Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Ahh! Those good ol' days...

Yes, time yet again for a reminder that Grandma & Granddad didn't have it as easy as we imagine they did. (if you're ever in doubt, re-read the book Rascal by Sterling North, and think about the influenza ridden hospital wards back in the 1910's...)

We're light years ahead of where viticulture and winemaking were a century ago, and our technology has brought us better tasting and more stable wines than we have ever experienced in history...
Right about now is where I'd usually start deriding Biodynamics for its constant call to a return to some imaginary euphoric-utopian agricultural world...but since the Demeter Association (which certifies farms as BioD compliant) states that the only difference between an organic farm and a BioD farm is the use of those crazy shamanic potions they concoct, an couple that with the fact that Rudolf Steiner himself (the founder of BioD) stated that it wasn't even important that those very potions even worked, and I think it pretty clear that BioD as a concept is just a movement riding on the coattails of organic farming's success...

(I'll try to get the original statement from the Demeter site up here today or tomorrow....)

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Viansa: talk is cheap, but the winery's gonna cost ya'

"VIANSA Sells for Double Net Worth"...

"Marketing Genius gets Owners Out of Bankruptcy"...

"LOOPHOLE Saves Family Winery"...

Great headlines, eh? From the local paper?
No...just a pipe dream that Jon Sebastiani and his mother Vicki are still envisioning for Viansa as it struggles out of its failed relationship with Global 360.

More news from Rich Cartiere's Wine Market Report about Viansa states that the Sebastianis (read as Jon & Vicki - no one else is named) are trying to get a Nevada bankruptcy court to sever their ties to Global 360, and then give them the equipment assets of the business...
(I don't think that's too likely to happen, but stranger things have come true...)

All totaled, the Viansa liabilities are listed at ~$57 MIL...that's over 160% what the winery sold for in 2005 ($34.5 MIL). Yikes!

Even more of a pipe dream is the figure that Jon & Vicki seem to think the winery is worth (and mind you they want everyone to over-value the business so they can soak some more cash out of it) which is between $45~$70 MIL!

You've gotta be asking yourself right now, "why the HELL did they ever sell the winery to Global 360 for $34.5 MIL if it was worth $45~$70 MIL originally?"
(PS - it was a bit overpriced in that sale 3 years ago, and what exactly has happened during that time to increase it's value other than inflation? Nothing. Nada. Squat.)

Jon Sebastiani, the one who started this whole tawdry affair by hooking up with Global 360 & arranging the sale of the cash-strapped winery in 2005, would have to be the one to answer that...

Good luck on this angle you're working,'re gonna need it!
Because there's still a dark cloud hanging over Viansa, and I don't think it'll dissipate anytime soon...

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Youth, without youth? Whatever.....

Francis Ford Coppola has a new film out!
His first in 10 years!!!

It's called "Youth without youth", which almost sounds as if it were back-label phraseology for a wine with too much tart acid after 10 years of aging. So, what's it about? I dunno...but the reactions from the press are lukewarm at best...And that's got ol' Frankie on the defensive.
From the quote under the picture in the Press Democrat Sunday, he apparently asked those from the press screening to see it more than once (always a bad sign!).

Coppola stated Saturday at the screening in Rome, Italy " know that it's different than 'Spider-Man' or 'Shrek' or other films that are immediately met with success...I only ask you to think that my film was interesting."
Yeah, and that we shell out the price of admission more than once...
Listen, when Lucas took 10 years off, at least he had some kick-ass special effects to bring back to us...
Sounds like Coppola could use the infusion of cash to help buy even more winery equipment for his new Rosso & Bianco property in Geyserville. What brilliance in marketing to create controversial movies that people will see more than once, yet it sounds more like this is going to be one of those movies that will hit DVD stores after a short 2-month theatre engagement.

