Spotted Wing Drosophila Emergency Meeting Results

Ξ August 30th, 2009 | → 0 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Technology, Wine News |

Planned only a week and a half before, University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Farm Advisor Mark Bolda’s August 26th emergency meeting in Watsonville on the Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD) was thorough and informative. His up-to-the-minute research presentation, and that of his charming colleague, Martin Hauser, Associate Insect Biosystematist with the Plant Pest Diagnostics Lab, California Department of Food & Agriculture (CDFA), Sacramento, provided the assembled growers, foremen, and associated persons, representing an estimated 75% of the caneberry acreage in Santa Cruz county, with insight into the history of the pest, the fruits under threat, the critical importance of early detection and identification, bait and capture techniques, the basics of field sanitation, and pesticide options for both the conventional and organic producer. But much work remains.
 
Mr. Bolda began with the acknowledgment of the group effort required for his summation. “I am standing up here by myself but in no way or form did I do all this work on my own. I had a lot of support from people in the industry.”
 
What follows is a distillation of his talk, followed by that of Martin Hauser’s. My focus, of course, is on the wine industry, of the pest’s threat to vineyards. Hence, my notes taken from Messrs. Bolda and Hauser will faithfully report what might be the basics that a vineyard manager ought to know in advance of a potential crisis. For on-going research and breaking news, Mr. Bolda’s farm blog, Strawberries and Caneberries is a ‘must read’. And it is with his work that I begin.
 
History of the SWD in California
 
In 2007, in a vineyard in Paso Robles a suspect grape was picked up, but as no specimens were kept, it remains a rumor that SWD was the agent.
 
Late summer of 2008, in over just a few weeks, multiple reports came in of the presence of vinegar larvae in unharvested cane fruit. Something was different. Research established it was a different species of vinegar fly than hitherto known. Samples were sent to CDFA. That it was in the family of Drosophilidae was confirmed, but the matter was not further pursued. Fruit producers, however, knew it was a damaging pest. Independent studies, without CDFA’s assistance, were initiated by concerned growers and the UCCE.
 
Spring 2009. Colossal infestations of the new vinegar fly in cherries were reported. People sat up and took notice. It was then provisionally named the Cherry Vinegar Fly. The cherry industry was not pleased so the name was soon changed to the Spotted Wing Drosophila. It has now been picked up in plums, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and olallieberries, but not yet in wine grapes. Additional infestations have been reported in Oregon and Washington.
 
The male is identified by the presence of black spots on the wings. For most people the female looks like a regular vinegar fly. But should spotted wing males be present in a field the presence of females may be confidently extrapolated. [Photo by Dr. M. Hauser]
 
SWD is native to South East Asia: India, Bangladesh, South East China. It has spread to Japan, Korea, it is in Hawaii, Florida, California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia. Neither the CDFA or the USDA has given any indication that this will become a quarantine pest. The entirety of California was infested at the same time, therefore it is not possible to create a quarantine around it. Because eradication is not possible the effort will be to bring down SWD to manageable levels.
 
Life Cycle
 
Fruits attacked by SWD reveal only a soft spot on its surface, slightly indented. No hole is casually visible. [See Mark Bolda's blog for pics.] When the fruit is cut open at the sunken spot a larvae may be observed. The female lays one to two eggs per fruit, with an overall capacity to lay 300 eggs. More than two larvae indicates multiple females laying eggs on the same fruit. The damage of the fly is not the feeding by the adult on fruit but from larval development.
 
Normally fruit flies most people are familiar with lay eggs on the surface of things. The ovipositor is benign. It does not insert eggs. The SWD, by contrast, possesses an ovipositor designed to saw through the surface of fruit. Not a needle-point but a saw-like structure. An egg’s deposit depth is believed to be approx. 1 mm or 2 mm.
 
The colder it is the longer it takes for the SWD to develop. At 54 degrees it takes 50 days to develop from egg to adult. At 64 degrees it takes 19 days to mature. At 77 degrees 8.5 days; 82 degrees, 7 days, one generation a week. Beyond 85-86 degrees the males become sterile. Reproduction ceases at that point.
 
Monitoring and Management
 
Early detection is critical. As is the use of preventative sprays and enhanced sanitation protocols. Cane berry growers are especially hard hit owing to the practice of closed canopies and tunnels. Once SWD is well established it becomes very difficult to control them. Sanitation methods currently enjoyed are insufficient.
 
SWD is a very mobile pest. It is felt trapping is the best method for early detection. Early expert advice (Dec. 2008) suggested using banana slices placed at the base of the canes. Extremely limited success was achieved. Next was banana slices and apple juice in a mason jar hung on a stake in a raspberry field. It worked far better trapping SWD but it required a lot of service by the larger grower. More efficient trapping methods were sought.
 
The next trap experiment used was GF120, a fruit fly bait, this time hung at a lower level in the canes because the SWD does not like the sun, it prefers shade. The bait worked moderately well but its attractiveness to the fly declined over time.
 
What do the adult flies like to eat? They like old stuff, fermenting materials. Again, only the larvae are destructive. Of other attractants, a strawberry purée or GF 120 were still working; methyl eugenol, currently advocated by the CDFA as a bait, did not prove effective in field experiments. In fact, it never picked up a single fly.
(It is important to add that only the male SWD was used as an indicator of their presence in the field. The females are simply too similar to vinegar flies when examined in the field to be of much diagnostic help.)
Other fruit purées were explored. Yeast and sugar mixed with water proved the most effective bait (one package of Baker’s yeast, four teaspoons of sugar and 12 ounces of water). Mr. Bolda then offered traps (see pic) to folks. He had assembled them for use in SWD detection with the recommended bait solution mentioned above to be added later.
Note that the sugar is added not for the SWD but for the yeast. The idea is to produce a rapidly fermenting liquid attractive to SWD. The monitoring traps are then placed throughout the field. Attention should also be paid to the direction the SWD appear to be coming from.
 
Control
 
GF 120 (not a spray, but OMRI certified). Sprays: Spinosads (permitted for organic use, [but broad spectrum]), Mustang, PyGanic (permitted for organic use), and Malathion were all discussed. As was the importance of preserving predators and parasitoids.
Mustang proved very effective, as did Malathion, even after five days. Spinosad (Trust), gave good results but lost efficacy over that same five day period. PyGanic was of minor efficacy.
 
A single application is not enough in a heavily infested field. Three applications, one every five days, was recommended to break the cycle. But early detection may reduce the need for repeated applications.
 
Rotating the chemicals was stressed. Without rotation resistance will develop. And these are not the only sprays available. The ones tested were ready at hand. The idea was to provide immediate research results into the efficacy of some commonly available pesticides. Other chemical alternative may well, indeed, probably exist.
 
March, 2010 update on Control of SWD An email from Mark Bolda reads, “We did find just before the holidays that spinetoram is pretty useful on SWD, giving some 3 weeks of control at least.”
 
Sanitation
 
Dropping fruit to rot in the field is strongly discouraged. As is leaving incompletely harvested fruit. If not disced, the discarded fruit must be removed from the field and be physically destroyed.
 
Mr. Bolda stressed that the berry industry is only as strong as its weakest link. All growers must do their part to implement the research findings.
 
—–
 
Here now is a partial summation of the talk given by CDFA’s insect specialist, the very engaging and downright hilarious, Martin Hauser. It was his primary research that led to the identification of this new California pest, what is now known as the Spotted Wing Drosophila. [Martin Hauser's PDF to come.]
 
