December 31, 2009

Wine story of the year: Wine Berserkers

For me, the internet wine story of the year isn't Cinderella Wine or Cellartracker's impending redesign (maybe that's 2010's). No, the biggest internet wine story of 2009 was the creation of Wine Berserkers, now the fastest growing wine discussion site that I know of.

Wine Berserkers is not an ordinary wine discussion site. It's not based around a magazine (Wine Spectator), high powered critic ( or longtime wine journalist (Robin Garr's Wine Lovers Discussion Group). It's more like the offbeat site Wine Disorder, founded by users for users tired of the rules or lethargy elsewhere. (Disorder is restricted to those chosen for entry, so it seems more a niche thing. I really like the discussion there, but don't seem to have what it takes for entry.)

When it launched last January, Wine Berserkers was an alter-ego of's fourm. The founders were largely cast offs from that site, banned or otherwise restricted for a variety of reasons, some perhaps warranted, some more for simply rocking the Parker boat. In fact, eRP moderator Mark Squires unwittingly gave the new site its name by referring to critics of his heavy handed editorial actions as "berserkers."

Yes, there is an ongoing shadow relationship on WB. You'll see constant reference to things going on over at eRP. Some people seem to revel in the meta-commentary. Others hate it and though "open letters" have begged everyone to get over it and move on.

That hasn't exactly happened, but in many ways it has. At least, as the site grows, to me the original raison d'etre fades in significance. Instead, with nearly 2,000 registered users and now more than 200,000 posts in barely 11 months, the differences between eRP and WB are growing.

There's great wine discussion on WB between lots of seasoned wine enthusiasts. There are more and more international contributors, though this remains an American-dominated site. There's also less editorial oversight, so people are more free to challenge the status quo and be reigned in by the group, not as much by moderators.

What's really emerging on the site, to my mind, is a breaking of barriers between individuals and industry. That's always been a side benefit from wine discussion. I've written here that I never would have gotten into making wine and launching a wine business if not for wine discussion online, where I connected with so many industry types with relative ease.

Where Wine Berserkers seems to be reaching new ground is in attacting and catering to discussion and networking for wine industry types, and to connecting that growing pool to enthusiasts in a non-commercial way. Where eRP is essentially tailored to connecting users to the Wine Advocate writers, WB seems tailored to connecting wine consumers to each other and all aspects of wine industry. You see better integration of sites like Cellartracker in the WB interface. You see better understanding from site administrators of how blogging and social networking are changing wine for the better. You see industry types more willing to be involved in the success of the site. Pay attention to the upcoming one year anniversary of Wine Berserkers in January. Big things are happening.

A cynic might say that such industry involvement is sheer marketing on their part. That same cynic probably sees social networking platforms like Twitter as babble and marketing, failing to see how they are connecting people in new and complex ways. Talk about not seeing the forest for trees. You want marketing? Look at critic-centered sites that shut down much of the discussion of competition or challenges to the critic. What's the goal there? Then you see a site that's not selling a brand, but focused on connecting people across the wine spectrum. That's where Wine Berserkers is succeeding. It's not rocket science, but this site seems to be doing it the best and, to my mind, is the internet wine story of the year.

December 29, 2009

Dinner with old friends

Last night we had the pleasure of hosting two couples, and their young children, who we hadn't seen for years since our San Francisco days. These couples themselves are old friends and back in the later 1990s Jennifer and I connected with them through our mutual love of wine and food. We scattered across the country and lost touch, but lately we've reconnected and it just happened that we were all here in the San Diego area at the same time. So, a reunion of sorts.

While the food was take out pizza, not the extravagant meals we used to share, the wines were top notch just like the old days. For starters, the NV Pierre Bouchard Champagne Inflorescence, a blanc de noirs that was crisp, refined and less red fruited than expected, but no less delicious than its reputation. Then a wine I picked up last week in Woodland Hills, the 2008 J.P. Brun Morgon. What a tremendous Beaujolais, full of lovely spicy raspberry and mineral gamay flavors, juicy and fairly rich. I'd love to age this a few years and see it gain even more breadth. Already it's really good.

Then onto bigger reds. First, the 1985 Ch. Pradeaux Bandol brought in by Premier Cru about a decade ago and stored well since. This was simply excellent, with great mourvedre raspberry fruit and tree bark aromas, and perfect aged sweetness on the palate. As you should expect from good Bandol, this had great freshness at almost 25 years old. A good bottle like this was great now but could easily last another decade or more. Thanks Paul for bringing this among all these great wines.

Then some new world mourvdre dominated blends for comparison. First, the 2006 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel "Panoplie," a 68% mourvedre blend with grenache and syrah that's apparently a domestic hommage to the Beaucastel "Hommage a Jacques Perrin" bottling. This bottle seemed fruit dominated and soft, certainly tasty and dense wine but lacking complexity and maybe the structure to allow age to bring out that complexity. Not as exciting as other Tablas Creek wines I've tried over the years.

Then the 2007 Carlisle Two Acres bottling from nearly 100 year old vines in the Russian River Valley, off Olivet Lane. Paul and I helped out here back in 1999 so we feel a particular connection to this bottling. This year's example has all the usual Carlisle ripeness but at a moderate 13.7% alcohol. The aroma showed a little more youthful sweetness than I was expecting, but the flavors had a nice savory, peppery spiciness and good acidity. This should age nicely.

And if that wasn't enough, we opened a wine totally foreign to me, the 2007 Passopisciaro from Mt. Etna in Sicily. Paul mentioned this area can produce the most Burgundian in style of southern Italian reds that he knows of. I would agree based on this taste. Pretty ruby color with a perfumed aroma, maybe more Rhone like with a whiff of volatility that lifts the aroma. Nice tannic structure and sweet savory red fruit, this was quite good.

In sum, a great night of reconnecting with old friends and all of our children, watching the sun set into the Pacific and taking a liesurely time sampling all these excellent wines. Hope we do it again, this time without waiting another decade.

December 23, 2009

Good news on my wine name

Good news lately on the name I want to use for my commercial wine project starting with the 2009 vintage. To this point, I've called my homemade wine "Vincent." However, lots of wineries and wine labels have "Vincent" in their names.  Would there be an issue? People I talked to said either "find a new name" or "no, write them a letter and see if there's a problem." Before taking the first advice, I thought I'd try the second.

So, recently I wrote letters to producers like Stephen Vincent Wines, Vincent Arroyo, and Gruet, which has a second label called Domaine St. Vincent. I stated that I am producing Oregon pinot noir starting with the 2009 vintage, may branch into other grape varities from the Pacific Northwest, and wanted to name my wine Vincent. Would they have a problem with that? If so, how did they deal with others (which I named) who have Vincent in their names.

Last week, on the same day, I got calls from Stephen Vincent and Gruet. Both were absolutely clear there would be no issue. Stephen was totally cool, even giving me some good advice about the business and offering support if I wanted it. He even mentioned that there's a Stephens (or Stevens?) wine out there. Names happen. I asked about French producers using the name Vincent, but he said there wasn't a concern there either. Gruet was clear that, as long as I didn't use "Domaine St. Vincent" there was no issue. For what it's worth, I have also talked with an Oregon producer that has a Cuvee St. Vincent and they have no issue either.

I haven't heard from Vincent Arroyo, but as of now I'm going full steam ahead with this name: Vincent Wine Company. The wine will be known as Vincent, with Vincent Wine Company being the full name. My business has a different name for legal reasons, VF Wine Company, LLC. The idea there is to keep that separate and possibly have other label along with Vincent as we grow and figure things out.

Of course, I could still hear an objection from Vincent Arroyo or who knows who else out there. But it doesn't seem likely, and I think the others' lack of objection would mean something. This shouldn't be an issue. It's a name I want. It's unique but related to some others. If someone's going to object, we'll deal with it.

So, 2009 closes with the launch of Vincent as my commercial label. Email me if you want in on my list. My first offer will be out in the late spring. First wine will be released in fall 2010. I can't wait.

December 21, 2009

2006 A.P. Vin Pinot Noir Keefer Ranch

I don't drink a lot of California wine anymore. I started on French wine back in the early '90s, then got into California wines in the mid to later '90s as I explored my native state. Then I moved from California to Oregon in 2000 and I settled into a diet of mostly European and Oregon selections. I simply prefer the racy freshness of even the richer wines from these areas, compared to the stereotype of hulking fruit and oak monsters of the golden state.

Readers of this blog will know that there are plenty of exceptions. I love the wines of Edmunds St. John. I've also written favorably about wines from several California producers like Tablas Creek, Mt. Eden, Ridge, older Ravenswood, and recently Windy Oaks. Most of these wines fit a more scaled down version of the California excesses, full of what California can offer but usually not over full. Then there are more mainline California producers that I enjoy, including Carlisle and Siduri, mainline not in the sense of general quality but definitely in terms of ripeness and opulence. These wines don't tend to be shy, and yet I find delight and even nuance in the best example. They show to me that generalizations are only so useful, and sometimes overblown to the point of being ridiculous.

Case in point, A.P. Vin. Andrew Vignello is famous for being an internet wine geek full of passion for California wine (and beyond) who threw his day job aside some years back and got into the wine producing business feet first. I've never met Andrew but he's an inspiration to me, that someone full of passion for winemaking can dive in and produce quality wine that finds an audience. I also love that he makes wine in an urban facility in San Francisco. Urban wines are the new wave.

Today I found a bottle of his 2006 A.P. Vin Pinot Noir Keefer Ranch from the Russian River Valley at a local LA wine shop. I'd never tried his wine and bought it with curiosity of what this producer might have done with grapes from this acclaimed site. The results were surprisingly nice. I actually expected a dark colored, highly extracted show piece of a pinot noir. Instead, there was a pretty ruby color with a pleasing herbal cherry and earth aroma. Had I smelled this blind, I would have quessed high quality New Zealand pinot, which seems to give more herbal expressions of pinot than the pure fruit Cali style I commonly find. Was there whole cluster here? No, apparently, but the spicy peppery notes gave that kind of complexity.

The flavors were more fruit centered with some oak toast, but the acids were bright and the tannins provided a lovely texture and grip. This isn't too tannic, rather it's not sweet and cloying. I loved the balance in this wine and the relative restraint. There's some alcohol on the finish. This isn't lightweight pinot. Sitll, this wine had terrific grace and interest. And where so many people criticize "big" wines for lacking perfume, this wine had terrific perfume. Nice job Andrew.

