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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.


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Why Bennett Valley Is Cold + A Fire Update

PWR Syrah from Bennett Valley

The fires continue to ravage wine country in northern California.  Containment is still only about half done, here’s hoping for a spot of rain coming through as forecasted later in the week.

Video Transcription:

Hi, guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. We’re still digging out a little bit. There’s been a lot of fires in and around northern California. We had to leave for a weekend. We weren’t evacuated, but we had some breathing issues in our house. That required some cleaner air than what we were getting, which was considered hazardous for much of the East Bay. Winemaker friends are still counting their losses. I think current count we know at least 10 people have have lost homes. They have a number of vineyards that have been lost.

Signorello, my wife and I spent an anniversary lunch there one year, seems to have lost most of their winery property. The vineyard survived. Kunde seems to have lost almost everything. Korbin Kameron, somebody who’s been included in Wine Club shipments here as recently as a year ago, December, or somewhere around then, seems to have lost most of the winery structures, including most of the vineyard space.

It’s a natural disaster on level with at least the worst hurricanes that we’ve ever seen in the United States and I hope you will keep wine country, especially those folks in Santa Rosa, in not only your thoughts and prayers, but to see if there’s a fundraiser or anything that you can do. As you’re aware, most people are going to be insured, but the way fire insurance works, and we know this from having something similar happen to us in San Diego back in ’03 and ’06, there are usually fairly high deductibles on most fire insurance. That’s out of people’s hands what those deductibles are, for the most part.

They seem to be somewhere between 10% and 20%, depending on your policy. Obviously when you’re talking about $500,000 or more homes, that’s a big chunk of cash, especially if you are a recent purchaser. In any case, I thought it was appropriate to talk about an area that was affected by the fire. Bennett Valley’s Sonoma County AVA, it’s actually one of the newer AVAs. To give you some idea, the Bennett Valley is one of the coldest growing environments of Sonoma and that seems backwards at first, ’cause we think of valleys as being warm. Usually they are.

But in the case of Bennett Valley, it sits almost on high ground. It is surrounded by higher mountains, but it is higher ground than most. Santa Rosa sits on the north, Bennett Valley is this one-mile-long stretch of land between what is the city of Santa Rosa, where it was worst hit by the fire, and then the Cotati Valley, which is where Sonoma State is located.

Bennett Valley, why is it cold if it’s at high ground? It all comes down to a small quirk of geography, and that’s the Petaluma Gap. If you go straight west of Bennett Valley, you hit this small gap in the mountains that allows cool air to come straight in from the coast. That’s why when we have shipped People’s Wine Revolution, Matt Reid’s friend, who lives up in Calistoga, he’s evacuated for a few days, I believe. The winery where he makes his wine and where he stores his wine all seemed to make it just fine, which is good news.

When we’ve shipped this in the past, people have said, “Hey, that’s a lot more like a pinot than a Syrah that you usually would ship.” That’s definitely true. The coldest climate Syrah is in mouth feel. Do you feel more like a pinot? That’s definitely something that I think if you’re new to the wine club that’s, I think, hopefully something that you find interesting. Too often, I think, we’re led to believe that mouth feel is dependent on grape. That is partially true and that’s partially true on tannins, but it’s also perhaps more dependent on growing conditions.

For this case, this is a cool-climate Syrah. It’s a place where you would typically plant pinot as far as the number of degree days. You get something that feels similar to that with the different flavor profile. I think it’s one of those reasons why when you look at pinot noir regions, winemakers have this incessant need to be able to do something different. It’s partially due to tank space. If the pinot comes in in the middle of August, say, by the first week in October they have all this tank space sitting available and they would like to put something in it so they can sell it.

A cool-climate Syrah might ripen three weeks after pinot noir and give them something that is reminiscent of it so it’s stable for their brand, but allows them to not only increase production but keep something true to themselves. Once again, People’s Wine Revolution, Matt seems fine, production space for Matt seems fine, and the Bennett Valley is cold-climate Sonoma vineyard location if you’re looking for one. It sounds like most of the folks that live in the Bennett Valley escaped the worst of the fire damage and should be getting back into their homes either yesterday or today. That’s good news.

The real issue’s, of course, with the fires are going to be those northeast Sonoma neighborhoods and they’re just starting to be let back in now to survey what is going to be, I’m sure, some horrific damage. Once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I hope everybody’s having a good one and I’ll talk to you soon.

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Wild Fires and Wine Country

We didn’t think about it last night, but my wife made something of an ominous comment: she said that the warm wine blowing through the Bay Area, directly from the east, reminded her a lot of a Santa Ana in Southern California. If you aren’t familiar with the term, it basically means that the winds, instead of our usual on shore flow off the ocean, which not only cools California, but provides much needed moisture in the air, switched directions.  Winds blowing from the east are generally warm and dry.  It’s the first sign of fire danger throughout the state.

