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Fausse Piste Vegetable Lamb Pinot Noir 2014

Fauste Piste Pinot Noir

Yeah, yeah I know.  Weird label.  Weird name.

So some background, I’ve hit on wines from this vineyard before, the Momtazi Vineyard (there’s also some fruit from a smaller, lesser known site called Johan). Both are farmed biodynamically and organically, which is something we should spend a few moments on.

I think most consumers these days are pretty accustomed to the rules governing organic farming.  Some major regions like Sonoma have stayed away from chasing the designation, in large part because it can tie your hands a bit.  There are times when powdery mildew creeps in, or when a certain pest becomes overwhelming that a grower might want to make damn sure they’ve taken care of the problem.  Rightly or wrongly, although they often argue the point, vineyards aren’t as ecologically diverse as a forest and that type of monoculture is ripe for pests (they’ll better than corn fields though).

In terms of biodynamic farming, there are some theories which seem spot on according to basically everyone I speak with.  Burying cow horns and letting them partially ferment in the ground, then digging them up and spreading the resulting compost…..seems like a next step in the evolution of a self serving system.  Other stuff is taking away winemaker control though according to many, such as picking on a specific day.  Winemakers basically rage against that concept, yet are happy enough to schedule a crew a day or two after their intended pick date if no other alternative exists.

Winemaker Jesse Skiles is an interesting guy.  He calls himself a cook first, winemaker second.  He’s also a millennial.  That’s something I notice in large part because of my own age.  I started my business when I was about 30.  Signed the final permits in the hospital when my son was born after a 6 month process with alcohol-beverage-control (yes my wife is as supportive as she sounds).  All told, I’m right on the border of being a millennial or not.  I hope I can take some of the positive aspects of the culture and add in some of my own.  Yes, work life balance is important. I bring all that up because, there aren’t that many people a handful of years younger than me sitting in the winemaking chair for their own brand yet.  That’s changing because I’m getting older, but also the industry is beginning to skew a bit younger on the winemaking side of the ledger as well.  It’s a good thing, newer perspectives are always a positive in an artistic endeavor.

So Fausse Piste means something along the lines of red herring, or even the lack of success in its native French.  Skiles sees himself as much more than a standard American winemaker, in many ways he sees the Rhone Valley as his natural spot and a natural accompaniment for what he’s trying to accomplish.  A wild ride of restaurant careers led him to the Culinary Institute in New York, back to Oregon and then to Washington before he eventually had a winery and restaurant sharing a 2,800 square foot space in Portland.  I’ve seen a lot of small spaces over the years, but this might take 2nd place (Tom Rees makes Pine and Brown in downtown Napa out of a converted 1 car garage, a setup no one should ever enter into).

Fauste Piste Pinot Back LabelSkiles heart still stays with the Rhone’s.  But, I do so damn many of those and at times, people want something more expected.  Enter an Oregon Pinot Noir.  He’ll tell you, this is a more food friendly wine. In part I agree, but I also think it’s important to note how darn acidic this thing is.  That’s partially winemaker choices, it’s partially simply Oregon Pinot, but it’s also farming practices.  We know a few things about different farming practices and how they help control what happens in the winery.  Using native yeast as an example, lowers alcohol content given equal amounts of sugar.  In this case, organic and biodynamic farming tend to increase acidity, compared to conventional counterparts in the same regions. While people that spend a lot more time with wine grapes than I do, can argue over why at length, I think there’s one fairly certain conclusion. A well managed, organic or biodynamic vineyard often leads to healthier plants overall than does a conventionally farmed one. Healthier plants tend to have berries with both, more liquid inside of them as well as higher sugar content (think of a sweeter strawberry as an example). Those things added up, should produce a more acidic wine.  Really, the acidity that we all taste is the ratio of tannin (skin) to acid (juice).  Some berries have thicker skins.  Some berries are smaller (this is largely dependent on location, mountain berries are dramatically smaller).  But vineyard practices might move the needle 10-15% in one direction or another.  If you’re encouraging acid, you can let grapes hang longer on the vine, perhaps creating more easily distinguishable tastes.

Last: This is being included in a couple of wine clubs in the coming months.  It’s a fun, good wine.

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Patricia Green Pinot Noir Durant Vineyard 2013

Patricia Green Pinot Noir Durant Vineyard 2013

Patricia Green Pinot Noir Durant Vineyard 2013Yup, another Oregon Pinot Noir.  Pairs well with the holidays.