December 20, 2009

Marcarini barbera

We're visitng my mom in LA and went out to dinner at Dante here in Pacific Palisades. They make really nice Italian food. I always have a good meal here. Nothing super fancy, but very solid and pretty consistent.

From the basic list I picked a Castello di Verduno Barbera. Of course they were out of that, but for the same price we had the 2007 Marcarini Barbera d'Alba Ciabot Camerano. It was too warm (obviously stored in the kitchen, which is too bad), but they brought an ice bucket and it cooled off quickly.

This is a delicious barbera, as usual. Fresh and berry scented, then lightly floral and spicy. I didn't pick up any new oak but there may be some barrique aging here. The flavors were simple and pure with tangy fruit and a nice tannic texture, and a great savory note on the finish.

Barbera is so often the best way to go with Italian food. Reasonably priced, easy to drink young, delicious with so many different dished and with mouthcleansing acidity that slakes your thirst and still brings you back for more. I still have a bottle of this wine from the 2003 vintage back home in the cellar. Time to get that out to see how a few years have changed it.

December 18, 2009

Nice basic Evesham Wood Pinot Noir with a little age

My friend John recently found a bottle of 2002 Evesham Wood Pinot Noir Willamette Valley for $20 at a local shop, Great Wine Buys, in NE Portland. Apparently the good folks at Great Wine Buys will occasionally put something like this away for a while and then bring it out to the shelves. That there's a good wine shop, if you ask me. Not sure if there's any still there, but it's worth a call or visit.

John opened the bottle this afternoon and offered me a glass when I stopped by to hang out before the holiday break. I don't recall this wine specifically from its youth, but remember this bottling being pretty crunchy, fresh and pretty at release. Now it's a touch oxidized, mature and a bit meaty for its age along with nice cherry fruit. It's still fresh and bright on the palate, with juicy acid and woodsy cherry fruit, then fine tannin on the pretty decent finish. Consider this good Bourgogne rouge, Oregon style.

I was lucky enough to bring the rest of the bottle home and it seems a touch more fresh with the extra air time. I find that to be true of wines at this point, where air can bring out a more youthful character when you might think the opposite, that air would cause the wine to show more age. Am I alone in noticing this?

December 17, 2009

Really nice Cali pinot noir from Windy Oaks

Last year around this time, I was sort of gifted a bottle of 2005 Windy Oaks Pinot Noir Estate from the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. Gifted in that a generous guy from the wine boards brought this and another wine to dinner, thinking we'd open this one and I could have the other for another time. Before I knew that, I'd opened the other wine and this never got opened. It was one of those faux pas that wine geeks loathe. You bring a nice bottle, it doesn't get opened. Dang. Worse yet when you're the host. So apologies to Stu. Thanks for your generosity.

I was so intrigued by this wine, I wasn't sure when to open it. Tonight, with a nice fire roaring and the family for an early Christmas at home before we travel...this seemed like the time. Wow, is this an impressive, delicious California pinot noir.

Here in Oregon, Cali wine gets little respect. None less than Cali pinot. THIS is pinot country. California pinot? Isn't that zinfandel? Well, of course not. Sure, lots of pinot noir from the golden state is big fruited and lush. That's not true of everything, though. Case in point here.

The Windy Oaks is from California's Oregon, the Santa Cruz mountains. Rugged, fir covered, full of hippies and other greenery, you could drop me in Soquel and I might think I were in Oregon's coast range somewhere near Manzanita. So it's natural to find a kindred Oregon spirit in this wine.

The color is a nice ruddy ruby, befitting delicate, beginning to age pinot noir. The aroma is perfumed, showing lots of herbaceous whole cluster fermentation notes, integrated wood spice and bright raspberries. At first it seemed a little too herbaceous, even green peppery with a candied note. With time that morphed into peppery stem and finely woven fruit and spice notes. This is nice.

The flavors are nicely focused with raspberry, cured meat and lovely wood spice notes. Everything's well knit, bright with fine tannic texture and good length, finishing with nice savor that leaves you thirsting for more rather than full of "flavor" and a dulled sensibility.

This is simply one of the nicest new world pinot noirs I've had in a while and certainly the best from California I've tried in a long time. Not that I try too many these days, but this is clearly special. I've heard good things from this producer and this bottle alone suggests those reports are right on. Windy Oaks is something I want more of. Thanks Stu, I owe you.

December 14, 2009

Wow - 2007 Clemens Busch Riesling Marienberg Rothenpfad Grosses Gewachs

I had a chance to taste this incredible, dry German Mosel riesling the other night. Talk about blind tastings. I had never heard of the producer, had no idea what region in Germany it was from and no sense of the what the wine would or should be. I did know it was a Grosses Gewachs bottling, essentially Germany's recent Grand Cru designation for dry white wines. I'll admit this is my first taste of a "GG." It won't be my last.

2007 Clemens Busch Riesling Marienberg Rothenpfad Grosses Gewachs
The color was a brilliant greenish gold, making me think of an Austrian riesling. Then the aroma. Green peas? Is there gruner veltliner in here? It's hugely complex aromatically,with honey, mineral, apple and intense tropical aromas. In the mouth it's leaner than the rich smell, not some complex at this stage but with great finesse, purity and length. This is verrrry interesting wine.

I googled the producer and found Lyle Fass' terrific write up on Rockss and Fruit from his visit to the Clemens Busch estate last year. Check out the pictures of the Marienberg vineyard. It must have been an old quarry. I was pleasantly surprised to find Lyle's references to the tropicality of this wine and the "Austria meets the Mosel" aspect of the producer. I can see that in this one wine.

December 12, 2009

2005 Montaribaldi Barbaresco Palazzina

Winter means it's Barba-
resco season here in Portland. I think back to last Decem-
ber's heavy snows and wines like the 2003 Produttori di Barbaresco normale bottling that I enjoyed so much.

 Tonight it's cold and now icy rainy, but there's homemade pizza of three varitiies and the 2005 Montaribaldi Barbaresco Palazzina. Life is good.

The wine is young as you'd expect, dark ruby with a hint of rusty orange when held up to the light. The smell is pure tradition, with seasoned oak and chestnuts, dried flowers, almonds and pie cherries, but some volatility that adds a rustic edge.

The flavors are classic nebbiolo with firm tannin and fresh acidity, perhaps a bit blocky and country, not refined but so honest and authentic, and delicious with the meal, that refinement is beside the point. This is authoritative, flavorful Barbaresco that should age a while but will always favor the bold over elegance. And that's fine.

We're spoiled in Portland, with Barbaresco like this available for the mid-$20s before discounts or special purchase. These days, that's pricing for good Nebbiolo d'Alba, but there's more intensity here, if not the refinement of the best examples of Nd'A. I'm glad to have another bottle to try in a few years to see how it develops.

December 07, 2009

Beer trials and Heater-Allen Isarweizen

Tonight it's nearly 20F in usually mild Portland, OR. What a better time for a glass of sunshine? So with dinner I opened a bottle of Heater-Allen Isarweizen. Yes, that's an Oregon Pinot Noir Riedel glass. Not beer mug will do for this local lager. Rather, something that allows me to enjoy the aroma of this excellent wheat beer. You can see the golden color. I should have shaken the bottle a touch first to get more yeast in suspension, as the later pours were gradually cloudier. The aroma was all wheat and citrus, though I didn't add any lemon to my glass. I felt right back in an Austrian beer hall. Yum

Thinking about beer, I reflect on my experience two days ago down at the Green Dragon with friend Seamus Campbell, author of The Daily Wort. With the help of several friends and the Dragon, Seamus conducted a beer trial. Two flights of three beer samples, double blind. We had no idea what we were trying, or even if each sample was a different beer. Seamus is writing a book called The Beer Trials to investigate taste and perception of quality vs. price, like that. With a neighbor friend, I tried the first three samples and quickly was convinced that the first two were identical. They tasted like Pilsner Urquell to me, but turned out to be Czechvar, the old Budweiser Budvar, the "real" Budweiser that was an old favorite back in my Europe days when I could drink it fresh. Or maybe I didn't have a very evolved taste in beer. Here in the US, it's no good. The third sample was Heineken. Sweeter, maltier but still bland and industrial.

Then a second flight of three more samples. Quickly samples A and C appeared identical, malty and a little sweet. They made me think of Sam Adams Boston Lager, which I haven't had for years. I just associate it with mass produced "craft" brew. Turns out it was Fat Tire Amber Ale, which makes perfect sense. I never liked that beer. Too malty sweet. Sample B was obviously darker and seemed fresh hopped and a little green. I thought it might be Bridgeport's fall Hop Harvest release, a big fresh hopped beer. Turns out it was Ninkasi's Believer, Oregonian but not fresh hopped. I didn't quite like this one either. Just too vegetal and green like the latest Hop Harvest.

All in all, give me a Heater-Allen anytime. But I think I did pretty good in the blind tasting. The beers could have been from anywhere, and essentially were. How do you think you'd do?

December 06, 2009

Great Biggio Hamina tasting

Friday night at Storyteller Wine Company in Portland, Todd Hamina from Biggio Hamina poured a mess of  wines from 2007 and 2008. First were a trio of 2007 Pinot Noir. The Momtazi was the leanest, fresh and bright but perhaps a ltitle tight still. The Deux Vert was notably more fruity aromatically. Then the Ana the deepest and richest of the three, more fruit with a lovely soil note. I thought this was Pommard clone, but apparently it's all 777. I've written elsewhere that the best 2007s are pretty and fragrant, and have come a long way in the past year. Most I wouldn't think need more than a few years aging, though they should last longer. These wines might be exceptions, where they'll reveal even more with time. Very interesting, cerebral wines these. Delicious too.

Then a pair of 2008 Pinot Noir. First the Willamette Valley, lighter in color than 2008s I've tried from other producers and delicious. That's typical here. Todd uses a lot of stems and ferments cool, and the wines stress perfume and finesse rather than color and fruit extraction. Then the Zenith, the darkest and richest of all the pinot here (still not that dark and rich). Lovely black cherry fruit here and great texture.