He acknowledged Mr. Bolda’s thorough presentation. His talk was to be a kind of positive reinforcement.
 
CDFA History of SWD
 
Last September UCCE sent flies to the CDFA. They were identified to genus level as a Drosophila and was considered completely harmless. The larvae always develop in rotten fruit, some in fungi, occasionally elsewhere. They normally eat the fungus which develops in rotten fruit. Again, the first estimation of the flies sent were considered completely harmless. CDFA was wrong.
 
Spring brought more and more calls from growers, especially of cherries. After a close look at the larvae specimens sent in it was again determined by the CDFA to be a harmless Drosophilid. Mr. Hauser said that in his defense it was rather like hearing from ranchers that there were rabbits attacking and eating their cows. Rabbits don’t eat cows! (laughter) They eat carrots. After a while one no longer believes these people, these ranchers.
 
A summary was given of other dangerous agricultural flies. But the fruit and vinegar flies were, up until now, thought to be drawn only to rotten fruit. Of no real economic importance. Though a single fly which falls into your glass of red wine can ruin it.
 
The larval samples initially received from cherry growers were too difficult to identify. Taxonomic identification could not proceed beyond the Family level. Indeed, there are 3,000 different species of Drosophilids in the world. And nobody over 100’s of years of agriculture in California, nobody ever reported or described the SWD here. It must be coming from outside. With increased trade and shipping the fly could be from anywhere in the world. So began a search through the scientific literature on the 3,000 species.
 
Identification
 
Only 125 Drosophilid species live in North America. There are 600 species in Hawaii. The islands’ isolation, abundant fruit, and absence of competitors allowed considerable speciation. But they are all harmless and restricted to Hawaii. The SWD could not be one of those well-described species. So, Dr. Hauser’s job is to identify insects, to give them a name, the scientific name. And this step is crucial. Everything is connected to the name. The scientific name is the key to the literature. One can then learn of a pest’s predators, parasites, biology, among many other things.
 
Deep in the literature was found the first description of California’s newest pest, suzukii (the Genus [Leucophenga] was not proper). In 1931 Matsumura Suzuki described the species as new to science in Japan. Just a few years later the species was then described as a pest in Japan. Dr. Hauser’s theory is that the species was not native to Japan. It was introduced from elsewhere, South East Asia, perhaps.
 
When a new species of insect is first introduced to a new area you have a massive, invasive explosion. It just eats. It has no natural enemies. There follows a few years of explosive populations. Then pathogens and parasites move in. The invasive insect population then begins its decline. In the Japan of today the SWD still causes trouble but not the catastrophic trouble California et. al. have here right now.
 
Description
 
The male fly has spots on its wings. There is no other Drosophila in North America with spots on its wings. Other flies have spots, there can be some confusion, but this characteristic makes it easy for even the relatively inexperienced person to identify them. No microscope needed. The females are harder to identify. They are relatively big and heavy Drosophilids. The large ovipositor is key. With it the female cuts through a fruit’s skin “like butter”.
 
Life Cycle
 
The eggs are very small. They cannot be seen in the field. There are three instars of increasing size. The third, the largest, is the one most often seen because the damage already done to the fruit has now become easy to see in the field. Then there is a pupa, the last transitional form to the fly.
 
The average time for one generation is about 12 days. [Mark Bolda's collaborative field research must take precedence here. See his comments above.] From adult to another adult, 12 days. Varies with season and temperature, as Mr. Bolda’s work shows. The female lays 350 to 400 eggs. The egg stage is between 12 and 72 hours, a very short time. Larval stages are between 3 to 14 days. The pupa, 3 to 15 days, depending on the temperature.
 
Distribution
 
The fly is originally from Asia, very likely China. But also Japan, Korea and Thailand. When calling colleagues around the world Dr. Hauser heard from an entomologist in Switzerland that he had just found it in Spain last year! It was also found in the early 2000’s in Hawaii, in fruit fly traps. It was not attracted to the fruit fly attractant but to the traps already full of fruit flies. It seems the rotting fruit inside the fruit flies attracted the Drosophilid. But there are no reports of agricultural damage there. The same for Spain.
 
The presence of SWD was detected in San Diego, all over the LA Basin, they are everywhere along the Coast and the Central Coast, the Central Valley up to Sacramento, the Bay Area. A lone maggot was trapped in Humboldt. Suzukii was recently detected in Florida. Dr. Hauser predicts SWD is all throughout the mid-west owing to shipping and distribution patterns. A fruit may be deemed sub-standard and tossed into the dumpster, for example, thereby allowing SWD to reproduce. The fly will eventually be found in every state with significant fruit production and that is not too cold.
 
As a side note: CDFA used Methyl Eugenol which attracts male fruit flies through mimicking the scent of the female. The male climbs into the trap and drowns. A good lesson, Dr. Hauser suggests! But the reason SWD is attracted to M. Eugenol is because of the presence of already fermenting fruit flies. This attracts the Drosophilids into the fruit fly traps. Therefore, the primary attractant that is used for fruit flies does not work, absent rotting flies, with SWD. It is agreed the use, the addition of yeast is ideal.
 
Natural History of SWD
 
A Japanese paper from 1939 was found describing the biology of the SWD. Eyebrows were raised when it was read that the fly infests cherries and grapes severely. Also apple, peach, plum and persimmon. Cherry infestation reached as high as 75% according to the ‘39 paper. SWD can have 13 generations in a year. They are active all year round in Japan. (And here. There is no snow or severe weather. Further up north they might try to hibernate. They probably could survive a ‘normal’ winter.) They are hardy flies. But the 1939 report also held out promise: it seems the larvae are parasitized by a specific wasp. The CDFA is looking hard to find natural enemies in other countries and to import them here for enhanced natural control.
 
What will it hit next? Cherries have been hit hard. The Spotted Wing Drosophila was initially called the Cherry Vinegar fly. But neither the Cherry industry nor the Vinegar industry wanted a fly named after them! Perhaps call it the Japanese Fly? No. The Japanese might not like this. So CDFA came up with the Spotted Wing Drosophila. It is also found in raspberries, strawberries, and recently, plums, Asian, Satsuma and Plumcots, blackberries, boysenberries, and surprisingly, nectarines. This is what has been found in California. But it is not thought they will go into apples or oranges.
 
And of grapes? This is always floating around. It is kind of a political issue. There have been reports of tomatoes, apple and apricots. Sometimes you can’t really trust these literature reports. People may have just found a maggot. The reports must be taken with a grain of salt pending DNA analysis. This is just the potential of the fly. There is still no proof they go into grapes.
10/13 This has changed. Please see this update.
 
UC Davis may have done some experiments where grapes were offered to SWD. They more or less forced them into the grapes. They gave SWD no alternative. Eventually the females laid their eggs where the stem enters the grape and grapes were infected. But the experiment was unnatural. It is still unclear whether SWD is a danger for grapes. There is no confirmed damage to wine grapes in Nature, so to say. Why might that be? It is felt grapes have a stronger skin the SWD cannot really penetrate. But there are many different varieties of grapes. Some may prove more susceptible than others. Dr. Hauser felt it improper to exclude healthy grapes at this point. SWD, however, does go into already damaged or rotting grapes. It is not clear whether SWD caused the damage or arrived after the grapes had already been corrupted in some way. More work needs to be done.
 
