Monday, October 19, 2009

A week of rain and high humidity

Last week's storm has brought much needed rain at the expense of the remainder of the 2009 grape crop. Mind you the rain itself -all 5 1/2" of it- was not the worst part of the storm that moved through...

...the worst part has been a week of high humidity, and bunch rot compounding the problem.

Most growers and wineries pushed hard through the previous weekend to get as much of the crop in as possible, and maybe only 15~20% remained out on the vine through the storm, most of them reds which would fare better than whites. I would've given the fields a few days to dry out after getting 5.5" of rain, but the rush was on, and I saw people harvesting Chardonnay on Friday mud or not, hoping to get their fruit out before mold set in. Now it wouldn't have been preferable to leave a white grape out there for the storm in the first place, but I imagine it was due to their having too many blocks to harvest before the storm came in. They probably picked what they absolutely had to first, and put a few blocks off until after the storm hoping it wouldn't be as bad as predicted. Sadly, it was, and even if they avoided any rot issues they still have to contend with lower Brix due to the weather and water.

It started with the rain on Monday night a week ago, with rain falling continuously through Wed night. Thursday was supposed to be a day of drying out after the storm passed...instead we got another 1/4" of rain. When it finally got sunny on Thursday, it was 4 PM, and the humidity jacked up through the roof.

This takes us to Friday of last week....and sun, Finally!
However there was no wind and it remained near 50% humidity with highs in the mid 80's. NOT GOOD for the remaining grape crop out there, but a perfect environ for molds.

As we see in the satellite picture from Saturday, a large bank of clouds remained overhead and denied us the full sun we wanted. It was humid again, with broken clouds at the middle of the day and highs in the mid 80's. No help for the remaining grapes there...

Yesterday was better in a way as the temps remained lower, but no sun again as a marine layer sat over most of the area all day. The breeze was light, when there was one, and at least it wasn't as warm as Fri or Sat.

Today's water vapor map shows us smack-dab in a bunch of moisture, but hopefully this will give way to sunnier drier weather for the remainder of the week.
But it's raining now, and we're forecast to get 1/4"....hopefully that's all until the remaining grapes which are still viable are brought in.
Again, if you're into challenging fermentations, there is a lot of fruit which won't be harvested commercially this year, and you can probably still get a ton or two for a song.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

5.25" of rain so far with this storm

...and its not over yet, thought here are only intermittent showers. Maybe another 1/4"~1/2" will fall before the skies break open to glorious sunshine...

Inside today, getting caught up on weigh tags and general cellar work order tracking. It's not the end of the month yet, but may as well get working on the drudgery of the job. I'm not going out into any vineyards for a while.

U2's "All I Want is You" is on the stereo, blasting off the walls. There are a hoard of samples on my desk that I have to taste and analyze, standing like soldiers of a small army threatening to charge my computer at a moments notice. And as I've tried to ignore them over the past week - doing only what had to be done to keep moving forwards - their ranks have grown. Soon I'll be over run!

[sigh]...Time to get back to work....

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Rain, rain...go away....

A little over an inch by the time I got up this morning.
September was a charm - 12 days had high temps in the 90's (two days it hit 100+) and 18 days with fog, avg hi was 85°, avg low was 48°, with sunny afternoons making for perfect ripening conditions.

I'm one of the lucky ones - I got my last fruit in the cellar early afternoon on Saturday. (I should qualify that, I brought in the last of the fruit I had budgeted for this year...that's off from what I SHOULD be normally doing by -15% due to the economy. Much of that was accomplished by green drop, not that I like to do that, but it was what I thought was the lesser of two evils. The other being letting it rot on the vine - though I probably would have found myself doing exactly what everyone else is, selling it for pennies a pound when it was worth more than a dollar a pound.) I know more than a few people who had buyers that couldn't get financing this year. Banks wouldn't lend them scratch to buy more fruit as they were unbalanced with what the creditors thought was too much inventory from past vintages...
Sadly, much of the fruit which was still out there was (is) some of the best. Late ripening Cab and Zinfandels that were worth the long wait. Many blocks will be offered to home winemakers this year as it either won't have a contract buyer, or will be deemed "compromised" by the rain we're having right now. If you're a garagiste, then this could be your year to shine, if you're ready to work around some low sugars - depending on what the next few weeks bring us....

For wineries, the spot market prices for grapes was already dropping like a stone with demand off as much as it was. Add to that the fact that many wineries can't fulfill the fruit contracts they had due to financing woes, and the market prices fall further. Then throw a big heaping spoonful of rain on top of that and it gets even worse...
Prices aren't just dropping into the basement, they're heading for the abyss.

The irony of years when there are great crops available which wouldn't be available otherwise is that you're either at full production capacity, or you have no money available to snap it up.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Mystic Rhythms

"...The more we think we know about
The greater the unknown
We suspend our disbelief, And we are not alone...
We sometimes catch a window, A glimpse of whats beyond
Was it just imagination Stringing us along?
More things than are dreamed about, Unseen and unexplained
We suspend our disbelief, And we are entertained..."

RUSH, Mystic Rhythms 1985
What, didn't anything front-page-worthy happen on Saturday October 10th, leaving the paper scrambling for something to fill the void?
 Kudos to the Press Democrat for giving away yet another front page spread - this time to Biodynamics.

Yet more free press for the Benzigers, and another shot of their comments as fragments left hanging for the public to absorb, without much in the way of explantion of the oddities they practice, and why or why not those practices should work. I do feel Guy Kovner was trying to write something that presented both sides...but it doesn't seem he understood the foundations of Biodynamics himself, or perhaps the editors didn't give him enough space to present it...
More likely it was the first. I doubt many people wold suffer through Steiner's Agriculture lectures if they didn't have to...I almost didn't finish it, and I had reason to read the damned thing! Maybe this reporter wasn't given enough time to research fully.

Shall I go into the multitude of errors he made in his farming philosophy? Maybe, but what I really want to focus on is the way wineries which practice this "spiritual science" -even though it has nothing to do with science- can capitalize on the articles it generates. Witness the quote by Mike Benziger:
“I can't look you in the eye and say it's better,” said Mike Benziger, head of the family-owned winery. “I can say it's different.”
Making biodynamic wine isn't about “technical perfection,” Benziger said. “It's about an authentic vintage, an authentic place.”
Notice that?
See the way in which he disarms you and "doesn't" throw mud in your eye, but then throws mud in your eye at the same time?
It's NOT about it being better...but it IS about BEING BETTER than the rest. The slight is that everything else is NOT AN AUTHENTIC vintage, and doesn't REPRESENT an authentic place

Answer me this Mike Benziger....if Biodynamics is so great, why is it you only bottle up ~30,000 gallons as BD certified and not ALL your production?
Is it because you don't have to risk your entire production volume this way, yet still get all the talking points?

Large companies are starting to take notice of the BD movement, and are looking to remove your talking points! For example, I have heard from several sources within Kendall-Jackson that they (one last year, and again this harvest) are now starting to farm using Biodynamic methods. I doubt they will convert their whole vineyard empire over to the practice, or even to get the certification, but undoubtedly they will have a few blocks they can use as a talking point. There are a few articles out in the past about how the Jackson empire had approached Biodynamics years ago [Alice Feiring], but passed on the idea of implementing it at the time.

Hopefully this move by large companies will sully the image enough for the "true believers" to abandon their odd ideas...
Read the article by Smith & Barquín at Fine Wine listing well thought out criticism of the movement, and link here to follow up on it with the comments.
In the meantime, I'll leave you with my past posts about the subject [link here].

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