Uncorked Ventures Blog
A simple question leads to well, a fairly simple answer for someone who isn't normally extremely direct.
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.
A few short words on everyone's favorite time in wine country: harvest! It's a great time to visit, if you have the chance. Also, since most urban areas in America are seeing a rise in local wineries (I'll say local is within an hour's drive) and many of those wineries are small and could use the help, if you have the opportunity to work a day of harvest locally, please do so. It'll give you an appreciation for the work and effort that goes into what ends up in your glass like little else. It's also a ton of fun.
I also mention Grenache Blanc since it's one of my favorite grapes, but even an assistant winemaker in western Sonoma admitted that she had never had a varietal specific version of the grape. It's worth a look!
How are you doing? Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. Just getting in after a day or two up in Sonoma. And a couple things came up that we thought were interesting. First, Grenache Blanc is a varietal that you see down in the Rhones area of Paso and Santa Barbara. We mentioned it to a couple people in Sonoma Coast and they looked at us like we had, in essence, a second head. I thought it was interesting that even an assistant winemaker at a really, really, well-known winery isn't familiar with kind of a secondary Rhone grape. I just thought it was interesting 'cause it shows you how far grapes like that have to come still to gain consumer acceptance, when there's winery staff that doesn't even quite know what they are.
Second of all, if you get a chance to visit Sonoma, Napa, or really any wine region close to your house during harvest, it's kind of, I don't use the term lightly, a magical time to go and visit. It smells like fermentation. There's grapes. There's kind of work going on. You have winemakers and winery staff working 18 hour days. In essence, this is the time of year when everything that needs to happen happens. There's a lot going on, and it's a really fun visit.
If you have the chance, I would highly, highly, encourage it. It's a fascinating time to go to wine country. You get to see more of what goes on behind the scenes. While people don't have as much time to spend time with you, you get more access to see what's going on. Most places, you'll walk in, you'll see stuff coming in out of the vineyard and being sorted. You'll see a sorting table. You'll see a bottling truck sitting in front of your favorite wineries. It's kind of a fun time to go. If you get a chance, that's my suggestion. Take the trip. It's worth it. Thanks again.
It's been a long time coming, but anyone who has ever taken the drive into Malibu from downtown LA would expect that an AVA would be approved eventually. Finally, the Malibu AVA is here, but it isn't without complaints and issues, of course!
Hey, I'm Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.
I think the most interesting thing that's come across in the last day or two is down in LA, the city of Malibu has started to outlaw new grape plantings. That makes them unique in a couple of ways.
First, Malibu actually just gained its own AVA status in 2014, so there's kind of a 46-mile stretch of coastline that runs just south of Camarillo [SP] down, you know, if you know LA at all, from Canoga Park if you go straight west. You know, from a kind of sense-of-place perspective, quite clearly, you know, the coast in LA and Southern California is dramatically different weather-wise than it is inland.
But you know, this is another off-shoot of the California drought. The wine growers are going to fight it. They're going to fight it tooth-and-nail, actually, because, in essence, you're allowed to plant any type of fruit or vegetable you want, water it as much as you want, but you can't even have a grape vine kind of growing on the side of the house if you like what it looks like.
So that's kind of what's happening in Malibu. It's kind of battle number 35 or whatever it is and kind of California drought issues, but I think that eventually over the long term, you'll see a Malibu AVA which is going to slightly take advantage of the fact if you were to poll people in the United States and probably elsewhere around the world, Malibu is a familiar name.
I've mentioned it before, but one thing that makes me recoil in horror most of the time is when a neighbor or friend offers for me to try and taste a wine from a friend who is a winemaker, or from a winery that they just found during a trip. Sure, there's been some huge successes like Vaughn Duffy and Dos Lagos, two of my favorite wineries and both introduced to me under those circumstances. Usually though, it's not somthing quite as interesting (or good) and typically people expect me to love the wine as much as they do. Don't get me wrong, I am told multiple times a week that a certain wine was, or wasn't good, but that's not a conversation that we're accustomed to having with friends right? It's just a weird situation.
Last week I was introduced to a wine surprising enough, from San Antonio. You probably did the same thing that I did, expecting a guy in a cowboy hat on the label, but in this case we're talking about the San Antonio Valley. Well Line Shack Winery does have a name that recalls the Cowboy past of the west, since a line shack is a small building in an otherwise desolete, barren open cattle range. What's different though is that the San Antonio I was told about was actually the San Antonio Valley, an AVA that I am slightly familiar with.