The USDA is currently taking no regulatory action because the SWD is already everywhere. And in a few years it will be everywhere in the world. Everybody will have it. There will be, therefore, no export restrictions on cherries to Japan, for example, because they already have the SWD.
END
 
Special thanks to UCCE’s Mark Bolda for extending me an invitation to the Watsonville meeting.
 
Admin
 
Here is a supplemental piece of some interest. More to come.

 

Provisional Smoke Taint Update

Ξ August 28th, 2009 | → 0 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Technology, Wine News |

A modest piece I put together on smoke taint provoked much more discussion than I anticipated. Though the story was designed only to be a gloss on smoke taint research in the field, in the vineyard and in post-harvest grapes, and specifically excluded discussion of remedial technologies in the winery itself, many of the intelligent comments I received have forced my hand to widen the discussion. In the interests of intellectual honesty, the highest good, I needed to hear from more informed voices.
 
To that end I am pleased to announce a forthcoming interview with Bob Kreisher PhD, president of Mavrik North America. Mavrik is a privately owned company specializing in a number of remedial technologies of critical interest to the wine industry. Smoke taint is just one of a suite of problems they approach. From their website:
 
Our systems are all easy to use, with an integrated Programmed Logic Controller, and constructed entirely of the very best materials. We are NOT equipment distributors. We are winemakers and engineers who design the solutions, engineer the systems, and build the equipment. Our professionally engineered systems will last a long time, and we will be around to support them.
 
They can be used for a variety of high level winemaking activities:
 
Taint Removals
 
4-ethylphenol/4-ethylguiacol from Brettanomyces yeast
guiacol and 4-methylguiacol from wildfire smoke taint
excessive Hydrogen Sulfide (especially when you have copper fined to the limit)
Diethyl Sulfide, Dimethyl Sulfide, and a host of other sulfide compounds/aromas
Acetic Acid and Ethyl Acetate
Acetaldehyde
2,4,6 Trichloroanisole
Numerous undefined taints, off flavors, and aromas (trials easily conducted)
As well as:
 
Preventing Stuck Fermentations
Juice Concentration
Wine Concentration (where legal)
Tartrate Precipitation
Degassing
Water Purification

 
Though Mavrik is not the only company offering such solutions, it was Mr. Kreisher who introduced himself in an effort to clarify issues touched on in the aforementioned Reign of Terroir gloss and in the smart comments that followed. Of particular relevance was his statement:
 
“[G]uaiacol and 4methylguaiacol actually don’t have anything at all to do with the taint. [An Australian study was performed wherein] wines were spiked with g/4mg and, although there were some pretty funky flavors, nothing resembling smoke taint appeared. I am now convinced (not quite in the realm of scientific proof, but quite convinced) that there is no participation from them at all. Nonetheless, they are VERY useful markers, and VERY useful indicators of how bad the taint is, and we do a good job of vectoring in on processing based on these numbers. But it is really confusing to people because they know that if they barrel age their wines it will increase g/4mg to levels potentially beyond that of smoke taint, and yet the results are categorically different.”
 
My interview with Bob Kreisher will appear early next week.
 
Admin

 

Sterling Vineyards’ Green Initiatives, pt.2 Under the Napa Sun

Ξ August 25th, 2009 | → 0 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Interviews, Technology, Wine News, Winemakers, Wineries |

After a solid initial presentation of Sterling Vineyards’ environmental and social initiatives by winemaker Alison Crary, (and a slightly hurried lunch), we strolled to the terrace to bask under the blazing Napa sun. Our way was led by Ms. Crary. She rhapsodized on her close, aesthetic relation to the valley. We were soon joined by Terry Hall, Communications Director with Napa Valley Vintners. What follows is virtually the entirety of their collective remarks. Also speaking are members of our wine blogger’s group. Good questions were asked.
 
Owing to the spontaneous nature of public speaking, I’ve made very slight syntactical changes solely to promote a smooth read.
 
If coming to this space for the first time, please read Part 1 first.
 
Alison Crary Come on in! I don’t bite. I swear. I hope the view is everything I billed it to be. This is one of my favorite views down onto the valley. From up here you can see Diamond Mountain off to the North, you can look all the way down the valley, to the Three Palm Vineyard, you can almost see St. Helena.
 
But over here, the reason I have you in this corner is I just wanted to point out this area that’s called Wild Lake Ranch. And Wild Lake Ranch is a ranch, but it has been purchased by the Land Trust of Napa County. Basically, this ridge line, as far as you can see, from the northeast corner, about four miles down Angwin, that is all Wild Lake Ranch. Since the 2004 vintage we’ve been supporting the purchase, maintenance, and continued expansion of Wild Lake Ranch through sales of our Wild Lake Ranch Merlot. We donate, this is another project that we donate to…, again, it’s all with the aim of preserving our natural landscape here. The Land Trust will keep this land wild and undeveloped so that this view will be available not only for the people who came up here the last forty years, but for everybody who comes up here in the next forty years. We believe in this, and we will continue supporting it every year.
 
I thought it was very interesting fact that the Land Trust of Napa County actually protects 10% of the land area within Napa County. That is more than is actually planted to vines in Napa County. Only 9% of Napa County is planted to vineyards. So our Land Trust, not only our support at Sterling, our support helps preserve agriculture and helps keep that land wild, but so does every other vintner involved working with the Land Trust and with Napa Valley Green. We’re all doing our part to make sure that we keep this valley just as beautiful as it is today.
 
I am sure there are a lot of people who would like to have homes up there! But through the continued efforts of the Land Trust and through the wineries that support them, we’re going to try and keep it as wild and beautiful as it is.
 
We’ve talked about Wild Lake Ranch; we’ve talked about the wines made from organic grapes we’ve just launched last year; we’ve talked about our Napa Green Winery certification (and we’re honing in on those last 175 acres to be fully 100% certified Napa Green land). Do you guys have any questions?
 
Group question Who’s the certifying agent for the Napa Green Land?
 
AC For Napa Green Land I believe there are three certifying agencies; they are independent certifiers. All of it, whether you’re in Napa Green Land or Napa Green Winery, you have independent third-party certifiers that come in and check on you, and recheck on you every three years to make sure you’re still doing what you committed to in the beginning.
 
Group question And is it through Napa Valley or is it part of a bigger organization, a national organization?
 
AC For the Napa Green Land it is through the Napa Valley Vintners, based off of the Fish Friendly Farming model.
 
At this moment Ms. Crary’s presentation was directed to a gentleman, Terry Hall, Communications Director from Napa Valley Vintners.
 
Terry Hall So, the Napa Green Land Certification Program has actually 19 different agencies that are the third-party certifiers. It’s all channelled through Fish Friendly Farming which is Laurel Marcus, many of you know that. He’s a really great innovator. Each parcel is individually tailored so that there’s not a one-size-fits-all to the land use. So whatever may work for an individual ranch site here is not the same as what would work for Carneros. Each piece is individually tailored to create a uniform plan based on the farmed acreage, the non-farmed acreage, the roads, how the roofs shed, the terrain, all of that because it largely looks at the health of the streams. So all of the Clean Air, Clean Water Act endorsements are looked at. It’s local, state and federal agencies. All the agencies that certify the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, local uses such as… there’s a pesticide management board, there’s the local Ag commissioners, some land use policies that are locally initiated, all of them in total, there are 19, all of those come together through the certification process.
 
