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Pinotage Fair Valley Wine from South Africa

Pinotage from South Africa

Pinotage might be the most misunderstood grape on the planet. Here’s some more information on the grape, where it came from, its history and why it hasn’t grown, maybe more importantly, why it might.

Video Transcription:

Hi All. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I’m going to hold this up so you can get a decent look at it, although we’ll add a picture or two along the route too. This is a Fairvalley wine and it’s South African in origin, although I don’t think that’s the most interesting thing. I think by far the most interesting thing about this is the fact that it’s a Pinotage. There’s about 40 acres or so of this stuff in California, so you’ve probably never had one unless you’re a little bit more adventurous.

So, the quick background on Pinotage. It is a native grape to South Africa. We can go into the history of South Africa, Apartheid, much of the longer form history of South Africa is fairly tragic, or very tragic actually in the way that people were treated, of course. One of the offshoots of colonization in South Africa is that you had a group of European settlers that came to a different kind of region than they were accustomed to, and they wanted to grow their own wine grapes because it was hard to get stuff down to South Africa from France, as an example. And they tried a whole bunch of different stuff. They tried Pinot, it didn’t work. It over ripened and produced crappy grapes. They tried Cabernet it didn’t really work, et cetera, et cetera, down the list. So in the mid-1920s they end up actually creating a grape and Pinotage is that grape.

It’s a combination of Pinot noir with Cinsaut. You add Cinsaut to Pinot noir and the idea is that the Cinsaut, which ripens at much, much warmer temperatures would create something that could actually grow. So, in any case, excuse me, my allergies are just killing me right now … So, Pinotage. People don’t really like it all that much. The South Africans tried to build their wine industry on it for an awfully long time, it actually didn’t go very well. There was points in time when it was 20% or so production. It has fallen way back, it’s now 7%. If you talk to South African vintners and to sales organizations in the country, they’ll tell you that it’s a third or fourth down the list.

Fair Valley South Africa PinotagePeople that drink a lot of wine will search it out because it’s different, it’s unusual, it’s unique. But they’re much more focused on Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. And so I think it’s a good long term play for South Africa as a wine growing region to continue making Pinotage, but when you have a grape where one of the most common flavors leads people to … A lot of people when they drink Pinotage it reminds them a lot of Pinot noir and as far as mouth feel and density, but then they get this kind of off, kind of dark, earthy, leathery finish that people don’t especially like. If you’re not accustomed to it and not expecting it it’s something that can be a turnoff. I think that’s one of the reasons why the grape didn’t have the huge growth.

The interesting thing is, for us in California, is that we’re seeing no increase in plantings and almost every single acre of the stuff goes to the same winery. There’s probably maybe only 10 producers in the entire state. They’re centered in Lodi, which is interesting. Weather-wise that’s probably closest to what you get in the Western Cape in South Africa. But people are actually starting to think, “Hey, maybe we could grow this and what if we put it in a cooler climate growing region, because it is just as much Pinot as Cinsaut, and what might the end result be?” Fort Ross is one winery that’s doing that and we’re going to explore that a little bit more in the coming days and weeks.

So, South African Pinotage, Fairvalley, it’s a cool story the winery itself. It’s something of a farmer cooperative and this is, if I’m being honest, this is a great example of Pinotage. It hits all the high points and all the classic flavor combinations and the average density that you see. [inaudible 00:03:54] countries we actually worked with South African wine importer when our Explorations Wine Club used to be global instead of just west coast states, and we actually did quite a few of these. And people just don’t know quite what to make of it, so it’s interesting. But yeah, so you should be able to find a Fairvalley Pinotage somewhere close to you and I hope that that was a good intro. Thanks again.

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Intro Video: Last Summer Grenache 2016

Last Summer Grenache 2016 Back Label

An ongoing favorite, both in terms of the varietal, but also because the wine is just so damn good.  Plus, it’s nice to continue supporting a young winemaker attempting to make a name for herself.  Here’s a video intro for the Last Summer Grenache that’s in some of your wine club shipments this month. Added bonus if you recognize where the quote on the back came from.

Video Transcription:

Hi, everyone. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. So I’m going to hold this up so you can get a good look at it. This is a Last Summer Grenache. So if you’re a Special Selections Wine Club member, this is showing up here in early to mid-March. I think when you open this up, you’re going to notice a few things.

