The view from Mt. St. Helena

What We Talk About When We Talk About Napa

Napa Valley is a place. A stretch of land. Napa is a city. Napa is a state of mind. It’s a state of wine. What’s the first thing you think of when you think of “Napa?” The answer probably has more to do with you than it does with the place, the people who live [...]

good morning, handsome

Birds in the Vineyard

For most of the year, the vineyard is a great place for birds. The nooks and crannies created by canes and cordons make for perfect nesting spots while the lush canopy overhead provides much-needed shade and protection from predators. The soil is a genuine buffet of creepy crawling critters – from insects for the starlings [...]

Mumm staffers celebrating the first grape harvest or 2012

Harvest 2012 Begins With a Bang

On Friday, Aug 10 at 11 a.m., a rubber-boot-clad army of eager employees gathered on the crush pad of Mumm in Napa Valley to welcome the arrival of the first grapes of 2012: pinot noir from the Gamefarm Vineyard in Yountville. Winemaker Ludovic Dervin celebrated the beginning of harvest by sabering a bottle of 2003 [...]

A Beach in Indonesia. Photo by Spencer Humiston

A Brief and Miraculous Moment

On the Indonesian island of Bali in SouthEast Asia, there is a brief but miraculous moment that occurs at the end of each day. Just as the sun begins to set below the horizon but before it gets dark, the tide recedes and miles of sand between the sea and the land, wet and perfectly [...]

napavalley

The Napa Tasting Room Survival Guide

Oh, the tasting room. Since the mid-1970s when California was famously “put on the map” of fine wine at the Paris Tasting, Napa Valley and its surrounding winegrowing regions have become burgeoning tourist destinations. To capitalize on the millions of tourists that visit the region each year — a region that is  essentially a farming [...]

gotwine?

It’s Not You, It’s ‘Meh’: How Many Tastings Are Too Many?

Two of the seemingly most popular wine descriptors used by visitors of wine country on Yelp are “just okay” and “meh” (or sometimes just “eh”). A couple of other phrases that pop up again and again are: “I wasn’t blown away” and the wines were “not memorable.” Are there a lot of mediocre wines in the [...]

dried grapes

The Art of Fruit Thinning and the Quest for Balance

This week, many grape berries throughout our little corner of the world reached a very important milestone in their steady march towards becoming wine. Veraison (French for ripening), when grapes begin accumulating sugar, color and phenolics is a welcome sight for growers. For starters, powdery mildew is no longer a threat and  grapes start to taste like [...]

Grapes

Honey Bees in the Vineyard

If you learn only one thing from studying a honey bee colony it is probably that a hive functions as one organism. You cannot separate any one part of it from another. It is all interdependent. Then you’d do well to extrapolate that out to realize this is a microcosm of nature. In this light, [...]

bwgrapes

Waiting to Exhale

Take a deep breath. Now, hold it. Now keep holding it. Seriously, don’t exhale! Keep holding your breathe. This is what the second week of July, 2012 feels like in Wine Country. And no, it isn’t because we’re driving through a tunnel, free-diving for abalones or watching the heroine in a horror film fumble with [...]

A Winemaker’s Inquiry Into ‘Winemaker Dinners’

I must be candid: I hate “winemaker dinners.” Most such events are marketing dinosaurs, lumbering arthritically across a sad and faded landscape. I have been pressed to do them for years, and I have rarely enjoyed them. And when I have, it was never because of some alleged “synergy” between the wine and the food, [...]

The Emperor

A Winery Goes to the Dogs

Napa Valley is not a bad place to be a dog. I mean, sometimes you get to run around the vineyards and chase Jack Rabbits and meet those dirty, socially awkward vineyard dogs, but often, let’s face it, we get stuck waiting in the hot car while the Mister and Missus go into the cool, [...]

vrgrapes

Permission to Bitch Slap a Winemaker

The grapes are looking very vulnerable, very exposed this week. Long, cool, foggy mornings throughout Napa Valley and Sonoma means that leafing has been especially aggressive on the morning side of the vines. As we head into veraision (just a couple weeks away, according to John Wilkinson, a member of the Napa Valley Grapegrowers and a grower [...]

vineswater

Vines Still Happy, But Slightly Stressed

“Things are moving fast out there!” reports viticulturist Kevin Skene from Sonoma. Warm weather continues this week in all areas “shortening the window to get passes in” according to Matt Hardin of Barbour Vineyards in Napa Valley. “The conditions are warm, tracking perfectly, and are shaping up to be as great as 2008,” says John Conover, the General [...]

