Uncorked Ventures Blog

Benjamin Ehinger
 
October 3, 2014 | Benjamin Ehinger

How Much Damage did the Earthquake cause in Napa Valley?

How Much Damage did the Earthquake cause in Napa Valley?

Harvest may be underway in California, but Napa Valley isn't enjoying it the same way some of the other areas are. Instead, this area of California is dealing with the clean-up from the largest earthquake in California over the past 25 years. This has caused many winemakers to contact insurance adjusters, lawyers and accountants.

The earthquake hit right before the harvest season stared and it caused many to panic. Some were lucky and didn't suffer incredible damages, but others lost tens of thousands of dollars in wine.

Carneros Winery

The Carneros Winery was not one of the lucky ones. Dick Ward, the co-founder estimated the damages will end up somewhere between $100,000 and $200,000. The winery sustained damage to the water storage system, lost about 400 bottles of library wine, experienced a few broken barrels in the cellar and more.

Over 20,000 gallons of water made its way down the hill to the vineyards, which caused even more damage. They had planned to start the Pinot harvest the next day, but were unable to do so.

Silver Oak Vineyards

Even though David Duncan, the president of Silver Oak Vineyards thought they may have lost every barrel, this vineyard was one of the luckier ones. They only lost three barrels.

However, the barrels lost by Silver Oak Vineyards were of a top-quality vintage. Since each of the barrels holds enough wine for 25 cases and each case of the wine lost runs about $1,300, the vineyard still lost nearly $100,000. Along with the loss of these three barrels, Duncan reported that the vineyard lost many of the family's reserve bottles.

Estimated Damages to Vineyards and Wineries

This was the strongest earthquakes to hit the Bay area since the quake in 1989 during the Baseball World Series. The quake was estimated to be a 6.0 and one seismologist estimated the damages could easily exceed $300 million. Not all of the $300 million in estimated damages was to vineyards and wineries, however.

Even though the Napa Valley area is only responsible for about 4% of the total wine crop of California, this area is known for the most prestigious California wines. Most of the vineyards and wineries lost high dollar wines ranging from about $40 to $100 per bottle. Some reported they didn't just lose good wine, but their best wine.

The Wall Street Journal estimated that about 120 wineries suffered losses and damages. The estimated amount of damage to the wineries totaled nearly $50 million. However, Patsy McGaughy, a spokeswoman for the Napa Valley Vintners, stated she expect the number to go even higher.

This is a sad tragedy in the wine world, but many of the wineries are starting to bounce back. They are doing everything they can to continue to produce the best wine possible for 2014 and hope to recover as quickly as possible.

Mark Aselstine
 
October 2, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Flooding in Languedoc France Puts 2014 Vintage at Risk

The Languedoc is one of my favorite French wine regions, not that I don't love Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rhone Valley and Champagne, but because French wine laws are restrictive about what grapes can be planted in established regions.  For French winemakers that are either new, startups themselves, or wanting to experiment, they often call the Languedoc home.  It's that profile that makes the flooding all the more concerning to me.

Video Transcription:

Hey, guys. Mark Aselstine here with Uncorked Ventures. Probably the most interesting thing in the world of wine today, maybe not interesting, but borderline tragic for some grape growers. The Languedoc in France has had in essence what amounts to three months of rain over the last 48 hours and they’ve got some pretty severe flooding.

It kind of speaks to two things. One, the one thing that a lot of consumers don't realize is that many of the places where grapes are grown used to be either dried riverbed or the dried seabed. The Oakville AVA in Napa is one great example of a place where if we did really get a ton of rain in California, that theoretically could flood. Second, it also shows why a lot of the really, really, large wineries are willing to pick grapes kind of as early as possible even if they have to leave a small amount of residual sweetness, or if they have to buy some mountain fruit that has been left on the vine for a long time to kind of get to the kind of better area of ripeness that they want with their wine. Frankly, just the longer that you leave grapes on the vine into October the more risk that you are taking with weather, rain. We did run into some rain in Northern California and that left kind of vendors kind of scurrying around trying to get grapes picked. Now, luckily there is going to be some warmer weather here so they won't experience rot or anything on the vines. Everything looks fine, but in essence, flooding in the Languedoc kind of reminds us that both, this is kind of dried riverbed for much of Napa. The Napa River used to be significantly larger than it is now. It actually created Napa Valley in itself. Second of all, that there are some, kind of real danger for grape growers for leaving the fruit on the vine for a long time even if those are kind of the flavors and the [inaudible 00:01:42] that people tend to like. Once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Adventures. Have a good one

Mark Aselstine
 
September 29, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Spotted Wing Drosophila Comes to Bordeaux

Pests are a natural and ongoing problem for the wine industry.  From Phylloxera to the Spotted Wing Drosphilia, there is a seemingly never ending stream of pests that enjoy eating a few grapes at a time.  When you add these tiny pests to the standard vineyard wanderers like deer and of course the scourge of the wine industry in so many places, birds, growers have to be constantly on their toes.

 

Video Transcription:

Hey guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. Maybe not the most interesting news of the day, but maybe the most concerning. Vineyard owners, winemakers, and specifically the farmers that grow the grapes that we all enjoy in our wine deal with a large number of different pests. Some are native to areas. Phylloxera has gotten a huge amount of publicity since it's destroyed so many vineyards over the years. 

More recently over the last few days, reports have started coming out of Bourdeaux that the spotted-wing drosophila... excuse my pronunciation here... has started to show up. So it's a pest. It's 12 or 13 centimeters long. In essence, the thing looks like a bee. The big problem is that this a pest, unlike a lot of the others that they have that are native to Europe, that the spotted, wing version can actually inject eggs into a grape instead of waiting for a grape that's broken to inject the eggs. So it's a major problem. It's something they've dealt with in Napa. The 2009 vintage had some in Rutherford and Oakville. Down in Chile, they deal with it almost on a yearly basis. It's a warmer weather creature. They like warm wetter conditions, so they think in Bordeaux this is an offshoot of global warming. It goes to show, as much as we talk about rainfall in California and ground water and all that stuff, that pests moving into areas they weren't used to living in and grapevines that have been there really for a millennia have no natural way to combat that from evolution can be a major problem. 

So anyway, spotted-wing drosophila. We hope this is not something that ends up in the news substantially in the future. It's in Bordeaux and supposedly in Burgundy too, so we'll wish the French guys the best of luck. Thanks again. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Adventures.

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.