93pts Vinuous (if you aren’t familiar, that’s Antonio Galloni, who at one point was slated to take over for Robert Parker, but had a falling out of sorts with the new ownership of Wine Advocate, only to create his own imminently helpful online property).

I can’t move forward without noting the major story here:Patricia Green, or Patty as literally everyone called her, passed away at the beginning of November, after I had planned to ship this wine. She lived in an isolated cabin and there aren’t many explanations for her tragic death at 62, other than the fact that it doesn’t seem to be related to foul play. To her family and friends: I’m sorry for your loss.

Ok, so some more information about what’s in your glass and how a winery moves forward when their namesake passes on: The winery carries her name, but it’ll continue because it really was a joint project between Patty and winemaker Jim Anderson.

The winery owns 52 acres in the Rabbit Ridge Appelation.  The Rabbit Ridge AVA is totally contained within the Chehalem Mountains AVA.  Yes, the Chehalem Mountain AVA is also completely contained within the Willamette Valley AVA.

What makes Rabbit Ridge different than its neighbors?  To start, the AVA is basically defined by the placing of old ocean flow on the mountaintop. Secondly, there’s some elevation at play as well.

I think the main and most interesting part of the story in this case, is the Durant Vineyard.  David Lett was affectionately titled Papa Pinot.  Only a few years after Lett planted up on Rabbit Ridge, the Durant family did the same.  You can tell that it was a simpler time by one main difference in the Durant Vineyard from any new vineyard.  It’s planted facing south.  These days, everyone plants facing west.  Facing west, as many folks near the coast can tell you, gets you every last few bits of sunlight.  South is probably second best, but it says something about the Durant’s that they were willing to even take the risk given that back in the 70’s (they planted in 73) nobody was quite sure if Oregon would ripen Pinot Noir.  Heck, they wondered if Sonoma could east of the freeway as well.

In many ways, though the Durant Vineyard is like 2 vineyards in one.  First, you have their Bishop’s Block which is the original plantings from back in 1973.  There was an addition planted back in 2000, which creates an entirely different type of wine.  They used clone 115 for that one-showing again that Oregon and it’s clone wars are never ending.

What’s in your glass is a combination of the two. Last, this is going into our red wine club shipments this month.

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Bethel Heights Estate Chardonnay 2012

Bethel Heights Chardonnay

I’m working on a rather lengthy piece on Oregon Chardonnay, both the history of as well as the future.  I thought given my current writings, as well as a few tastings over the summer when I spent some time in the Willamette Valley, shipping an Oregon Chardonnay made a lot of sense.

Ok so then the question became, which one?

Bethel Heights Chardonnay Back LabelTo start, Oregon Chard can be expensive and to get something that I really, really liked, I was having trouble finding someone relevant to pair it with.  I knew I needed to make the pricing work….so a half bottle.  If it’s too annoying, let me know and I can replace it.  I’ve done this in the past, interestingly from Oregon, without incident so I hope you all are cool with it.

So there’s a couple of things that I’ve learned about Oregon Chardonnay. In the industry winemakers OBSESS over clones, consumers even the most ardent, can’t really tell the difference beyond other factors

But, in Oregon the clones being used for Chardonnay really do seem to have mattered.  The grape didn’t really jump off in the state until Dijon clones made their way to Oregon.  

Dijon is a region of France, that’s cold and wet. Oregon’s pretty cold and wet (by comparison, by comparison).  Before that, they took the clones that were easiest to get and most available….stuff from California.  Say what you want about the state in which I live, cold and wet isn’t how it’s normally described.  Also, they attempted the Wente clone more than others.

Wente is a winery in Livermore.  While Livermore once challenged Napa Valley for preeminence among Northern California grape growing regions, no longer is that up for debate. The reason? The region is about an hour east of San Francisco.  It’s a warm, inland valley.  It’s the type of spot where you know that the grapes are going to ripen.  Back a hundred or so years ago, that was more important than it is today, at least for many folks.

Anyway, a warmer climate grape clone  in Oregon? Yeah, what could go wrong?

Good for vintners in the region for adjusting to what the market would bear (increasingly more acidity is a good thing) as well as realizing what might be constraining sales of Oregon Chardonnay in the first place.

