Category Archives: Wine

Wine smells, seriously…

The other night my wife and I were sitting on the couch enjoying a bottle of Merlot and I started smelling the wine, then she did and next thing we know we are going back and forth about what we smell in the wine.

Now this may not seem like a big deal to many of you, however, with two kids (and 5 animals) in the house we don’t get as much ‘sit around and smell the wine’ time as you would think. Sure, it’s a huge passion of mine, and my wife enjoys it too, but daily life often gets in the way of really thinking about the wine and trying to place what aromas are coming out of the glass.

This particular bottle was about seven years old and comes from a cooler part of Sonoma County. Cooler climates generally lead towards darker fruits and there were plenty of those: Dark cherries, boysenberry and plums. This one also brought in tons of earthy character like hay and dirt. And some very unique smells like metal, granite and blood. Yup, that’s right, blood.

Some of you might be grossed out (and that’s okay), but you smell what you smell. And might I add that your brain can only recall aromas that you have smelled and identified before and my wife who is a veterinarian by trade (remember the 5 animals) is used to being around blood and can certainly identify the smell.

It all comes back to experience. One of the most difficult things in wine is sensory recall – being able to name the aromas levitating from the glass. It takes concentration and not being drunk. It takes patience. And most of all it takes practice. Lots and lots of practice. And that is the fun part, right?

Cheers!

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Lackluster June Rain Leaves Vineyards Okay

Last year is a wine growing year that likely many vintners and growers want to forget. June was plagued with rain during bloom causing fruit set to be irregular leading to uneven grape clusters. So when the weather reports called for rain on Monday I was thinking it was June 2011 all over again. Turns out the highest rainfall amounts recorded were 4 hundredths of an inch or barely heavier than a thick fog.

I stopped and took a picture during the rain to check on the grape clusters…

These little clusters were in the middle of bloom, but it didn’t matter because the rain wasn’t strong enough to get in the way of the self-pollination. Did you know that wine grapes are self-pollinating? The grapes do not need an outside source (like bees) to pollinate. I’ve always thought that was a cool fact about wine grapes.

All is still going well for the 2012 growing season and the forecast for the next 10 days show sunny skies and temperatures in the low 80’s, just the right temperature to move this vintage along at a steady pace.

One more note about the rain (if you can call it that) from Monday. It was very windy on Tuesday meaning that any ill-effects of the cooler, damp weather were pretty much erased. Wind is exactly what is needed to dry the vines out after the drizzle.

More updates as we move through this season.

Cheers!

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Filed under 2012 Growing Season, Sonoma, Wine

Traveling Tuesdays – Robledo Family Winery

Well, I’m back in it! It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to get out and do some wine tasting, but I jumped back in this past week with a visit to Robledo Family Winery in Sonoma. When I first announced that I was doing Traveling Tuesdays, the tweeter (is there such a thing?) for Robledo jumped right in and asked if I was coming for a visit. So, four months later, I finally made it.

I had been once before, but it was nearly four years ago, so many things had changed and I didn’t really remember what the wines tasted like. The story is one of truly pulling oneself up by their bootstraps: With $30 in his pocket and a dream, Reynaldo Robledo came to the U.S. to start a new life. Except for a trip back to marry his wife to Mexico, Mr. Robledo spent all his time in California. He acquired a job with Christian Brothers in Napa Valley and eventually became a manager with the company.

Eventually, he was able to purchase 13 acres of vineyards in Napa Valley’s Carneros region, followed by many acres in Sonoma and Lake counties as well. The family now owns nearly 400 acres of land in the three areas and produce more than a dozen varietals. They remain one of only two latino-owned wineries in all of Northern California and are quite successful.

Walking up to the tasting room, there is this outstanding water feature along with expansive vineyard views and, of course the most important flags…

The tasting room itself is a little difficult to find, but after trying a few doors I found it. Once inside the room is quite large and able to accommodate many guests at one time. We were greeted by Luis Robledo, one of 9 kids of Reynaldo – 9 kids! All the family are involved in the winery in one capacity or another. Luis mans the tasting room, but I’m sure he does much more than that.

The tasting started with a delightful Sauvignon Blanc…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I ended up going home with half a case of the Sauvignon Blanc. I was getting low on bright, refreshing summer wines and the price and flavor were right for the warm months ahead.

Luis also poured Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and a late harvest Sauvignon Blanc to round out the tasting.

