Category Archives: Napa

Autumn Weather, Always Torn

This time of year is always tough for me. I’ve never been a warm weather person and when the Autumn breeze picks up and the vineyards start to turn beautiful colors it makes me happy. But this is nearly always the time of year that is the most difficult for grape growers and winemakers – especially for those grapes that need the extra time on the vines.

Why? Well, for starters the moisture content in the air gets higher and usually we start to have cloudy days and certainly heavy morning fog. This can induce botrytis on the grapes leading to moldy clusters. Not good. In addition, with the shorter days there is limited amounts of sunlight which means it takes even longer to get the grapes ripe.

So as much as I want to light a fire, sit on my couch and get lost in a great wine…I’m torn. I want to enjoy this time of year and all the things that come along with it (like eating more), but I’m always concerned about the grapes. When the vineyards have been picked I feel so much better.

But it is about so much more than just getting grapes ripe. It’s also about developing flavors. Generally speaking the longer the grapes are on the vine, the more depth and character are developed. There is always a give and take when it comes to wine though. During the growing process sugars rise as acid levels fall – at some point the two intersect at the perfect time and that is when the orders are given to pick. There’s a little more to it than that, but those are two very important factors. But wait too long and the wine can be too alcoholic leading to a ‘hot’ character.

All reports I’ve heard is that this year has been a banner year. Quality is really great and quantity has been higher than expected. After two semi-rough years it’s a relief to see one where winemakers are really happy. The last two vintages have certainly had their challenges (cool summers, heat spikes, rain), but the great winemakers have taken the time to provide higher levels of care and sorting to bring out the best qualities.

I live in an amazing place to grow grapes and with very few exceptions the climate is perfect. We aren’t plagued with many of the issues that Europe deals with. It’s not uncommon for France to have rain in the summer and very cold weather early on requiring picking sooner than is desirable. Often I have customers ask me what my favorite California years are and I can truly say nearly all of them. Sure, they each have their nuances (some providing more fruit forward wines or others earthier) but we are lucky that we have these nearly perfect conditions turning out an excellent crop year after year.

Cheers!

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Filed under 2012 Growing Season, Napa, Sonoma, Wine, Wine Country

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

Napa Valley (the most popular post ever)

My most viewed post of all time is this one: Napa Valley – A New Adventure

I find this extremely interesting, yet not too surprising. Interesting because my blog name is Sonoma Cork Dork. Not surprising because of many reasons including the most sought after wine valley to visit is still Napa Valley.

I can’t tell you how many visitors and tourists mix up Napa and Sonoma and never really know where they are. The often say things like, “This is my first time to Napa Valley” or “I love tasting wines in Napa”. I don’t take offense to it because I believe that they really don’t know where they are. I also don’t look at this as a bad thing. After all, the more visitors to the area the better, right?

It’s just clear to me that when people are looking for wine related information on the web they often type in Napa before any other wine region. And this is where I think Sonoma may be behind the times. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sonoma is often talked about as more laid back, country, and a place you are likely to meet and talk with the winemakers. By contrast, Napa is often described as an adult-Disneyland. Both regions offer great wine, beautiful vineyards and big and small wineries.

Napa really started marketing itself as a wine destination in the 60’s when Mondavi opened up his winery. He realized the potential of direct to consumer sales and used to drive his car slow on highway 29 then turn left even slower into his driveway to bring people to the winery. Maybe not the most effective marketing, but it was a start. Before long Napa was really booming and visitors started to flock to the area.

Sleepier Sonoma has been playing catch-up ever since. We hear a lot of visitors say they really enjoy Sonoma for it’s quieter tasting rooms, smaller tasting fees and friendly staff. So, why then, do we see less visitors every year? It’s a mystery.

Sonoma also makes about three times as much wine as Napa. That has everything to do with geography. Sonoma County is a much larger area (about 60 miles north / south and 25 miles east / west), compared to Napa (about 20 miles long by 1-5 miles wide) – a huge difference. You would think at some point that Sonoma would overtake Napa with visitors, just from the amount of wine that is distributed from the area, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. And I’m okay with that.

As I said before, the more visitors to the area the better. I truly believe that. Visitors will see our marketing efforts and discover this great region I call home. After all, I’m still discovering it. There are over 350 wineries in Sonoma and I’m not sure I’ll ever get to all of them, but I’m going to try and I’m going to write about it every step of the way.

Cheers!

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Filed under Napa, Sonoma