Next came two 2007 Syrah from the Deux Vert vineyard, a warmer climat in the Yamhill-Carlton District here in the Willamette Valley. The first was the Willamette Valley Syrah, and I've written it up favorably here. Tonight it tasted like peppered bacon. There's 7% viognier co-fermented in this one. Then the 2007 Syrah XX, with 20% viognier. I hadn't tried this one previously, and I found out that not only does it have so much viognier, it's all from one new Oregon oak barrel. There's serious smoke here, maybe too much right now but this is wine to age I think. Not black and highly extracted wine, rather this is medium bodied, structured and fragrant. If good Oregon pinot has Burgunian qualities, these Biggio Hamina syrah definitely take a local spin on classic northern Rhone syrah. What a treat to try so many different ones in one line up.

Unusual Oregon white wine: auxerrois

There's not a lot of the auxerrois grape grown in Oregon. At a holiday party this evening, I had a taste of the newly released 2008 Adelsheim Auxerrois from the Ribbon Springs Vineyard on Ribbon Ridge. What a delicious and interesting wine. I think Oregon whites are underrated, and this is another great example of that.

What the heck is auxerrois? It's pronounced ohk-sair-wah and it's common to the Alsace region of France. I looked it up in Jancis Robinson's classic text Vines Grapes & Wines without much success. Wikipedia suggests it's a cross of gouais blanc and pinot noir, the same parentage of chardonnay. Adelsheim's site suggests this cross is from medival times and responsible for aligote, gamay and 10 other varieities. I don't understand how that works, but I find it fascinating.

How did the wine taste? As the Adelsheim link suggests, there were lots of pear and honey aromas and flavors, with softer acid than I expected. One taster suggested it was a little sweet. I found it to be dry, with a fruity impression, so I can understand that. What was remarkable here was the finesse and length. It's not the moxt complex wine, just so delicious and enticing. Thanks to our hosts for taking the wine steward's recommendation at a local shop and picking this up.

December 04, 2009

Beer trial at the Green Dragon this weekend

Attention wine drinkers:

I've been meaning to blog about this for a couple days. Blog reader, homebrewer and author of The Daily Wort blog Seamus Campbell is doing research for a book on tasting beer. He needs your help. He wants input from a variety of tasters, us wine lovers included. It's one thing to hear from hop heads. Calling all cork dorks.

This Saturday and Sunday afternoons from 1-5pm, Seamus will be at the Green Dragon, 928 SE 9th, at Belmont in Portland. What you need to do - show up, taste about a pint's worth of free samples, and complete a survey. Should take about 15 to 20 minutes, and while you're at the Dragon, why not buy another pint or two?

It's going to be cold this weekend. Beer drinking weather I say. Hope to see you there.

December 03, 2009

1999 Texier Chateauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes

Tonight, an older wine to pair with some steak and the big college football game between Oregon and Oregon State. The winner goes to the Rose Bowl, and wouldn't this be a fitting wine. The color of the 1999 Eric Texier Chateauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes is rusting a bit but still fresh. Then there's an almost rose-like floral perfume on top of deep, intense game, raspberry and old wood aromas. Did this see some barrique? Any fresh wood notes have integrated nicely. Those more sensitive to brett will notice some mild leather and band aid notes in there. Overall, this is unusual Chateauneuf, more northern Rhone in character than the stony, grenache-dominated cherry and herb infused wines we see most often.

In the mouth this wine is less impressive. It has nice raspberry and spice notes with some drying tannin but good length. There is more brett on the finish in the form of cheese rind and horse blanket flavors. They stand out a bit when you taste without food, but with a steak, potatoes and broccoli meal this is nice if not spectacular wine. The brett averse might hate it, and I'm less and less tolerant of brett. Still, I like this, especially aromatically and with a nice, warm meal on a cold December night.

December 01, 2009

2007 Arterberry Maresh Pinot Noir Dundee Hills

I wrote months ago about seeing this wine on sale in Portland, [perhaps a victim of the economy and some mixed reviews on the 2007 vintage locally for pinot noir. Everybody seems to have lowered their prices on 2007s. There are some great buys still out there, even this one if you look carefully.

Did I ever write a tasting note for the 2007 Arterberry Maresh Dundee Hills pinot from Jim Arterberry Maresh. (For the record, it's pronounced Marsh.). I don't think I did, so here goes.

First you see the translucent ruby color. Then there's the senuous perfume of dried flowers, cherries, strawberries, clay and spice. I don't pick up any intrusive oakiness, just subtle wood spice that marries beautifully with the grape. This wine is pure silk in the mouth, with tangy cherry and light raspberry flavors, complex spice and a lovely, soft tannic texture. There's good length and this matches nicely with homemade turkey and roast vegetable sandwiches. I really like this, and around $20 locally, it's a bargain.

I read a decent review of this wine in a commercial publication that suggests it's almost rose in hue and probably best served lightly chilled, like a pink wine. That seems like faint praise and simply off base to my experiences with it. I love rose, but this is red wine. This is what good Oregon pinot noir is all about. This will cellar for a few years. I wouldn't lose it in the basement for too long. So many of the good 2007s are already fragrant and silky, I'm not sure how much they'll gain even if they last a while. But this wine isn't some afterthought, to be lost among black hued, excessively oaky local wines. As Jimmy Maresh would put it, this is the shit. Don't miss it.

November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving weekend in the northern Willamette Valley

I managed to visit some wineries yesterday in McMinnville, Carlton and then up on Ribbon Ridge. The day couldn't have been more beautiful, and the wines and beer at each stop were excellent. This was one of those really good days in wine country.

I started with the long drive to "Mac" to visit the Eyrie Vineyards in the wine ghetto near downtown McMinnville. What's this? There's a sign for Westrey Wine Company just before I get to Eyrie. I've never visited here but like the wines, so in a go for a quick taste. The whites are lovely, with fresh pinot gris and toasty chardonnay that's still elegant. The '07 pinot noirs are lovely, with the '07 Pinot Noir Reserve reminding me of the '07 Oracle Vineyard. The newly released '08s are the highlight. The '08 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley is nicely intense with grippy tannin. The '08 Justice Vineyard is darker fruited and structured. The '08 Oracle the pick here, with great perfume, high toned with great intensity. I'm coming to love this vineyard.

Quickly I move to the Eyrie Vineyards, this being my first visit to the holy grail of Oregon pinot noir. This old  dairy processing plant has thick concrete walls so the barrel cellar is nicely dank and humid. I start with the '08 Muscat Ottonel that's dry, floral and crisp. Then the '08 Pinot Blanc that's lemony and pure. I have a bottle of the '07 in my fridge that I'm excited to try. Then the '07 Pinot Gris, so smokey and pure. I love this.

Moving to the next station, I try the 2008 Chardonnay that's lovely and subtle, with just a hint of oak and great purity. Then the 2007 Chardonnay Original Vines Reserve from the old block, with lots of toasty notes, hazelnuts and young chard fruit. I prefer the 2008 right now, but the 2007 is for keeping.

Then the reds in the main tasting room. The 2008 Pinot Meunier is fresh and peppery, almost like gamay. The 2007 Estate Pinot Noir is lovely, ripe and pure, and should age nicely I imagine. Then the 2004 Reserve Pinot Noir that's earthy and a little animal with great length. Finally, the 2003 Reserve Pinot Noir that's also earthy but nicely fresh and not at all "hot year" in character. Should I admit I recently passed up a chance to buy two bottles of this at $25 each, thinking 2003 just wasn't a very good year? When will I learn. Buy producers, not vintages.

I'm due to meet up with a group of friends, but what's this? Heater-Allen Brewing right down the street? I can't pass it up. So I taste through the Dunkel, Pils, Sandy Paws and Schwartz beers and buy a six pack of 22oz. bottles, mostly the Sandy Paws. I love Heater-Allen beers, so honest in the Germanic tradition but clearly local and "Oregon." Seek out this beer. It's that good.

So, up to Carlton to meet up with friends at Cana's Feast, where I'm friends with the winemaker Patrick Taylor, so consider that if you're worried about subjectivity. Readers know that I'm not a huge fan of big, new world wines, and Cana's Feast makes some pretty big, new world wines. But exceptions abound, and I really appreciate what's going on in this cellar. The '06 Nebbiolo is a little toasty, but authentically ruby in color with terrific structure. I really like this. The '06 Reserve Sangiovese is pretty toasty, but nicely varietal with great bitter almond and cherry fruit flavors. I may prefer the regular Sangiovese for the lower oak profile, but that's a matter of taste. The '06 Syrah is big and rich, but was indeed a nice match with the chicken liver pate as the pourer suggested. Speaking of food, the spread at Cana's Feast is the best this day by far. Pork loin, sections of huge wheels of Italian cheese, that pate, foccacia, and so on. My group of friends really like this stop and I'm glad to meet up with them and not miss out.

Then to Ribbon Ridge to close the day at Brick House Vineyards. The crowd at Cana's Feast is big, and the town of Carlton is absolutely hopping with tasters. Then out at Brick House there are cars everywhere. We head in to the crowded cellar and get a taste of the 2007 Chardonnay, not short of oak toast but really nicely rich, balanced and long. The first pinot noir is the 2008 Select, not as dark as other '08s I've tried elsewhere and softer in structure, but delicious all the same. Finally, two 2007s that provide a great counterpoint for the vintage. First the '07 Pinot Noir Les Dijonnais, all Dijon clones and my preference, so fragrant and lacy in the mouth, this is really good 2007 pinot noir. The '07 Cuvee du Tonnelier is only less in comparison. It's all Pommard clone, something I usually prefer but here it's not quite as graceful and complete. I like it well, but Les Dijonnais is exceptional. To close, I tasted some lovely honies from Andrew the Bee Man and then goat cheeses from Monteillet Fromagerie out of Dayton, WA. I buy some unsalted fresh cheve with herbs and a small round called Larzac that's ripe and lucious.

Then outside to say goodbye to friends at dusk and head back to Portland, my head clear from spitting (mostly) and taking my time over this excellent day. Ah, Thanksgiving weekend in Oregon. Few things are better.

November 22, 2009

Post harvest dinner, with wine

A bunch of us affiliated with the winery got together last night for perhaps the best pot luck I've ever attended. Homemade pickles, butternut squash and cheve tarts, provencal beef stew, cous cous with butternut squash, farro with chantrelles and spicey delicata squash rounds, asparagus with garlic and parmasean, homemade tart tatain and chocolate tart. I'm feel full just remembering all the goodness.

