Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
September 26, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

What is Botrytis?

Botrytis is often reffered to inside the wine industry by both winemakers and consumers, as noble rot.

That rot term, even with noble in front of it, tends to worry people a litlte bit.  Of course, botrytis is a fungus and in this case a winemaker is allowing, even encouraging it to grow on grapes.  Winemakers encourage its spread by doing a few different things, all of which you'd expect if you were trying to grow a fungus.  First, they tend to keep some level of grass or another ground cover close to the vines, which will keep water.  They then make sure that the grass is wet early in the morning.  Secondly wineries may sometimes have netting or something similar which has botrytis living on it.  By using that netting where they want the Botrytis to grow, they can ensure that it will begin to take hold on the grapes.

At this point, you're probably wondering why a winery or winemaker would want Botrytis, a simple fungus, growing on their grapes.  The answer is that the Botrytis removes excess water from grapes, leaving a combination of higher sugar as well as higher acidity.  That combination, when combined with a winemaker allowing the grapes to pick up even more sugar while hanging on the vine for a longer time period, leads to perhaps the perfect combination if you're making a dessert wine.

The perfect vineyard site for Botrytis is so prized that Chateau d'Yquem in Bordeaux has been granted Superior First Growth status by the French government (their 2nd best classification meaning they feel like it's one of the top 15 vineyards in the famous region of Bordeaux).  That staus has been conveyed almost exclusively because the vineyard at Chateau d'Yquem is susceptible to noble rot, experiencing the phenomenon every vintage, with little winemaker intervention.

At this point, it sounds like a pretty good deal right? Botrytis makes amazing dessert wines, so if you can figure out how to grow the fungus, you might think the wines would be more common place.  A main reason that Botrysised wines are not more common (or really common at all) is that botrytis and yeast (the stuff that causes fermentation or sugar to turn to alcohol) do not get along well.  Fermentation for these wines, is a constant struggle for winemakers.

Mark Aselstine
September 25, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

JC Cellars & Charles Smith Move Tasting Rooms

A couple of our favorite wineries are moving their tasting rooms to even more urban and walkable locations.  JC Cellars the urban pioneer in Oakland is moving to Jack London Square, a personal favorite of my son and I, while Charles Smith and perhaps the coolest winemaker around are moving to Seattle.  To date, only startup wineries have located in urban areas, but with established wineries moving into more urban areas as well, things are changing.  It's only a matter of months before we see a high end Napa winery open a tasting room, in New York City, at least that's my opinion.

Video Transcription:

How you doing? Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. So the last few days, or the last couple of weeks here in this space, we've talked a little bit about how the urban wine scene is both improving and expanding pretty rapidly. That news was heightened over the last few days. Two of our favorite wineries in and around the West Coast announced moves to more urban walkable tasting rooms. First, JC Cellars, which is one of the forebearers. They've been in a little spot just outside of downtown Oakland for about ten years now, and they're moving to a spot called Jack London Square. It's full of restaurants. There's a farmer's market on the weekend. It's a really nice spot to go and it's a redeveloping area in Oakland. And so that'll be really good for them. 

Up in Washington State, Charles Shaw...Charles Smith Wines, who has one of the most interesting and fascinating winemakers, I think, in the entire industry, has been having a tasting room in Walla Walla for quite a long time. Walla Walla is about four hours east of Portland and four hours east of Seattle, and they've announced that they're gonna be moving into downtown Seattle. So that'll move Charles Smith Wines along with...there's another joint project called Cave Vintners...into downtown Seattle. And I think that it's a good example of how the urban wine tasting scene is both improving in quality, but it's also starting to pull in wineries that already have established tasting rooms elsewhere. And I think that's the best example I can give you of how important this movement is and how much you're gonna continue to see it going in the future. Thanks again. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

Mark Aselstine
September 23, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Bardessono Winery & the Yountville AVA

A brief introduction to Bardessono Vineyards and the Yountville AVA.  Yountville is (rightfully so) on everyone's list when they visit Napa Valley largely because it is one of the most beautiful small towns in America.  Imminently walkable Yountville offers the chance to eat some of the best food in America at Bouchon, Ad Hoc and of course the famed French Laundry.  The French Laundry has a demonstration garden available to walk through and Yountville makes vineyards accessible for visitors.  Wineries are beginning to gain critical acceptance here as well, largely led by names like Bardessono, Cornerstone and Hope & Grace Wines.