Of the enrolled acreage, there are 33,000 acres that are currently enrolled. You look at what’s enrolled and what’s certified, that process can either be very simple, but you need to do some riprap on your stream bed, or you need to do a willow planting, or perhaps you need to make sure there are wildlife paths through [your farm/ranch], or you need to add owl boxes; these can be very simple.
 
Other things can be multi-year projects, like stream bank repair. Or if somebody has taken your set of the Napa River in years past and actually dredged it, so there would be a lot of reed building that would have to be done there; or water collection ponds; things that would take many years to actually fulfill the obligation. So as people check up it is not just done. You continually renew [your certification work]. Your certification gets re-upped throughout the way.
 
The other thing that is really nice about it is that there’s no cost to the certification. There may be a cost to all the things you may have to do [for certification], but there is no program fee. It’s a really neat program.
 
And then the winery program was largely based on the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) certification, but then tailored uniquely to winery production facilities.
 
Alison Crary I really like the fact that the Napa Green is very much tailored to the individual vineyards. It is great for us because we have mountaintop vineyards up at Diamond Mountain, and we have valley floor vineyards down at Oak Knoll, for instance. And these are two very different ecosystems. They are two very different watershed systems. So the Napa Valley Green and Fish Friendly Farming programs are able to work with us and say ‘OK. This is really what you need to do here to control runoff and sediment, your cover crops’; these sorts of things that have come in handy and have helped us get certified. It’s been a very good program.
 
Terry Hall Being a river valley, everything about us is about wildlife and the river, keeping it healthy. It starts from the ‘end user’, if you will. If the fish are happy, then your farmland is happy. That is a really basic environmental principle.
 
Group question Is this green movement unique to Napa or are there other areas throughout the US doing the same thing?
 
TH There is Fish Friendly Farming programs that are lightly developed in other regions, but here there are unique farm plans that are very specific to grape growing. Although I will say Napa Green Land is not specifically, or not entirely, for vineyard land. Our goal is actually that for wild lands…, if you look ancient damn building or stream impediments, or what have you, a lot of that doesn’t take place on farmland. So our goal is someday we will get all of that land certified and have more healthy stream banks and watershed areas and parks.
 
We actually have some of the local high schools looking to put their land into the Napa Green Program because there is a lot of bad construction [projects] that have happened over the years. If you think of a baseball diamond or basketball courts, or parking lots, how they shed water, you’d want to look at that. That is a huge problem downstream from where those sites might be.
 
Group question We’ve been talking about watersheds. How much do you think a watershed area is basically its own little appellation?
 
Alison Crary Well, I think that’s a really interesting question. When you look at a watershed you’re really looking from ridge line to ridge line and all the way down to where that stream joins another one. I’m not exactly sure how it would overlap specifically appellations because I can imagine you would get different aspects, different slopes, and in the same watershed you’d be looking South, you’d be looking North…. So it would probably be pretty variable for your grapes. But at the same time I can see that some watersheds would be in a broader area, and [it] would probably make a lot of sense to be their own appellation, were they an inlet for a broader valley, for example. I think it would depend where the specific watershed or site might be.
 
Terry Hall The geopolitics of it are very much in play as well. If you look at the Upper Mississippi Valley AVA, which is before the TTB right now, which will be the largest AVA at 29,000 square miles. It does encompass one watershed! But it is this huge multi-state appellation. It very difficult. Do you have similar soils? Do you have similar climates? So just because you’re a watershed doesn’t necessarily mean you are one region. We’re about 700 square miles…
 
Group question But Napa Valley, even though it’s an appellation, I mean you’ve got enormous changes. Sonoma County, which is an appellation, what does that mean other than it’s a county line? So before they were drawn on where the roads were and where the geopolitical lines were… Carneros was the first that I knew of that actually crossed that. And there is another application right application for the Freestone- Occidental area, and that is all of one watershed except for an extension to include a couple of vineyards…
 
TH The Napa Valley appellation, which does, you’re right, cover the bulk of Napa County. There is a very small amount of the appellation, which is actually just on the other side of this ridge line [opposite Wild Lake Ranch], that is the only part of the county that is not part of the appellation specifically because it doesn’t drain this way. Pope Valley is a little nutty in terms of what we are as an appellation. It does have an eventual watershed drain. That peak line South of here drains East, but it eventually drains back into the Napa Valley.
 
The same thing is true of Dry Creek, which is the watershed. What makes Oak Knoll District in Napa unique in its nested appellation in the Napa Valley, is that it drains between the canyon of the Mayacamas; but it eventually does drain into the Napa Valley. Everything within our appellation does have a common watershed. It will come to the Napa River and go into San Pablo Bay.
 
So whether that’s the flatlands of Carneros… American Canyon is part of the Napa Valley appellation, all the hillsides on the East side of the Vaca Range, the hillsides on the West side… The Mayacamas actually has a canyon in between, which is still part of the county. So from about Oakville South there is a ‘V’, which is Dry Creek, and it drains South, and then it turns and makes a hard East and does a big dog leg; that’s what creates the alluvial fan for the Oak Knoll District. But most of the watersheds that you’ll see defining AVAs now [are closer to this]. Less close is the Upper Mississippi Valley, those huge AVAs. That’s kind of a ‘one off’ in the current school of thought. Most of them are more defined based on a very specific watershed occurrences, the alluvial fans. Saint Helena is an alluvial fan, Rutherford, Oakville, Oak Knoll, Yountville… Stags leap is an alluvial fan.
 
Other things that define AVAs are cultural. You look at soils. Here they are incredibly varied, 100 different soil variations in Napa Valley. Of the ten soil systems in the world, we have six of them here in the Napa Valley.
 
With respect to soil systems, I believe Mr. Hall is referring to Entisol, Inceptisol, Histosol, Aridisol, Andisol, Vertisol, Mollisol, Spodosol, Alfilsol, Ultisol, Oxisol, and Gelisol. Please follow this link for more information.
 
TH The Napa Valley is a very complex growing region. There are 33 different soil orders. If you look at all of that it’s like crazy with soil types. You also look at climate. We have an overarching climate which is Mediterranean, itself only 2% of the Earth’s surface.
 
Alison Crary Speaking of climate, it’s hot out here! (much laughter) Let’s get out of the sun!
 
Most of our group moved inside. I stayed, took a pic of Ms. Crary, and then asked her about the water recycling at Sterling.
 
AC The portion you can’t actually see from here is our settling tanks. So all of our processed water, from the top of the hill down to the bottom, it settles in a 80,000 gallon settling tank. Anything that is too heavy to be processed by our friendly little bacteria settles to the bottom of that. We mechanically remove that. The water then goes through our membrane bio-reactor, a large microbiological digester, which is a fabulous aerated pool. The water then goes into our first settling pond. And when it settles through that it goes into our second pond, and then we actually send that water out to be reused in the winery. Right now we’re only, until we do a more thorough, further testing, we’re only using it for irrigation, for feeding our vines.
 
You would think, most people would think, processing waste water sounds like a really dirty and not very nice business. But you go to this wonderful little aerated pool, it looks like a jacuzzi for micro-organisms. It smells like the best garden earth that you’ve ever planted anything in. And it’s wonderful.
 
We rejoined the group, all assembled at Sterling’s solar-powered aerial tram. Ms. Crary was thanked for rescuing us from the strong sunshine up on the terrace. She shared some insight into her organic garden, the joys of harvest, planting too much at the same time, the pleasures of eating what your hands have grown. Then, defying gravity, we silently descended the hill to our waiting bus.
 
Great visit.

