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Secondary Vineyard Sites

Couloir Pinot Noir Marin County Chileno Valley Vineyard 2014 Front Label

What happens when all the “good” vineyard sites are taken? Usually winemakers and vintners end up looking at regions that are slightly out of the normal spot.  Sometimes….that ends up working incredibly well.  Here’s an example.


Video Transcription:

Hi guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I’ll hold this up so you can see it. So this is a bottle of Couloir Pinot Noir and just to get a little more specific, I’ll make sure I don’t mess this up. It’s the Chileno Valley Vineyard. I don’t think that exact vineyard here in this case was the most interesting part but I think the general AVA is. So this was Merin County. I’ve talked about it. If you’re a wine club member, you’ve received on of these at special selections or reserved selections level. Those are our red wine clubs. This was 94 point spectator I believe and it’s like 45 bucks retail so really one of the better value wines of the year. I guess if you consider quality to be part of value, which I do.

I think was this is, it’s 13.9 percent alcohol, which I think is also kind of interesting. I think what this kind of shows is that over time we’ve seen the incredibly diverse and kind of intense planting out of regions. Napa is 100 percent out of land for the most part. Western Sonoma County is kind of getting there quickly. If you want to source grapes or if you want to plant some grapes, you’re in these less desirable areas. Marin is this little stretch of land, as you leave the city of San Francisco and drive across the Golden Gate Bridge, you hit Marin. It’s a really wealthy area. It’s where a lot of people, if you want to find better house in the Bay Area and you want to be able to drive into work in the morning across the Golden Gate and you’re willing to deal with traffic, but you want some land on the other side, that’s kind of the best place to do it. You need a couple of million dollars to make it happen but it is what it is.

It’s been considered this fringe area. Not warm enough to really grow that many grapes or to grow anything all that well, but not cold enough to completely be discounted either. Marin has maybe 200 acres or so of grapes growing and vines in the ground. We’re starting to see some critics’ scores really pick up for it. The interesting thing is as the climate changes, and we’ll leave that alone for the most part in this space, but just to say that it is a little bit warmer than it used to be. If you get a couple of degrees warmer during the summer, maybe all of a sudden instead of having this marginal growing area, you have something that’s dead center for pinot.

Without a doubt that is the hope of some folks that are planting there. This is also a question of the industry kind of shifting itself over. A generation ago, the thought of barely ripening pinot in California was stupid. Nobody would want to even try it. They left that for the French and they said that they will just continue making this kind of ripe lush pinot and everybody go their separate ways. But the industry has taken a step back and gotten more classic, old world in style as far as looking for more acidity and more tannin, especially in lighter reds like pinot. That has made these secondary growing regions more popular. I think you’re going to continue to see that. Spots like the Santa Lucia Highlands, which can really value acidity, is probably more similar to Merin in overall climate than Merin is to say the Russian River Valley, which just a half hour or so to its north.

I think that’s something you’ll continue to see. I think we’re starting to see more winemakers generally interested in it. One of the real challenges for winemakers is that if they have these kind of … I was talking to somebody the other day where they have vineyards that they source in Mendocino, and vineyards that they source in the Santa Cruz Mountains for different pinot projects. They live somewhere in the middle and they’re driving two hours each way and often need to get to both of them the same day, so they’re in the car eight hours total or so to make it happen. It just seems a little silly for a lot of people. Silly in that they can’t really do it consistently enough or as consistently as they want to be able to get themselves into the vineyard and see what’s happening with the fruit. This offers an alternative because it is so much closer to home.

Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. Heat here locally has calmed down quite a bit. We had 105 degrees in the city of San Francisco about a week or so ago and that was kind of nightmarish since no one has AC. We had lightening strikes last night, which was kind of interesting. But everything seems to be calming down a little bit and hopefully we’ll get back into regular wine club shipping here very quickly.

Once again, I hope everybody’s having a good one and we’ll talk to you soon.

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Every So Often: Cava

Cava Being Poured

Hi, guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. So, today, something a little different. So, this it a Dibon Brut Reserve, but the important part here is it’s cava.