Oh and a white port!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were many more wines available, but they will have to wait for another visit which will definitely happen again.

Cheers!

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Artisan Wine, Craft Beer: Similar, yet different

Time really flies – This week marks five years since I worked my first day in a winery tasting room, changing my career life forever. Okay, it changed my life period. Working with wine has certainly been the most fun I’ve ever had at work. I mean seriously if you can’t have fun pouring wine, maybe you’re just not a fun person.

Recently I’ve been diving into the craft beer world for a new aspect of my job and I can’t help but think of where I was five years ago. At that time I knew that I liked wine and that was about it. I’ve learned a lot from many places including customers, co-workers, winemakers, managers, classes, seminars to mention a few. But there’s always more to learn especially in this every-changing industry.

Just like wine, I knew I liked beer – some beers more than others, but not much more than that. I’m excited to be learning more about this beverage I’ve been drinking for many years – I’ve never really thought about all it takes to make beer before. This isn’t a beer blog, so I won’t be posting regularly about the subject, but just thought it was interesting that there are so many similarities between the two industries.

One thing I’ve noticed is craft beer lovers are an extremely loyal and passionate group. They are also quite opinionated. Sounds like another category of alcohol drinkers I know. The ones I’ve been working with for the past half decade. I didn’t realize there were so many intricacies with beer, from the type of hops and yeast to some beers that are barrel-aged and so much more. All of these things equate to grape growing and wine making too where the yeast selection and type of barrels used all make unique flavors in the wine.

The only big difference seems to be the time it takes to get from production to the consumer is much quicker with beer. This is definitely a benefit to the brewer assuming they have buyers for their products. Quick turn around time is something that definitely doesn’t happen with wine.

Beer consumers are also very educated. They know their stuff. Working in a tourism industry, I have often spent time explaining how grapes are grown and how wine is made before getting into specifics of a particular wine. In the beer world, it seems as if the majority of drinkers are already educated leaving the conversation more about the specific products rather than an overview – which is why the details are so important.

Cheers!

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Filed under Artisan Alcohol, Brewing, Craft Beer, Wine, Winemaking

Spring in Sonoma

The reports have been rolling in during the last week that bud break was happening all over the county. However, on my drive through parts of Carneros and Sonoma Valley, I haven’t seen much action. But nearly every morning I wake up to a sound that lets me know Spring has officially begun and a new growing season has as well: Vineyard fans.

Vineyard fans are used when the temperature drops to near freezing. They are set to automatically turn on at around 36-degrees to start circulating air because moving air is always warmer than static air. If you’ve never heard a vineyard fan, they are loud. Very loud. I believe the closest one to my house is at least a 1/2 mile away and it sounds like there is a helicopter circling on the next block over. I can’t imagine what that would sound like if it was in my backyard.

Spring is an unpredictable time. One day it can be 70 degrees and the next it can be 45 and raining. It’s also what makes this time of year so scary for growers. These first few weeks after bud break are an extremely critical time. If it gets too cold, those precious buds can be ruined which is why the vineyard fans are no joking matter – they can make or break a grower’s year.

It’s no coincidence that Spring and Fall are my favorite seasons. Spring for the warm days and cool nights and the beginnings of the new growing season. Fall for the excitement of harvest. The past three years have each had difficult moments with some leading to crop loss in staggering numbers. It’s not all bad though because there was definitely less demand for finished goods.

I’m crossing my fingers that this year will be a stress-free year for the growers. Only time will tell…

Cheers!

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Filed under 2012 Growing Season, Wine, Wine Country

Traveling Tuesday’s – Ravenswood Tasting Room

Most of you will know Ravenswood for all the grocery store wines they produce. Sure, they are a great value, but maybe not what you’re looking for in a wine country experience. Fear not. Their tasting room, nestled in the hills above Sonoma, is an inviting environment where I could see myself spending a lazy afternoon sipping great wine while being entertained by the knowledgeable staff.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Look out!

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were greeted initially by one man, then two more appeared as the bar began to receive more guests. I could tell they all had been working together for a long time as they had excellent movement behind the bar and interaction with each other.

First in the glass was an off-dry Guwurtztraminer (one of my favorite styles) followed by a 300 case production Chardonnay. Both were very nice wines that I could find many uses for in my quest for great food pairings every month. A quick stop at Rose of Zinfandel (not White Zin) and Syrah before heading to the bigger red wine offerings.