Of course, there were wines involved, pretty much all excellent but different in style, some more pleasing to me than others. For whites, a 1996 Amity Rieling Willamette Valley with petrol aromas and tangy, fresh flavors. A 2003 Jaboulet Crozes Hermitage Blanc "Mule Blanche" that showed the heat of the vintage with lovely, round apple and honey flavors. It perhaps could use some acid, but it was delicious.

For reds, a bevy. The 2006 Thomas Pinot Noir Dundee Hills, restrained for the hot vintage, pretty cherry and slight animal notes. Young and delicous. The 2006 August West Pinot Noir Graham Family Russian River Valley was spicy and fragrant but very lush and broad in the mouth, maybe too much soo. The 2002 Elk Cove Pinot Noir Wind Hill was mature, perhaps a bit early but still delicious and one of my favorites of the night. Then a 1989 Tualatin Estate Pinot Noir that was still rich and a bit woody but lovely, with time to go if you happen to have any (not likely I'm guessing).

Moving away from pinot noir and Oregon, the 2002 Domaine Tempier Bandol classic was predictably young, a little bretty, but so lovely, peppery and raspberries, animal but nicely balanced. The 2006 Unti Grenache Dry Creek Valley was so California, spicy and woodsy smelling but so lush and rich on the palate, good but not my style. Then a 2003 Tedeschi Amarone that wasn't as huge as the hot 2003 vintage would suggest. I love this producer and this basic bottling is always more authentic to my taste than the Monte Olmi "cru" bottling. No barrique here, or at least you can't tell. Certainly raisiny, but that's Amarone. Nicely fresh and lithe, I like this.

Finally, one couple brought their homemade Nocento walnut liqueur that was dark brown, intense and simply wonderful. One of the couple is a terrific winemaker, so it's not surprise, and I want to try more of this. Wow.

All told, a great dinner and evening. Happily I was modest on my wine tastes, but not on the food intake. Talk about food hangovers. Yikes.

November 19, 2009

I don't have a lot of rules in life, but one is that any reference to Cinderella in pop music is strictly forbidden. The whole concept of Cinderella makes me a little ill. Just seeing the name makes my stomach turn a bit. Apologies if that's true for you.

Nevertheless, wine internet king Gary Vaynerchuk of the Wine Library in New Jersey is behind a site launched last month called The idea is that one ridiculous value in wine will be offered per day. Why that awful name? The deal ends at midnight, east coast time anyway. Maybe a little earlier it turns out. For us on the west coast, each evening there's a new deal to consider. Read more about the site on Wine Berserkers.

What's tonight's deal? How about Guiseppe Mascarello's 2003 Barolo Monprivato for a little less than $39? Not cheap wine, but for a cru Barolo of that level, that price is a giveaway. Buy three and you get free ground shipping. All that I can't resist.

Yes, it's 2003, the notorious hot vintage all over Europe. But I've been more pleased with 2003s from Italy's Piedmont region than just about anywhere else in Europe. Call me naive for tolerating ripe nebbiolo. I don't care. I'm sure this is terrific wine. Remember, buy producers, not vintages...even in 2003. Well, sometimes. Guiseppe, I'm in your hands.

So, if you're like me, be careful if you check each night. Sickening name, but there are absolutely sick deals.

edit - I see now that when a "Cindy" wine sells out, it turns into a pumpkin. Really? A pumpkin? That should be banned.

November 18, 2009

2007 Badia Alle Corti Montepulciano d'Abruzzo

What's the best cheap red wine I've had in months, possibly this whole year? The 2007 Badia Alle Corti Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, hands down. This might even be better than my longtime favorite from this DOC, the basic bottling from Masciarelli.

There's nice freshness here, with a deep perfume that's typcial for this region and good, savory and sweet and surprisingly complex for such inexpensive wine. The cherry fruit flavors have the classic leather, meat and roast almond notes that make this much more interesting than simply fruity wine, so nice with a warm plate of pasta or lasagna.

Some people might find this "dry," but to me the rich savory notes and bright acidity are like bacon compared to the simple pork chop of so many domestic red wines in this category. There's a place for pork chops, but bacon is the stuff of life. Here, the depth and savor of a wine with cured flavors like this one make for much more interesting drinking and pairing with food than simple oaky, fruity wine so common to our store shelves. Locally, this goes for as little as $8. That's absurd value, if you want it.

November 17, 2009

Elevage and Thanksgiving

In my recent post wrapping up the 2009 Vincent Cellars harvest, I wrote that elevage had begun. Elevage is what winemakers call the time from the end of primary fermentation at harvest through to bottling. In the case of pinot noir, that's typically one or two years where the new wine cures into a finished beverage.

During elevage, red wine is typically in wood barrels, occasionally being moved from barrel to barrel to aerate the wine and draw it off its sediment. In some situations, red wine undergoes malolactic fermentation in tank before barrel aging. Otherwise, during elevage the only time wine is usually not in barrel is when barrels are combined and wine held in tank to mix properly mixing prior to bottling.

Malolactic fermentation tends to happen pretty quickly after new wine has been fermented. "ML" fermentation is the natural process where sharp malic acidity in new wine ferments into softer, creamy lactic acid. Before ML, red wine usually tastes sharp and raw. After, the wine tastes more finished and rounded, adding more roundness and polish through further barrel aging.

A few weeks now from harvest, my new wines in barrel are beginning their ML fermentation, which should be done in a month or two. ML is helped by warmer than usual cellar temperatures, so the barrel room is kept near room temperature until ML is finished. Then things are cooled down, the new wines sulfured and left to age quietly in a chilly cellar.

Each barrel is topped up every couple of weeks, to account for evaporation that slowly takes place during elevage. The first topping just happened, and it was significant as the newly filled barrels quickly soaked up about a liter of wine each. Topping regularly is key to keeping the wine from turning to vinegar, and happily the amount of wine needed to top your barrels each isn't nearly so much as here at the beginning of elevage.

Tasting the barrels is also essential as you go through harvest. A key thing we're looking for at this point is reduction, which is a fancy way to say "stink." You know how some things, like a sleeping bag, need to be aired out every once in a while, to somehow magically get rid of stinky aromas and otherwise freshen things up? Wine's like that. Wines in barrel sometimes start to smell funky, and usually moving the wine from its barrel into another fresh barrel and help air it out and let some funky, "reduced" smells air out and go away. Sometimes things get more complicated, but that's more complicated than we need to get into here. We don't wash the wine, but like you would wash a really stinky sleeping bag, there are things to do in the winery to help a really stinky wine regain its freshness.

All in all, it's a great time for winemakers. Harvest is done, and it was a great harvest at that. Everyone I talk to is legitimately excited about the quantity and quality of the 2009 harvest here in the northern Willamette Valley of Oregon. No marketing shtick there. Just honest passion about a successful year.

Now everyone's getting ready for Thanksgiving open houses, the traditional time for Oregon wineries to open their doors and host crowds of happy tasters. Blends are being assembled for wines soon to be bottled. Open house crews are being scheduled. Those who aren't already living it up on holiday in France (ehem, Scott Wright!) are planning their travels. Winter pruning crews are probably sharpening their tools but waiting until the new year to get to work.

And I'm collecting names for my mailing list and looking at a ton of tasks to complete before spring, all exciting and just what I want to be doing. None the least of which is planning for harvest 2010. It's never too early.

November 15, 2009

2001 Loosen Riesling Auslese Wehlener Sonnenuhr

Talking with a friend recently about German riesling, I was reminded about the great 2001 vintage. For me, 2001 was the revelatory year for me regarding the riesling of Germany's Mosel Valley and beyond.

In particular, I remember a trade tasting in spring of 2002 that I was able to attend at the warehouse of then-importer Ewald Moseler, featuring newly bottled 2001 rieslings from several Mosel producers in Ewald's deep portfolio. Among them were the wines of Ernie Loosen, head of legendary producer Dr. Loosen.

Those 2001s were in general exceptional. My only complaint was that most Kabinett bottlings were a bit heavy and sweet, instead of light and lean. I remember Ewald telling me how many of them were havested at Auslese ripeness levels, which seems good in theory but not as good in practice. Such ripe year Kabinett seem to lack the acidic cut of "real" Auslese in those vintages.

Thinking again about 2001, I got out a half bottle of 2001 Dr. Loosen Riesling Auslese Wehlener Sonnenuhr. Wow, what gorgeous riesling that's still young but already showing some signs of maturity. Light gold in color with a strong pineapple and mineral, then green apple and some emerging petrol aromas. This smells sweet and ripe, but not dessert sweet. Then the flavors, ripe and rich green and golden apples, pineapple and simply excellent acidity that those Kabinett seemed to lack. There's great length and purity, I love this and am glad to have a little more waiting down in the basement.

Aging beer: Abyss vs. Top Sail, and more

Though I'm mostly interested in wine, there's a place for serious beer in this blog. Last night I attended an annual winter beer and cheese gathering hosted by my friend and blog reader Dudley. The event attracts local brewers, vintners and regular folk like me, though I guess I've moved into vintner category.

When I arrived the crowd was packed around a dining room table full of mostly west coast U.S. beers and domestic cheeses. My contributions were 22oz bottles of 2007 Deschutes Abyss and the 2008 Top Sail Reserve from Full Sail Brewing. I paired them with an Oregon produced Perrydale cheese, recommended by Steve's Cheese in NW Portland.

I was curious to see how the Abyss ages, and how it compares to another oak aged beer in the Top Sail. I've heard the the Abyss, for all its youthful intensity, might not necessarily improve with age. Sure enough, I found the roasted coffee and chocolate tones in the 2007 Abyss to be a bit muddled with age, especially compared to a 2009 edition of the Abyss at the tasting that showed better to my taste. The 2007 was no slouch. It's still very enjoyable. I'm just not sure it requires or rewards aging. It think it's better to enjoy these bottlings in their exuberant youth.