If you’re not familiar, cava is just the Spanish term for sparkling wine, for lack of a better definition. Sparkling wine’s kind of interesting, right? We mostly call it champagne, but we can’t legally call it that if you’re not making the wine in the Champagne region of France. So, that leads to a number of marketing challenges. There’s a wide assortment of issues that go along with that.

For California vintners, you have some folks who stubbornly still call it champagne, and end up getting dragged into court over it. You have others who are happy to just go with the more generic California sparkling wine. You have other regions that are now building their own sparking wine portfolios, and they have their own brand. It’s like champagne is, it’s really just a brand name, at this point. So, cava in Spain, prosecco in Italy is probably the best known.

This came up because I talked about yesterday, about how yields in cooler climate vineyard sites are often much lower than they are in warmer ones. The average sparkling wine is made in a cool climate vineyard site, and it’s stuff that just doesn’t get ripe normally. So, in California, we look at that, and most sparkling wine is made of pinot and chardonnay here, in the state of California. Those are planted in parts of the vineyard, or part of the state that’s not going to get ripe all the way, and they end up making a sparkling out of it, and that’s perfectly fine, and it works well.

I think the logical question that comes up then, next, is so what happens next? If California can’t produce anything, Washington’s pretty warm, and it’s not going to produce a lot, although I do think, I talked about some of the Puget Sound AVA stuff the other day, and perennial vintners. I think there’s a chance for folks like that to make a damn good sparkling wine in the western part of the state of Washington. Oregon obviously can do it, although they seem to be singularly pinot focused, perhaps to a fault.

You’re going to see other countries, in other regions, that are maybe not as necessarily normally wine-focused come into this marketplace. I think the Czech Republic’s a great example of this. They have a long history with fermentation sciences. They make some great beer, that’s to be sure, and they do have wine production facilities available. Really, when you talk to wine makers, they’ll tell you a couple of things. First, the important thing is not to learn to make wine. The important thing is to learn how to handle fermentation. When you have a large group of people that already know how to handle fermentation, then that gives you the opportunity to make quality wine.

So, I think you will see Czech Republic making wine. I think you’re going to see someone in South America, I don’t want to – I hesitate to try to guess exactly who it’s going to be – will start a sparkling wine program that $10 to $15 dollar a bottle sale in the United States, if not a little bit lower than that, and I think there will be other regions in eastern Europe that try to come into that market segment, too.

Once again, I just thought it was a little bit interesting, based on yesterday, coming and talking about what happens at a lower yielding vineyard site. The lower yield is good for high quality wine, but it does limit what you can put there, and what a winery could produce. That’s one of the reasons why sparkling wine isn’t made in the numbers in California that it is elsewhere, and that’s why we have a generic sparkling wine designation here in California, instead of cava, prosecco, or champagne, because they have a larger market segment [00:03:38], and they have more producers.

So, once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures, hope everybody’s having a good one.

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The Main Question To Ask During Harvest

It's Not Pinotage, but it's Pinot Noir and as close as I could get in Sonoma

Hi guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I haven’t done one of these in a while, but there’s a few reasons for that, not the least of which is that I was spending some time sourcing some wine up in the Pacific Northwest that you’ll see in the next coming months as part of wine club shipments.

So I thought, harvest is starting to ramp up. If you’re on any winery email list you’re likely getting an update or two from folks that I’ve spent time with and talked to in the last few days. There are some very early pickings of stuff coming in, of a Russian River based wine maker who’s picking some Trosseau Gris, or picked yesterday, some Tousson Gris out in Lodi. That would be about the earliest that you could ever expect anything to come in. I know there’s a Napa winery that I spoke with earlier this week that has some Sangiovese rose coming in on Thursday.

So you’re starting to see the ramp. It looks increasingly like this year the Sonoma folks are going to be absolutely slammed in the middle of September with Pinot grapes. Napa usually runs 10 days to two weeks or so behind them, and so you’re looking at a lot of Cabernet, and kind of other Syrah and stuff coming in to the valley probably at the beginning of October.

So we’ll have some fun content for that. We’re going to try to get up this week to a night pick. If you’re not familiar, often grapes, they want to have picked in the early morning hours before the heat gets to them. With warm temperatures that we’re having, that pushes it even earlier into the morning. Just to put this in perspective, the specific pick I’m talking about, they’re talking about a three to five AM start time, start to finish. So it’s just to put that in perspective what time we’re talking about when they say a night pick, it truly is in the middle of the night.

