Sunday, October 02, 2005

Harry Potter and wine

Of course I've been sucked into the enchanting world of Harry Potter. God bless JR Rowling. But I got to thinking, these folks are magical but all the adults drink is cheap grog or ale in that wizard town of Hogsmeade...if they are magical why don't they use those powers to make extraordinary wine. Its not a far fetched question, with a snap of his fingers Dumbledore produces a magnificent feast to celebrate another successful term, the food sounds glorious, and its why aren't they making Opus One extraordinaire or Chateaux Margaux manifique to accompany each feast? And hangovers aren't a problem in the wizarding world, clearly there is a cure or a charm for that! Imagine if Ms Rowling introduced a wizard of wine whose job is to produce extraorinary wine, and to teach others to do so as well - what an untapped opportunity! There's still time, book eight is in the works.

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Getting Sideways - Pinot Noir Wine Tasting

I love food and wine, and luckily this is a well know fact. So from time to time I get asked to host wine tasting event - nice work if you can get paid for it. Last Thursday I was asked to conduct a wine tasting for the Harvard Business School Club of Connecticut - a very august group to be sure. Luckily they were all very cool, very enthusiastic and very appreciative of the Pinot Noirs from california that I served up. Here is what I poured - Copeland Creek, Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast 2001; Oriel, Pinot Noir, Jasper Vineyard, Sonoma, 2001; Elke, Pinot Noir, Donnelly Vineyard, 2002; WH Smith, Pinot Noir, Hellenthaller Vineyard, 2002. The Copeland Creek was the consensus favorite, with the Oriel a close second. All were excellent. The most intriguing, and least appreciated because of its relative youth was the Elke Pinot Noir - an unfiltered, unfinned wine that was much fuller bodied than the others but hadn't yet reached its peak.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Supreme Court ruling on wine shipments

...what does it mean to YOU? In June our favorite beverage was discussed by the Justices of the Supreme Court. Rumor has it that a majority of the Justices are wine enthusiasts, with a secret lust for aged Bordeaux. That may be true, but their ruling was not what wine lovers were hoping for. The Court determined that under the 21st amendment, which they upheld, each state continues to have the right to determine how wine shipments and sales are regulated in that state. This means that individual consumers will continue to have difficulty having wineries ship wine to them directly.
The Court clarified however that states cannot give local wineries direct shipping privileges while prohibiting out of state wineries from having direct shipping privileges. States like Michigan and Illinois say they will restrict all direct shipping as a result, while New York and Connecticut will open up to direct shipping to protect thier respective wineries rights to ship direct to NY and CT residents.
So the ice is beginning to thaw and perhaps in my lifetime direct to consumer wine shipments will be easier. I started to try and give people direct access to California wines, but the #@&#$$ paperwork required by each state is so burdensome that I have a hard time getting wineries to fil it out so they can ship direct to consumer. That's what no one is reporting on, yes it may look like things are opening up, but the paperwork required of wineries to let them ship direct to consumers is so costly and time conuming to fill out that it defeats the intent of the law.

Biodynamic wine from Row 11 vineyards

The Wine-Oceros recently featured a terrific organic wine as part of the wine of the month club selections offered by The wine, a Syrah from Row Eleven vineyards, was made from grapes grown in a certified biodynamic vineyard. “What does that mean?” you ask. Biodynamic agriculture was inaugurated in 1924 by Austrian scientist Rudolf Steiner. Biodynamic agriculture mandates that no artificial fertilizers or pesticides be used. It includes organic practices such as crop rotation, recycling through composts and liquid manures, and increasing plant and animal biodiversity. Use of special plant, animal and mineral preparations stimulates and balances vital processes in soil and plants. The rhythmic influences of the sun, moon, planets and stars are recognized and worked with where possible. These methods lead to a natural reduction of pests and diseases in plants and animals, a self sustaining piece of land, and an increase in the nutritive and health-giving value of the food, or in this case, wine produced. Will you taste the difference? Perhaps not in your mouth, but people sensitive to sulfities will not suffer any headaches when drinking this wine. Its a neat way to support local farmers and wine grape growers, farming this way preserves the land better. A decade ago Stoneyfield Farms Yogurt lead the way by supporting organic milk producers in Vermont and New hampshire, and now there is a whole industry there.

