Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The nose knows.

Over the years there have been some wines that upon smelling Vinomaker has stated that, "this wine smells just like Necco Wafers".  Having no idea what a Necco Wafer smelled like, let alone tasted like, I would just humour him and nod like I knew exactly what he was talking about.  The same way I suspect that he always humoured me when I would declare that some particular Cabernet Sauvignon "smells just like Parma Violets". (Parma Violets were one of my favourite sweets when I was little.)  The nose on our recent bottle of Barefoot Zinfandel just happened to elicit the, almost reflexive, Necco Wafer statement from Vinomaker. Unfortunately, having only ever tasted Necco Wafers once, I do not have the same olfactory memory to draw from, so thank you to Mr. Pellechia for validating Vinomaker's nose-nostalgia.
There aren't a lot of places in the San Francisco Bay Area that sell Necco Wafers, in fact I have never seen them for sale anywhere local.  I bought this packet of Necco Wafers in a petrol station in Utah on one of my trips there.  Necco Wafers are made by the New England Confectionery Company, (the oldest candy company in the United States and founded by Englishman, Oliver Chase), and a roll of Necco Wafers contains eight different flavours.  I'm thinking that it is a combination of five of those flavours, specifically clove, cinnamon, wintergreen, licorice and chocolate, that may be responsible for a cheap glass of red wine smelling like a candy/sweet.
Each one of us will have different descriptors for wine depending on our individual life experiences.  Apparently, Vinomaker and I associate certain aromas and flavours with candy/sweets from our respective childhoods.  Considering ones sense of smell is more closely linked with memory than any other sense, it is not surprising that certain smells can evoke particular memories.  I may not be exactly sure how that all works, I'm just glad that it does.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Double Gold!

Whilst reading wine-writer Dan Berger's column in this past Friday's 'On Wine' section of the Napa Valley Register I noticed that his 'Wine of the Week' was a Barefoot, NV, Zinfandel (California).  Hmmm, interesting.  I like Mr. Berger's columns and I like Zinfandel, so, with the wine's suggested retail price of a mere $8.00, I resolved that I had to try this wine - which proved to be easier said than done.
I went to three different supermarkets, but there was not a bottle of Barefoot Zinfandel to be found.  Each store carried a different selection of Barefoot wines, including; Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon blanc, Merlot, a Rich Red Blend, a Sweet Red Blend (perhaps wanting to steal Conundrum Red's market share), Pinot noir, Pink Moscato (ouch!  Just typing that makes me wince), Pinot grigio and a White Zinfandel (erm, no thanks). Undeterred, I finally found the Zinfandel in a CVS drugstore - for $5.00.  Five, dollars, people!
In the same section of the Register it was reported that Wine Spectator had recently named their No. 1 wine of the year: a Cabernet Sauvignon from Peter Michael Winery (Sir Peter, actually), the 2012 Au Paradis (Oakville AVA).  Incidentally, just in case anybody is interested, the Au Paradis garnered a 96 on the Speculator's scale.
Do these two wines have anything in common?  Yes, both wines are wet, red, Californian and alcoholic.  However, one of these wines would set the consumer back about $160 - $180 (if you could even find it, which is highly unlikely), and the other is currently a fiver at CVS (though, almost just as hard to find if my experience is anything to go by).  And how did the Barefoot Zinfandel taste?  One would be justified in expecting this wine to taste fabulous, after all it won Double Gold at the '2012 Ultimate Wine Challenge'.  (Please, don't get me started on the merits and demerits of wine competitions.)  This perfectly quaffable wine proved to be very fruit forward with an abundance of sour-cherry, a slight ripe-raspberry component and a nose-pleasing pepperiness.  Vinomaker commented that the nose reminded him of Necco Wafers, a candy from his youth. Although a tiny bit low on acid for my liking, and with perhaps the faintest suggestion of residual sugar, I nevertheless ended up pouring myself a second glass.
WWRPD, or think?  No matter, it's a fait accompli.  And besides, I don't really care.

Friday, November 20, 2015

As my Whimsy takes me.

A bit of whimsy.  The past few days have been lovely.  Enough of harvest, work and academic pursuits.  Sometimes one just has to stop and smell the roses.  And whilst my tomatoes may have come to the end of their fruitfulness for 2015, my roses, including this Pristine hybrid tea rose, are still blooming.  Autumn in California; a rose by any other name, maybe summer, would smell as sweet.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The 100-Point Rating System.

I have said it before, and I'll say it again, I do not like the 100-point rating system of reviewing wine.  The 100-point scale - which, in reality, is a only 50-point system as anything with a score below 50 doesn't even seem to be considered wine - was of course popularised by the powerful wine critic, Robert Parker Jr.
The Parkerization of wine, especially Napa Valley wine, is not a new topic.  Nevertheless, my wine marketing instructor started tonight's class with a video; 'Robert Parker's Bitch' (written and directed by Tina Caputo in 2009), which elicited an enquiry from the back of the classroom, "Is it about his wife, or his dog?"  Titter, titter.
The video was interesting and was, appropriately, more about marketing than anything else, and fittingly contained an appearance by my instructor, Paul Wagner.  The classroom discussion that followed was rather thought-provoking.  I may deride the 100-point system, (and the so-called millennials may regard the system as a dinosaur from their parents era), but unfortunately the system still wields a lot of clout among distributors who often won't even consider adding a particular wine to their portfolio if said wine simply does not have enough 'Parker Points'.
Don't be sheep, people.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Closing up shop.