BTW, the marketing wing of FFC Presents hasn't hit the mark with it's renaming of the brand from Niebaum-Coppola either...(link to Karen Kang Consulting who questioned their communications with their consumers)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

NAPA Cab & AVA's

Alan Goldfarb penned an interesting article this past Monday about winemakers & vitculturists sitting down in Napa to see if they could pinpoint some “real regional diversity” within (and between) the AVA’s there. And much like the same exercise recently performed with the Carneros region, reveal that perhaps much of the industry hype about the differences may be overblown.

This, of course, is all based on the premise that terroir does indeed exist, and that it will manifest “distictivity” in wines produced from one end of such a small area to the other…notwithstanding the fact that it (terroir) still remains undefined within both the industry and the public’s mind…

And that is the biggest problem with this topic as a whole: the French - God bless them! - invented a term so vague that the rest of the world (being dissatisfied with the lack of definition given it by it’s creators) has ended up spending generations holding discussions about what its current impressions of what those differences and distinctions SHOULD BE, rather than come up with a solid platform to work from (e.g., define what those perceptions really are).

What I do like about the topic is that it seems to breakdown the long held ideals in wine culture that drastic differences (“distinctivity” if you will) in wines is due to influences in site and soil over say a distance of a few thousand yards (it’s an awkward measurement, but it’s an old Navy habit I can’t seem to let go of). This is of course, inherited viniculture from our European roots, but has to date more to do with romantic (read “15th century”) land rights, alchemy and aristocracy than any scientific agricultural hypotheses. “Regionality” should by its word construction alone be about something larger, and I find it increasingly disturbing to see people assuming (not necessarily in this tasting panel mind you, but in general) that an attempt to apply it to small nearby vineyards, sometimes even adjacent vineyards, would be appropriate or even remotely successful. What is being tasted at that level is variations in viticulture and winemaking styles, not soil nor regionality.

Some of the nuggets of the article are as follows:

* There still seem to be some winemakers who go out and literally “taste the soil” as Pam Starr (Crocker & Starr winery) stated she does when “she’s intimate with her earth.” (Way too much information, Pam!) Goldfarb writes that she stated…

“I like to call myself a ‘soil translator.’ I don’t like the word ‘terroir’,” she said. “I try not to adjust too much, but (to) bring you sexy fruit. … I make clay patties and taste the soil. I try to make sure I apply (winemaking) to the soil profile.”

(Kudos that she doesn’t like the term terroir, but “soil translator”? That begs the idea that soil needs some interpretation by humans, and as I have written many times, soil is only third-order in the climate/terroir equation. Seriously, this is an ancient practice going back to the Romans. Cato wrote (ca. 100 BC) about trying to swirl soil and water around to make a solution and then taste it to see if it was too acidic. But then again, that was long before concepts about pH – and certainly before litmus tests! – were ever dreamed up or understood how they affect agriculture. And I would question the validity of any conclusions drawn from such a behavior other than the gross observation “it tastes like dirt”…we just don’t have the receptors needed on our tongues for anything beyond that! I think I stopped making mud pies when I was 5 or 6 years old…)

* I think it ridiculous that Doug Hill would think his Merlot would exemplify terroir while his Cab didn’t. Other than problems or variation within the vinting, where would the cause for that lie? And I find I disagree with his assessment of needing to be less ripe to see terroir…

* Bob Levy (Harlan): “It’s quite the opposite. As we wait, I think we get better expressions of site.” I would tend to agree more with his side of the argument: all under-ripe fruit has a tendency to taste “green”, although I would be the first to point out that over-ripe fruit all tastes like raisins and usually has a “cooked” or “burnt” flavor running though it. Ideally, there is a window of opportunity for all vineyards for best expression, which generally falls around (my experience) 24.3°B though that varies with vintage and area being grown in. I thought Levy was on a roll, but he lost me here:

““When I think of terroir versus vinification, the character of the wine expresses the terroir, not just the dirt but the people and all the decisions made,” stated Levy unequivocally.” (My bolding of the text…)

Oh, brother.

Overall, I think the outcome of the article backs up my claim that creating more and more sub-AVA's and sub-sub-AVA's are doing more harm than good by creating confusion where none need be introduced.