Why Pinot Noir prices are on the way up

The sultry queen of wine grapes, Pinot Noir, is getting an unusual amount of attention recently. An AC Nielsen report issued in August showed that Pinot Noir sales in U.S. food stores are up 77 percent by volume over the last 13 weeks surveyed, compared to the same period the year before. This increase in sales is attributed almost entirely to the movie “Sideways” . The leading man in the movie has an obsession with Pinot Noir, and the movie was a big hit earlier this year. Now as much as I liked the character of Paul, and as much as I resemble him, and as much as I like wine, I want to set the record straight that I have never drunk an entire spit bucket of wine. On the subject of pricing, while Pinot Noir sales continue to rise, the grape may be in shorter supply in Northern California than expected at this year's harvest, according to the North Coast Winegrowers Association (NCWA). The organization reports that Pinot Noir crop sizes are well below average in size due to the spring rains that affected varieties in bloom, as well as later rains that led to mildew and rot, which may continue to plague the combination of increasing market demand, and shortages of grapes will drive prices higher.

Wine lovers rarely get a break from the politicians in Washington, instead wine often becomes a go-to area for “sin taxes”, pushing up retail prices. Earlier this year, the Bush administration proposed various new fees to be levied against wineries, including new label approval fees that would have cost wineries an added $1,000 to $2,000 per label submitted. The administration also proposed a fee of up to $600 to certify a new blend of grape types and a $3,000 fee to certify a new viticultural area, a government-recognized wine-producing region that wineries can use in marketing their products. The good news is that the Senate subcommittee that oversees the wine industry has rejected the White House proposal to impose additional fees on the wine industry. Last month it did not include the new fees in the spending bill it approved. Three cheers! You can thank tireless senators from wine producing states like Washington and California for derailing these proposed taxes. The fight continues to FREE THE GRAPES!

2005 wine harvest in California

Its that time again, harvest in our favorite neck of the woods - California wine country. This year is shaping up to be a bountiful, but late maturing harvest...but more on that in a future post. Here's some background on the sequence of a typical harvest, and what happens at a typical winery.
The harvest of Cabernet, Zinfandel and Syrah grapes used to make red wines typically begins in September in California wine country, extending to October in cooler areas where grapes have a longer growing season.
Producers of white wines such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc will often start harvesting these grapes 2-6 weeks before the red wine grapes are harvested. The average harvest occurs over a 40 to 60 day period. Attention to detail is critical, as most winemakers will tell you that the characteristics, and potential, of a wine are determined more by what happens on the vine than what happens in the wine cellar after the grapes are picked.
Winemakers and vineyard managers walk down each row of vines, picking grapes, tasting them, and noting the texture and juice levels in each cluster. Sure, there are tools to measure sugar and acidity levels, but increasingly wine makers are using old world techniques such as tasting and touching the grapes to determine the optimal level of ripeness, and thus when to begin the harvest.

In most small family run wineries, seasonal workers pick the grapes by hand. The grapes are cut from the vines using a small knife with a curved blade. The grapes are then brought to the winery, crushed and destemmed (stems and twigs are removed, often by hand).

Once they have been destemmed and crushed, each lot of wine—skins, seeds and juice—is moved to its own stainless tank where natural yeasts are added to jump start the fermentation process (e.g. how the sugar in the grape juice is converted into alcohol - more on that next month).
Big tanks of wine may ferment up to 4 weeks, with the winery using refrigerated tanks to slow down the rate of fermentation – hoping to enhance flavor and complexity that way while avoiding harsh elements. I'll post an update on Napa and Sonoma harvests shortly.
Cheers! The Wine-Oceros.