 
Very special thanks to Alison Crary, Terry Hall, and to Sterling Vineyards.
 
Admin

 

Spotted Wing Drosophila Emergency Meeting Aug. 26th

Ξ August 24th, 2009 | → 0 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Interviews, Technology, Wine News |

The agricultural industry in California is working rapidly to meet the threat of a new fruit pest, the spotted wing Drosophila (Drosophila suzukii). According to an August 24th posting by the Western Farm Press titled New Name For Cherry Pest, though recently discovered, the fly is already well established and has been found from San Diego to Humboldt counties, but also in Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia. It seems to have a preference for the cooler, more moist climes along the Pacific Coast.
 
After its initial discovery in cherries, the article points out the growing varieties of fruit where the fruit fly may now be found.
 
So far SWD has caused economic damage to sweet cherries, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, Ollalieberries and in backyard Santa Rosa plums in the San Jose area.
 
Can grapes be far behind? University of California, Berkeley entomologist, Bob Van Steenwyck is quoted as saying:
 
“Will it damage grapes? That is the $64,000 question. I believe it will hit grapes as they start to sugar. I think, however, it will not be a problem in the Central Valley because it is too hot for suzukii. I think the problem will be in the cooler (wine grape producing) areas of the state. It likes cooler climates.”
 
And it is for this reason, as assorted fruit harvests and the grape Crush looms, that an SWD Emergency Meeting will be held in Watsonville, August 26th. In an email exchange, Mark Bolda describes the meeting as “the most complete presentation of SWD biology and management to date”.
 
The meeting will be an important opportunity to hear the latest research by Santa Cruz County UCCE Farm Advisor Mark Bolda, the lead writer of an important paper on the fruit fly pest published in early August, A New Pest In California: Spotted Wing Drosophila. It is an eye-opening read.
 
I contacted Mark Bolda with a series of questions.
 
Admin How long has this species been known to exist in California?
 
Mark Bolda Probably since 2006.
 
What might have been its origin?
 
MB SE Asia, common to Korea, Japan and Hawaii.
 
Is its appearance possibly associated with climate change?
 
MB I doubt it, it was brought in on produce, something that got around the various checks at ports of entry to California. It is best suited to the cool, moist climate of the west coast apparently.
 
Have there been any reports of damage to vitus vinifera, wine grapes?
 
MB There are some rumors, apparently the very first unconfirmed hit was on a wine grape out of Paso Robles in 2006. Martin Hauser I believe will discuss this when he comes to talk on Wednesday. No specimens were kept out of the Paso hit, however, so we didn’t pick them up again until a major infestation in berries here in Watsonville in the summer of 2008.
 
Along with producing multiple generations, how many eggs does it lay per fruit?
 
MB 1-2 eggs per fruit, 200-300 per female. Lots of traveling around. Multiple females will lay in the same fruit, so you can get infestations of up to 40 in a raspberry.
 
Can you point me to additional research?
 
MB Come to the meeting, and look at my blog (not the fancy title like yours, but nonetheless should be pretty informative).
 
Spotted Wing Drosophila Meeting
Reunión de Drosofila de Alas Manchadas
August 26, 2009/ 26 de agosto, 2009
University of California Cooperative Extension
1432 Freedom Blvd., Watsonville, CA, 95076
 
9:00 Introduction/ Introducción
9:10 History and Management of Spotted Wing Drosophila in Santa Cruz County/
Historia y Manejo de Drosofila de Alas Manchadas en el Condado de Santa Cruz
Mark Bolda, UCCE, Santa Cruz County
 
10:00 Biology of Spotted Wing Drosophila/ Biología de Drosofila de Alas Manchadas
Dr. Martin Hauser, Diptera Specialist, CDFA
10:30 Close of Meeting
 
Because of the short lead time for this meeting, no continuing education hours will be available. For more information, contact Mark Bolda (831)-763-8040; 1432 Freedom Blvd., Watsonville, CA, 95076.
Please call ahead for arrangements of special needs; every effort will be made to accommodate full participation.
 
Spanish translation will be available.
 
END
 
For additional information also please see Another Exotic New Pest Threatens Variety of Crops published by the Cal. Farm Bureau Federation.
 
As I will be in attendance, I will post what is announced.
 
8/30 Update has been posted.
 
10/13 Update has been posted.
 
Admin

 

European Wine Bloggers Conference Winners Announced!

Ξ August 21st, 2009 | → 6 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, International Terroirs, Wine News |

Stunning news came my way early this morning. I learned that the European Wine Bloggers Conference winners had been chosen. It is with great humility that I announce a writer for this modest wine industry blog (Ken Payton is his/my name), has been chosen to attend the European Wine Bloggers Conference this Fall, from October 30th to November 1st, to be held in Lisbon, Portugal. Needless to say this extraordinary honor will be put to good use! Already in love with the Iberian Peninsula, having wandered the Spanish countryside and gotten lost along Barcelona’s narrow streets on multiple visits over the years, I would often look west to Portugal, obsessively collecting maps and reading train schedules, imagining one day, one day…. No more! That day has arrived!
 
And this thrilling opportunity began with this post: ViniPortugal @ Wine Bloggers Conference.
 
I would like to especially thank ViniPortugal and Ryan and Gabriella Opaz of Catavino.
 
My mind is bursting with ideas, a thousand and one research lines to follow. Much preparation is required to fully realize this honor. Time to get to work!
 
Admin

 

The Fight For The Calistoga AVA, pt. 2 Terroir and History

Ξ August 18th, 2009 | → 2 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Wine History, Wine News, Winemakers, Wineries |

It is my pleasure to offer a faithful transcription of remarks given by Dr. J. Bernard Seps on the occasion of an afternoon visit by bloggers attending the American Wine Bloggers Conference held last month. We arrived mid-afternoon at Storybook Mountain Vineyards for an event called a Vintners Discussion Panel. The topic, Do AVAs Matter? It sounded innocuous enough. Q & A about barrels, yeasts, canned historical reflections, yields, that kind of thing. But, as I mentioned in part 1 of The Fight For The Calistoga AVA, the Legal Front, this was no exercise in crass boosterism, it was not a gathering of smarter than thou marketers. In fact, the three gentlemen, Dr. Seps of Storybook in the proposed Calistoga AVA, Dirk Hampson of Nickel & Nickel (Oakville AVA), and the irascible Pat Stotesbery of Ladera (Howell Mountain AVA), are fighting for the very life of the Calistoga AVA, and by extension, for the very integrity and durability of their work. This is a matter of considerable importance.
 
Imagine you’ve spent years of your farming life learning every hill and draw on your property. You know where the water is, where in the scattered trees the deer lay down for the day, the migratory path of geese helped along by winds specific to your arc of sky; you know what grows best where, the rhythm, timing, of planting and seasons, where seasonal shadows fall, the temperature inversions in land contours that send the heat soaring or brings an occasional frost, all the subtle shudders of the land. And now imagine that this local knowledge, earned by quiet attention and vigilance, is of no lasting consequence. An indifferent cultural logic, both institutional and commercial, understands your land as no different than any other.
 
Played out everyday across rural America, this scenario is in a very real sense what is at stake in the struggle for the Calistoga AVA: The preservation of difference.
 
First was Mr. Stotesbery’s talk. Now it is Dr. J. Bernard Seps’ turn. Enjoy.
 
Part 1 may be read here.
 
