Category Archives: Winemaking

Napa Valley Cabernet, too high in alcohol?

Thanks to my father-in-law for emailing me this article in the Chronicle about Napa Valley Cabernet and it’s ascend to very high alcohol levels in recent years.

It’s no secret (as this article also states) that higher alcohol wines generally bring higher score from the critics. But if you’ve been following this blog, I’m pretty blasĂ© about wine ratings and critics. Why should anyone tell me what to drink based on their own evaluation? And why should I put effort into following what they have to say when their ‘high scores’ just lead to me and you paying a higher price for that now coveted bottle of fermented juice?

I’ve long said the only place ratings should come into play is when you have a specific wine in mind and specific price point and you are standing on the wine aisle. Ratings can help you decide between one wine and another. If the price point is the same, go with the higher rating, right? But I live in one of California’s areas for great wine and generally drink wine from these regions and can decide for myself what I like and don’t like.

Anyway, let me step down from my soap box for a moment (because I could go on for a long time about the above topic and that’s not what I specifically set out to write about, although I’m having fun!).

This article brings up so many topics, it’s almost impossible to cover with just one post. For starters, I love that Randy Dunn has stuck to his core values of making a certain style of wine. So many wineries change what they are doing based on consumer polls and data and swings in purchasing. How can we ever know what to expect in the bottle if the winery changes style and direction with every new trend? We can’t. There are many wineries I have grown to love because I know what to expect from them. Some of them have specific wines that I really like and others that I don’t. I just buy the ones I like. But when I get a wine from a trusted source and it has changed to suit what some marketing person decided was better for their customers that’s where I draw the line.

But see for the general wine drinking public (who by the way is only 14% of Americans on a regular basis) they often times don’t know that the winery changed direction or can’t tell for whatever reason. Or maybe they just don’t care. There are a lot of wine drinkers that just want a ‘glass of red’ and never really think about the wine. So this trend will continue. You can count on it.

I just love this quote from Randy Dunn:

“I’ve been in many conversations with people that have been selling their wines for $150 a bottle for 15 years, and I was at $65 or something. They go, ‘What are you doing? You’re making us look like fools,’….And I said, ‘You know, I’m quite profitable at this level.’ Here’s a concept called greed.”

Interesting, he’s making them look like fools. I’m all for capitalism though. If they can sell it at that price (and trust me $150 is starting price for many Cabernet wines in Napa Valley) good for them, but they are certainly past the price range I’m comfortable in. At that price I’ll buy a nice Irish Whiskey or Scotch and drink it over an entire year. I have heard people say, “What’s the difference between a $150 bottle of wine and a $50 bottle of wine? ….$100.”

There’s also this concept in here about how the higher alcohol levels have led to the wines all tasting the same. I think I’ll have to do some research to further discover the real answer on this, but it used to be that you could easily distinguish the different growing areas of Napa Valley – mountains vs. floor, east facing regions vs. west, Rutherford Dust comes to mind. I guess I could see how the higher alcohol could mask some of these unique characteristics by making it all about the alcohol and less about the sense of place. That terroir is so important to me. I want to taste, smell and hear (you mean you don’t listen to your wine?) and feel where the wine and grapes came from.

I’m very curious (and will keep following this story) what the research Mr. Dunn is doing will suggest about how to taste wines of lower and higher alcohol. It makes sense that if you taste a higher alcohol wine first, the lower one will taste watery, or at least lighter. If that is the case, if his wines are tasted alongside the higher alcohol versions from Napa Valley then he never will see those higher ratings. Either way, I look forward to tasting his commitment to a standard and ability to not conform with the ever-changing wants of the general public.

Cheers!

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Filed under Alcohol Content, Napa, Napa Valley, Wine, Wine Study, Wine Tasting, Winemaking

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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Filed under Sonoma, Traveling Tuesdays, Wine, Wine Country, Winemaking

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