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Santa Barbara Mudslides

Santa Barbara's Coastline

The mudslides in Santa Barbara County have been pretty tragic, people have been killed, others were buried alive.  Many lost homes. Since this is a wine site though, here’s some information on the wine industry impact.

Video Transcription:

Hi, Mark Aselstine, with Uncorked Ventures. No bottle of wine as prop today.

Mostly everyone’s been aware California went through another big slate of wildfires over the summer, both in Napa and Sonoma, and then more recently in southern California and on the central coast.

We now, what actually usually happens in California after wildfires is mudslides, and that’s what’s happening. Just south of Santa Barbara there’s two towns: one, Montecito, which is getting 99% of the national attention for probably logical reasons. Oprah lives there. There’s a number of other 20 plus million dollar properties. If you can think of the nicest neighborhood you’ve ever seen in your life, including those in London or Paris, and then you pick it up and transport it and drop it on what people call the American Rivera, you get some idea of what the price point is likely to be.

In any case, mudslides … There’s another small town called Summerland. As you leave the city of Santa Barbara, not the county, but the actual city, downtown Santa Barbara that you see in the pictures, and you go south, the 101 snakes almost right along the coast and you get these small towns dotted on either side of the 101, some of which are only a few thousand people really tucked between the freeway and a couple hundred yards before the surf hits. It’s a really dangerous area if there are mudslides, which there are right now, so it’s definitely a tragic situation when this kind of stuff happens and you have multiple people killed, and, obviously, many, many homes destroyed.

Since this is a wine site, we should give you the wine spiel. This won’t affect the wine industry at all. Most of Santa Barbara grape production is centered to the north of the city of Santa Barbara, northeast. If you’re talking about Los Olivos, Valor, Canyon, all that kind of stuff. To the south, really what you’re talking about is these small coastal enclaves being, really, some of the cheapest areas in the state to live if you want to live right on the beach anywhere, unless you’re going way north, past San Francisco. You get these people that really commute into Santa Barbara, or even others that commute the 90 miles down south to L.A., if they don’t have to drive it every day. It’s kind of a tragic situation, because you have some people that are really eking out what is a middle class existence in one of the most expensive areas of the state to live, and then they’re hit with this natural disaster, which really has cut them off from much of the rest of the state, which is really different, specifically, for these places.

Wine wise, nothing to be concerned about. There’s not really anything wine related south of the city of Santa Barbara until you start hitting more into Ventura, and even then it’s only a handful of wineries that are based down there. If this was during harvest, you might have some concern about getting grapes back and forth, but there are alternatives inland, even if they’re much further inland, you can still access them, so this really is a human tragedy story, not an issue with wineries, or not really even for people working at wineries, because if you work in a winery or work in a vineyard, you would live northeast, where it was cheaper.

I guess, good news, terrible news in that scenario. My heart goes out to everybody in Santa Barbara. I know it’s a really tough situation right now.

Once again, Mark Aselstine for Uncorked Ventures, hope everybody’s having a good one.

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Oro En Paz Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon

Oro En Paz Cabernet Sauvignon

Sonoma winemakers who don’t focus on Pinot Noir, have a tough go of it.  When you think of Sonoma, Pinot’s foremost in your thoughts right?  What if you make Cabernet Sauvignon? Don’t most consumers think that Napa Valley makes better wine than you do, without question? It’s not necessarily true

Video Transcription:

Hi, everybody. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I’m gonna hold this up so you can get a good look at it. So this is Oro En Paz. Oro En Paz, I think, is important for a couple reasons. Let’s start with the winery itself. If you read the back, it says that this wine was produced in the city and county of San Francisco. If you’re not familiar, yes, it’s one of the few cities in the United States that those are actually exactly the same thing. The Bay Area unlike say Los Angeles, Los Angeles is actually a larger geographic region and one county is much the same. A huge geographic region that would take you hours to drive through one county. In the Bay Area, 13 counties make up about the same amount of space.

That’s why some stuff like funding public transit is a little bit more complicated up here even though they seem to get it done. So Oro En Paz made in San Francisco although not what you’re thinking of as San Francisco. As you drive through the East Bay, so if you think about the Bay Bridge, if you know San Francisco it kind of attaches down into the peninsula down in the Silicon Valley to the south. If you go north, you go across the Golden Gate up into wine country. You can go directly east and directly east takes you slightly southeast brings you to Oakland slightly northeast brings you to Berkeley and pretty much to our house.