Dr. J. Bernard Seps It’s my job to introduce this topic [Do AVAs Matter], to give you a feeling for AVAs here in the Napa Valley. It shouldn’t be too hard to do because you’re all bloggers, and what you do, probably as much as anyone else, is you’re using symbols to convey information. And basically, that’s what an AVA is, what the name of the AVA is: To focus information about a particular area and convey it to a reader or a listener. And that’s what we’re trying to here. But what does it mean? That’s what we’re after.
 
I think that when we go to AVAs we’re talking about quality, we’re talking about distinctiveness. It just like those magical words, any kind of words you want to use, you could talk about… well, how about Marilyn Monroe! Does that convey an image? Or is that just a woman? No. It is something beyond that. Or Cary Grant? (I won’t be sexist!) Use a place name. St. Moritz. Monte Carlo. Those are loaded terms that convey meaning; they are shortcuts into something else where you want to take people. And that’s what AVAs are doing in many ways.
 
There is another way to look at it. I’m going to read a quote from Robert Louis Stevenson. [From The Silverado Squatters]
 
The beginning of vine-planting is like the beginning of mining for the precious metals: the wine-grower also “prospects.” One corner of land after another is tried with one kind of grape after another. This is a failure; that is better; third is best. So, bit by bit, they grope about for their Clos Vougeot and Lafite. Those lodes and pockets of earth more precious than the precious ores, that yield inimitable fragrance and soft fire; whose virtuous Bonanzas, where the soil has subliminated under sun and stars to something finer, and the wine is bottled poetry…
 
That’s it; the search for something special and the ability to communicate its specialness. That’s at the heart of AVAs.
 
I take it that all of you are familiar with the European system of appellations. And they’ve been doing the same thing for a lot longer than we have. What are they trying to do? They’re trying to indicate something to you. By serving you a wine that is called ‘Bordeaux’? O.K. [shrugs] If I serve you a wine that is called Saint-Émillion you’re going to have almost different expectations. Certainly a lot more specific expectations. Now, certainly there are limitations. Let’s say Cheval Blanc and Aussonne are not the same wine. So within the same appellation they have differences. But what you’re going to know, if you have the background there, you’re going to know there is a certain tonnage levels to maintain quality, there are certain grapes that are allowed in that appellation. In other words, there are a series of regulations, geographical and [not clearly heard] with regard to understanding that quality reference for you as the wine consumer.
 
We’re trying to do roughly the same thing. As an overview, we in the Napa Valley are trying to do the same thing. We’re trying to talk about quality, about the character, we’re trying to talk about, to a certain extent, truth in labeling. We want the consumer to pick up that bottle, and if it says ‘Calistoga’ on it we want it to be Calistoga wine. I won’t push that note any further. (laughter)
 
I think it’s particularly important in the Napa Valley for any number of reasons. One of them is that in this valley we’re all ‘A’-type personalities. We all really want to do something that is excellent, something that really makes use of the land to its full potential, as we say here. And that’s hard to do and to convey that in any type of public sense in the Napa Valley because, if we’re known for anything, we’ve got 40 miles of immense diversity here, no matter what you look at.
 
If you look at bedrock or soils, we have stuff that’s coming out of the volcanic series, we have agglomerative materials like the Franciscan series in the middle of the range, we have old sea beds that have been compressed in the south part of the range; Mt Veeder has a little bit of that, I think. We’ve got all that. We have at least 33 soil types! Maybe 40, depending on what author that you read. We have half the basic soil orders in the US, actually in the world, here in this forty miles of the Napa Valley. That’s only part of the diversity.
 
You can look at other things. You can look at aspect, at exposure, we have hillsides, we have valleys, we have alluvial fans, the tree basic types, and every variation in between. Of exposure, every angle of the compass is covered in the Napa Valley. We have weather differences, temperature differences, I’m sure you’re aware of that. One author actually said the temperature difference on a warm day in the Napa Valley can be, let’s say between fog in Carneros and of fog at this end of the valley, can be as much as the difference between one end of France, the south end of France, and the north end of France on that day. That’s an amazing difference.
 
We’ve got rainfall differences. This end of the valley is the rainy end of the valley at certain times. And we’ve got an average of 50 inches of rain in here. Down in Carneros the average is a little over 20 inches, 25, 27 inches, somewhere in there. So you’ve got that kind of variance.
We’ve got different fog patterns in the valley. We have fog coming in from the south, we have fog also coming in from the north in the Napa Valley.
We have different humidity levels because of the wind currents in the valley.
 
We are a valley of diversity. How do you begin to make sense out of that? How do you find those sweet spots for your grapes? What grapes do you plant? That’s what we’re trying to convey by an AVA; to provide some knowledge, provide some generalizations. And they are only that, generalizations, not specifics. Obviously this vineyard on the east [gestures over his shoulder], facing east as it is, is going to be much different than a vineyard on the other side of the valley, even within the Calistoga area (a major temperature difference). And that’s what I’d like to talk about as an example of what we’re trying to do in an AVA.
 
So I’m going to speak to the Calistoga issue here in particular. And the TTB, our ATF formerly, used to require, used to, past tense, two basic elements: Historical distinctiveness and physical characteristics that are different from an adjacent area. Those are the two major categories they used to look at for making these AVAs. There might be some question of what they’re looking for now….
 
Does Calistoga have those things? Of course it does. Calistoga has been an established community since the 1850’s. Actually, by 1860 there was more written about Calistoga, collected by the California historian Bancroft, more written about Calistoga than all the rest of the valley combined. Plus we had that great character Sam Brannan to work with! My gosh! You want a character? There’s a good one. Lots of great stories.
Even our name theoretically came out of one of his ‘inspirations’ after he’d been drinking too much Brandy. He’d always wanted this to be Saratoga, California, but the way it came out was Calistoga, Sarafornia! (laughter) So even at the beginning there is a certain relation with wine, or at least one form of it in Brandy. And Sam used to be a Brandy distiller as well. But Sam was also at one time the largest grower in the Napa Valley. One author put him at 330,000 vines! He owned this property where you’re sitting right now at one time.
 
So there is a long history of distinctiveness, lots of tales to tell of that historical time. But I think some of the other factors, particularly when it goes for making the wine, have to deal with the physical factors here in this area. And it is different! Calistoga is different. We have Sonoma/Napa volcanics as the base of our soil. This is a volcanic region, its derivation is volcanic. It also has greater uniformity than other area of the valley in that sense. There is probably more soil commonality in this end of the valley than anywhere else, primarily because of stream/river activity, alluvial fans, etc. And the fact that the north end of the valley happens to be all the same kind of base rock, bedrock, which is volcanic.
 
Moderate to well-drained, that’s important to soil. Even more important is that its got the lowest pH range of any soil. And I don’t want to get too technical but the lower pH range, what that tends to mean in the soil is that it draws up certain minerals. Copper, Zinc, Cobalt, [missed one, recording too faint], Manganese, these are the kinds of things that do tend to come out in the wine in different ways. A certain minerality, a certain fullness on the palate, those particular elements are drawn up through the low pH soil and do appear in the wine, different than a soil with a higher pH.
 
There is another aspect to this end of the valley, Calistoga. We actually face south-east, the whole section. Most of the valley faces south. We face south-east. And what than does it tends to give you a slightly cooler exposure and a more even temperature throughout the day. Eastern exposure is very important. Let’s face it! I think virtually every grand cru, check me if I’m wrong, but every grand cru faces east or in an easterly direction. I can think of only one [in Bordeaux] that maybe doesn’t. There are some in Burgundy, too. Haut Brion might not.
Again, that gives you that longer, gradual growing day, solar radiation is really what it’s about, for that long development of grapes. A very important element. So you have physical factors. Obviously you have Mt. St. Helena that you looked at as you came up the valley, all 4,343 feet of it. But it’s important!
 