First, it is 100% Grenache. It’s from the Central Coast. The Wine Club newsletter this month goes into some detail about the vineyard location and that kind of stuff, so I don’t wanna rehash here. But you are getting a very cool climate Grenache that, in a lot of ways, is probably going to remind you a bit of Pinot.
I’ve talked a lot about Grenache. It’s one of my favorite varietals, and it’s one of my favorites because you get this wide range of possibilities. You know, if it’s planted in warm climates you get this kind of thinner, more tannic version that you might be more familiar with, like in a GSM blend from southern France where it’s pretty warm.

This is acidic. It’s dark. It’s almost kind of brooding compared to the varietal. And that’s almost counter-intuitive, but the longer growing season that you get from cooler climates often leads to darker wine. And also, there’s a second part of that which is, typically, longer growing seasons tend to come with terrible soil. Like, truly terrible soil. We all joke in the wine industry that bad soil makes for better wine, but if you go to large parts of Monterey, or in this part, kind of in the valley San Luis Obispo County, you get this almost sand-like stuff where you’re comfortable walking around in flip-flops. It’s some place that you don’t want to grow a vegetable garden, but that they grow wine grapes. And that’s kind of the end result.

So, in any case, this is Last Summer Grenache, and I think there’s one other point to look at really quickly. Jennifer Bartz, she’s obviously a very, very talented winemaker. Very few people put out Grenache of all varietals and end up with multiple 90-point scores in their first vintages. She has a perspective, and her perspective is worth telling.

This is kind of one of the problems with the industry as it stands right now, is there’s often too many people that look like me that are making wine, around my age, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. We need more younger winemakers. We need more female winemakers of all ages. The Central Coast has long been home to the largest female winemaking population in the United States. About 25% of winemakers on the Central Coast are women. The state as a whole, it’s about 10%. Oregon does a little bit better in that regard. I believe Washington does a little bit worse, but it’s about 10%.

A lot of winemaking programs are now, like most college programs of any type outside of the hard-core engineering and sciences, two-thirds women on average. And those jobs will eventually trickle down into smaller wineries like this, but in reality what happens is that if you go to Davis and you get a viticulture degree, you get a job with a standard paycheck and health insurance and the whole nine yards. You’re not doing what she’s doing here, which is building something on your own. Because you don’t have to. You can get a job at a real winery that already exists and has probably existed for a long time.

So, in any case Last Summer Grenache, I really, really love this wine. This is kind of something that we would serve at Easter or at Christmas, and it pairs well with a lot of stuff. You can almost think of this as a Pinot, in terms of what you can pair it with. And that’s a pretty good approximation.

So, in any case, if you are a Special Selections Wine member, I am sure you are going to enjoy this. This is one of our few wines that we’ll probably do that we did in the ’15 vintage and the ’16, and so there’s probably more to come from Jennifer, too, over time.

Thanks again.

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Intro Video: Barter and Trade Volume 2

Barter and Trade Intro Video

Wave of the future?  Something like that actually. Here’s a Washington Cabernet Sauvignon that was actually trucked down to be fermented in Paso Robles.  Plus, it’s awfully, awfully good.

Video Transcription:

Hi all, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. So today this is an intro for our Barter and Trade, which is part of our Explorations Wine club. It’s our cheap wine club but this Barter and Trade … So this is volume two. I did volume one last year. I try not to go back to the same wines over and over again, I know that we lose some interest and people are like, “Look, we’ve tried that. Let’s kind of introduce me to something else.” Every so often something is kind of so well received that I feel like I almost should go back to it and Andrew Jones makes the wine for field recordings and he does a number of other kind of labels. Some wineries have the opinion that they just want to build one brand. Other wineries want to build multiple brands based on varietal or based on type of wine and so for this the interesting thing is, and it says right on the front, if you get your bottle and you read the whole thing, and this is probably … Well, I’ll show you the back and you can see how much text is back there.