In comparison, the 2008 Top Sail -- purchased nearly two years ago on release in early 2008 -- showed beautifully. There was much more nuance in the aromas and flavors, without the heavy roasted notes of the Abyss. Instead, lots of sweet bourbon caramel and spice, thanks to aging in bourbon casks. I thought this might make the beer a little vulgar and obvious, but there was no denying the delicious flavors and long finish. Matched with the slightly fruity and caramel sweet Perrydale, which the Abyss trounced, the Top Sail was excellent. I think you could hold this beer longer still, but it's already in a great place. I'll look forward to the 2010 release that I imagine should be out around the new year.

Otherwise, the gathering was an excellent chance to taste intense beers and sample a wide range of impressive domestic cheeses. Another great match with the Perrydale was a 2008 (I believe) Goose Island Bourbon County Stout from Chicago. It was black as night, roasty and rich, but impeccably balanced. I would think the Perrydale wouldn't have stood up, but the pairing worked.

Finally, someone brought a magnum of the 2003 Anchor Christmas Ale, but it seemed a little tired to me, especially compared to a delicious 2009 edition. This is another beer I find not so great with more than a year of age. Thanks Dudley for another great event.

November 11, 2009

Cowan Cellars and "Florida" Jim Cowan

There are several stories of internet wine geeks making the leap into commercial production. The common one, if anything like this is really common, is a younger guy following his passion for wine, leaving the day job and, with significant help from contacts made in the online wine community, committing himself fulltime to learning the craft of winemaking on the job and starting his own business. The best known examples include Andrew Vignello of A.P. Vin, Jamie Kutch of Kutch and Jeff Ames of Rudius, all Calfornia-based producers.

I've written about the exceptional story of Ray Walker, who's taking things a step further by moving to Burgundy to produce his Maison Ilan wines from the Cote d'Or. I'm hesitant to include myself among such characters because I'm not leaving the day job anytime soon. But it's clear that without the online wine world fueling my interest and providing lots of great industry contacts, I don't know how I would be doing what I'm doing in launching my own wine label Vincent.

Then there's Flordia Jim Cowan, an online wine legend whom I've only had the pleasure of meeting once several years ago here in Portland. Florida Jim first came to my attention in the 1990s on the original incarnation of the Wine Spectator discussion forums. Along with a merry band of travelers from all over the country who came together for Russell Bevan-led "Bacchus Wine Tours" in Napa and Sonoma counties, Jim developed into a serious wine geek known for frequently posting modest but nuanced accounts of the wines he drank and food that accompanied them.

Somewhere around the late '90s Jim experienced a palate shift away from the most lumbering of California wines to more lithe and perfumed wines of France, Austria and elsewhere in Europe, wines that often cost a fraction of what he previously preferred. What a great thing, no? Actually, there was some surprising backlash in the online community. Was Jim under the spell of geeky wine snobs who disdain overoaked wines with erudite condesention? These world class bargains Jim wrote about - would he turn his back on them a year from now as he appeared to do with wines he previously favored?

Of course, the suspicions were as unfounded as they were off base. Jim's an independent thinker and that wasn't changing. He called them as he saw them, and it made sense that his evolving taste in wine might marry with another aspect of himself that we knew well online -- his writing. So gone were the notes of Napa cabernet, and in came reports of cru Beaujolais and Austrian gruner veltliner that I, for one, found deliciously inviting with their nuance and delicacy.

Years passed and Jim's reports of wine and food and life with wife Diane as they traveled between homes in  Florida and western North Carolina became internet favorites. I met Jim on one of his well documented road trips with Col. Bob Couzzi across the U.S., visiting online wine friends and sharing wines from all over the world. Jim's travels often led back to California, and as his old friend Russell Bevan himself made the leap from internet wine geek to serious wine producer, Jim began working harvest and learning the craft himself. Jim also connected with Steve Edmunds of Edmunds St. John, whose atypical California wines because Florida Jim favorites. You can't learn from a better source than Steve Edmunds.

Back to present day and the lastest post from Florida Jim on life after his latest harvest in northern California. This is classic Florida Jim, and if you find it interesting, dig around the archives of that or several other internet wine forums for more. Or try this link. Today's post inspired me to document here what I know, or think I know, of Jim's journey in wine. Jim has a way of simply conveying the essence of his experience, what's important and meaningful to him, without much fluff. His Cowan Cellars wines -- syrah and sauvignon blanc from the Dry Stack vineyard in the cool Sonoma country AVA of Bennett Valley -- sound reflective of their maker. I've yet to try them, but look forward to an opportunity. Maybe you too?

November 09, 2009

Odds and ends

Nothing so pressing for a full post, so let's hit it three dot style...

There's another train wreck over on the Robert Parker bulletin board today with unspecified allegations of additives in zinfandel and unreported blending in pinot noir. Of course these things happen, but it gets tiring seeing insinuations that such things are common, without proof, then endlessly beat to a pulp in an alleged defense of one's character. Have the proof but don't feel comfortable divluging online? Don't bring it up online. Especially if you don't want to risk your brand. You can really help yourself by being online, but here's an example of a pretty classic pitfall you need to watch out for...

Found a crazy sale at a local Whole Foods (NE Fremont) this past weekend. Single vineyard Produttori Barbaresco from 1999 and 2001 for $25, half bottles of Dom Ruinart Champagne Blanc de Blancs and Rose for $19, even a few bottles of 1999 Grange for $150, which is ridiculoulsy cheap for that label. I don't play at that level, but the Produttori is gone and most of the Ruinart too. Lots of other things but nothing quite so interesting to my mind, but it's all still there if you're in the area...

Dumpster diving continued...the local Hollywood Grocery Outlet has some Cameron Hughes bottlings for $5 or so. Hughes buys bulk wine around California and bottles them by "Lot" to sell at Costco and the like for $10-$15 usually. People seem to love the wines. The 2006 Cameron Hughes Lodi Petite Sirah Lot 70 wasn't bad, especially for marinating steaks. Typical oak and fruit profile, but for party wine this could be a hit. Then there's the 2002 Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz "Cliff Edge" from Victoria, Australia, for $8. Not bad, not bad at all for a budget wine from a storied producer. White pepper aromas and mature syrah notes, pretty full bodied and chunky flavors. Call if plonk because it's at the G.O., but bargain hunters should love it...

Finally, do 15% alcohol on the label and Louis/Dressner Imports go together? Apparently so, on the 2000 Clos de Caveau Vacqueyras "Lao Muse" from the southern Rhone. This $50 luxury cuvee (Dressner? really???) from an all organic producer is aging nicely, with broad ripe aromas and flavors, lovely earth and red fruit flavors and some sweet notes of maturity. With the price and ridiculously oversized bottle, I expected the wine to be inky black and over the top, probably sporting lots of new oak. But Dressner doesn't let you down. He picks good stuff and this is translucent and, though aged in barrique, very nicely integrated and "real" tasting. Not sure what happened to this bottling or if Dressner even carries this producer still. But Lao Muse is the real deal...

November 06, 2009

2006 Crowley Chardonnay Maresh Vineyard

After tasting the oh my god good 2007 Kelley Fox Wines Pinot Noir Maresh Vineyard, I came home to homemade butternut squash soup, wheat levain and apple, gruyere and walnut salad for dinner. With that Dundee Hills inspiration, what else to try but the 2006 Crowley Chardonnay from the same Maresh Vineyard (pronounced Marsh).

Tyson Crowley's a friend, but I'll still recommend his wine because it's that good. 2006 was a warm year, and this wine is large scaled compared to the more taut 2007. Still, this is fresh and delicious Oregon chardonnay, with sweet cream and golden delicious apple aromas, a soft texture and bright apple, mineral and subtle oak flavors. I loved this one with dinner and on its own afterward. The 2007 is in the Portland market still. For around $20, it's a bargain in top quality Oregon chard.

November 02, 2009

Southern Oregon Wineries Tasting last night at the Governor

Where was everybody? I went to the Southern Oregon Wineries tasting last night and didn't see anyone there I know, aside from a couple of producers. There was a good crowd though. Lots of happy tasters, some totally blitzed.

The event featured more than two dozen producers from the Umpqua valley and south to the Rogue and Applegate valleys. There was some pinot and chardonnay, but the typical line up was some mix of viognier, syrah, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, tempranillo and red blends. Overall the wines were hit and miss, with some unexciting but perfectly decent wines amid some pretty exciting, very well made wines. I'll hit the highlights here as I saw them. I didn't try everything, by any means, so if I don't mention producers who were there, it's not necessarily because I didn't like the wine.

From Abacela, the 2008 Albarino was nervy and fresh and the 2006 Tempranillo Estate was nicely structured if a little alcoholic. I can see why this winery has such a cult following. The wines have personality and are generally very true to their varieties, many of which they painstakingly pioneered here in Oregon.

I'd never heard of Folin Cellars out of Gold Hill, but I enjoyed all three wines they poured. First, the 2007 Estate Viognier was true to the variety and fresh. The 2006 Estate Syrah was nicely varietal with meat and gum notes. The best wine for me was the 2006 Estate Tempranillo, nicely varietal with tobacco and berry notes. None of these wines showed excessive oak and seemed relatively restrained. Definitely check these people out and see if I'm crazy or on to something.

Girardet's 2008 Baco Noir was my first example of this grape, I think. It wasn't stellar but a lovely drinking wine with nice acidity and balance. I'd definitely try this again.

Quady North is doing some great things out of Jacksonville. The 2007 Viognier was nice and floral, though this variety can be a little over the top for me outside of the northern Rhone. The 2007 Syrah 4,2-A was my favorite, a low oak, gamy syrah that I've tried before and liked just as much. The 2006 Arsenal (Cabernet Franc) was California huge, and very good in that idiom. By the way, the name comes from guns, not the Gunners of north London. Chelsea fans rest easy. Finally, I had a special syrah bottling that I didn't get the name of. Like the Arsenal, it's not my style, but very nice in the big, rich idiom. Herb Quady manages a bunch of vineyards down south and he's obviously got a nice touch in the cellar too.

Another new name for me was Rocky Knoll out of Medford. I really liked their 2005 Rocky Knoll Claret, with good structure and coil, this wine had a cool profile and seemed nicely balanced and worth cellaring a bit. So many southern Oregon reds can be a bit too softly structured for me, but this was a bit more taut and upright. Apparently from vines planted in the 1970s with fruit that was sold until 2005.

I'd never tried wines from Spangler in the Umpqua Valley, but the Petite Sirah is a nice example of the variety. Dark and dense, perhaps a bit monolithic but you don't drink petite for nuance. This is authoritative, robuse petite sirah and quite good.