And there is one other factor, and that’s not even in this county, and that is the Chalk Hill Gap. That little bit of breeze that you feel is something that we have every afternoon because there is a gap in the hills between us and the ocean. And that gap is very important not only for the wind currents that come in, but it brings [too faint to hear], it brings that coolness in and it brings some rain in the summertime.
 
[Admin note: the Chalk Hill Gap breeze mentioned above coincidentally began to play havoc with my microphone's pick-up at this point in Dr. Seps' presentation.]
 
So we’ve got all these physical factors. And rain, as I said, this is the rainy part of the valley. We’ve had, actually, in two years [...] 90 inches of rain. And that’s primarily because we sit pretty darn close to Mt. St. Helena. It tends to come in from the north in the Wintertime [...] The good thing is that the rainfall pattern, we have less rain than anywhere in the valley in August, September and October. And guess what we do in August, September and October? (laughs) We pick grapes!
Do we want rain on Zinfandel? Absolutely not! Cabernet can take a little bit, but no. That rainfall pattern is very different up here. [....]
 
Wind patterns, fog, humidity… we have fog here, that’s a little known fact. The north end of the valley is foggy. We’re just as foggy as Carneros almost all the time. When Carneros has fog, we’ll have fog. But the strange thing is that the wind patterns also make a little bit of difference so that in the Springtime we are actually the driest part of the valley! There’s 10 to 20% less humidity in the Calistoga area than in the rest of the valley. And if you’re trying to protect your vines against fungal diseases then I assure you that 20% less humidity is a very important [thing]. [....]
 
And temperature, the last point. Actually, the coolest temperatures in the valley in March, April and May are in Calistoga. And if you’re looking at temperature charts, this is not the warm area. And here, even the Napa Valley Vintners is not right. They cite the warm area as Calistoga. It’s not true. The warmest areas are actually those vineyards along the Vaca Range, along our eastern hills, from probably Dutch Henry to just about Calistoga. They are 10 degrees warmer than it is in most of Calistoga.
 
So you have all these kinds of special things. What does it mean? Let me just sum it up. The [easing of] fungal problems, rain at the right time, coolest Springs, we can use our irrigation more practically, that kind of constant temperature, these are all the things that growers like. What does it mean for the wine? Well, we get fullness and intensity from that mineral factor of low pH soils that we have. There is also something called the ‘Mercedes’ or ‘luxury’ effect. There is a lower diurnal variation in Calistoga. Daytime and nighttime temperatures with less variance, and that tends to promote fragrance and aroma.
 
So, I would say to you in closing that maybe [R.L.] Stevenson was right. After all, he stayed in this area [...] and up on the hill here. So maybe there are in Calistoga some of “[t]hose loads and pockets of earth that yield inimitable fragrance and soft fire; whose virtuous Bonanzas, where the soil has subliminated under sun and stars to something finer, and the wine is bottled poetry.” Thank you.
 
Admin

 

A Brief Gloss on Smoke Taint

Ξ August 17th, 2009 | → 18 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Technology, Wine News |

What follows is a brief overview on the matter of smoke taint. Recent fires in California have again made urgent the discussion of the topic, especially with the Crush looming. What follows is meant to be a simple primer for the more casual wine industry follower. It covers the matter of vineyards alone. With respect to minimizing smoke taint during vinification and associated ’scalping’ technologies recently developed, those matters will not be discussed.
 
Smoke taint, the contamination of grapes owing to exposure to fires, whether wild or controlled, is of considerable significance to winemakers and grape growers. Here in the Santa Cruz Mountains the latest blaze, the Lockheed Fire, though 65% contained, with sufficient resources on site to finish the job, the possible effects of smoke on vineyards remain. As with last year’s fires in Northern California and, again, in the Santa Cruz Mountains, there is some evidence, anecdotal in the main, of smoke taint. But the facts are difficult to establish, not only because of the potentially enormous financial impact to growers and contracted wineries and negociants, but also because of the varied tasting thresholds, whether it is a professional or a consumer performing the evaluation.
 
Smoke taint flavors and odors have been variously described as ‘ashy’, ‘burnt bacon’ and ‘wet ashtray’. Anyone who has wandered through the aftermath of a house or forest fire can readily understand these terms. The effect is all-inclusive, permeating and, in the case of a house fire, often resulting in the total loss of all possessions, clothes and furniture.
 
Not surprisingly, some research suggests the disagreeable qualities of the smoke taint may depend on the kinds of fuel the fire consumed. Bush fires, conifer forests, chaparral etc. may well have differing chemical signatures. Indeed, the research following upon the chemistry of smoke taint offers potentially interesting insights into discussions of terroir. If smoke may be readily absorbed by the vine and grapes, then perhaps the thriving flora of a given wine region may also leave an imprint not only on the grapes but on the finished wine as well. But that is another topic.
It is also important to mention that the toasting level of a wine barrel, the flavor and odor intensity of which is selectively pursued by winemakers, such toasting levels impart some of the same compounds to a finished wine as does fire smoke, obviously in more modest percentages and chemical combinations.
 
Though research is on-going, with the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) taking the lead, a few scientific parameters are now fairly well established.
 
1) Smoke taint is the result of the absorption of principally guaiacol and 4 methyl guaiacol, (there are other compounds) into the grape skins, vines and leaves. Research indicates it is the grape skin absorption itself that is of the greatest concern. The first efforts to systematically understand smoke taint were undertaken by AWRI after winegrowers reported off-flavors after devastating bush fires in Australia in 2003. It was then discovered that smoke taint was not simply the consequence of ash and smaller fire particulates falling on the grapes, but was more systemic. Simply washing the grapes, or more aggressively, removing the waxy surface bloom of the grape, had no effect on the presence of smoke taint. The penetration of fire-generated compounds into the skin, leaves and vines was then established.
 
2) Absorption levels are grape-specific. For reasons not yet understood, there are specific grape varieties with a stronger affinity for guaiacol and 4 methyl guaiacol absorption. From the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) paper:
 
Anecdotal information gathered at the industry meetings suggested that there was variation in smoke taint between grape varieties. Varieties classed as having high susceptibility by industry were Pinot Noir, Sangiovese and
Cabernet Sauvignon, and lower susceptibility was found with Merlot and Shiraz.

 
3) Smoke exposure duration is of special significance. From a second DPI paper:
 
Although research is ongoing in this area, it is interesting to note that a single heavy exposure of smoke (30% obscuration/m) to grapevines for 30 min is sufficient to result in smoke taint in wine (assuming that the exposure occurs during a period of sensitivity).
 
4) The timing of smoke exposure is critical, with 7 days post veraison to harvest showing the greatest susceptibility. Again, from the second DPI paper:
 
There are three distinct periods of grapevine sensitivity to smoke exposure. The first period (P1) is characterized by a low potential for smoke uptake early in the growing season when shoots are 10 cm in length and at flowering. The potential for smoke uptake is variable during the second period (P2) from when berries are pea size through to 3 days post veraison. Grapevines show a low to medium sensitivity to smoke uptake during P2. During the third identified period (P3) from 7 days post veraison through to harvest grapevines have a high potential for the uptake of smoke compounds.
 
