Saturday, September 22, 2007

Damned cool weather!...and some rain...

Well, this is sure putting a damper on my harvest.... With the hot weather we were having at the start of September I was sure I'd be done picking this week, or maybe next week at the latest. But these past two weeks have been on the cool side (politely stated), and the rain yesterday & today isn't helping ripen my grapes...though it really isn't hurting them at the moment either. High temps on average have been ~77°F with lows in the mid 40's, and only traces of any moisture at all. Perfect autumn weather, with a slight chill and faint smell of smoke in the air...until today when it decided to give us a little light rain. The outlook for the next week is warming and sunny, and with a little breeze this extra moisture will be history. I've completed picking only 50% of what I have planned, and with the right weather can get the rest of this all taken care of in another 2 weeks time.
Overall, this harvest has been pretty top notch quality-wise, and I can hardly wait to see what everyone has produced come early '08...
I think this harvest's labors will be yet another feather in California's hat.


Monday, September 10, 2007

AVA's: can't see the forest for the trees?

Fermentations had a lovely post last week on AVA's and what Tom thinks should be done to further hinder wine sales (and keep himself employed) in California's wine industry.
Gawd knows I luv ya, Tom Wark...but I think you need to seriously re-think what you're proposing, and stop smoking the whatever-it-is that brought this point of view on.

The biggest problem I see with his post is that he's willing to add even more confusion to the AVA system to validate his belief that soils should hold as high a regard as prevailing weather and climate, etc, in describing where grapes are produced. He goes so far as to claim that only areas which have a consistent soil should be allowed to be an AVA, and that "smaller is always better" when talking about AVA's.

The bad news is that sometimes soil types change within walking a 50' line.
And shall we dig test pits? What strata is important: do we consider all layers, or just the top?
Maps don't include gravel beds, serpentine outcroppings, etc...which throw the whole thing off...they're general in nature (usually) when available from the County or State, and it's up to the farmer to verify and elaborate on what the state geologists make available.

I'd suggest anyone interested in this topic pick up a Soil Survey map or other geologic map of both Napa & Sonoma counties and look at how much variation there is within the already approved AVA's...

And that will no doubt embolden people whom hold Tom's view to try to get even more micro-AVA's created.
However, the model where soil is so paramount in viticulture is France...almost all others approach grape growing with a philosophy that states climate and geography are the biggest determinants to the final grape quality. And one has to point out that the biggest obstacle the French currently face is the consumer's inability to understand (or even care?) about the vast majority of the multitudinous appellations they have in place. Those micro-AVA's they have serve some of the same purposes we use "branding" for...which is one reason why branding hasn't taken off with them for the most part.

What people in Tom's camp are advocating is the creation of an AVA for each & every different combination of soil & climate...
Does this make sense to you?
It doesn't to me...I mean if grapes can be grown in such different soils as occur in Israel and Syria, to Canada, Australia, China, etc., and each of those areas can produce some quite nice wines, then I think we can start to discard the vital importance which some people claim for soil.
Provided the soil doesn't contain minerals or substances harmful to the vines, it (soil) becomes a
third-order influence (the first-order being overall climate, weather and exposure choices; second-order being a combination of water availability, clone and varietal, and viticultural choices).
So, should we give a minor player a deciding vote in how we describe our AVA's?
Look at the attached geologic map of Rutherford and see what you think...each of those different colored areas would need their own AVA by the logic of those who regard soils as such an important factor:

This one's for Tom - the soil map of Glen Ellen:

So what's the problem, you might ask...
Plenty!...unless you think the lower half of the Napa Valley should be divided along the following lines:

While I can see such a simplistic argument coming from a first or second year viticulture student, it makes me pale to hear a wine marketer/PR guy jump into that camp.
What a mess!

Soils available are not as simplistic as these general maps lead one to think. I'll round up a few examples to illustrate what a site specific soil map looks like, hopefully including sub-surface strata. And by the way, has anyone bothered to even ask if all these differences are real to the consumer, or if we're about to throw consumer clarity under the bus for the sake of a minority of wine buyers (say 5% of the total purchasing population) who would love the info?
Winegrowers and vintners are already managing this info by using different vineyard blocks and branding - so why get the government involved? How will that help out everyone?

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