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What Is Bottle Shock?

Wine D2C Sales

Ok, so there was a rather fun movie by the same name…..but Bottle shock is a major concern for wine consumers across the country.

Let’s start with the basics, Bottle Shock is generally thought of as a negative condition that happens when the wine inside a bottle is moved around, a lot.

The first time this happens is when a wine is initially bottled.  It also will subsequently happen when the wine is shipped.

Over the years, consumers haven’t worried about bottle shock all that much.  After all, when the wine industry only existed in a 3 tier setup, why care all that much about the wine being moved in transit from the winery to a distributor to your local retailer? After all, it’s going to take the retailer a couple of days to get the wine displayed and then often a couple of months to get it sold, so there’s plenty of time for the wine to settle.

Then, this started to happen within the wine industry:

Wine D2C SalesLet’s also remember that 98% of wine is consumed within 48 hours of hitting your front door and consumers, should actually care about such a basic question as what is bottle shock? Increasingly, it seems so….but in reality given how people consume wine in America….no.

If I were an average consumer, without a rather large cellar I wouldn’t be at all concerned with bottle shock.

I find a couple of things in practice.  First, after a day or two of bottling, a wine seems pretty much the same as it was in barrel.  I have a ton more experience with this situation than the second.

Secondly, for wines that are shipped, younger wines seem fine.  In fact, if temperature was a concern, it’s often preferable to drink younger rather than older.

For aged wines that are shipped (people do not normally do this, for a reason) your real concern isn’t necessarily some nebulous expression of bottle shock, but really sentiment floating around the bottle.

So what is bottle shock?  It’s a general lessening in quality of a wine for a short period of time after it was transported.

More importantly, should you, as a consumer, be concerned about bottle shock: Nope.  Not at all.

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Can Wine Pick Up Tastes From Neighboring Plantings?

Eucalyptus Trees

Every so often this comes up here in California. Can wine take on flavors from things that are planted in close proximity? Does it matter what your neighbor is growing if you’re trying to grow wine grapes?

For the most part, it doesn’t.  But there are a few cases where it just might on some level.

Here’s the one classic example where it does matter.

Normally that example is in regard to eucalyptus, although there’s a spot in Sonoma that deals with the same questions in regard to lavender.

So can wine pick up some taste from plants that are planted in close proximity?

It’s not as insane as it sounds at first blush.

Back to my eucalyptus example, there actually has been quite a lot of research done in that regard. The reason is that eucalyptus grows freely in California, native to Australia, it doesn’t need extra water and grows to at least 50 feet pretty quickly.  As anyone with close by neighbors can tell you, eucalyptus trees block the wind and prying eyes quite well and quickly after planting.

So growers have planted more eucalyptus than they might care to admit.

The funny part? Eucalyptus has an oil that comes from the leaves, that seems to attach itself to wine grape skins. I’ve heard Wine Entusiast and a few winemakers refer to something along the lines of MOG (Matter Other Grapes) in regard to anything like this that gets added to fermentation.

For many folks, that’s a major issue (and yes, I am including yeast in this).  For others?  This is a sense of place?  It’s why winemakers want to have a conversation with you.  It’s why they want you to understand where the grapes were actually grown.

In any case, when we ask about other plantings transferring anything to your wine, we need to break the question down a bit further.  Can what’s planted effect the grape vine roots?  In this case, eucalyptus would be far enough away and have roots deep enough to not be a concern.

Can what’s planted transfer anything to the wine itself?  This is a lot harder.  Sure, some chemical compounds will transfer.  But, we don’t know what those are of yet.

As an example, there’s a ton of almond fields close to wine grapes, without anyone ever thinking that anything is transferred.

What I’d love to do, is ask winemakers on a wide scale, crowd source the answer.  Does anything close to your vineyards transfer to your wine?

We might, as an industry be surprised at the responses that we receive.

Having tried a Sauvignon Blanc that tasted like a lavender bloom, I can’t say no.

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What Does Domaine Mean?

So we typically see the term Domaine associated with wineries in France, specifically Burgundy.