So I’m joined by a bottle of Pinot, so outside of the things that you’ll hear about harvest and how this is a great vintage, and this might be the best vintage ever and all kind of the normal kind of BS that goes in the industry, the other thing that you aren’t going to hear about is you’re going to not hear about the drought, and you’re going to hear about people saying, well, the drought’s gone, but when it comes to Pinot, and I think this is a good example of this, because this is Santa Lucia Highlands juice, that’s a reasonable price point, kind of in the mid 20 dollar range.

For Santa Lucia Highlands and for other kind of high class and well respected pinot destinations, why can’t they produce a wine for 20 bucks? Or 15, or 10, or whatever, pick your favorite price point. And the answer to that is partially going to be told during harvest. So Pinot by nature, especially in California is grown at the outside of kind of where the industry started. Cabernet took the kind of Cabernet, Merlot, Bordeaux varietals standard vineyard placements, and the stuff that was considered marginal and not quite perfect was where Pinto went in. And that’s worked out fine, because Pinot’s a cooler weather grape and California in large part vineyards and growers have kind of figured it out.

But when it comes to harvest, then you’re going to hear a second part to that. Yes, this marginal vineyard site that we love for Pinot and it’s perfect for Pinot, oh, but we actually don’t get that much fruit from it. And that’s actually the issue. If you grow a Cabernet on a good site, you can get even in Napa with controlling yields as much as you can, you probably get two to four tons per acre without having to try real hard. There are large swatches of Pinot Noir vineyards on some coast that they love to get four, I mean they would literally throw a parade. So that’s really the just of it and that’s why prices are higher for Pinot than others.

So when you’re reading about harvest and everyone’s telling you how great harvest is, there’s a couple of things to watch for. So first, watch when picks are actually happening. That’ll give you an idea about if it’s a warm or cool vintage before you hear all the kind of marketing hype that goes along with it. And then second, if anyone releases what their yield is, that’s incredibly important. In the wine industry, we often talk about acidity and tannins and all this stuff and really at the end of the day, the easiest way to tell about the quality of the wine is to ask how many grapes they get per acre, what’s the yield. And that’s really the main question and unfortunately for consumers, that’s one thing that’s not shared very often. I’ll tell you from experience, just walking through the average vineyard, you can really tell the difference.

So that’s a quick update, and we’ll get some more content up this weekend. I hope everybody’s having a good one so far.

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After Destemming: Sanviogese Rose

Sangiovese ready to be picked

It’s actually pretty amazing how quickly this happens.  A 6+ month growing season, with at least 6 passes by a professional vineyard management company, harvest starting at 4am, finishing up by 6am.  Then some generic cellar work and finally dropping the grapes into a series of destemming and crushing machines.

Out comes Sangiovese Rose less than 3 hours after the grapes were picked.

This will age for about 6 months before release, but when a winemaker tells you that 95% or 99% of the work happens in the vineyard, it’s especially true for Rose where winemakers are really only concerned with the color: note, this came out pretty much perfect with a single pass.

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Destemmer Part 3

Finally, we’re getting close.  As you can see, the vast, vast majority of the green parts of the vine have been removed.  Much of what’s being dropped are grapes, or some combo of grapes and grape juice.

The small amount of greenery that you still see will get trapped in a wide filter before the grapes are crushed as part of this process.

As you can see, this is a pretty darn efficient process.

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Destemming Part 2

So here’s the main point of the destemmer-removing as much non grape material as possible.

We talk a lot about tannins in the wine industry and I think people generally understand that tannins come largely from grape skins, jacks and the stems themselves.

What people generally don’t know though is that there are different types of tannins inherent in each of those categories. Tannins found on skins and within seeds of the fruit is generally gentler on your stomach because of their carbon structure than are those found in the stem.  That’s the real reason most wineries want to remove as much of this stuff as possible.