We woke up this morning to heavy smoke at our house.  No ash though, so we knew that the fires were pretty far away. We’ve been through wildfires before.  Too often actually.  One of my first memories of living in San Diego as a kid, was getting sent home from school in the middle of the day because the ash started falling onto school.  Some kids thought it might be snow, alas the innocence of first graders.  I had just moved from New York, snow doesn’t smell. Much later during the Witch Fire, we were evacuated from our home, we went to my inlaws place, largely surrounded by more suburbs and golf courses, it was long considered one of the more fireproof neighborhoods around, with newer developments even designed as shelter in place spots. We got evacuated that next night, only to watch in horror as much of the neighborhood where we grew up was ravaged by wildfire.  Friends parents lost homes and it took almost a decade before the neighborhood was rebuilt.  The character of the place in some ways changed.

After checking the news this morning, it became fairly obvious that we were getting smoke blown to our house from fires in both Napa as well as Sonoma.

At first, the Napa blaze was getting most of the attention, causing evacuations and issues outside of downtown Napa, largely in an area of Napa Valley called Atlas Peak and to a lesser extent, Coombsville.  The fire has also destroyed wineries on the Silverado Trail in Napa already as of 10am Pacific.

Neither of those are major population centers, but it makes me think of friends, especially those on Atlas Peak where the mountain offers only one way up and the same way down.  At points the two lanes offer only access for one car, so I hope the folks at Vinroc and Dos Lagos are safe and sound. I have no doubt that there’s going to property damage and long term issues if the fire burns through Atlas Peak and Coombsville.  I am hopeful though that there won’t be a loss of life.

Here’s some of what it looked like leaving Atlas Peak in the middle of the night:

The fires in Sonoma are much more similar to what we experienced in San Diego.

I want to be as clear as possible about what wine country is experiencing right now: this is a disaster.  People are going to lose homes and businesses, sometimes both. It’s going to be an incredibly long and complicated path back.

The most concerning fire in Sonoma started only a ways from downtown Santa Rosa, south of Windsor.  It’s a place where a LOT of wine is made in warehouses, although many of those are situated west of the 101 freeway because the land tends to be cheaper.  To the east, where the fire current sits, it’s largely agricultural.  Yes, there’s a lot of grapes.  There’s also plenty of other agriculture and tourist facilities. Grapes and vines are going to be lost across wine country over the next week.  But, Santa Rosa is a city of almost 200,000 people with other neighboring cities adding at least that many people as well.  This is going to be a disaster for all of them in one way or another.

Not far down the 101 from where the fire began there’s a couple of hospitals.  Both Kaiser and Sutter have hospitals, on a small hill overlooking the freeway and part of the valley below.  It appears those hospitals had to be evacuated this morning.  We have friends, I definitely have winemakers that I know, living within the evacuation zone.  Some of likely to have lost homes.  One custom crush where we’ve spent a lot of time of late, Punchdown Cellars, is right in the fire’s path.  As it stands now, it’s unclear if it still stands.  The Kmart and Mountain Mike’s Pizza across the street burned at 5am.

Since this is a wine site, you’re likely wondering what a fire means for wine.

Really, we’re talking about 2 different issues.  The first issue is for grapes hanging on the vine and smoke. Smoke taint is a very real issue, nobody wants that in their wine.  The honest answer though to your logical question is that no one knows exactly how much smoke, or for how long, it takes to effect the final wine that’s produced.  I’d suspect, thinner skinned grapes are more likely to take in smoke than thicker skinned versions.  If the wind cooperates, I’d suspect Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon would have this smoky day as a footnote, instead of the first sentence when we talk about this vintage. That is, if the vines survive the fire itself.  As the morning has moved along, that’s seemed less likely.

The second issue deals with wines being fermented.  Thinking of Punchdown, depending on where a wine is in its fermentation cycle, you are going to have punchdowns and other winemaking jobs missed at least today and likely for another day or two afterward.  Less manipulations like that, leads to wine that’s lighter in style. For some wineries that’s an issue.  I doubt most consumers notice that though.

There’s been some debate about how much smoke taint effects wine that’s being fermented. Other than a vintage in Australia about a decade ago, it isn’t like we have a ton of research in that regard.  There has already been some talk about fining and filtering that can remove smoke taint, but the effectiveness of that is often debated.

I’ll keep you updated, but this is a major tragedy for wine country.

There’s hardly an area in the North Bay that isn’t going to be effected today.

I’ll try and keep this updated throughout the course of the week.

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Tannat: The Past and the Future

Brecon Estate Tannat

Tannat’s one of those weird grapes that doesn’t fit in any of our standard categories.  It isn’t from Bordeaux, it isn’t from the Rhone.  It’s also not Pinot, not Portugese, Spanish or Italian.  It’s an obscure French grape, which is slightly amazing that such a thing can even exist these days.

Video Transcription:

Hi guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I’m joined today with a bottle of Tannat. This is Brecon Estate and we’ll get to that in a second but Tannat’s kind of an interesting story. The grape’s ancestral home is somewhere in Southwestern France kind of at the base of the Pyrenees Mountains. Kings in the area would use the thing as payment in taxes in the 17th and 18th century. But I think the interesting part is that this grape is literally not really grown in France all that much anymore. There’s a few small villages where they still kind of specialize in it in the region, but really the story of Tannat comes from Uruguay, and Uruguay has become something of a national grape. There’s a few South American countries that have kind of taken French grapes that are a little bit more obscure and turned them into what they’re known for. You’ve seen that kind of happen on a few occasions, with Argentina probably being the best example.