Domaine is a French term, meaning territory.

You’ll sometimes see the term Domaine and the term Cheateau, also a French term of course, means something akin to a castle, or a country home used interchangably.  Even in France, home to some of the world’s most stringent wine laws, there isn’t a legal definition to either term.

I find the entire history of the term Domaine and Chateau interesting, in large part because in France the location of your vineyard and your winery are often one and the same.  There really shouldn’t be a huge difference in the two terms, other than slightly different histories and cultural connotations in parts of France.

So, when you see Domaine on a wine label, either here in California or abroad (yes, Domaine is typically used in France, but it does show up elsewhere, like South Africa), it doesn’t mean anything which is unfortunate because this is one spot where we might be able to convey some information for people actually buying the wine.

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What is a Garagiste?

what is a garagiste?

Ok, so this is a fun one.  What is a garagiste?

Garagiste, is a French term and is generally accepted to mean something along the lines of being a home winemaker. Over the years, the term Gargiste has taken on a slightly different meaning here in America.  Instead of simply a home winemaker, Gargiste has come to include those who make wine commercially, but in very small amounts.

New winemakers, making only a few hundred, or a thousand (or several thousand) cases a year are largely considered Garagistes, even if they’re making wine at a custom crush, or in some other rented space agreement.

There’s a few festivals featuring Garagistes around the country and if they’re a near tasting, they are well worth a visit.

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What is a Super Tuscan?

Italy

It’ll come up every so often, what is a Super Tuscan?

A Super Tuscan at it’s core, is simply a blend between an Italian varietal and an international one.  As an example, a Super Tuscan can be a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon.  In Italy there is a long history of Super Tuscan blends, dating to the early 1970’s.

The entire idea of a Super Tuscan came about because Italian winemakers were struggling to gain acceptance for their wines, in part of because they hadn’t yet adopted large scale, modern winemaking techniques, but also because Americans and other wine consumers across the world weren’t accustomed to their local varieties. Local winemakers also were struggling with how to deal with some archaic local rules and regulations which instructed them to blend Sangiovese with a small amount of white wine, to make Chianti. They wanted to do something different, something better, thus was born the concept of a Super Tuscan.

Much like the Portugese and Spanish to this day, Italians have long eschewed planting only international varietals like Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah.  Instead, they’ve focused on grapes that have grown in Italy for millennia, like Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Barbera and Aglianico.

The solution? Give consumers something that seems familiar, yet allows vintners and growers to keep their local grapes.

So what’s a Super Tuscan? It’s a blend of an Italian wine varietal and an international name that sounds more familiar.

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How Much Wine From a Grape Vine?

Generic Grape VIne

It’s a question that comes up from time to time, maybe mostly in the home winemaking community, but also from those wondering how many acres they really are going to need.  So how much wine comes from a grape vine?

So first, this is an impossible question to answer without one other one answered first.  How much yield are you expecting? Yield is the amount of fruit being grown by each vine.  For some examples, old vine Zinfandel get maybe a ton per acre.  Napa Valley and other high end regions limit yield to about 2 tons per acre.  Newer less expensive vineyards on California’s Central Coast produce something along the lines of 4 tons per acre.  Lastly, if you’re making bulk wine in California’s Central Valley, you might get 10 tons per acre.

So there are 2,000 pounds in a ton.  You’ll reasonably be able to plant somewhere along the lines of 200 vines in an acre. It takes about 2.5 pounds of grapes to produce a bottle of wine.

There’s some math involved, but generally each grape vine is going to produce all of 4 bottles of wine per year for a vineyard producing about 2 tons per acre.

The issue as you can probably see is that to produce a barrel of wine each vintage, you’ll need something along the lines of 75 grape vines, or about a third of an acre.

That puts the 5,000 square foot lot I live on in some perspective.

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What Does Claret Mean?

Pouring a Claret

I’ve got a Claret going out to my Explorations Wine Club customers this month, so this seemed like a good time to answer one question that does come up from time to time, what does Claret mean?