There's a dichotomy in the San Antonio AVA that bears a short explanation. First, yes it is in California, specifically Monterey County. Most of us think of Monterey County as a cool climate growing region and for the most part, it is. That's where the San Antonio Valley comes in and another great example of an AVA that does in fact tell you, a ton about the wine that's in your glass. The San Antonio Valley is a mountaineous valley within the Santa Lucia range and offers some of the warmer temperatures available anywhere in Monterey. As an example, today it's 75 degrees in the San Antonio Valley and only 64 degrees in Monterey. In terms of wine, that's about the same difference in average temperature between Napa Valley and Temeciula, so big that's it hard to quantify.
Ok, so the bottle in question was a Syrah from Line Shack Wines. Line Shack isn't beating around the bush with this Syrah-it's big, bold and intense. I mean, there's plenty of good cool climate Syrah's being produced, but every so often don't we want something with more meat behind it? I certainly do and Line Shack delivered a wine that retails for under $20 that would allow wine drinkers of a number of different experience levels to be happy with the bottle that's on the table.
Every so often, a bottle rolls through the house, or the warehouse and it surprises me so much that it makes me rethink everything I know about a growing region. It's happened to me with high end bottles from Atlas Peak and much of Santa Barbara County, this time it was Livermore.
Enter Cuda Ridge and their 2012 Semillon.
People who read this blog regularly know one thing about my white wine drinking habits, well maybe two. First, not too much of it goes on, that's one of the reasons that we only offer white wine in one of our three wine clubs. Secondly, I generally speaking am not a huge fan of Chardonnay, so it seems I am always on the lookout for interesting white wines.
In any case, I have been on the search for an interesting Semillon and as luck would have it, someone close had stopped by the Cuda Ridge winery a few weeks ago (Livermore has become something of a shopping must stop for those of us in the East Bay because it's the closest outlet mall) and brought home a bottle to share with their neighbors.
The best Semillon's made anywhere in the world offer an interesting combination of acidity, freshness and yet still bring a full mouthfeel to the table. Almost universally, those are made in France. All of those positive aspects come at a bit of a price though, the grape tilts quite often to being sweeter rather than dryer, which is a challenge both in my house as well as with many main stream wine drinkers in America.
The Cuda Ridge Semillon strikes a nice balance throughout and priced at under $20, makes it one of the better versions of the grape that I've run into in some time.
Owned by Larry and Margie Dino, Cuda Ridge crafts approximately two thousand cases of wine per year, making it a small production winery by every sense of the word. Larry comes from a high tech background like so many winery owners in and around the Bay Area, having been the director of engineering at BAE Systems before opening Cuda Ridge. Margie is a RN focused on helping to educate the next wave of medical professionals.
The story of Cuda Ridge, I think helps to explain the upcoming story of the Livermore Valley in general. Cuda Ridge has begun to receive attention from the main stream wine press including Wine Enthusiast which has rated a vast seletion of their wines between 88 and 90 points. That's an impressive feat for a winery just now releasing its fifth vintage for a winery from any AVA, but it is especially impressive with a winery coming from Livermore.
We can talk some psychology here and selectivity bias, but generally speaking if you're a wine critic and you see a Texas wine sitting in front of you or a first growth Burgundy, which do you think is going to be a better wine before tasting them?
That's certainly an extreme example, but I think it helps to highlight some of the struggle that's going to come up for Livermore vintners as they begin to take more market share from established regions, like Napa and Sonoma. Most people don't realize it, but in the days before Prohibition blighted the wine industry in California, Livermore was at least Napa's equal in terms of quality. It also enjoys almost all of the same advantages, like being about an hour from the city of San Francisco and existing in a warm inland valley, almost the perfect setting for a wine region.
How Livermore continues to improve the quality of both their farms and their winemaking processes over the coming decade wil help to decide exactly where the region falls into the quality map of California wine. At current, it isn't entirely clear if there's another region poised to join Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles and Santa Barbara among the wine elite. Good arguments can be made for Lake County, Mendocino, Lodi and even Temecula in addition to Livermore, but Cuda Ridge is a clear example that Livermore deserves more attention from both wine consumers, but also from this wine club.
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