Trium has a great label, but again I'd never had a chance to try any wines until now. The 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon was nicely textured with fine tannin and good cassis and mineral flavors, not too soft, just right. Good wine.

Finally, Troon Vineyard from Grants Pass had a bunch of wines and a big crowd. I tried only the 2005 Old Vine Meritage and it was big and rich but obviously well made and without too much polish for my tastes. Some of the cabernet blends at this tasting were just ho hum, a little soft, sort of herbal, but this was serious stuff. Sure enough, Herb Quady of Quady North (yes, part of the Quady family of CA Central Valley wine fame) is the winemaker. Herb seems like the real deal and a terrific guy. I'll have to check out more of these wines.

Events like these always have a downside, especially late in the event hours when I was there. At one table, an obviously drunk, overly made up person came up, poured out a glass into the water pitcher and haltingly asked for "your highest...end wine." The expensive stuff gets you messed up just as easily as the cheap stuff, it seems. I backed away from the table and hoped the producer could cut her off without creating too much of a scene. Talk about a no win situation. Overall, this was a fun event and it looked like there were lots of wine buyers, which had to make the drive home a little better for the producers.

October 30, 2009

With harvest done, elevage begins

This evening saw the final wine go into barrel, the last fermenter cleaned, everything tidied up and put to bed for the season. For the Vincent project anyhow. There's lots more going on at the winery. I'm just glad to say my wine is safely in barrel and now elevage can begin.

Yes, elevage, the name of this blog, the education of the wine. It's the time between primary fermentation at harvest and bottling a year or more later, when the wine undergoes its malolactic fermentation and essentially "cures" into finished wine, much like aging meat or cheese.

A common question is, "when is the wine ready to bottle?" The simple answer is when it tastes right, and perhaps when you need the space and the barrels for more wine next year. Determining when a wine is ready to bottle is a personal decision, a matter of taste and style you are looking to present. I figure most of this wine will be bottled just before next year's harvest, in part for space issues and to have wine ready for people to drink. But mostly, because I think the wines of 2009 will not make for old bones in the cellar, so they'll likely reward an earlier bottling. We see how they taste as we go, but a year from now I expect to have some delicious wine in the bottle just about ready for market.

To celebrate, I enjoyed a lager from Hopworks Urban Brewery here in Portland, courtesey of their keg bike that showed up across the street for a party celebrating the handmade bike show this weekend. Two kegs on a long, gorgeous, delicious bike. What will Portlanders think of next?

October 28, 2009

That much closer to the end of harvest

Today's the first quiet day in almost a month for my Vincent wine project. After getting ready for the grape harvest, bringing pinot noir grapes into the winery, fermenting the grape juice into wine, then draining and pressing the contents of all three fermenters, all that's left is to let the new wine settle for a few days, then put it into a variety of French oak barrels.

So far, seven of nine barrels are full of wine from fermenters drained and pressed last week. Yesterday saw the last fermenter drained and the skins loaded into the press to squeeze out the remaining wine. Today, there's nothing to do but wait until tomorrow when those lots of wine are put into barrel. I expect the free run wine from that last, one ton fermenter to give me 2 barrels of wine plus a little extra. Yield isn't an exact science. One of the earlier barrels isn't quite full, so that can be topped off with a few more gallons. Any remaining free run wine and all the press wine from this lot will go into a variable capacity steel tank.

We'll use that last bit of wine to top off the barrels over the coming year. Wine slowly evaporates in the barrel aging process, so every couple of weeks each barrel needs to be topped up with about a half bottle worth of wine, depending on the humidity level in the barrel room. The idea is that we'll end up with about nine barrels of wine, or 225 12-bottle cases, meaning I better get focused on finding eager wine drinkers. You interested? Let me know and I'll put you on my list for next spring when I'll send out my first offer. Write me at vincentfritzsche [at] yahoo [dot] com

October 25, 2009

Five barrels of pinot noir

I have my first five barrels of pinot noir tonight, all free run wine from the Domaine Coteau vineyard on Walnut hill. Two fermenters worth, and they taste pretty promising I think. The press wine from this lot is still to come, and the free run and press wine from my one ton of Zenith vineyard pinot. That's finally dry and showing some size, which should be a hit with many tasters. All done Thursday? Let's hope so.

October 24, 2009

Totally negative

All three fermenters of pinot noir are in negative territory, meaning below zero on the brix scale. Brix measures soluable solids in grape juice, most of which are fermentable sugars. Even though it's not exactly right, we think of brix as the measure of sugar. As sugar gets converted to alcohol during fermentation, brix drops. Because of a few things, including the presence of alcohol, brix actually gets into negative territory before a wine is completely "dry," meaning it has no more fermentable sugar. So "going negative" is good because fermentation is almost done.

One big worry of winemakers is a stuck fermentation, when fermentation ends before all the sugar is gone. That can lead to all kinds of problems, so going negative means you're almost home safely. Not quite there, but close enough to get excited. When everything you're making is negative, it means you're definitely close to the end of the hard work of harvest and that's really exciting.

Yesterday two of my three fermenters were drained and the skins pressed. Now there are three bins of wine to settle. One for each fermenter, and a third for the press wine. Tomorrow those will all go into barrel. Tuesday the last fermenter will get drained and pressed, and probably Thursday into barrel. Put bungs in all the barrels, wash up everything, and harvest will be officially done. Exhale.

October 20, 2009

Near the end

The crush of crush is past peak, like nearly every fermentation in the winery. Just looking around it's obvious. Space on the floor is opening up as bins begin to be drained, the pomace pressed, the new wine settled before being put in barrel. Workers have a bit more room to move around. Things aren't done, not at all, but there's progress and surely plans are afoot for an end of harvest celebration in a few weeks.

The wines for my project look to be safely in barrel in one week. Pressing for the first two fermenters is scheduled for Friday, the third on Sunday. Those first two are both "negative" meaning they're just about dry, when all the sugar's gone and the wine is made (though hardly finished). The trick now is to push them to completion as they've slowed considerably and the temperatures have dropped into the 70sF. The fruit for the third bin came into the winery four days later, but it's nearly negative after a surprisingly quick fermentation. Hopefully not too quick.

These wines should all have at least a day or two of continued maceration on the skins after going dry, which I generally like to see so the wines have a chance to gain complexity and texture, perhaps at the expense of fresh fruitiness. Looks like things will get two days to settle before being put into barrel, so that Sunday press should go into barrel Tuesday and everything, for now, done. A whole lot more happens before wine is ready to bottle in about a year, but next Tuesday will mark the end of a good first harvest for Vincent. Is it too early to start thinking about next year? [yes]

October 17, 2009

Feeling good and not so good

Earlier this week I managed to slip and bang my right ribs onto the edge of a big plastic container. It knocked the wind out of me for a moment, and hurt pretty badly. I hoped I'd only bruised myself, but I walked around outside for a minute and thought I was ok. Four days later I'm not feeling so good and guessing I have at least one broken rib. It's left me pretty uncomfortable where almost any task is painful or filled with the anticipation of pain. Things could be worse, but don't do something like this. It's not fun. I don't know if the doctor can do much for me, but I guess I better go see him just to know what's really going on.

Happily, I'm feeling very good about how this harvest is going. After anxiety about the hot summer weather and then dodging most of the forecated rain around harvest, the grapes looked and tasted really good. Then came worries about whether everything would go well with vinification, and so far it looks like the team's doing a great job. What I tasted today from the first two fermenters is very promising. Lots of  berry fruit and some meaty richness, but no pruney overripe flavors or lack of freshness, something hot years can give. 2009 isn't proving to be a typical hot year, and that's a good thing if you ask me. There's one other fermenter that's beginning to get active. It's hard to believe that everything should be safely in barrel in about 10 days. I'm excited.

October 15, 2009


The two fermenters of pinot noir are humming along. One's down to 10.2 brix (percent sugar, essentially) as of this morning. The other's at 12.6. And what about those temps. Cap temperatures are at or slightly above 100F, which is pretty hot and called for pump overs to aerate and cool the juice. Cap temps refer to the temperatures in the raised up mass of grape skins. They can be deceptively hot. It's not like everything in a fermenter is that temperature. Sure enough, underneath the cap the juice itself was a good bit cooler. One bin was 86F and the other 90F, again pretty warm but this is the peak of fermentation and I'll be happy to preserve what heat I can to keep the yeast active to finish the ferment well. Sometimes I get a little nervous about the ferment getting too hot, but soon enough it's back to worrying that things aren't staying warm enough to finish. It's always something.

Meanwhile the third fermenter, from the Zenith vineyard, is warming up with the help of two aquarium heaters. The idea is to let it go until it takes off (begins to ferment) on its own. We'll see how long it takes. Happily, there's nothing else to worry about after this one. And I'm in that nice position of not running this winery, meaning I don't have all these bins of fermenting grapes to worry about. Maybe some day, but for now it's not so tough being a small fry.

October 13, 2009

Slow ferments

Two of my three fermenters are actively fermenting. Well, one more than the other. We had a heating plate in one fermenter overnight, and then it was switched over this afternoon to the other fermenter. The first one seems to be going pretty good, the second one should take off over night as the juice temperature warms up. Again, think of bread dough. A warm place helps the dough rise.

The third fermenter, from the Zenith vineyard, is still cold soaking. The fruit came in cold and didn't need any cooling. Now it's slowly warming up and with a little push in a day or two it should start fermenting.

Meanwhile, I saw lab numbers on the juice samples we sent to ETS in McMinnville. Considering the hot summer, the numbers look pretty good. Definitely lower sugars and higher acids (lower pHs) than 2006, also a hot growing season, but definitely not the ideal chemistry of last year. That simply suggests we'll have nicely ripe wines with soft structures but not the excessive alcohol or softness of other hot years. Take that as a very broad generalization. Who knows how things will turn out.

One nice thing is that both of these lots have high tartaric to malic acid ratios, meaning there won't be a big loss of acidity in the malolactic fermentation process. Also, there are nice levels of nitrogen in the juice samples that suggest the yeast should have plenty of nutrition to ferment to dryness. All in all, things look good.