Video Transcription:

How are you doing? Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. The most interesting thing that I came across in terms of samples this week was a Bardessono Yountville AVA Napa Valley Cabernet. So I think most people at this point are familiar with the Napa Valley and some of the different Cabernet options. A lot of people realize that Mondavi and a lot of the other names that you recognize on store shelves across the country are from Rutherford or the valley floor. Other wineries such as Dos Lagos, VinRoc, some of the other smaller producers up on the mountains, are starting to get more well-known, both in terms of having their grapes blended in with wineries that you have recognized. 

As an example, Bob Foley from Foley vineyards uses some of the - from the Dos Lagos Vineyards fruit to make his Napa Valley blend because they add a certain sense of gravity and uniqueness to each wine. But this week, Bardessono is from Yountville. So Yountville is a smaller AVA within Napa. There's probably only about 15 wineries and less than a thousand total acres planted. Bardessono is unique for a couple a reasons. 

First, they're third and fourth generation farmers. Second, it's a much heavier Napa Cab than you're used to from the valley floor. There's a lot of tannic structure here. I'll add couple of pictures here with the video. But it's a really, really unique property and a really unique look into the history of Napa, the history of ... Yountville's not typically considered the upper valley, but because it is only eight miles from downtown, but it's a really high end growing environment. And it's a growing environment that you're probably going to see more stuff starting to come out of in the near future. Thanks again. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

Mark Aselstine
September 21, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

8000 Commercially Active Wineries in America


Video Transcription:

How are you doing? Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. The most interesting news of the day, I think, is Wines and Vines, which is one of the few professional organizations that covers wine, here in the United States. Every year they release a count of new wineries and the number of currently permitted wineries in the United States. For the first time, we have over 8000 wineries. It looks like the exact total of currently permitted licenses, 8049. 

What I thought was kind of interesting, outside of the growth, which I think should be expected as we see more little, small local wineries opening up in urban areas across the country, even those like some of the stuff we have here in the East Bay of San Francisco, where they're sourcing grapes and kind of putting them in by truck, and then making the wine locally. There's a number of really good wine makers doing that, both in Berkeley and Oakland. I'm sure that's a kind of trend that you're going to continue to see across the country. 

But, the largest place for growth has actually been Oregon. Having been up in the Willamette Valley, myself, for about a week over the summer, I can attest it being like no wine area that I've been to in California. You drive down the street, and you have a farmer growing wheat, you have a farmer growing peaches, you have Penner-Ash, one of the best known wineries, really, in the Western United States, if not the world. There's this small cluster of three or four wineries together, but for the most part they're a few miles apart and there's all these diverse farms in the middle. Now I'm not saying that I think the diverse farms is a bad thing at all, I think that's actually a really positive thing for the wider environment. But I think it's something that, if you look at the growth history of Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles, even now in Santa Barbara and Ballard Canyon, the fact of the matter is that if you can grow high quality grapes, they're worth a heck of a lot more than high quality peaches. And so, I think that's something you'll continue to see Oregon and elsewhere. 

Once again, Mark Aselstine from Uncorked Ventures. Thanks again.

Mark Aselstine
September 16, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

How's the 2014 Vintage Looking?

A simple question leads to well, a fairly simple answer for someone who isn't normally extremely direct.

Video Transcription:

How are you doing? This is Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. So the last time I did one of these, we talked about harvest starting in 2014 and being good time to visit Wine Country. 

In this case, one of the things that’s come up the questions about that kind of stuff has been, “Is this a good vintage or not?” So I could speak most accurately for Napa and Sonoma which both had pretty similar growing conditions over the last year. So free set came early, but break early, varies on early, everything is running a week or two ahead of normal schedules. 

When we look back at past history and there’s really only great written hard evidence from the early 1970s, anything before that is oral history, more than anything else. The one in history does that better than most, but can confidently say that the earlier is better than later when it comes to a strong vintage and for most wine makers that we talked to, there would all say the same thing. 

This looks like it’s going to be a good year, maybe not a perfect year, maybe not 2007 in Napa, but certainly along the lines with 2012 which is what I received across the board and although it might not be so easy that I can make wine without any trouble, but professional wine makers are going to do a really good job with this vintage. I think everybody is going to be pretty happy with it. 

It looks like yields, despite the drought, are going to be ready in the average range. So all looks good in Napa and Sonoma and I will probably update Santa Barbara/Paso Robles here in the next couple of weeks because I’ll be going. 

Thanks again.