Here’s how much is removed and as you can see, technology has made this an incredibly efficient process.  It also helps to answer why the wine we drink today is actually better in terms of quality than what was produced in mass a generation or two ago.  Technology allows winemakers to follow through with what they’d like to do, like getting grapes completely destemmed.

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Destemming in Video: Part 1

Ready to Process Sangiovese Grapes

People often wonder how wineries separate the stems from the grapes.  After all, when winemakers choose to include stems and offer whole cluster fermentation, that’s something that’s talked about almost immediately. So it’s clearly not the normal way of doing things.

Destemming by hand is basically impossible.  To destemm a ton of grapes by hand, you’d need at least a week and perhaps longer.  In fact, I doubt you’d finish before fermentation organically began, or before your grapes went bad.

So here’s how the destemmer works in practice.  If you look at the right hand side of the video, you can barely see it, but there’s a 1 ton contained of freshly harvested Sangiovese being slowly dumped onto this conveyor belt.

That’s done to not overwhelm the machine which can process grapes only so quickly.

The grapes and stems are taken up the conveyor belt and then dropped into the destemmer in small groups, the size of a few handfuls.

In this case, the entire process of destemming about a ton of grapes takes about a half hour of work for a single winery employee.

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Last Summer Grenache

This isn't sand

Last Summer Grenache 2015

So Jennifer Bartz is a new name to pretty much everyone, plus this is Grenache so there’s that…..those that have been wine club members for a while understand my appreciation for the varietal, especially on California’s Central Coast.

A few things.  First, I thought the name was a good one.  Largely it makes me consider what we were doing as a family at this time last year, a crawling baby around the park and beach isn’t necessarily as much as it sounds.  Additionally, the bottle made me consider that summer’s suppose to be warm and the one thing that I am always reminded of living in the Bay Area, on this side of the hill in the east bay, near the Bay and the city of SF, it’s foggy and cold until 2pm or so when it finally burns off.  Growing up in San Diego, the utter lack of warm sun along with decent beaches, is something to deal with.  Of course, it’s also exasperating that so many in the Bay Area don’t realize how much worse their beaches are.  After all, this isn’t sand:

This isn't sandSo about this wine.  Yes, it’s Grenache and this fits quite a few stereotypes happening on the Central Coast.  There’s perhaps a few good reasons for it, but the Central Coast has long been home to a larger number of female winemakers than has the state as a whole.  Let’s be clear, the lack of women in winemaking jobs is a major issue that the industry needs to deal with, the utter lack of minorities is another major issue.  Frankly, having too many people with the same background doesn’t lead to the diversity of choices and flavor profiles from winemaking choices that many of us might like. To put the whole thing in perspective, about 10% of winemakers in California are female.  But, Santa Barbara, depending on whom you ask, is somewhere between 20-30%. Still too low of course, but it’s a start.

Some of this is changing of course.  UC Davis is the preeminent educational institution for winemakers.  Basically, it’s the entire Ivy League plus the University of California system added together on a single campus in terms of influence, or more. Tracking the number of female winemakers graduating from the program is one thing that we can do quite easily.  In the late 90’s, about a third of Davis grads were women.  Today it’s roughly half. There’s a lower division class where it’s two thirds-which roughly matches college underclassman in general these days-itself another item of concern for those of us with boys at home.

I think finding and educating new female winemakers is important in large part because of the Central Coast’s example.  In Santa Barbara they aren’t doing anything differently in terms of hiring, there’s no special programs to train female winemakers.  But, there’s a history of female winemakers in charge of important and newsworthy projects.  That becomes a recruiting tool of sorts and it’s a draw for other younger female winemakers that are interested in having a complete set of mentors, an important part of making wine.

Jenifer’s experience is another great point in the simplicity of bringing in more people, gives us better wine.  Each label has an image of something she’s seen while traveling.  She’s young and has lived an interesting life already. I doubt there’s many people walking around California these days that boast a degree in Cellular Biology, but whom taught meditation and have spent significant time learning the practice in India. 

Oh and for this vintage she made all of 5 barrels of wine.  That’s of course, not to damn much.  It’s also a nice reminder that finding this stuff before major critics does actually help.  Spectator is going to feature her in September, along with a 91 point score on this-making it quickly impossible to come by. Lastly, monthly wine club members will see a bottle of this Last Summer Grenache soon!