Don’t take my word for it: 90pts Wine & Spirits Magazine: The aroma on this wine brings to mind warm apples in the sun, the fragrance touched by oak and finely integrated on the palate. The salinity of its texture gives it energy, grip and precision, with enough detail to merit pairing with coq au vin blanc. We’re offering this as part of an Explorations Wine Club shipment (it’s our cheap club)

Lastly, what about Bethel Heights? The winery opened in 1977, largely funded by twin brothers. Now, they have 11 investors and have grown from their initial 14 acre investment, into a 75 acre parcel.  Until the late 90’s they sold fruit to many different wineries, but over the years, they grew their own brand enough to handle all of the wine themselves.  Plus, two of the original owners kids are now intimately involved in the business.  One makes the wine, the other functions as the general manager.

Originally I heard about Bethel Heights from a history book, but also from Randall Grahm.  Randall started Bonny Doon Vineyard and back in the 80’s, he was producing a huge range of wines, including an Oregon Pinot Gris from Bethel Heights.  He still has good things to say about these folks, which only came up the last time I ran into him because I was set to take a family road trip (yes, partially for work) through Oregon and Washington.

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Kinero Cellars Alice Grenache Blanc

Kinero Alice

Grenache Blanc, I can’t quite quit you, even if there are only 300 or so acres within California (that’s almost equivalent to 0 btw).  Here’s one of my favorite examples!

Video Transcription:

Hi guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I’m joined today by a bottle of Kinero, and it’s called Alice. What they’re not going to tell you, and Kinero’s a label made by Anthony Yount, Anthony is one of my favorite winemakers down in Paso, and probably in the state.

I think the Kinero story is a good one, we’ve told it here a number of times. He’s the winemaker at Denner Vineyards, which is one of the truly high-end Paso wineries, by day, and Kinero’s a small label that he makes on his own. For a long time, he didn’t make any red wines with the label. He made only whites. His dad, as the story goes, doesn’t like to drink white wine, so he wanted to make something that his dad would like, that is a white.

Having two boys in the house myself, I can totally see how that would be part of the thought process. In any case, they’re outstanding white wines, highly scored, highly acclaimed. He doesn’t make a whole lot of them, so they’re rather difficult to get. In fact this Alice that’s going out to Wine Club members this month, it’s actually already sold out from the winery so we’re happy to ship it to our Explorations Wine Club which is our cheapest option.

In any case, Grenache Blanc. One of my absolutely favorite varieties of white. I think it hits two high points. First, it is very acidic, at least it can be, and second, it does give you a floral mouthfeel. So it’s a floral mouthfeel plus some acidity, which doesn’t usually always go hand-in-hand, and I think it makes it a good fit for what people are looking for in the 21st century experience of wine in the state of California.

It definitely wasn’t, say, in the 80s when Chardonnay was bigger, bolder and buttery and oaky. Anthony does this one, not in steel and not in wood, but in cement egg. Cement has two aspects to it that are important. First, think about when it rains outside when you look at your sidewalk. Do you get a pool of water like you do in a piece of steel that you left out, or on a piece of plastic? No, you don’t get a pool, because actually it does breathe and seeps into the cement, much like if you left a piece of wood outside, right?

As far as oxygenation during the aging process, cement is much, much more similar to wood than it is to steel. So, I think that’s a good thing. Second, unlike oak or any other type of wood that you would use, cement is not going to impart a flavor. This is in many ways 16th century winemaking technology that has just started to circle back around in California. I also think it’s kind of interesting that eggs are not usually shared. This is something that winemakers have to purchase themselves and then use themselves. Quite honestly, there’s not much of a playbook for these yet. They’re just figuring it out as they go.

So, Grenache Blanc, last little bit. There’s not much of the grape in the state. There’s give or take 300 acres in total, that if you were to graph it you can’t even see Grenache Blanc on the graph. It’s maybe the 35th most popular white wine grape to be planted in the state of California. Like everything else that’s growing, there’s more plantings, but there’s just not a whole lot of it.

A Kinero Alice, which is really Kinero Grenache Blanc 16, was one of the last years of drought in the state that we’re going to have to deal with, and it’ll be interesting to see how everything comes about, but this is a really outstanding wine, and if any of the critics happen to receive a bottle of it at some point, I think you’ll see multiple 90 point scores show up again.