You get a kind of lot of information right on the bottle. But it says, “Brought 917 miles south to be cellared and bottled.” And so this is a very interesting topic so cellared and bottled, so that’s a legal definition on every single bottle. You can tell what a winery actually did. So if it just said bottled, they might be buying finished juice and just putting it in bottles and passing [inaudible 00:01:27] but really what’s happened here is grapes were created or grown in Washington and then cellared and bottled in Paso Robles. And I talk in the newsletter about how this is probably the wave of the future. I think California has better, larger, more established wine making facilities than other states do. We also have larger wine making facilities because our average grape price is lower and we’re accustomed to processing larger amounts of fruit. If you want to make wine in California you can start tomorrow at a custom crush. In Washington, they are starting to get those type of facilities but they’re not as widespread yet. Much the same in Oregon.

In Oregon, actually, you don’t see these kind of separately owned investment style custom crushes, you see wineries renting out space. It’s all fine and good but it’s just a difference in scale. So yeah, Barter and Trade, they’re kind of at the forefront here of bringing Washington fruit to California to be produced. I think this is a great example of what happens with Washington fruit. It’s a mid palate kind of mid tannin, mid acidity and it’s not a wine that’s not good being not offensive, it’s a good wine that just happens to be in the middle road of tannins and acidity. And it’s 92% Cabernet. Talked a lot about how it’s difficult to make Cabernet and ticket it at this price point. In California, we have fruit that’s really highly sought and vineyard space is hard to come by for high end fruit and by high end fruit, anything over $20 a bottle is considered premium.

Super premium starts according to the wine trade at 35 or so a bottle. And so it’s hard to get access to vineyards sometimes if you want to make something that’s around this price point. In a lot of ways, $20 is a sweet spot and so people are logically looking to other sources. This happened with Pinot a number of years ago, that’s how Oregon grew so fast and so quickly. Outside of the obvious quality involved but Washington offers a lot of the same. If you think of Oregon to Pinot, Washington for some Bordeaux varietals, might give you kind of some of those same inclinations. So I’m kind of happy to introduce this to folks. I hope you enjoy it. I know that last year in our expirations and our special selections wine club people really did and I think this’ll show up in multiple wine clubs along the route too. So, yep, Barter and Trade, this is volume two and I’m kind of interested to see what other wineries start to do this. We are starting to see Napa wineries are starting to buy Washington vineyards.

It’s a little trickier process. Washington doesn’t have winery owners of vineyards as much as high percentage of the time as we do elsewhere and Oregon probably has the highest percentage of those, California second, Washington third. Often the Washington folk have said we don’t need to invest in buying a vineyard and running it because we have these great growers who are accustomed to growing fruit and while that might have been onions for a long time, it might have been wheat, whatever. Frankly, it doesn’t really matter but you have these professional growers and we can teach them how we want them to grow grapes and it’s cheaper for us to do it that way than for us have to manage 100 acres or something on our own. That also creates an impediment for wineries in Napa or elsewhere that want to buy into the State of Washington from a vineyard perspective. So that’s gonna be something that we’ll watch too and it’ll be interesting to see how this all works out and the kind of co-dependence of the three West Coast States on each other and how sales are divided up.

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Field Recordings Cabernet Franc 2016 Wine Club Intro Video

Cabernet Franc by Field Recordings

Back to my favorite varietal.  Cabernet Franc.  This one, from a cool climate in Paso Robles.  Yes, that does exist.

Video Transcription:

Hi, everyone. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I’m gonna hold this up so you can get a look. It says Franc across the front. This is another Field Recordings wine, so you get two for the price of one this month. Well, maybe not for the price of one, but two wines from the same winemaker.

So a couple things. Let’s talk about Cabernet Franc and some of the issues in that regard, and let’s talk about vineyard location for Franc. So, I’ll go into this a little bit in the newsletter, but Franc is … I don’t love male and female connotations for wine because I don’t think that’s very fair, nor do I think it’s very fair to do people’s palates by male and female because I don’t think it’s consistent when you talk to people. So, Franc is, if you look at the genes of wine, is the mother of cabernet sauvignon. So, it’s more acidic and it’s lighter in style. And so when you look at plantings of cabernet Franc, especially here in California, you’ll look at it and you’ll say, “Look, there’s actually a fairly, 3,000 acres or so, you should be able to find plenty of 100% cabernet Franc if you want.” But you can’t. And the reason is because you have so many wineries that are making cabernet sauvignon and then they need blending agents. So, if they want something to be a little bit less tannic, but without changing the character of the wine, you’ll see something that’s 90% cabernet sauvignon and 4% cabernet Franc. And so that’s in really what’s happening with most of the Franc that’s planted. It’s used as a blending grape and little else.