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Perennial Vintners: Bainbridge Island

Perennial Vintners

Washington State has produced a long line of internationally recognized companies over the years and Seattle shows it: Starbucks, Amazon and Microsoft all call the greater Seattle region home, as does much of the population in the state of Washington. Seattle has been one of the fastest growing cities in the country as a result.  Likewise, Washington boasts one of the fastest growing wine industries in the country as well, despite already being America’s second largest wine producer.

However, grapes aren’t grown much west of the Cascades where everyone lives.  Unlike most wine regions around the world and while there are tons of tasting rooms just north of Seattle……there are few in the city center, but even less grapes around the city.

All told, there’s maybe 50-100 acres of grapes growing in Washington State west of the Cascades.

There’s a good reason for that of course, it’s not so sunny on that side of the state.  You probably think much of Washington has weather like Seattle, but instead most of it has weather like the eastern portion of San Diego County, except with cold enough winters to give them snow (which accounts for the majority of their precipitation).

In Seattle and elsewhere, it’s damp, foggy and relatively cold for much of the year.

Grapes like Cabernet and Syrah won’t ripen there, not even close.  Hell, I was told that Pinot Noir despite ripening every year in Oregon, maybe ripens 4 or 5 times out of 7 on a small island just off Seattle called Bainbridge Island.

I found myself on Bainbridge after an Airbnb rental elsewhere went bad and my family wanted the few days by the beach we had planned. Bainbridge is an actual island and getting there requires either an hour or so drive across a handful of bridges north from Olympia, or taking the ferry from Seattle (yes, your car goes on as well).

The island itself is a pretty beautiful spot.  There are old growth forests and development has taken a measured look at the island thus far, there’s a walkable tourist downtown near the ferry.  All in all, it feels a lot like Coronado(Coronado is an island reachable by bridge and ferry from downtown San Diego, home to what might be the worlds best beaches), which is about as high of a compliment as I can give.

Although this was meant more of a recharge and relax vacation, more so than a business trip, I couldn’t help a few meetings along the way as well.

One such meeting was with Perennial Vintners.

On Brainbridge, there’s only two wineries growing grapes.  First, Bainbridge Vineyards has a handful of planted acres and have been there since the 70’s.  They also have a long and rich history that mirrors that of the island itself.  Home to the first of the Japanese Internment removals, Bainbridge honors that shameful time in American history and it’s something that vintners seem well aware of during normal conversations.

Perennial Vintners is kind of a misnomer.  Vintners implies that there’s multiple people working there and helping.  But really, Mike Lempiere is a one man show.  A former programmer turned winemaker he talked at length about some of the challenges he faces as a small winemaker and vineyard owner in a spot where people are just now trying to figure out what will ripen.

What will ripen is a major, major issue. One of the great parts about tasting at Perennial Vintners is that Mike plans to spend about an hour or so with every guest.  It’s the type of access that normal wine drinkers simply don’t get with many winemakers, especially not those like Mike that are working in major tourist regions.

One of the fascinating aspects of visiting Perennial Vintners is seeing the estate vineyard. In California we take that concept for granted in large part, many dream of buying a slice of land, planting a vineyard and eventually making some wine.

In Washington though, the setup has largely been different, albeit it is beginning to change.  In Walla Walla, Red Mountain and elsewhere land is still relatively cheap by major wine country standards and it’s a heck of a lot easier to have one of the many professional farmers handle grape growing for you.  That’s the setup for most wineries in Washington. Again, Perennial Vintners is different because this is Bainbridge.

Mike’s trying to figure out what works in his one acre section of the island and for lack of a better term, he’s flying by the seat of his pants, with his own economic future at risk.

He’s tried Pinot Noir, but it won’t always ripen through the cloud cover that pervades at least 9 months at year on the Pudget Sound.  Because of American appetites for red wines, he was stuck trying to find something that would ripen.

Zweigelt at Perennial Vintners

It seems he’s largely settled on what might be the most obscure wine made in America today: Zweigelt.