October 12, 2009

Quick update - day 7

The cool and dry weather is about to end, meaning most people have picked their red grapes here in the northern Willamette Valley of Oregon. Some whites are still out there, and some red I'm sure. It's only October 12, but after the hot summer and gorgeous weather the last few weeks, it's hard to imagine pinot noir getting much better after a predicted week of rain coming up. I'm glad all the grapes from my project are in.

In the winery, my two fermenters from last Tuesday's pick have started to ferment naturally. I'm not so much against added yeast. Great wine comes from that. I'm just fascinated by spontaneous fermentation. Who knows if it's yeast from the vineyard, from the winery, or what. It's just interesting to see grapes ferment without added yeast.

That's not to say things aren't helped along, mostly with heat. I compare it to putting your bread dough in a warm place to rise. You heat up your fermenters and they begin to ferment. Pretty simple. I'll come clean and admit we added a little acidified water to each fermenter to bring down the sugar level almost a full percentage point. Nothing drastic, and in some ways of thinking it's so little, why bother. But it helps in a year of dehydration to return some of that lost liquid.

Now it's two punch downs a day for the active bins until they're past their peak fermentation, then down to one a day until it's time to press. The bin of grapes that came in two days ago is still soaking so it got a pump over today to get oxygen into the juice to feed the yeast and to mix up things up to get a good sample for the lab to see how much sugar, acid, etc. is in the juice.

Let it rain. In a couple of weeks everything should be safely in barrel. That will feel good.

October 10, 2009

Last fruit in today

What a satisfying day. Today saw the last pinot noir in at the winery, including a ton or so of Pommard clone from Zenith vineyard for my label. Gorgeous fruit, big clusters but not such large berries. Rather, lots of middle and sometimes tiny berries, more than I ever remember seeing on a cluster. Flavors were sweet and ripe with nicely tart acidity. For the second harvest in a row, Zenith fruit is the best I've seem. Nice job Tim Ramey and company.

One of my two bins of pinot noir from earlier this week smelled pretty strongly of acetone this morning. That's not uncommon during cold soak, and is something that will cause winemakers to "kick off" fermentation. The ethyl acetate that gives this nail polish remover smell comes from apiculata yeast that usually start wild fermentation. They operate well at cold temperatures, but don't tolerate alcohol and die off once fermentation gets going in earnest. The ethyl acetate they produce apparently gets metabolized during fermentation, or whatever happens, the smell goes away pretty quickly. After the bin was punched down it didn't smell anymore, nor several hours later in the day. I think there was just a little activity on the surface. We'll kick off fermentation tomorrow. No worries.

So now I have three fermenters of pinot noir safely in the winery. No more worrying about the weather, now it's all about vinifying the grape juice into wine. Lots can go wrong, sure, but this is good fruit and I'm confident all will go well. 2009 should produce delicious wine, and that's the right way to start a wine business.

October 08, 2009

Harvest and baseball

So I have two bins of pinot noir soaking in the winery. I'm swamped at my "real" job but nothing much happens during the cold soak. Light mixing of the skins and juice each day, maybe a pump over to mix things up for a good sample to take brix and ph readings, which change after havest as any dehydrated grapes give some suger into solution and potassium buffering the ph up a bit.

Brix is a bit higher than I'd like at 25.4. It's the price of waiting an extra week to harvest, as sugars rose modestly but flavors seem to really come on strong. Acidity is still strong, but the ph reading and final brix will come tomorrow when a juice sample is taken to the lab for a full analysis. We'll see how much malic acid is in the juice vs. tartaric acid. Since malic acid converts to lactic in the ML fermentation, raising ph, the more malic, the more you can expect to see a ph shift up. If there's lots of malic and not so much tartaric, an extreme example, you might consider acidification with additional tartaric to ensure balance in the finished wine. I'm not guessing that will be required here, but we'll see.

Another important number from the juice analysis will be glucose and fructose content, a better measurement of sugar to predict final alcohol levels. As things are, a winemaker's inclination might be to add water to bring the sugar level down a bit, maybe to 24.5. You might think that would dilute the wine, but it doesn't do that, necessarily. Rather, it's an intervention that might be necessary in the extreme, but something I want to avoid if possible. The question is -- intervene with acidulated water, or end up with a higher alcohol level in the wine. Yeast convert sugar to alcohol at rates between .55 to .62. If I assume a .57 conversion, and the brix is an accurate reflection of potential alcohol, I'm looking at 14.4% alcohol. Is that ok, or do you add water to bring that down? I'm inclined to want to do nothing, but if the glucose/fructose is higher still, hmm. What do you think? I'm not trying to make intellectual wine, rather a tasty drink for dinner and such. These grapes won't be going into a high end bottling. But what to do, what to do.

Enough wine geekery. Any baseball fans out there? Ten years ago when I first worked some harvest days in a California winery, I remember the nice, tired feeling of driving home to San Francisco after a hard day's work listening to late evening playoff baseball games on the radio. I used to love traveling in the fall months when I could, but that's done if you're making wine. I also love baseball, and while harvest is a busy time, there are moments to catch some ball even if I can't lounge around and watch entire games. Those drives are a good memory now. Same too when I was first a home winemaker, listening to games while I picked my own grapes and then at home in the garage as I oversaw vinification, then the recent years of working harvests and having long drives and time to hear baseball on the radio. There's something sweet now about making wine and hearing a game, a connection I never made as a kid or younger adult but now consider a right and good mark of fall. I love October.

Tonight, I have kid duty as my wife is out at knitting group. She's enough of a wine widow so it's only fair. The wine with dinner? 2008 Domaine La Croix Belle Vin des Pays des Cotes de Thongue, a 100% syrah bottling from the Languedoc region of France. Ten bucks locally and pretty nice gulping wine. Clearly syrah, with gummy purple fruit and a pleasant stem note, and a sweet savory flavor that's nicely balanced between acid, tannin and flavors. Worth trying again.

October 06, 2009

First fruit in today

We brought in the first pinot noir fruit for my new wine project Tuesday. 2.5 tons of a mix of Dijon clones from the Walnut Hill area of the Eola-Amity AVA. Nice volcanic soils, steep south slope, 10 year old vines, not to shabby produce in this hot year. There was definitely some dehydration in the grapes, but less than expected. The clusters were soft and more than ready to go physiologically. Flavors are pretty nice. Not much rot. Lots of leaves in the bins that were sorted out (thanks sorters!). All together, a nice start to this adventure. There's another ton on Pommard clone pinot noir from Zenith vineyard coming in Saturday, and then it's all about the winemaking process. Now, sleep.

October 04, 2009

Dropping bins and a local tempranillo

I got up early and spent the morning picking up and dropping off picking bins are a couple of vineyards around the valley. There was some light rain overnight, but that should be the last precipitation for about a week, possibly longer. Forecast temps aren't quite as high as a few days ago, so we look to be getting the perfect mild weather anybody wants at harvest time.

Dropping bins is the necessary task that most growers require, meaning you need to provide the bins the fruit will be delivered in. Sometimes growers provide their own, but often you reciprocate by returning them. One way or another, it means lots of transport time in the middle of busy harvest work in the winery. This morning was beautiful, the fall colors beginning to come on, the drive a nice chance to see lots of vineyards, who's picked, who hasn't, how do canopies look, like that.

Tonight, in memory of where I worked the 2005 harvest, I opened my lone bottle of 2005 Evesham Wood Tempranillo Willamette Valley. This fruit came from the Illahe vineyard near Dallas, in the area as the well known Freedom Hill vineyard. 2005 was the first year Evesham Wood produced tempranillo, and the first time I had even heard of tempranillo being grown in the Willamette Valley. It's not common, but there are vines here and there.

I was a little afraid to open this wine, honestly. When I tried it on release, it seemed pretty reduced. I bought one anyway to see how it would turn out. The fruit came in moderately ripe, perhaps seeming a little less than optimal. That young wine didn't impress me much. Now? This is beautiful. I should have bought more. Nice dark but translucent color, with a varietal aroma of tobacco and mixed fruit and maybe some toasty oak. There's no shortage of tannin here, but they're ripe and the juicy fruit and tobacco flavors are really nice. What a great testament to locally grown tempranillo from a moderately ripe vintage. 2005 saw some good rain at harvest, but so many wines turned out wonderfully, this being no exception. There's no trace of underripeness, just nice balance. Evesham Wood does it again. I have a bottle of the 06 Tempranillo that I'll save a while yet. I may have missed out on '07, but I'll be on the look out for '08 when it's released. Can this producer do no wrong?

October 03, 2009

2001 Martelet de Cherisey Blagny 1er Cru La Genolette

Tonight we made a light vegetable stew with corn, red pepper, tomatoes and green beans. Add in Basmati rice and pan fried Carlton Farms thick cut pork chops, and I thought a nice red Burgundy would be the right match. Indeed.

Blagny is the red appellation in the Cotes du Beaune that, if white wine, is known as Meursault or Puligny Montrachet. Confusing, yes, but I find that this appellation can provide terrific value in quality red Burgundy. This 2001 Martelet de Cherisey Blagny La Genolette is mature ruby in color, with an excellent fragrance of pie cherries, undergrowth and hummus. The flavors are similar, with bright acidity and fine tannin that turns a bit drying on the finish. Still, this is real red Burg with a changing aroma, a silky texture and great flavors that marry wonderfully with dinner. This may not have the refinement of top bottlings, but it's everything I hoped it would be. A quick web search suggests you might find this wine for a bargain price, and I'm thinking of stocking up.

Also note, the top of the cork was covered in black funky mold. I wondered if the cork had leaked, but instead I suspect this bottle sat for a few years in the producer's cellar uncapsuled. I find this with Loire wines sometimes. The cork was otherwise pristine, meaning the top was affected by sitting in a cellar before being labeled. That may at first look suspicious, but ultimately it's a great sign of provenance.

Absolutely beautiful day

I finally got a little more dirty today at the winery, sorting a few tons of syrah and grenache from southern Oregon and cleaning up the line, which can be fun the first few times of the season. The fruit looked and tasted good. Now the sun's out and mild weather's setting in for a nice long stretch. People were picking last weekend, but now things are going to go into high gear with the bulk of the pinot noir crop coming in this week. For me, it starts tomorrow morning early with a run to drop bins at the vineyard we're bringing in Tuesday. I'm more than ready to get going.