Autumn is well and truly here.  In fact, I'd have to say that it was really quite wintry when I left for work this morning as everywhere was white with frost.  The vines are all busy shutting down and are losing their leaves.  Triggered by decreasing daylight hours, senescence begins in the mesophyll cells located in the margins of the grape leaf and slowly advances inward.  (The leaf above is a great example).  Temperature does not play a part in the onset of senescence, but frosty mornings will definitely speed up the whole process.  And yesterday, I harvested my last batch of tomatoes, so I think it is finally time to admit summer is over, sigh.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The label.

Tonight our instructor was back in class, returned from his jaunt to New York and Spain (Rioja).  A review of last week's 'Shark Tank' was first on the agenda.
Apparently, our instructor has it on good authority that the Sharks were simply "blown away" with all four student-presentations last week.  How special. On a more personal note though, the powers that be at the college are seriously interested in trademarking my group's redesign of the college's wine label.  From the comments my group received during both presentations of our business plan, I could tell that the new concept-label we came up with was a real contender for being considered as the new brand for Napa Valley College.  Fame at last.  Yea, right.

Monday, November 09, 2015

The last word.

Besides being a fairly high scoring play in a game of Scrabble, the word zymurgy also has the distinction of being the final alphabetical entry in a volume of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) that I own.  Zymurgy literally is the last word in my dictionary and it can be found on page 1666 (it is, after all, the concise OED containing a mere 240,000 words).  I only discovered this new (to me) word because, having no other particularly pressing engagement at the time, I allowed myself a moment to muse, "I wonder what is the last word in this dictionary."  And what exactly is the definition of zymurgy one might ask? The OED's definition is this: the study or practice of fermentation in brewing, winemaking or distilling.  Did not know that, but now I do.
This Scrabble game has been a dramatization: do not try this at home.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Last of the summer vines.

It rained this morning as was forecast.  In anticipation of Mother Nature's waterworks, I spent most of yesterday afternoon turning over my compost bin and spreading the resulting nutrient-rich humus around the bases of my Cabernet Sauvignon vines.  I hope the vines appreciated my effort because by the end of the day I really appreciated being done with this particular vineyard operation.
The amount of kitchen scraps that Vinomaker and I manage to produce never ceases to amaze me.  I think that if we were to put it all the food waste that we put into the compost bin into the rubbish bin we'd quickly run out of space for actual rubbish.
Besides being good for the vineyard, I must admit that I like to observe all the goings-on in the compost bin: not in the least the antics of the red wiggler worms (Eisenia fetida).  And I also find fascinating the number of things that spring to life in the dark of the bin; sprouting potato eyes, onion-ends, tomato seeds and even the single leaf of a ZZ plant (that I had tossed into the compost simply to dispose of it).  It's like magic.
Composting is not without its dangers, however.  This morning, after breakfast, I took a small bag of  food items down to where the compost bin resides (behind the barn); bits and pieces of vegetables from last night's dinner, sundry coffee grounds and tea bags, and a few eggshells. When I lifted up the lid the first thing I spotted was a black widow spider luxuriating, full-stretch in her web across one corner of the bin - just where I had had my fingers.  Never fear, madam has been composted into cobweb-heaven.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Shark Tank.

This evening's wine marketing class was rather intense and I couldn't wait for it to be over.  As threatened, all four groups in the marketing class had to once again present their midterm projects.  This time however, we had to present them to a panel of five big-wigs which included, e.g., the President of Napa Valley College and a highfalutin Napa lawyer (whose inclusion was decidedly apropos, methinks).
It was all a bit chaotic and nerve-racking.  The Sharks wasted no time in finding fault with some of the ideas being proffered, at times even interrupting the student-presenters mid-sentence (that doesn't happen on the telly).  And some of the comments were really quite brutal, or, as the head of the Viticulture & Winery Technology programme, (a panelist himself), described them, candid.  Ouch!
By the time it came to my groups turn (now down to just three bodies as our fourth member was away on a business trip), it was already after 9 pm. Last week I had made the decision that my group would present our business plan first.  However, this week I definitely felt that it was in our best tactical-interest to go last.  Standing at the front of the class, facing all the other students who now looked shell-shocked and tired, I knew I had made the right decision.  By now, it was patently obvious that everyone just wanted to toddle off home and that included the Sharks.
That's not to say that because of the late hour that my group's presentation was not well received; once again, our business plan was the least criticised of the four and the Sharks absolutely loved our redesign of the college's wine label.  One tiny criticism though, from the lawyer-Shark, was that the font on our blog was too small and it was strongly suggested that we look up somebody called Guy Kawasaki on the internet.  In return, I suggested to Mr. Lawyer-Shark that he should have brought along his opera glasses.
Hopefully, I won't have to think about this midterm project, or swim with sharks, ever again.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Hail, Mother Nature!