Haven’t heard of it?  Either had I before running into a winemaker in California’s extreme coastal Mendocino that sources it from a vineyard called Trail Marker.  The climates are incredibly similar and while most in the wine industry would say these are sites that are slightly outside of the standard growing areas that we look for, they’re beyond marginal.  So marginal in fact that on Bainbridge or in coastal Mendocino, you’re stuck planting grapes like Zweigelt which ripens a few weeks earlier than Pinot Noir, despite producing a dark and rich wine that American palates crave.  It’s literally a perfect fit for Bainbridge, but you have to educate consumers that yes, Zweigelt is a grape that makes wine, before selling them anything.  Plus, American wine consumers have a long and complicated history, largely centered on avoidance, with grapes they cannot easily pronounce…..see: Riesling sales for an example.

So how did Mike come onto Zweigelt? He tested.  Unlike planting say a vineyard in Paso Robles, there isn’t a best practices guide.  He uses a small set of the 1 acre parcel he has for grapes to see what will ripen.  As he walks you through, you get a good sense of the issues at play.  Some of the remaining Pinot vines look fine.  Others look like dwarves.

The white wine side of the aisle at Perennial Vintners is a ways further along.  Like the red wine side of the ledger, Mike had to experiment quite a bit before landing on something that worked.  Pinot Gris was attempted and discarded.  As was Castor.

Think your eyes are bulging at new names yet….the two winners on the white wine side turned out to be Siegerrebe and Muscadet.  Ok, so he can’t call it Muscadet so it’s technically Melon de Bourgogne.

Siegerrebe is a German wine grape that has gained at least some sort of foothold in the Puget Sound AVA, which includes Bainbridge.  Whidbey Island Winery produces one and I’m told there are a few others floating around during most vintages. Siegerrebe often reflects the flavor of a pear, something different than the green apple you might be accustomed to in regard to cooler climate sites.

For my money though, Melon de Bourgogne is the star of the show at Perennial Vintners.  Highly acidic with more fruit than I’m accustomed to in the varietal when it comes from France (basically it comes from the Loire Valley, perhaps France’s coldest vineyard space).

Given the location on Bainbridge and the natural bounty that comes from the island and the surrounding seas of the Puget Sound, this is literally perfect.  Melon de Bourgogne is known to pair incredibly well with seafood in large part because it’s almost all acidity and acts almost like an aperitif in every taste.

The region is known for fish, crab, clams and more.  In fact a trip down to the rocky seashore let my kids (and to be honest myself and my wife as well) see something we’d never seen before. Clams spitting water into the air as the tide went out.

Having a highly acidic white that pairs perfectly with them is exactly why you should be spending time when you’re looking for wine when traveling-finding the small spots like Perennial Vintners.

(Yes, he grows some hops for a friend to make beer)

I spent some time asking Mike about what he’s working on, what he’s hoping to accomplish at a winery that is currently producing about 700 cases of wine per year.  He showed me an old patch of forest right above his tasting room/production facility.  It’s about an acre and he’d love to take the forest out and get grapes into the ground.  Luckily, grape growing is considered agricultural and fits with many of the requirements on the island.  But even cutting down trees for firewood to sell can be an expensive proposition, so he’s saving.  This is the state of small, family owned and owner-operated wineries in America.  There’s always a  push and pull between what’s possible financially vs what you’d do in an ideal world.

Plenty of folks can source fruit from the eastern part of Washington and truck it closer to where people live.  I have no issue with that whatsoever, urban tasting rooms aren’t a fad, they’re good business and they move the industry forward.

But, the part of the industry that everyone loves?  It’s the small winemaker trying to do something himself.  Trying to do something different.  It’s someone with a different perspective.  It’s someone willing to take chances that others simply will not.

Those are exactly the types of winemakers I want to support as part of my wine club.  As a consumer, the next time you find yourself in Seattle-take the ferry to Bainbridge Island.  It’s a gorgeous 35 minute ride from the time you step on until the second you step off.  Then find your way to Perennial Vintners and spend an hour with Mike.  You’ll enjoy the type of access that went out of the wine industry in the 1970’s in most spots in America.  You’ll also learn more about wine and entrepreneurship in that hour that you would doing anything else. If you hit the tasting room at the right  time, you’ll see something fermenting.  For me, it was a raspberry wine.  If you’ve never seen fermentation happening, smelled it and felt it.  It’s a fun part of visiting a real, working winery and not a stuffy tasting room.