He had a bottle, actually, rated a few years ago for the first and only time by anybody other than [Vinuis 00:03:48] and I think 92 point Spectator and Enthusiast, but Antonio [Gallinari 00:03:52] does a outstanding job covering Kinero on his online outlet, and so that’s one spot to see if you don’t want to trust me, and you want to trust somebody you’ve heard of before.

So, once again, Mark Aselstine of Uncorked Ventures, and Explorations Wine Club shipment out shortly.

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Taming Mourvedre

Villa Creek Mourvedre

Mourvedre is a blending grape because it’s so damn tannic. Google is running a commercial right now about changing a statement to a question mark.  So Mourvedre is a blending grape because its so damn tannic?  The answer from the Russian River Valley and Paso Robles might surprise you.

Video Transcription:

Villa Creek Mourvedre Back LabelHi guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. So, I’m joined today by, I’ll hold this up so you can see it. So, this is a bottle of Mourvedre. So, if you’re part of our reserved selections point club, you’re gonna get two different Mourvedres in this month’s shipment. If you’re a special selections or any of our other red wine club members, you’ll get likely one. Some of you will end up with two, if I know your preference.

So, Mourvedre. So, it’s a Rhone. So, it’s familiar to a lot of wine drinkers because it’s part of GSM blends, and that’s Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre. Often times Grenache is the largest component of those blends, especially in the Rhone Valley, well over 50% in some cases. The vast majority, so, if you’re going to guess what the percentages are in those situations, it’s 60/30/10 on average, I would say. 60% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre.

Mourvedre is used for two things. So, first, it is pretty darn dark. It’s purple, almost to the point of running black at times. So, that’s part of it. So, that’s to darken the wine. But really, the real reason why winemakers use Mourvedre in these blends is for tannic structure.

So, in California, we have some folks who are looking at the grape and saying, “Look, let’s try,” so in this case, the Front Porch Farm, they have maybe an eighth of an acre, or no, eight tens of an acre, so they get maybe 100 cases or so per vintage. We’re doing another one from Villa Creek down in Paso Robles, and they have a few rows of it that gives them a couple hundred cases only. So, you’re getting folks that are starting to really experiment with it here in California as a varietal specific wine, and that’s so it’s 80% or so of the varietal at least. Most of the folks doing it are all in and doing 100% Mourvedre. In the old world, that’s almost unheard of because they feel like it’s so tannic and so out of control that you can’t actually sell the wine to anybody and it’s just disinteresting, much like Petit Syrah, maybe, would be for other folks, or Petit Verdot if you’re in Bordeaux.

So, how do you bring this grape that’s so tannic that people don’t even think you can make a varietal wine out of it and bring it and kind of walk it back into a reasonable level. So, we’re finding out a few things. So first, much like all quality wine, literally the most important thing is yield in the vineyard. So, if you let the thing grow wild and you get five tons per acre, it’s gonna be terrible. It’s gonna be terribly tannic, you’re not gonna be able to drink it, it’s a blending grape. And that’s okay. But it just is what it is. If you can scale that down to two to three tons per acre, you get something that’s usable.

Secondly, there’s a whole cottage industry in wine where people argue about the use of inoculated fruit versus natural or native yeast, depending on where you sit. We know two things. So, first we know that at the same bricks, i.e., the same amount of sugar, sugar and during fermentation turns into alcohol. If you use native yeast in fermentations, that corresponding alcohol level is lower than if you inoculate. We don’t know why that is. It’s likely that that happens because there are nine to 10 different types of native yeast on every grape skin. So often, what you’ll find if you look at a micrological level, is that you’ll find one yeast starts fermenting, ends its ferment, and is used up, and then the next one takes over, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, until you end up with all the sugar turned into alcohol.

The second thing that you find is that consumers, when you blind taste test this stuff, and we have done this from the same vineyard, one inoculated, one native yeast, people universally almost will tell you that they find the native yeast stuff to be a little bit softer mouth feel. So, for Mourvedre, that’s incredibly, incredibly important because it takes that tannin bite down just a little bit and really what we’re talking about here is this is still gonna be a tannic wine, it’s still gonna be kind of this full mouth feel kind of thing, but how far down the wine can we run it? From, “Hey, we can’t do this by itself,” to Cabernet. How close can we get it?

