Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
 
May 24, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Phylloxera

Phylloxera

When is a 10 letter word really a 4 letter word within the wine industry? How can a tiny aphid only 1/13th of an inch long and 1/16th of an inch wide capable of inflicting billions of dollars in damage?

Phylloxera is a tiny aphid which feeds on the roots of vines. The aphid has destroyed vineyards from North America, Europe, South America and all the way to Australia and everywhere in between.

As it turns out, Phylloxera is a native of North America. Most native vines to this continent come with some level of protection against the pest, but unfortunately these grapes are more suited to making grape jam than they are wine. Concord is a great example of a native grape to North America.

As it turns out French scientists in the 1860’s wanted to study American vines and sent for a series of samples to test. Unfortunately, Phylloxera hitched a ride with the vines and the results were largely catastrophic. By 1873 the entire French wine industry was in a state of upheaval with wine quality suffering and vines literally dying by the millions. The French government went so far as to offer a reward for anyone who could come up with a solution to the problem. Chemicals were tested without success. Likelywiese vineyards were flooded with water and even white wine…the pest kept coming.

Meanwhile the fledging California wine industry was planting European vines in their fields in an attempt to improve quality levels and gain a place in the international wine market.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the pest infected California vines and the same results quickly came to fruition. Finally a solution was discovered.

Plant American rootstock, but graft on European vines so you receive vines which are resistant to Phylloxera without sacrificing quality.

Things went quite smoothly and aside from a small outbreak here and there Phylloxera wasn’t heard from again until the 1980’s when the pest started to once again destroy California vineyards. As it turns out many California vintners had planted a version of the rootstock which was in effect half American and half European, making it susceptible to Plylloxera after only a few genetic mutations. California biologists knew the risks but proceeded anyway, while their European counterparts having been hit much harder by earlier outbreaks decided to plant only truly native American rootstocks.

So what was the cost to the California wine industry due to the 1980’s explosion of Phylloxera? At least 1.2 Billion Dollars was spent to re-plant vines and wait at least three years before being able to use the grapes commercially.

There is a positive to the story though. Biology and viticulture had come leaps and bounds ahead by the time the Plylloxera hit vineyards in the 1980’s when compared with earlier invasions. This new and advanced research has allowed vineyard owners to replant vineyards with clones and grape varieties more suited to their specific growing conditions.

As we’ve found in the wine industry, not every negative is truly a negative. The Phylloexera epidemic in the 1980’s led to a tremendous amount of suffering for California vintners, but the industry wouldn’t have the same quality level today if the pest had never come back to its ancestral home.

Time Posted: May 24, 2011 at 2:40 PM
Mark Aselstine
 
May 24, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Tasting Cabernet on Atlas Peak

Gorgeous View from Atlas Peak

 

During a recent trip to wine country in February we had a chance to spend a few hours visiting a winery on Atlas Peak. Although the winery is going to remain nameless for the time being since it is set to be included in a future shipment, we’ll file an update and likely an interview with the owner/winemaker once we’ve shipped his impressive Cabernet Sauvignon.

Atlas Peak has began receiving some attention nationally for the Cabernet Sauvignon grown on the mountain vineyards with a front page story even appearing on Wine Enthusiast Magazine in January.

The AVA has gained attention largely due to the success of Stagecoach Vineyard which has been used by such wine luminaries such as Uncorked Ventures favorite Paul Hobbs, Caymus, Plumpjack, Quintessa, and Pahlmeyer. Stagecoach is a good example of how the weather conditions create an interesting mix on Atlas Peak. Summer daytime temperatures are warm and since most plantings occur above the fog line, the average temperature sit at just below the level as the Oakville mean for Napa Valley. Nightime temperature drops are common partially because the AVA sits almost directly north of Carneros and receives the same type of maritime influence which has made Carneros famous.

So why try wine from Atlas Peak? To start, it offers a nice quality/price ratio as a relatively unknown AVA within Napa Valley. Secondly, mountain fruit has become more and more expensive during the past few vintages which have offered abundant enough sunshine to achieve full ripeness. Without the fog, ripeness should never be a major concern on Atlas Peak and it should offer a nice alternative to more pricy and well known AVA’s such as Spring Mountain, Howell Mountain and Diamond Mountain.

Mark Aselstine
 
May 24, 2011 | Mark Aselstine

Welcome to the Official Uncorked Ventures Blog

Welcome to the official Blog of Uncorked Ventures. We hope you’ll find this to be a space which allows for continued direct interaction, but also an informational resources for wine drinkers. While we’ll try and share information on wine regions, wineries, winemakers, related businesses within the industry and of course those folks who own and manage anyone in the above groups. Over time you’ll be accustomed to seeing interviews, AVA informational articles, descriptions of winemaking techniques, recommendations for unknown quality wineries and much more.

One thing both Matt and I have enjoyed about opening Uncorked Ventures is the amazing access we’ve been accorded within the wine industy. From our first meeting with winemaker/GM Jean Hoefliger at Alpha Omega we’ve been amazed at the access we have to decision makers and the people who really make this industry such a special one to be a part of. So many of our friends and family enjoy hearing these stories and while we’ve tried to share them at times on our personal blogs (Mark & Matt), keeping a more centralized version here makes sense long term. Of course, we realize there are also a good number of people who would like to join the industry so we hope some of our interview series will help people to see what it’s like behind the scenes.

Lastly, yes we both read plenty of other wine blogs. From well known outlets such as Vinography and Fermentation which cover the wider industry to more localized blogs such as the NY Cork Report blogs and bloggers can be an invaluable resource to us, but also to our readers. Over time, we hope to bring not only blogger interviews, but also guest blogs in this space.

If you have questions, please feel free to send them our way (info @uncorkedventures.com) we’re happy to help answer wine related questions and much more.

Time Posted: May 24, 2011 at 2:31 PM