Read the article here [Just What are the AVA Distinctions
of Napa Valley Cabernet?

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Earthworms used to predict earthquakes

This is a great article that really illustrates why we need to ask more questions before jumping to conclusions when presented with new & novel things happening in our vineyards:

"...Wu, who bought the vineyard 40 years ago, said he has never seen so many earthworms in his vineyard before and estimated there were 200 to 300 kilograms of them. Seeing the large numbers of earthworms Wu feared that a major quake might be coming because worms and snakes are known to come to the surface when disturbed by seismic activity.

Wu consulted a farm expert who said the earthworms crawled out because his vineyards were flooded when Typhoon Krosa hit Taiwan on October 5. Although earthworms like humid environment, they cannot stand extreme moisture or when the underground water level rises too high, so they came out of the earth, the expert told Wu.

Wu's worry about an upcoming strong earthquake eased when it was pointed out that another vineyard near Hu's house has not been invaded by earthworms because it was not flooded during the typhoon's passage."

(read the article here @

Is there any need for me to point out the obvious differences with the resolution of this matter in Taipei and the Biodynamic movement?

(Hint: in Taipei they actually consult REAL experts about the phenomena they experience rather than just making some reason up out of thin air to justify why it should be happening....
The scientific method is still alive!!!!)

Read this article by Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott titled "The Myth of Folklore Gardening" seems the folklore in Taipei is as strong as it is here...

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Good article on winemaking

Harvest has been pretty busy, but I'm almost through it now...

With only one block of late ripening Cab Sauv left to go, all I need is some dry weather to firm up the vineyard.......well, that and not too much moisture in the next few days (forecast is for some more rain & showers - and this on top of the ~2.5" we've had so far this month!) would keep the sugars from dropping anymore than they already have.

Anyway, the wet weather has allowed me to have a day or two off in the middle of harvest (actually, they weren't "off", rather they were indoors & slightly shorter than they would have been otherwise) to catch up on my reading & blogging. Looking through the latest articles I found a nice one by Tim Patterson in Wines & Vines titled "The Natural Trap"....

I'll leave it to Tim's much more eloquent writing style to convey his message, but it's essentially what I've been saying for years - and I can't leave it without pasting this passage as a teaser:

"...The fact is that wine requires massive human intervention to turn out a "natural" product. If "the wines make themselves," why do so many winemakers have master's degrees in biochemistry? If winemakers are simply vinous voyeurs, why do they get paid at all? Why do wine trade shows look more like auto parts supplier conventions than back-to-nature encampments?

Sure, nature can make "wine" right in the vineyard: Grapes ripen, split open, ooze juice, find ambient yeast and presto!: wine. But any wine you'd want to drink has to be made in a winery, and wineries have a habit of being a lot like sausage factories--and I say this as someone who loves his sausage as well as his wine.

The fuss over "natural" winemaking isn't confined to the angels-on-a-pin distinctions industry insiders make when debating whether this or that technique is manipulation or simply legitimate processing. Consumers are increasingly involved in the discussion, too, and they're coming at it from a whole different angle. By over-hyping the purity of their methods, and keeping mum on what actually goes on in the cellar, wineries set themselves a trap: Sooner or later, consumers or business reporters or gossip columnists find out, unleashing a wave of misguided muckraking and self-inflicted scandal...."

Isn't that great! Have a good read......

Monday, October 01, 2007

Welcome to October...with light rain......

It was just over a week ago & we had a cool day & some precipitation...not really enough to do any harm, but not really welcomed either as the temps dropped a bit for a few days.
Now we've had a week of cool but clear weather, only to wake up to another morning of light drizzle...

Again, this particular event won't be the moment the harvest is made or broken, but it is most definitely not the weather we all are hoping for (sunny & in the low-to-mid-80's)...

Mold pressures are starting to increase, and with the rest of the coming week only being in the 70's and another possibility of light rain this Thursday, it's really starting to feel like autumn...and the end of the relatively "safe" harvest period. Now the race is on to get the harvest over with before the weather really falls apart.