What has happened is California is pretty well planted out into the first sites that you would choose. So if you looked on a map and you look at soil composition, rainfall, all the stuff that would go into making, growing wine grapes easy, you would find pretty quickly that most of these areas are already taken. And so what’s happened over the last 10 or 12 years? People have started moving more to marginal areas. And what’s a marginal area? So if you think about Paso Robles, it’s kind of in one of the classic locations. So there’s a huge underground river, so you have plenty of water at all times, so really after a few years, you won’t have to irrigate your vines. It’s a warm climate during the summer, but you get a cooling influence from … so the ocean may be 20 miles or so west, but there’s a hole in the mountains that cut off the central coast from the Pacific, and that cold breeze comes up through that kind of inlet and cools everything down quite a bit. So you get probably the biggest diurnal, which is the difference between day and night temperatures, swing of anywhere in California, and really one of the biggest swings of any wine region anywhere in the world. So it’s literally one of the first places that you would choose to plant grapes.

A lot of it’s already planted out, and they have some water issues for new vineyards, and they’re trying to control development, all the stuff that happens in every wine region everywhere. And so when you get … 10 years or 20 years ago people went east where it was warmer, because they thought, “Hey, if we’re growing varietals in the center of town and we go east where it’s warmer, then maybe we can try Spanish varietals, or we can try Portuguese, or we’ll just make a different style of wine.” What’s happened more recently is people have gone west. As you drive down the coast, or drive to the coast from Paso, you kind of go up and down this little hillside, and then you’re kind of set losing elevation pretty quickly. It gets foggy almost every time you drive it at some point.

And those are the spots where people have started planting vineyards. And you’re seeing grenache getting planted down there. You’re seeing syrah. And then people are starting to experiment with true cold climate varieties, and that’s something that Franc really is. It’s ancestral home is one of the coldest climate growing regions in all of France. And so the Paso folks are trying this. And there’s not a lot of it. And even this Franc is sourced from multiple different vineyard sites around. So there’s not enough of it even in one huge spot for everybody to go to.

But I think this is part of the wave of the future of Paso, and this is how Paso continues it growth in wine, and this is how Paso joins kind of Napa and Sonoma and some other regions in Washington and Oregon as kind of one of the true wine elites. I think they’re already there from quality. I think they’re already there from perspective of the most in tune wine drinkers and the heaviest … well, heaviest has a negative connotation, but people who drink the most wine take it seriously. Paso’s already thought of in that wine elite. But if you ask an average consumer buying a $15 to $20 bottle of wine name five wine growing regions in California, I don’t think they would get to Paso. I don’t know if they could even name five. But Paso should be on people’s lists, and it should be on people’s lists because not only is the quality really good, but the quality to price ratio is excellent, and this is a great example of that. And the Field Recording folks should be proud of this one.

So, once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I hope you’ve enjoyed a short intro to Franc. It’s a very acidic cabernet. And when you open it, you’re going to notice something really quickly. Hey, this feels a lot like cabernet sauvignon, but it’s more acidic. It’s lighter in body, but it reminds you a lot of that. And frankly that’s why it was such a great blending grape for so long. And that’s why so many people planted a couple rows of it for blending. Now, we have to see if maybe people will plant more than a couple rows and let wine makers make a single varietal wine from it. So, I hope everybody’s having a good one, and, as always, thank you for visiting.

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Carignan, the Secret to Finding Good Carignan in California

Low Yields Lead to Good Carignan

Carignan might be one of the easiest grapes to explain, if only anyone had ever actually had one of them, or had ever tried one.


Video Transcription:

So, I’m joined today, in eight years in business now I’ve never actually had a chance to do this before, so it’s kind of exciting on some level, two bottles of Carignan. So, Carignan is a grape that most people aren’t familiar with. It is something that I think we’ll see increase plantings over time.