With the flick of a switch, and coinciding with the end of Daylight Saving Time, autumn has well and truly arrived in the Napa Valley.  Halloween's daytime warm 82° temps, gave way to heavy rain on the night of November 1st; then thunder, lightning and hailstone on November 2nd. Cosily warm in the tasting room at TWWIAGE, me and a number of my coworkers gathered and watched Mother Nature's rather protracted spectacle of rampant precipitation.  Yountville, just south of Oakville, seemed to be hardest hit during the storm, as there were widespread power outages.  There was still plenty of hail along the Silverado Trail, just north of the Yountville Crossroad, when I drove to work the next morning.
The past few days have been rather cool, so tonight I gave in and fired up the wood stove: it felt good.  It also felt like winter is just around the corner.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Halloween! Quoth The Liverbird.

This Liverbird might have been frightened out of his feathers, but he has managed to hold on to a small cluster of Cabernet Sauvignon mummies.
Hope everybody has a fun and safe Halloween.
Eat chocolate!  Drink red wine!

Friday, October 30, 2015

One of my favourite tipples.

The weather continues to be spectacular in Napa.  A few of cool mornings have given way to afternoon temperatures into the low 80s: a threat of rain did not materialise this past Wednesday.  So Vinomaker and I continue to quaff chilled white wines, one of which is the ever pleasant Laird Family Estate, 2014 Pinot Grigio.  With screw cap-ease, sunsets are appreciated, navels are contemplated and all is right with the world.  Sigh.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Midterm Presentation.

Tonight, my little group of marketing-classmates and I presented our midterm assignment to the entire class.  And ours was indeed the littlest group.  I hadn't noticed before, but one of the other groups was comprised of seven people, (in theory, that's almost twice the man-hours that the larger group had to dedicate to writing their marketing project), so we were at a little disadvantage from the start.  And start we did, as I volunteered for my group to go first.  I wanted to get it over and done with. But I also wanted to be the first group to present our marketing ideas; wine pricing, label redesign, promotion, events, social media, etc., because I had a feeling that the three other groups would probably have the same sort of ideas that my group had come up with.  Tactics, tactics.
Speaking in public is not my favourite thing to do, but I can make myself do it.  As it turns out I didn't have to say much.  One member, a mere 25% of our motley crew, who is the lone American and the only one taking this class for a grade, (yes, 75% of my group are not Americans, or taking the class for a grade), did the majority of the presentation.  However, I didn't just stand around twiddling my thumbs, (no, I left that particular presentation skill to the two men in our group).  I busied myself with manning the class computer.  I had decided that the visual vehicle of our presentation should be driven by a blog that I had set up for that very purpose.  (Thank you Blogger/Google for free blogging).  The blog proved to be a great tactical coup because the other groups, as I had anticipated they would, used PowerPoint (boring) to present their visual content. Our instructor loved the blog format.
The fifteen minutes allotted to us flew by, thank goodness, and the feedback was very positive.  Phew!  Then the instructor dropped a bombshell - we have to do it all over again next week for a couple of Napa Valley College-bigwigs, Shark Tank-style.  Not good.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

NVSVA Harvest Party, 2015.

Vinomaker and I have just returned from the annual Napa Valley Small Vineyard Association's harvest party at Phoenix Ranch Vineyards.  I missed it last year (as I was double booked for harvest parties that night), so I was really looking forward to attending this year.  I got to catch up with a bunch of people I hadn't seen in a while and also meet some new folks.  A good time was had by all.
I was a little disappointed that the Thingwall Tipplers (you know who you are) were not present, but it seems they flew back to Merseyside on Wednesday.  I was hoping to make my apologies in person for being a lousy emailer.  Sorry!
Great evening, great food, great wines.  Happy harvest season everyone!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Going snorkelling.

There is a new tool in Vinoland.  Meet, The Snorkel.
For years now, Vinomaker and I have been using a home-made apparatus to separate the free-run juice from the pressed juice.  Our DIY jobbie was made from food grade plastic and performed the task fairly well, but it was difficult to clean, and therein lies the problem.  Anything, absolutely anything, that is used in the winemaking process from beginning to end has to be cleanable.  There are a lot of ways to spoil wine and using dirty equipment is right at the top of the list.  The most important thing to remember about microbial spoilage - from yeasts and bacterium - is that it is a whole lot easier to prevent the development of these microorganisms in the production of wine than it is to deal with the adverse effects of spoilage once it has happened.
Not exactly a cheap item, The Snorkel's retail price is $290.  Vinomaker was considering another home-made gizmo, but when he did a little bit of research he found the cost of the materials alone would have been about $150.  Much easier, and time management efficient, to just buy one that someone else manufactured.  The Snorkel made the whole pressing operation, along with the fact that our hydraulic basket press was feeling better today, much more expeditious.
Harvest and winemaking 2015 is complete.  Yay!