And we’re not gonna get it all the way there, but from controlling yield, from using native yeast, then there’s a third part, too. Whole cluster fermentation. I’ve got a winemaker friend down in Paso, Anthony Yount, who makes Kinero Cellars, truly one of the great little, small, independent labels. He also makes the wine at Denner, which is a huge kind of well known winery appointment only, join the wine club kind of thing. And he has expressed that he likes a lot of whole cluster in warm vintages, and he likes a lot of whole cluster in cool vintages, and he likes a good amount of whole cluster in normal vintages. And so, one that we do find in whole cluster ferments, especially at lower yields, is that it tends to damper down the tannins again. So, I think it’s an interesting thing when you have a grape where a winemaker sets out and they know what they’re getting at the start, and they know that they need to make every wine making choice that they can to tamper down the tannins, and to get it to the most easily accessible mouthfeel as possible.

And so, I think that’s what we’re finding with Mourvedre. There’s a few names where they’re doing it [inaudible 00:05:34] varietal. I’m excited to ship it as a part of the wine club this month, and I hope that our customers enjoy it. So, that’s a quick update, and if you’re wondering where the heck your shipment is, we’re shipping concurrently. It was a hot summer, and as you know, we had fires in Northern California. It was a hell of a time to do Napa and Sonoma wines the last month or two, so we’re doing a little bit of digging out. And I’m definitely helping as best I can with that.

So, yeah. This is a Front Porch Farm. It’s a Russian River Mourvedre. Quite honestly, there’s so few grapes being grown in the Russian River these days that’s not really Pinot, but either Pinot or Chardonnay is probably 95% of production throughout the Russian River, if not more, so I really, really wanted to support the guys doing something different.

So, once again I’m Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures, hope you guys are having a good week so far.

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Sales Pressures and Differences For Blends

Longevity Wines Philosophy

Blends are where a ton of winemakers think they make their money. Every single one of them will tell you how good their palate it and if they don’t, they think it.  Here’s why we see so many varietal specific wines despite this.  Blending makes for some challenging sales here in America and that’s because of how we structure wine stores.

Video Transcription:

Hi guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

I’m joined today by a body of Longevity 2010 Philosophy red wine, and so, Longevity’s that winery out in Livermore that we taped for Winemaker TV a week or so ago, and have talked about on at least one occasion in this space, and I wanted to bring up Philosophy.

This is their namesake blend. The winemaker’s name is Phil, so this is Philosophy. He makes another Rhone blend for his wife under her name, and so, it’s Merlot, Cab Franc … Oh no, I’m … Yeah, Merlot, Cab Franc, Cab Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Malbec … It’s kind of the classic Bordeaux blend, so why don’t more wineries do this in the United States?

Longevity Wines Philosophy Back LabelAnd the answer really comes down to, this is not how we sell wine in America, so if you go to a wine shop in France or if you look at a wine list in France, you’re shown the way that they show a bottle. You’re given not varietal-specific but region-specific, so if it’s Bordeaux, you won’t necessarily see if it’s Cab Sav or Merlot that’s the dominant varietal. You’ll see that it’s Bordeaux, and so if you think about it, it makes it a hell of a lot easier to do a blend that’s not based on a specific varietal if you set it up by location instead of it you set it up by varietal.

In the United States, that Bordeaux is often … You’ll see a Merlot section of Bordeaux, and then you’ll see a Cab Sauvignon section of Bordeaux, like we’ve separated the left and right bank from each other, like they’re in completely separate regions. It’s a little silly to do it that way, but there’s also an element of success in saying what varietal it is, it makes it a little easier for people. They have to learn less about wine to get started, but the problem is, for wine’s like this, if you are a wine shop, where the hell do you put it?

And that’s really the question. Can you put it with Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, when there’s really only 40% of either in there? Not really, so you get this kind of nebulous other red section in the back, and that’s why winemakers tend to avoid it, and so this is kind of a tasting room sale. This is a, “Hey, 90 Point Spectator, buy this wine,” kind of sale. This isn’t like a … You know, people will seemingly just fall into this and purchase it kind of thing, so that’s a challenge for winemakers.

You know, a lot of winemakers will say that the best thing they do is their blending, but really, our market is not set up to encourage blending in the way that it is in Europe, although our wine market is set up to help people have that first glass of wine in the way that theirs just simply is not.

So in any case, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures, we are recovering from fires and from some sourcing issues caused by the fires here in California. We have a bunch of Napa and Sonoma stuff ready to go out, and we’ll make that happen over the next coming days, and if you’re a wine club member, shipments’ coming soon.