Lastly, the wine is damn good.

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Myka Cellars Pinot Noir Central Coast 2014

Tondre Wines on the Central Coast of California

A month or so back, my wine club members received this Myka Cellars Pinot Noir Central Coast 2014

I’ve worked with winemaker Mica Ross a few times over the past couple of years, so I’ll let you in on some of the background before going any further.

First, Myka is a negociant.  That’s a label that’s really not thought of as a good thing often in California, which interestingly, is the opposite of what the general perception of it happens to be where the term was coined, in France.

I’ve talked about negociant style wines and how some vintages support their style of winemaking more so than others, but really it’s regionally focused as much as anything.  One of the reasons we don’t have more negociants here in America is that our most famous wine region, doesn’t produce enough wine to create any real secondary market. Napa Valley has a series of rules and regulations that simply don’t allow for anyone to over produce.

Myka is a bit different than many negociants as well.  Instead of looking for finished juice that cannot be sold, he looks for partially finished juice that he can blend.

That blending is a very, real skill. It’s also why you often end up with wines like this one from Myka Cellars: it’s labeled as the Central Coast AVA.

If you aren’t familiar, the Central Coast AVA is one of the largest in the state and in my opinion, tells you little about the wine in your glass. As an example, if you step foot one foot south of San Francisco Bay, that’s pretty much where the Central Coast AVA begins.  It runs south through the Santa Cruz Mountains, Paso Robles, Monterey, San Luis Obispo and finally ending as you pass through Santa Barbara and end up in Ventura.  If you’re scoring at home, driving that along the 101 takes about 5 hours in total, without traffic.

It’s a damn massive region.

In any case, if you’re interested in making wine from partially finished juice-you could theoretically grab some juice from Monterey for the acidity, some from Santa Barbara for the structure and finish with some from Santa Cruz for the broodishness. I don’t know where the component parts came from for this wine, but I do know that the Central Coast AVA designation does tell us something.  That something basically is that multiple regions are being put together because if I’m being honest, no one uses the wider Central Coast AVA designation if they don’t need to.

One more interesting part to this story. If you happen to live in London, you’d likely be more able to find this wine than we are here in California.  The story behind that is interesting and better told elsewhere than this space, but suffice to say that exporting wine has been good to the winery.

I’ve talked a lot in my blog space about the struggle for California vintners to hit that magical $15-$25 price point.  I should delve into it a bit here, which also I think helps to explain why more negociants would be good for the wine industry here in California.

First, let’s assume that we’re going to receive 4 tons per acre.  Some higher end vineyards get something closer to 2 tons (ancient vines, those over 100 years old might get a single ton) and the hot central valley likely gets 10 tons.  But, 4 tons is a pretty good bet for a Central Coast vineyard from which people are trying to craft quality grapes.

To plant that vineyard, it’ll cost you about $50,000 per acre to get that done. That’s spread over the course of 5 years and as you might expect, is the heaviest in year 1 (approximately 40% of the total investment).

Moving forward, vintners assume that if they’re doing basically zero work, it’ll cost them $8,000 per acre to farm, at an absolute minimum. Unfortunately, that’s largely driven by the price for water these days-another notch in the belt for dry farming.

Those 4 tons of fruit being produced on the property, in essence gives you 240 cases, or 2,880 bottles of wine.

So just the single year farming costs adds $2.78 to start. Let’s call it a $1 per bottle to service the debt on the initial costs. The cost of the bottle, cork, some of the other winemaking tools and more adds another $1.50.

I know what you’re thinking: that’s not getting us anywhere toward $20 yet.  I should also mention that the distributor that helps the winery sell the wine, pays only half of retail.  So the winery is only bringing in $10 per bottle-but we already have $5.28 in costs.

We haven’t talked about that single largest impediment toward hitting our price point: the cost of the vineyard land in the first place.

To hit our price point here, we’d need the land to be under $100,000 per acre to even consider it.  Again, that’s why we’re looking only at the Central Coast, you can’t touch anything in Napa or Sonoma for anything close to that.