Ravenswood’s slogan is NO WIMPY WINES! And I would agree with their viewpoint. All the wines stood up and said “HERE I AM”, but in a nice fashion. Many times ‘big’ wines end up being out of balance and are trading their style for winemaking finesse. But here the wines all had unique character from each other (even the five Zinfandel wines they were pouring had distinct flavors). This is no easy feat. It takes a lot of winemaking and grape growing talent to let the vineyard shine as it did with these wines.

And here’s where the experience in the room gets great. They do have some of the wines you find at the grocery store in the tasting room, however, the majority of what they pour and sell there is all small production wines available only there or through the wine club. And it shows. The wine quality is above average for the price points and I wouldn’t kick any of them out of bed.

I couldn’t help but stop and enjoy the view….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even though it was going to be close to 70-degrees today, it was a chilly morning and the fire was a nice touch….

 

 

 

 

 

 

My pick of the day was the Chauvet Zinfandel from a vineyard in Glen Ellen. It’s a field blend of Zin, Carignane, and Petite Sirah. Field blends are when all the different grapes get blended together as the vineyard is picked or on the crush pad. There’s a small number of them because of the risky venture of blending before fermentation. Once blended, you can’t unblend. This particular one was very tasty and ready to drink. Why wait, right?

Next time you’re in Sonoma, take the short drive up the hill to the tasting room. You’ll be surprised at the number of wines available only in the tasting room as well as the high quality of the juice.

Cheers!

 

 

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Sonoma County votes YES on hillside vineyard freeze

The Sonoma County board of supervisors put in place a stay on new hillside vineyards (greater than 15%) that require tree removal. Good for them. Even though it’s only for four months, it’s a step in the right direction.

At first this story seemed to be reported earlier in the week as a halt on just hillside vineyards (with little mention of the tree removal part), but there was already a moratorium on that even if it is flawed. The flawed part is that it was only on hillsides with a slope of 50% or more. Those sites are few and far between and most grape growers don’t want to incur the costs it takes to farm hillsides of that slope let alone the initial planting.

In Napa Valley the cutoff is a 30% grade making a more significant impact on farming. The main thought behind the restriction is to prevent (or at least help prevent) erosion. A good reason if you ask me, but certainly not the only reason.

Tree removal for vineyard sites is not a new topic. Any big wine company that has wanted to clear-cut to plant new vineyards has been met with opposition by environmental groups. In most cases it hasn’t led to stopping the new plantings, so why now?

Well, for starters, there is a new Ag Commissioner as of about a month ago. And there are at least a half a dozen proposed vineyards that require tree removal on the books right now. The largest of which is about 150 acres that Napa’s Artesa Winery is in process of developing.

Of course, that brings up a whole other topic – Why are Napa wineries buying land in Sonoma County? Primarily because of the Pinot Noir craze. Napa’s land suitable for growing Pinot grapes has long been tapped, so they are looking to other areas to propagate this high-profit wine. I can’t help but think that because those grapes will end up with a Napa label on them has something to do with this. It’s no secret that Sonoma County wants to promote Sonoma County wines – I’m certainly a big proponent of that.

But here’s the elephant in the room no one seems to be talking about: Why are wineries / grape growers planting grapes at a time when many vineyards have fallen out of contract and fruit has been left on the vines? The past few years have been pretty awful for some growers, so why create more vineyards with grapes that no one is buying?

It does take about 4 years after planting (and more if you are clearing before planting) to see a crop so maybe these wineries are projecting the need for more grapes. I hope so. It would be great to see an upswing. I already think we’re headed that way, but only time will tell.

I’m also very much in favor of keeping the trees we have left in this county. Not only because of the environmental benefits of having lots of trees around, but because I don’t really think we need to be clear cutting acres of land to plant more grapes. There are better ways. There are other areas to choose. Sure, maybe not with the cache of Sonoma County, but other options exists.

Let’s hope the Board of Supervisors make good decisions about the future of Sonoma County’s grape growing regions. Maybe there is a middle ground that can be reached: a certain amount of trees that can be cut down while making other environmental positives occur like the same amount of trees planted in other areas of the county. Just a thought. Why not make a net zero impact a requirement for new vineyards and possibly even other projects? This could be a great opportunity and I hope the board doesn’t take it lightly.

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