In essence, the increase plantings over time is likely to happen because if you, Wine Folly does a nice job of this, of scaling from Pinot to say a Petite Sirah on the two spectrums of kind of density or mouthfeel in red wine. Carignan almost ends up right in the middle, which puts it pretty equal to Merlot and to kind of a lot of, kind the Cotes du Rhone or kind of GSM blends and stuff. It’s a nice mid palate red wine.

So, you might be asking if this is a nice mid palate red wine, why the heck is there only 200 acres or so planted in the state of California? The answer is because it has a terrible reputation. That terrible reputation, in that sense, comes from France. So, the grape is native, it’s kind of moved around a lot, kind of dates to eastern Europe, but over time, found a home in Spain. It was traditionally part of the Rioja blends, but over probably in the ’70s or so, it started getting planted in Languedoc. If you’re not familiar with French wine making laws, they have a lot, and they highly control what can be planted where, and how much you can grow of it, and pretty much every region other than Languedoc. So, when people wanted to plant vast vineyards, a lot of them chose Carignan, and they chose Carignan because it doesn’t need much water and it produces a hell of a lot of fruit in warm conditions.

So, the French had this kind of “wine sea,” or sea of wine, or whatever, where the government actually ended up paying people to rip it out. A lot of that stuff was kind of Grenache, and a lot was Carignan, and then in the United States, what did retailers learn? Carignan’s bad red wine, or cheap red wine. California vintners learned that they could grow this in the Central Valley and make a jug wine for $4 a bottle from Carignan and no one would have to know what was actually in it.

That’s starting to change, and the change kind of is happening in two different regions, and I think both of these bottles help to exemplify it. So, this is one that I technically made, although it’s in [inaudible 00:02:28]. So, it’s the Trimble Vineyard, which is up in Mendocino, and so there’s one thing that you’re gonna find for Carignan. If you can find out anything about the wine, if you can find out what the yield is, it will tell you if the wine’s good or not.

So, Carignan, if it’s two to four tons per acre, which is kind of in the Pinot and Cab kind of area for how much a yield is, it’s going to be a quality red wine. If ti starts to get over four, it can go up to 12, actually, you can think it’s going to be pretty cheap and frankly, crappy. So, maybe more than any other grape, Carignan’s affected by the yield.

So, a lot of times winemakers and wineries won’t tell you what the yield is for fruit. I think it’s something they actually should put on the label, because I think it’s a great, interesting piece of information, and it’s highly helpful for a consumer to know what’s actually in the bottle, at least the product even more than the alcohol content.

But they’re just not going to. So, how do you kind of work around that? The workaround is, will they tell you what the vineyard is? Really, if someone’s willing to put their vineyard name on something, the yield is going to be lower than if they are not willing to.

So, the Trimble Vineyard’s in Mendocino. So, Mendocino, and then this is the Del Barba vineyard out in Contra Costa County. So, both vineyards kind of fit the same profile, and these are older vineyards, Del Barba especially is considered ancient. It’s over 100 years old. They’re in kind of non-standard wine growing regions. Certainly these old, 100 year old vineyards out in Contra Costa have been there forever, and Mendocino has a reputation of growing good grapes and maybe growing better grapes now than people thought they did 20 years ago, but neither one would have been financially viable a decade or two ago to rip this Carignan out and put in Cabernet and sell it for 10 times as much kind of thing that would have happened in Napa or Sonoma.

So, what you have is these older kind of vineyards and these older vines, and the one thing as vines get older is that the yields go down. So, you have the grape that is very, very successful with lower yields, and then you have older vineyards which create lower yields, and so you end up with good Carignan, and that’s what we have here.

So, we’re gonna talk a little bit more on a different day about the [inaudible 00:04:48] because I think the Del Barba Vineyard’s a fascinating story. I’ve talked about the Aselstine Carignan a few times before, but yeah. So, when you’re looking for Carignan, if you can’t figure out the yield, look and see if they’ll tell you what vineyard it’s from. If they will, it’s probably gonna be a higher quality Carignan than if it’s something that says a more generic larger AVA, and for the love of God, if it says California, just skip it.
So, once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures, and yeah, these both have been in our Red Wine Clubs over the years. Thanks again.

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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 Mark@UncorkedVentures.com. 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.