Hope everybody’s doing well, and hope everybody enjoyed Halloween. We had a good one at our house. Thanks.

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What’s A Shiner?

This is a Shiner

So what is a shiner?

This is a Shiner
A shiner is a bottle of wine that has been filled, but doesn’t have a label.

Why do shiners exist?

For a winery, they often end up with some extra juice and they don’t necessarily want all that extra juice to effect the price people are willing to pay for their wine.  It’s a hell of a lot easier to make a lot of wine go away if it’s in shiners, rather than if it’s in a labeled bottle. It’s also easier to sell a shiner than it is a barrel of wine, after all not every retail client has an easy way to get that wine into bottle.

Plenty of restaurants and stores do wines under their own label, which often are originally purchased as shiners.

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Cayuse Loses a Vintage Due to Bad Corks

Cayuse Winery Logo

It’s not every day, or thankfully every year that a winery as well known as Cayuse, loses an entire vintage because of bad corks.  But, here we are. Some more information on what happened, why no one could have caught it and the solution (or lack thereof)

Video Transcription:

Hi guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. The big news of the week in the wine industry, and I’m sorry I don’t have a bottle of Cayuse Syrah lying around the house, I kind of wish I did, was that Cayuse lost almost an entire vintage of wine due to faulty corks.

The closure issue when it comes to wine is always very much debated. You have folks that believe in real cork, you have folks that believe in screw tops, and you have people that believe in the artificial stuff. Positives and negatives of cork, this is the negative. It does ruin some wine and that’s 100% fact, so this was, so you’ll see the press release, or the email that went out to the Cayuse Wine Club, and these guys are 100% mailing list at this point. There’s basically almost nothing that goes into the three tier system, there’s almost nothing that goes out to retail.

So far, Walla Walla’s one of my favorite places to taste wine, actually. It’s one of my favorite little Wine Country destinations. When you walk down what, in essence, is main street in Walla Walla, Cayuse has a tasting room, but it’s never open. They just keep it for the mailing address, and it’s kind of like one of those small, humorous aspects to the wine industry that other vintners who would love that space to actually sell what they are having trouble selling can’t get it. And Cayuse has no plans to let it go I don’t think, or to really have it open. They’re, in many ways, the quality leader and so what happened was when a natural cork is bonded. You know, cork, they shave the cork tree and everything’s processed. Corks are, in essence, coated with a paraffin wax, which is a petroleum derivative and that’s where much of the issues come from.  This, the coating was starting to slip off of the cork into the wine, which is obviously not supposed to happen. In essence what it creates is this kind of shiny, oil film on top of your wine as you pour it out. It’s obviously disgusting, and it also ruins the bottle.

Cayuse is looking at a loss of $3 million bucks or so. Granted, it sounds like they have some good enough insurance to cover the majority of it, but 90% of a vintage is likely gone. I just wanted to take a second and talk about bottling. A lot of people have already said, “Hey, how can this happen? Why wouldn’t you catch it?” I’ve seen bottling at four, different scales. On the first, and I don’t know how Cayuse does it, but I can make some assumptions based on the amount of money going into the project of where they are, and we’ll talk about that in a second.

At the beginning of the scales, if you made a barrel of wine, yourself in your garage you’d be hand-corking everything. Hand-bottling, hand-corking, literally you’d be taking a beaker and pouring into the bottle and then using a, basically, your own strength to put the cork in. Done. It’s miserable. I’ve done that at least twice for a full day, and it is 100% miserable, and you don’t make much progress. There are semi-automated things where I was out in Livermore a few days, and we saw one we hadn’t seen in practice, but they, a machine will fill a couple bottles at a time, and you really are doing most of the manual work, but you’re not actually inserting the cork or the wine in. It’s a slow process, and it’ll take you a day to do a couple hundred cases, but you can get it done.  The third level where a lot of the folks are at these days is a bottling truck that comes attached to say, F150, and that can bottle a few hundred cases with a minimum amount of effort from you, other than dumping the wine bottles out and having them go through the conveyor belt. Lastly, how the big boys do it, and I’m sure this is Cayuse, a major bottling truck comes in the form of an 18-wheel semi. They have a complete team. There’s literally nothing for the winemaker, or the winery owner to do other than to hang out and have a glass of wine and chat. That’s kind of, for lack of a better term and I hate to say it, but that’s the fun way to do bottling, and that’s probably the right way to do it.  At all the levels you really get a chance to see everything before it goes into the wine. The corks are something that usually comes separately, even at the bigger places, the bottling truck isn’t providing the corks. You’re having to order that and all the glass separately, and so they would have a chance to look through everything. I’ve seen at least 25 or 30 different cork deliveries over the years. I’ve never seen anything that looked any different.