Claret is a very British term for the wines of Bordeaux.  Or at least it was, originally.  There’s no legal definition here in America (or elsewhere that I am aware of) but that general guideline has continued: for most within the wine trade, a Claret is a wine made from the Bordeaux varietals. Other people think that’s pretty much exactly what Meritage means (they’re correct) so the term Claret should include a wider variety of wines than that definition allows.

Some will tell you that a Claret can be a blend of any red wine grapes.

So, there’s no real definition or even any agreement on what’s proper for the Claret term.  But, when you find Claret on a label there are certain assumptions here in America.  Almost always the wine in question will in fact be a Meritage and will almost universally be Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot focused.  As an example, I cannot imagine an American winemaker using the term Claret for a GSM blend.

Lastly, if you’re wondering why British wine merchants were able to craft a name for wine blends, mostly made in France the story is pretty simple.  For quite some time, you know those years when the sun never set on the British Empire, London was the financial and cultural center of the world.  Or Paris was.  Either way, Bordeaux wines had the ability to reach either of those spots quite easily and the British traded wines from Bordeaux and all of France all over the world and in sufficient quantities to come up with their own jargon.  Claret is one of those terms that has survived to the present day.

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How Long Does Wine Last By Using a Vacuum Pump?

Comptche Vineyard Pinot Noir bottles & corks

So I think many of us have seen these before, vacuum pumps for wine.

VacuVin is consistently thought of, as one of the best options on the market, which is cool for about $10.

The idea is pretty simple, you use a small hand pump, to remove oxygen from the bottle after a glass or two is gone.

From personal experience, this does seem to work better than not pumping the bottle and also better than simply returning the cork.  It’s not as good as Corvain or more expensive solutions that inject gas, or keep the cork intact though.

So how long does wine last by using a vacuum pump?  I think after a day you only notice a small change in the quality (yes, it is worse though) and on the 2nd day, there’s a pretty major deterioration.

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What is Noble Rot?

Bordeaux Releases its 2015 Vintage in SF

It’s come up in this space before (I wrote about What is Botrytis? a while back) but I thought to circle back here, I missed something when I wrote that back in the day.

Today I had the opportunity to attend the release of the 2015 vintage of Bordeaux and yes, it’s about as cool as any wine event can possibly be.  But, there were a small handful of producers from Sauternes in the room.  Of the 90 wineries in attendance, only 4 were from Sauternes, but our filming has some specific requirements-namely the need to hear someone talking, so corner tables are important and Sauternes and its producers were in then corner of the room-so we had a chance to talk.

A lady from one of the wineries talked at length about how the warm sun in the afternoon helps to ensure that they get noble rot, instead of a different form of grey rot, that would create, undrinkable grape juice that gets poured down the drain, instead of wine sold for well over $50 a bottle on average.

In any case, great event in San Francisco and there’s a few more interesting tidbits that came up today as well.

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So About That Weather On The East Coast

bomb cyclone thanks CNN

I’ve had a number of questions in this regard, but yes, I delayed wine club shipments this past 10 days or so due to weather on the east coast.

As you might expect, when the national news leads with a story on how bad the weather is and how cold it is on the east coast, it gives me pause. I mean, they made up an entirely new name for the state of the weather, Bomb Cyclone.

Cold weather, much like hot weather, doesn’t do anything good for wine.  Think about when you leave a can of soda in your freezer, the liquid expands right?  While wine doesn’t do the exact same thing, corks tend to leak in cold weather just like they do in warm weather.

I’ve had any number of shipments ruined over the years, it’s actually a lot less than most people think.  I can’t put a percentage on it, but it’s less than the amount of wine gift baskets broken by the shipping guys tossing them around like they’re stuffed animals.  People normally do call and ask about shipping in warm weather, but in cold? Nobody has been taught to ask, which is unfortunate because you simply cannot count on a common carrier to keep the wine in some type of reasonable temperature controlled facility, or truck.  Especially if the wine is spending the weekend somewhere.

Anyway, wine’s leaving shortly!