junglejungle

It’s a Jungle Out There

“The foremost important decisions about winemaking happen before a single berry even makes it into the winery,” says Greg La Follette of La Follette Wines. Right now, during the time of “berry cell division and berry cell expansion,” (or the first phase of berry development, which immediately follows bloom and lasts for about 4 weeks), decisions [...]

devilsdictionary

A Totally Honest Guide to Wine Industry Titles

American journalist, critic, author and longtime San Francisco newspaper columnist Ambrose Bierce began The Devil’s Dictionary — a collection of satiric definitions for common words — as a series in a local newspaper in 1881. The biting definitions spared no one, with the author casting a cynical eye on all that crossed his path. In a foreword to [...]

vines at night

Warm Days, Cool Nights: 2012 Off to a ‘Normal’ Start

Now that fruit has set, following and documenting the  development of grapes and vines (a study known as phenology) begins. The overall goal for growers between now and veraison is to allow enough light and airflow through the canopy to begin developing flavors and tannin in the skins of the grapes while also protecting the [...]

corisonpetioles

What’s in a Petiole?

Petioles, or the stems of leaves, can tell you a lot about the health of a vine. During flowering, vineyard managers collect petioles from throughout the vineyard and submit the tissue to lab for analysis. “Year after year these results influence our vineyard management decisions and give insight to vine status in terms of nutrient [...]

speckling and fruit set

Managing the Canopies of Happy, Vigorous (And Sometimes Smiling) Vines

From Amador to Oak Knoll, we are reporting “happy vines” this week. And as they say, happy vines make for happy farmers. And happy farmers with happy vines make for happy grapes. (For one grower “long happy tendrils” makes him think the vines are smiling. Isn’t that adorable?) And happy, smiling grapes make for happy, [...]

Heitz Grignolino

Grignolino: One Grape Oddity’s Journey From Piedmont to Napa

There is a little grape called grignolino that almost no one knows what to do with. Hailing from the northern Piedmont, where it is mostly consumed locally (and, even there production is declining) the grape is not widely known. I have heard it referred to as “the little strawberry,” a name it aquired not because [...]

The view to the Pacific from the vineyard

The Profound and the Profane: Winemaking on the Edge of What’s Possible

Greg LaFollette can remember wanting to be a winemaker since he was 17-years-old. But it didn’t seem practical, so… he became a professional bagpipe player instead. And while he still carries his bagpipes in the back seat of his Dodge pickup truck, having worked harvest for 60 vintages from Australia to Chile to Sonoma, it [...]

auctionnapa

Auction Napa Valley: The Best Circus in Town

Thomas Keller is happy. Chugging from a large cup of Bouchon coffee, he seems almost jovial on this Friday morning the first day of June. Even his neatly pressed, blue-apron-clad staff is smiling — heads down of course — as they prepare tiny cones of things that will be served to 2,000 people — professionals, [...]

Reaching For The Wire

Reaching for the Top (Wire That Is)

Wow, there is a lot happening in the vineyards this week. In fact, “this is the busiest time of the year,” (next to harvest, of course) says Matt Hardin, of the famously fastidious management company Barbour Vineyards. Shoot thinning, spraying, disking (turning cover crop into the soil), mowing, replanting, tucking shoots and taking petiole (leaf [...]

Uvaggio’s Latest Cal-Ital Release

Jim Moore is a man on a mission. Whereas most winemakers would prefer to fetch the highest price possible for their wines, Moore is determined to keep his under $20 a bottle. He is also committed to making exclusively Italian-varietal wines: right now, that means vermentino, barbera and primitivo. Moore, who has been making Italian-varietal [...]

Annotated Notes on an Awkward and Incredibly Rewarding Tasting

The sun was high over the winery in the heart of the Suisun Valley — which, if you are not familiar, is a burnt-out pile of green hills of the sort you might find in a Steinbeck rip-off. The place fell out of time. Not the jazz and pleated khakis of most auction week affairs [...]

Baccarat provides the light

The Secrets of the Red Room

When one of Burgundy’s most flamboyant, charismatic and charming vintners, Jean-Charles Boisset, purchased Raymond Vineyards, a storied Napa Valley estate, in 2009, there were bound to be changes. First, the most sustainably-minded playboy on the planet initiated a strict biodynamic farming regimen, starting the long, arduous process of restoring soil health and biodiversity to the [...]