I don’t think there’s any way that anybody could have guessed that the paraffin was going to slip off the cork once it was met with any liquid. It’s a manufacturing defect and that’s kind of just about it and it sucks. In any case, Cayuse they lost the vintage, luckily they have insurance. There’s some other issues that’ll crop up.  Their release party is kind of a major event in Walla Walla so you’re likely to see other folks that are kind of injured by this in a secondary kind of manner, although I suspect that some of the quote, unquote, “Second-tier wineries,” in Walla Walla that really do make some great juice, especially Syrah are going to be able to pick up some sales over the course of the year, because those 3,000 cases and 3,000 magnums that were ruined aren’t going to be able to be sold. In any case, given the fires and everything that’s happened here in Northern California in the last couple weeks it’s hard to read too much and be too upset about it. It definitely … it’s something that I think it’s fair to say that it sucks for the winemaker, it sucks for the winery owner, and it sucks for folks that have put in a year of work and they’re not going to necessarily get anything out the backside of it. But, luckily, there’s insurance that will pick up the pieces and Cayuse will be back at it next year. Once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures, have a good one.

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Longevity Wines and Livermore Cabernet Sauvignon

Longevity Wines

A new project brought me to Livermore. I found a 90 point Cabernet, if you care about critical acclaim.

Hi, guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I’ll hold this up so you can get a little bit better look at it. This is a Longevity Cabernet Sauvignon, so this came to me as part of a little bit of a side project I’m working on called Winemaker TV.

Longevity’s a Cab from Livermore. If you’re not familiar with Livermore, so there’s this long history of wine regions popping up 45 minutes or an hour or so via car away from major population centers. We’ve seen that … call it away from Paris. Most of Chianti, 45 minutes to an hour from either Rome or Florence. Here, San Francisco has led to the rise of Napa and Sonoma, which are about that distance

If you’re not familiar with Livermore, so there’s this long history of wine regions popping up 45 minutes or an hour or so via car away from major population centers. We’ve seen that … call it away from Paris. Most of Chianti, 45 minutes to an hour from either Rome or Florence. Here, San Francisco has led to the rise of Napa and Sonoma, which are about that distance. If you walk it back pre-Prohibition, Livermore was actually maybe even perhaps a quality leader in Northern California wine. They’re about that distance east.

To be honest, the market didn’t come back in Livermore after the Prohibition the way that it did in Napa and Sonoma. There’s a few good reasons for that. The building of The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the primary ones. It made access to Napa and Sonoma a heck of a lot easier from the city than it had been previously. Livermore is experiencing this Renaissance and Cabernet Sauvignon is their go to as you would expect it to be.

It’s almost a strange place to go out to because you’re in what looks like a strip mall and then you look out and you see apartment buildings and suburban master track development, and then oh, there’s a vineyard. Sometimes those vineyards predate everything else that has been built around it, but it doesn’t look like how we expect wine country to look like. It looks like the suburbs just happened to have grapes growing. It makes it a little bit unique.  It reminds you a little bit of Temecula, although Temecula in Southern California is perhaps stranger to the eye because you drive through what looks like suburban developments and then all of a sudden there’s almost a dividing line and then you hit wine country. It looks like wine country. There’s none of the houses and the vineyards and there’s not any of the subdevelopment anymore. Livermore, everything’s intermixed, which is interesting.

Longevity is a project and a winemaker and his wife, Phil and Debra, do a really good job with it. Everything’s done under one roof. They have this crazy press from, it’s almost 100 years old that they use. It’s in-between a basket press and the more standard button press. You jump everything and you hit the button and two minutes later everything’s pressed together. This is very, very labor intensive at Longevity and it’s a project that I think is worth it to tell the tale a little bit. Livermore Cab is really gaining a little bit more of a foothold. It is warmer in Livermore than it is in Napa and Sonoma. You get winemakers that are really having to focus on finding acidity in here. I guess the best versions of Livermore Cab have more tannin and more structure, but also more acidity. That’s where they’re going with most of what I’m tasted from Livermore.