But Tannat. How did this end up even in the United States? It’s kind of a fascinating story. Tablas Creek is in Paso Robles and Tablas Creek has kind of long been thought of as one of the pioneers in bringing Rhone varietals to the United States and really kind of espousing on how Rhone varietals can work in certain soil conditions in certain climates. Tannat’s not a Rhone, though, so how did Tablas Creek end up with it in the first place? They were buying cuttings from a French farmer for a long time, and in the early 90’s they kind of got this huge set of cuttings. And if you’re not familiar, the US Agricultural Department actually quarantines cuttings. They don’t want to bring in phlox or other pests or anything else with the cuttings, so it often can take years from the time that your cuttings come from an overseas vendor into the United States before they’re released to you.

Brecon Estate Tannat Back LabelThe story is kind of told that the folks at Tablas Creek were looking into what they had with the USDA, and they saw this kind of strange varietal that’s not a Rhone, Tannat, and they thought the guy had probably made a mistake. The conversation kind of went, “Why did you send that? You know that’s not a Rhone, what are we supposed to do with it?” And the response as something along the lines of, “If you try it, I think you’ll like it, and I think it will work from what I’ve heard about Paso’s soil and heat and all that kind of stuff.”

So after they had everything kind of planted out in the vineyard, they took an acre and they planted that Tannat. And you know, Tannat’s kind of an interesting grape. It’s this extremely thick skin, and the tannins of it can be truly out of control. There’s French winemakers, and even winemakers in Paso, now, that will actually cut Tannat with Cabernet Sauvignon because that lightens it up so much. So that kind of tells you a little bit. So it’s a very, very thick-skinned grape, but acidity, though, stays high. So it’s a high pH grape, too. In Paso, it works really well because you have these thick skins which help prevent kind of mildew and some of the other issues that you run into if stuff has to hang on the vine for a long time. It grows well, but not out of control. That’s the big problem with Grenache that everybody will tell you. If you put Grenache in something that’s a little too sunny, you could get 10 tons per acre, which makes terrible wine. Tannat, if you put in the exact same growing conditions, you might only get three.

So that’s one thing that they found in Tablas Creek, so Tablas Creek now has I think three or four acres of it, in total. Now they’re kind of creating their own Tannat varietal specific wine like this at Brecon Estate. I think the true story of how Tablas Creek has influenced the wine industry, though, has helped, it’s told, at least a little bit by Tannat, because there’s now almost 600 acres planted in state of California. Almost every single acre of that is from a cutting from Tablas Creek. You know, they really did the work of bringing it into country waiting. You know, that’s a huge investment, and now you have all these other wineries that are able to take Tablas Creek cuttings and plant their own vineyard without the quarantine time.

So it’s a thick skin, so this is a very, very acidic grape for how dense it is. And it’s extremely tannic. It’s something that reminds people a lot of a Rhone, but it has a huge advantage in that, in warm conditions like Paso, and Paso is warm, at least in comparison to say the Sonoma Coast, it doesn’t overproduce, and it’s not affected by mildew and some of the other issues of if stuff has to hang on the vine for a long time in California, we often have rain in October and November, so that becomes a big problem. So Tannat actually is a mid-year ripener, so you’re looking at often harvests at the end of September or early October, as opposed to later into October, if it was a late ripener. So something that grows well here, I think it’s something that you’re going to see more often.

This Brecon Estate bottling is, I think typical for what you would find. It’s really well done. The challenge for wine makers with Tannat is to keep the tannin under control, and there’s a few steps that they can take, from open top fermenting, from adding it to maybe say not new oak barrel but a neutral oak barrel. The interesting thing for a varietal that’s not grown that much, and 600 acres sounds like a huge number to those of us that live on a 5,000 square foot lot, which is considered big, in itself. But 600 acres in state of California doesn’t give you all that much space to kind of experiment and try and figure out what the grape is all about. So we’re going to continue to hear about this.

I think Tannat’s one of those grapes that is likely to gain plantings as time goes by, and that’s because, as cooler climate vineyard sites have increasingly been planted out, we’re left to look at warmer vineyard sites, and you can’t grow Cab or Pinot or frankly even Grenache in a lot of them, because Grenache overproduces, Cab doesn’t get ripe, Pinot is so overripe that it’s disgusting, et cetera, et cetera. Tannat’s something that grows and grows well in warmer sites, so I think you’re going to see that continue to increase in plantings in Paso. I think there’s a lot of other parts of the central coast that you’re going to see those. Frankly, I think there’s a lot of Mendocino sites that would do well with Tannat, and I think the state of Washington is an obvious, obvious spot to see it do well, let alone southern Oregon road valley.

So in any way, I hope everyone’s having a good week so far, and we’ll talk to you soon.