October 02, 2009

Picking next week

I've been blogging and Twittering about the great weather we're expect this coming week. Today was pretty nice too after some light rain early. The afternoon was cool, sunny and dry, just want we really need to get ripe flavors without much more sugar acculumation. Looks like the coming week will be relatively warm, which should push sugars up higher. It's not great, but definitely better than rain.

Looks like we'll pick the vineyard on Walnut Hill in the northern part of the Eola-Amity Hills on Tuesday. That's 2.5 tons for my project, several more for my custom crush facility. Then the Zenith pick should be on the schedule for Saturday, October 10. I tasted a sample the Pommard clone juice from this site this afternoon. Flavors are developing, sugar is around 22.8 brix, another week should make things perfect. I'm really excited.

All told, the coming week will be very exciting for me. Let me know if there's anything in particular you're curious about regarding harvest.

October 01, 2009

Great blog from Scott Paul

I'm finding myself surprised at how great Twitter is. I admit I was very reluctant about it for the past year. Now I get it, though I refuse to use the word "tweet." I can post quick thoughts to this site via Twitter. Check out the right sidebar for the latest updates. Twitter forces me to be brief, which is quite useful. I'm seeing a variety of interesting people and places following my posts, and I'm finding others to follow. It's working out swimmingly. [Follow me on Twitter]

Just today Scott Wright of Scott Paul Wines became a follower. Knowing Scott a little bit, I immediately became a follower of his. His most recent update led me to his blog, which I'd seen before but don't recall seeing too much activity. Well lately (at least) there's lots of activity, and some excellent stuff. Two things worth mentioning here for starters:

One, he's really into Pearl Jam's new record. I've only heard the single, The Fixer, and at first I thought it was some soundalike band doing a bad impression of Pearl Jam (never my favorite act). But wouldn't you know it, the song's growing on me. After reading Scott's impressions, I'll have to check out more. Scott was a radio and music industry heavy in a former life, so he's got lots of stories about rock and roll, Pearl Jam no exception. What a life.

Two, I take no small pride nodding in agreement with his post from the other day on waiting to pick this harvest. I love Scott's wines, and I've both wondered why so many people are picking so much so early AND what if I'm crazy wanting to wait because isn't that what the big jam and alcohol wine producers like to do? (well, not entirely, but hopefully you get the point) Turns out Scott and I are completely on the same page. Sugars aren't that high, acids remain strong, flavors still need time in general, why not hold off until next week. Turns out the weather's going to be great, so it should work out beautifully. That wasn't so clear a few days ago.

If we were producing lots of wine, I'd want to be harvesting some grapes by now because there are ripe grapes out there, and there are logistics to consider - you can't pick everything on one day, you've got to space things out, and it's good to have a mix of things for blending purposes. But I'm not, and I find it reassuring to see Scott waiting. I'm also looking forward to reading more on his blog as harvest progresses. Keep it up Scott.

September 29, 2009

Harvest, the latest from here

I admit it. I was freaked out about the approaching cold front yesterday. The satellite loop looked more like December than late September, with a juicy looking swirl and lots of potential rain with the front and behind it with lots of unstable air. The only problem? The good forecasters said the front wasn't really much, though the instability in its wake might lead to heavy downpours more common to spring than fall here in the Willamette Valley. Well, it didn't rain much overnight and even this afternoon was a let down to the weather geeks who pine for heavy rain, snow, frost, or whatever.

Where does that leave us grape freaks? In a pretty decent spot, actually. The rest of this week should give on and off showers without much accumulation. The biggest thing to my mind are the cool temperatures in the forecast, which should help keep most rot at bay. In 2007 we saw lots of harvest rain, but it was cold rain and rot wasn't a big deal. Right now we're looking at just a bit of rain and cool temps, then...then a nice drying period with temps warming back into the low 70s. Just perfect for ripening grapes. Dehydration is an issue out there, meaning sugars might end up on the higher side of normal around here. But at this point, I want hang time to help flavors develop. Acidities look pretty strong, so I'm not worried about losing too much there. All in all, things should be shaping up pretty nicely.

The plan at this point is to pick one site early/mid next week, then my other site later that week or who knows when. I was thinking the first fruit was coming in this Thursday, but now the rest of the week looks pretty open. So...

Tonight, with pizza and salad and some neighbor friends, the 2005 Produttori di Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo. I've been critical of this bottling in the past, but this 2005 is gorgeous. Light and fragrant as always, but with better tannin than usual. Pretty cherry and licorice flavors, juicy acidity and just the right amount of fine tannin. This is terrific little nebbiolo.

For something totally different, a neighbor friend last night brought over a NV Vitis Ridge Late Harvest Syrah from Washington's Wahluke Slope that I presume is fortified. It's 18.5% and sweet, and delicious. Smells like blueberry or boysenberry pie, with some meaty syrah notes. Tastes sweet and round, with a bit too much prominent oak but otherwise really nicely made and tasty dessert wine from a low profile local producer. Thanks Virginia.

September 26, 2009

Oregon harvest update

I spent the day visiting a couple vineyards in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA, sampling at one after some discussion about whether we had a good read on just where the grapes are ripeness-wise, then stopped by August Cellars outside of Newberg to check in on some friends bringing in fruit today, all before processing samples at the winery in Portland for sugar and ph levels. So...

What a gorgeous early fall day. Down I-5 to the Wheatland Ferry, always a pleasant way to cross the Willamette River to get to the heart of the Eola Hills. I first went to the Zenith Vineyard where I'm getting some Pommard clone off some younger vines. This lower site and younger block is nicely late ripening this year, which should allow for good flavor development without sugars being too high. Acids are running high this year, relatively, so that's good if you're planning to push off harvesting for a while yet.

Then north to the Walnut Hill area of the Amity Hills to check on the steep vineyard I'm getting most of my pinot from this year. I brought big ziplock bags and clippers to cut clusters from all over the vineyard for sugar and acid samples by each of the four Dijon clones planted here: 114, 115, 667 and 777. The numbers are all in the 23.5 to 24 range with ph from 3.27 to 3.40, all perfect if the flavors were more developed. The grower was suggesting we pick now, but we want to wait for another week. There's more moderate temps in the forecast, even some rain. I've learned to not rush things with pinot. The rain isn't expected to be a deluge. The grapes need more time to develop better flavors. I wouldn't be surprised to see in a week that the sugars haven't changed at all, with the ph up a bit, and the flavors that much better. That's the idea anyway.

By mid afternoon I was in Lafayette and hungry, so where better to go than Martha's for some tacos. Delicious. Then up through Newberg to August Cellars. The fruit coming in was all pinot, with one vineyard showing similar sugars and acids a few days ago to what I got from the Walnut Hill site today. But that vineyard had 9 grams of acid per liter. Looks like acids are high this year, giving me even more reason to allow for better flavor development in what I'm getting. Another producer had some grapes from a typically early site. Sugars were just above 26 brix, pretty high. But ph was in the low 3.2 range. Again, high acid that suggests we have some leeway to get less ripe vineyards further along without losing too much naturally acidity. 2006 this vintage is not, when I commonly saw fruit at 26 brix but 3.7 to 3.9 ph. Frankly, the numbers this year are weird, but perhaps weird good. We'll see.

All this means I'm not pulling in fruit until the end of this coming week, at the earliest. Which is fine by me. I'm not quite ready mentally for the harvest, and I definitely don't want to pick too soon. Another week sounds great right about now.

September 23, 2009

Pinot is getting ripe

A friend pulled samples today from a series of vineyards around the northern Willamette Valley, including the two where I'm getting fruit. I stopped by the winery to help process them, meaning hand crush the clusters from each site and block in ziplock bags, using the juice to analyze ph, brix and aromas and flavors.

You can immediately tell the relative ripeness of a sample by how much the juice colors up. The riper the grapes, the easier the pigments from the grape skins leech into the juice. Then you can test the ph with meter and the sugar content with a refractometer. Then you can smell and taste the juice to see what you think. When I first started tasting juice samples, I wasn't so clear on what I was looking for. Now I see more how to evaluate the intensity of fruit ripeness, the green qualities of less ripe fruit and the sense of acid balance in the very sweet (even when less than "ripe") juice.

So how are things looking? Given these samples, sugars are broadly in the 22 to 23 range in most sites, even with older vines that generally take longer to ripen than younger vines. Colors are variable, but that's not a big issue. Flavors, in general, aren't "there." Meaning, they still have stem or leaf characters that need to ripen out. I'm not looking for jammy, superripe fruit that drives the wine critics to spasm. But clearly these grapes need more time on the vine. Acids are generally in the 3.25-3.35ph range, so that's good. We'll see a rise in sugars and ph, how much is anyone's guess. First fruit looks to come in next week. One of my sites is around 22 brix and 3.3ph and likely won't be in for two weeks.

How's the weather forecast? Great for the next week, then cooling and maybe a little rain a week from now, then who knows. I like to look at weather forecast models. Here's a basic 10-day loop that is pretty easy to interpret. Orange and red is warm, green and blue is cold and this time of year that usually means wet. Keep an eye on this and you'll have an inside track on what we're basically dealing with. Stay tuned.

September 21, 2009

Harvest getting closer

The pinot noir harvest is getting close here in the northern Willamette Valley. Already, other varieties are coming in from southern Oregon and eastern Washington. The pinot typically waits until the last week of September and the first few weeks of October, depending on the site and vine age.

Reports from vineyards where I'm getting fruit suggest that grapes are one to two weeks away, perhaps a bit more. We had unseasonably warm and windy weather today with an even hotter day tomorrow before a nice cool down for the rest of the week. Too much heat right now puts lots of pressure on the fruit because of sugar accumulation and fruit dehydration. Despite the intense summer heat, sugars are generally still low to moderate with flavors still developing. Weather in the 70s and low 80s with cool nights would be great, and that's what's apparently on tap after tomorrow.

I spent last night at the winery working a couple of press loads of a friend's sauvignon blanc from the Rogue Valley. Great looking fruit, lovely smells in the press, and nicely ripe but tart juice. It felt great to get a little dirty and sweaty filling the press, washing bins and generally pushing things around to get the work done. I even got some time on the fork lift, on which I'm a total novice. It was lots of fun, though I didn't stay past midnight. Wimped out; needed to get to my "real" job this morning.

More soon including the latest on vineyard conditions and the evolving weather forecast.