It’s an interesting look at the market and how much acidity and how much structure will the market bear. In essence, they’ve moved even more completely away from the European model. From lower fruit, lower structure and having more of everything. It’ll be interesting to see how they come out on the other side.

Longevity Wines Back LabelThis Longevity label is one of the clear winners in terms of quality. Livermore filled this. Good job on both blends and a single vineyard, in single varietals. He’s one of the few guys who don’t own a vineyard, but is sourcing from across the street from where he’s making the wine. That makes it interesting in itself, plus it’s a good visit. Once again, I don’t know if this will show up in a wine club shipment, but I think it’s worth a mention, especially in terms of Livermore Cabernet. They’re coming up in quality and I think this is something that you’re going to see an increasing number of Livermore Cabs make it to market. I don’t know if it’s going to be in San Francisco or if they’re going to focus their efforts elsewhere, but I think especially if they can tell the tall tale about what went on in Livermore pre-Prohibition, I think they have an opportunity to gain some market share. Once again,

Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. Hope everybody’s having a good week so far.

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Amazon Exists the Wine Game Again BC of Al Capone (Seriously)

Amazon Logo

At the end of December, Amazon will end it’s wine marketplace.  Here’s some information on why, as well as another chance to blame Al Capone for the sorry state of wine shipping laws in America today.

Video Transcription:

All right guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. Really quick, so Amazon announced today that their wine marketplace is shutting down, which is a shame. Amazon’s had this long, drawn out history of trying to sell wine on the site.

There’s been different iterations and rumors about Amazon doing wine club over the years. It’s never come to fruition, in large part because Amazon’s not a winery, and the only way to do 51 out of 51, as the lexicon goes, is to be a winery itself. Even then, states like Utah don’t allow direct shipments of wine, so Amazon is going to be skirting a regulation here, or there, or somewhere along the route anyway.

They’re shutting down their wine marketplace and a lot of people have asked why. They don’t ship wine, so if you’re a winery, you can’t send wine to Amazon, and have it be a part of their Prime program. Why shut it down? They’re just collecting marketing dollars.

The answer why is in this archaic rule that we have in the three-tier system here in this country. The three tiers are the producer, the distributor, and then the retailer. Amazon is a marketing company at its core, but they also now own Whole Foods. There’s some debate if these …

There’s something called a tied house rule, and the tied house rule came into practice after prohibition, in an effort to clamp down on drinking. There’s stuff like, “Come in, have a beer, get a free lunch.” They thought that doing a tied house rule would lessen the consumption of alcohol, and that actually might be true.

In the 21st century, in large part, we’ve seen a couple things happen. So first, we’ve seen wineries … if you’re having a pouring event at … let’s just use BevMo! as an example, since they’re a large national chain. If your winery is having a pouring event at a local BevMo!, they can’t tweak that out and say, “Come on in and buy a bottle at this BevMo! location, because we’re there pouring our wine.”

To me, that seems like a perfectly reasonable thing for a winery to do, but they’re actually not allowed to do that, because then as a producer, a winery talking about only one retailer, skirting the middle tier of the system. That’s what the tied house rule says, is that it says that producers and retailers are not supposed to work together to exclude other producers, or other retailers, if that makes sense.

There’s some other things that happens because of this. Terre Rouge, Bill’s project out in the Sierra Foothills came into being after he sold his wine store here in Albany, California. There’s a bunch of stories like that, of people that wanted to open a winery, but they had to sell their retail business first, and then often go a couple years without a paycheck before doing so.

There’s kind of all these 21st century infringements on this law that was really created 80 plus years ago, if not longer, if we use the British version, which is what ours is based on. A lot of places around the world have gone away from this tied house rule.

Australia’s a great example. They’ve really pushed our consumer sales from wineries, and it’s made a healthier wine industry in Australia. I hope that’s something we can do in the country too. I think there’s some common sense legislative changes that we could go down, but that’s a topic for a different day.

Once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. We’re sorry to see the Amazon marketplace close. I know a lot of wineries and small wine makers were using Amazon as an easy way to set up a website. Then even if they were having to fulfill the orders themselves, it was a centralized location, with traffic, and with an easy checkout process that didn’t involve them making a full e-commerce based website.

So yeah, that’s a little disappointing. Unfortunately, it’s also not surprising. Hopefully in five or 10 years, we’re not having these same kind of discussions. Hopefully we get some legislative changes along the route.