About halfway across you hit something called Treasure Island. It was Yerba Buena Island for awhile, they landfilled part of it in. They had a bunch of stuff built there for World’s Fair back in the ’30s and now they’ve kind of been fumbling around with what to do with it. They’ve talked about building teacher housing because it’s so expensive to live in the city, blah, blah, blah. You get the idea. It’s kind of this interesting region where there’s not that many people there. There’s maybe only 2,000 residents. It’s a absolutely gorgeous piece of property and they’re only gonna get to do this once so they’ve been taking their time probably to a fault at this point.

Oro En Paz Cabernet Sauvignon Back LabelAnyway, so there’s this small collective winery there and there’s six or seven wine labels that are made on site. It’s one way that you get an urban wine concept in the city of San Francisco which is getting increasingly difficult to do. That’s Oro En Paz. I thought this was interesting because it is Sonoma Cabernet. If you think about wine country in Northern California you think of Cabernet and you’re thinking of Napa but in reality Sonoma, you know, although Pinot plantings on the red wine side have far surpassed anything else that’s there it’s maybe 3x what the second place finisher is which actually is Cabernet or Zinfandel depending on who you ask and what year you’re looking at.

For a long time winemakers looked at Sonoma and they said, “Well, we can get 90% of the quality of Napa perhaps, especially in the more mountainous regions where you can add a little altitude. You’re getting more heat, more altitude and possibly more acidity because you’re a little bit closer to the coast and to the bays.” So there’s that. They kind of looked at Sonoma as a way that you could kind of maybe cheat a little bit as far as making something that approached Napa Cabernet for a fraction of the price. I think that’s what Oro En Paz has done here. You’re talking about a $40 or so bottle of wine that if it was made on the other side of the Mayacamas mountains might cost twice that. Once again, another urban winery concept definitely the wave of the future. There’s two things happening at the same time.

First, winemakers are getting more aggressive about starting their own labels. It’s expensive though. You can’t afford to do everything in your own facility so you’re seeing the rise of more custom crush. You’re seeing the rise of more kind of shared facilities which it’s like this on Treasure Island but you’re also seeing those facilities instead of being based in wine country so you can get the grapes that are very quickly during harvest, you’re seeing those picked up and moved into urban areas. The reason, as you might expect is consumers live in urban areas and it’s a hell of a lot easier to bring the grapes in once a year than it is to deal with getting the consumers there. Then lastly, Sonoma Cabernet is totally a thing and it’s something that probably people should pay more attention to. It’s something that we’re gonna explore this year with the various wine clubs. So once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. Hope everybody’s having a good week so far.  Lastly a bit of bookeeping, anyone in either of our red wine clubs will see this wine show up in a future shipment.

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Corporate Gifts by Uncorked Ventures

I’ve been working for quite some time on redesigning our corporate gifts page. One fun part about owning an ecommerce store in January is that I can do quite a bit more of this kind of stuff. Here’s an intro to buying a corporate gift from Uncorked Ventures.

Thanks for finding the Uncorked Ventures Corporate Gifts page. My name’s Mark Aselstine. I’m the founder and, if you’ll allow me to use a wine term, proprietor of Uncorked Ventures. That simply means that I’m involved in the day to day operations. In this case, it means I’m probably packing a lot of the boxes that are going out and handling most of the orders.

You came here looking for corporate gifts. We’ve done a number of these, from, say, small hotel management companies outside of Jackson, Wyoming, to Airbnb sending gift baskets to early stage investors. I know that you probably had a look around in the site. We do a range of gift baskets. We do a range of wine clubs. I just wanted to take a moment and say thank you for considering us.

But then also, I know most corporate gifts come with some specific budget or something in mind. Our off-the-shelf offerings don’t always perfectly align to what those are. My really point of this intro is saying is if you have something in mind and we don’t have something that’s perfect for it, please email me. I’m happy to put something together special for you or with your requirements in mind.

That might be a pared-down gift basket. That might be a gift basket with more wine. That might be a specific type of wine club with only wines. Say we do a law firm here in the city of San Francisco and they only want wines made in San Francisco for their San Francisco clients. That’s all stuff that we’ve done before. I’m happy to put something together custom for you.

The other thing that we can do, we can send you a link to an Excel spreadsheet and you get to fill in all of your information there. It will save you a bunch of time from trying to order one-offs on the website. Once again, my name’s Mark Aselstine. I’m the founder and owner of Uncorked Ventures. I appreciate you considering us for your corporate gift business. Please have a look around.

If you have any questions, please, my direct line is just Not trying to be hard to find in this case at all, and I do appreciate the business and hope that answered some of your basic questions. Thanks again.

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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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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.