HWY 101 as the line seems a bit arbitrary and succumbs to the same 'political rather than actual reasoning' argument he uses above...
And the Chalk HILL AVA (not Valley) still gets quite a bit of fog and is much cooler than it is just north of Healdsburg (which gets its share of fog too) in the Alexander Valley or Knight's Valley.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Distribution breakdown

It feels like we're waiting a long time for what should be a foregone conclusion to the wine shipping laws: let loose the tide of small producers who wish to go "national" directly to consumers - regardless of which state they live in, or which state the producer is in!

Still, some states are weighing this proposal and that, trying to find ways to change what has been 70+ years of confusing statutes. Yes, the legal system takes time to adopt the changes (and certainly the wholesaler & distributinon lobby is doing it's part to "make sure the country doesn't change anything too quickly - or become too "consumer- friendly"), but shouldn't we be much closer to the end goal of anyone can get anything?
Makes me want to ask "are we there yet?" ...