5) Harvesting, whether by hand or by mechanical means. This is hardly surprising, given that absorption of smoke occurs in the grape skin itself. From the first quoted DPI paper:
 
The concentration of ‘total guaiacol’ in the machine harvested grapes ranged up to 4.5 times that of the hand harvested grapes in the press fractions. Based on the original concentration in the grapes and the concentrations and
volumes of juice collected, around 40% of the ‘total guaiacol’ in the grapes came through in the press fractions and lees with hand harvesting and around 98% of the ‘total guaiacol’ in the grapes came through in the press fractions and lees in the machine harvested sample.

 
6) There does not appear to be a ‘carry-over’ effect. Vines that have absorbed smoke do not then have the that smoke expressed in the fruit the following year.
 
(Update! The links have been repaired.)
 
Admin

 

Greybeard’s Corner July 2009

Ξ August 12th, 2009 | → 3 Comments | ∇ Greybeard's Corner |

Discovering a new source of wine in your area is always an exciting experience so finding two is a double cause for celebration. Add on top of this a vacation in a vineyard and you’ll realize why this was a very good month indeed, even though the weather was atrocious!
 
My first discovery was somewhere I’d known about for about 3 years but just hadn’t actually gone to (for no other reason than apathy I guess) – I soon learned the error of my ways. Richard Granger Fine Wines is a wine merchant in Newcastle Upon Tyne who have been in operation since 1970. Sadly Richard Granger, the man and founder, died in 1997 but the store is run by proprietor Alastair Stewart (who worked with Richard from the early 80s) & Mark Rennie. A 2005 piece from the local Journal newspaper adds some extra information here.
 
The store is nestled in the corner of one of the local Metro stations and has a great selection of classic and quality labels, including some of the best Sherry, Port & Madeira I’ve seen in the North East of England under one roof. The Californian section is well represented, with Au Bon Climat and Bonny Doon amongst others, however it was a pet country of mine, Lebanon, which grabbed my attention with a winery I haven’t tried before – Massaya.
 
Alastair happily gave me a potted history of the winery set up by Sami and Ramzi Ghosn when they returned to Lebanon after the civil war ended, backed by French expertise and investment in the form of the Brunier family (owners of Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe) and Dominique Hébrard of Saint Emilion (whose family owned Château Cheval Blanc until it was sold in 1998).
 
I bought 4 bottles that first visit but it wasn’t until I got home that I realised the Massaya Silver selection was their white offering and not the red I meant to buy, so back I went the week after to exchange it. Since I was there it seemed a waste not to get a couple of extra bottles, so I left this time with the Cuvaison 2006 Carneros Pinot Noir and a bottle of Randall Grahm’s finest – the 2003 Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volante. I have no doubts these were the first of many wallet liberating trips to this fine wine emporium over the coming months, especially as I have 3 years of neglect to make up for!
 
The second discovery is a new enterprise set up in Newcastle, PortoVino (but don’t click on the link just yet as it’s not due to be active for a couple of weeks). The company has been set up by two local businessmen looking for a change in direction; Paul Raven and Alan Holmes have known each other for 30 years but wine was always a hobby until now. I had the misfortune to miss their first tasting session a couple of months ago and was even more disappointed when I heard that it was a sort of X-factor event with 50 Portuguese wines from prospective suppliers being judged on the night to make up the final 24 in the PortoVino range – power to the people! On this occasion they were doing a joint tasting with my favourite Spanish retailer Spanish Spirit – a taste of Iberia evening with a welcome selection of Spanish cured meats and cheeses to help with the wine.
 
On the Portuguese side I tried a delectable, apple-scented Quinta da Romeira 2005 Espumante Brute, the first traditional method sparkling I’ve ever had out of this country. We moved onto the dry whites with the 2008 Prova Régia which had a citrus nose and a smooth, full-textured mouthfeel, then the Morgado de Santa Catherina 2007 Reserva whose 18months in French Oak gave a heavy floral nose and a complex, full bodied taste. All three were made from the Arinto grape by the same producer out of Bucelas, Estremadura.
 
The colour shifted with a 2008 Rosado from Casal Garcia which was a light (10.5% abv) Vinho Verde (I thought they were always white!) with strong frizzante and plenty of berry fruit from its Vinhão, Azal Tinto and Borraçal varieties.
Finally onto the reds from Quinta da Fronteira, also in the Companhia das Quintas stable. The 2006 Douro Superiore was young with a bitter, spicy wood component and peppery green tannins, needing some bottle age – unlike its sibling the 2006 Douro Selecção do Enólogo which, while being capable of several more years ageing, was drinking beautifully now with a strong hit of coffee and chocolate on the nose and a smooth, rich, smoky flavor and fine tannins, easily the best wine of the night for me (so much so I bought the bottle that had been left unopened!).
I hope to try out some more of PortoVino’s range in the next few months and find out a bit more about this new venture which is bringing wines from one of the most promising countries in the wine world at the moment.
 
The end of the month had me spend a short vacation at an English winery, the Three Choirs near Gloucester as discussed in my last article. I concentrated on the wines and vineyards in that piece, so here I’ll mention the lovely food we had during the trip.
 
First at the Three Choirs restaurant itself, a fine dining evening with their own wine by the glass (some non-English wines were also available if you dared!).
A generous portion of smoked salmon was a melt in the mouth starter with some delicate capers sprinkled on top and a salad leaf garnish. The main course was pan-fried lamb’s liver on mashed potatoes with bacon and onion topping – delicious, although I asked for it pink and it came a little overdone for that description.
My partner Sarah had the meaty duck confit & black pudding terrine to start and then moved onto an even larger portion of smoked salmon for a main. We both finished with the cheese-board and some of the Siegerrebe & Schönburger late harvest dessert wine which had lychees jumping out of the glass! The cheeses were delicious, but for £8 the pieces were too thinly cut for my Northern tastes! In total the 3 course meal for two, with wines, came to just under £90 – not cheap, but a must for at least one evening if you’re staying at the winery.
 
The next evening we ventured a little farther afield (well, 10 miles down the road) on the recommendation of Jo from the Three Choirs. As soon as she mentioned a pub serving Nepalese curry I knew I had to visit, so we drove to the Roadmaker Inn in the village of Gorsley, near to Newent. From the outside it looks like a typical middle-English tavern but it is owned and run by Keshar Sherchan, Ratna Baharder Rana, Del Baharder Thapamarger and Ganesh Baharder Sherchan, retired from the 1st Royal Ghurka rifles with 76 years of active service between them.
As you may know Ghurka’s hail from Nepal and have served alongside British troops for nearly two hundred years, with recent changes to the U.K. law to open up immigration rights for ex-Gurkha’s to live in Britain.
We arrived on a busy Wednesday evening and the main restaurant area was already full! We were directed to a table in the public bar (several other tables were already set up) and browsed a menu of Nepalese and Indian-style dishes, each of which sounded wonderful. For starters we had chargrilled Sekuwa lamb and baked Rara chicken with a cashew and cream cheese marinade. For the main course the Ganga Jamuna was a chicken Tikka with garlic, ginger and fenugreek served hot by request (and boy, was it hot!) along with the slow-cooked Nepalese lamb in a rich sauced liberally dosed with coriander. A Peshwari naan bread and Pilau rice were the perfect accompaniment and a cold beer washed it all down. I can’t recommend this place enough if you’re passing Gloucester or Ross-on-Wye, the food and busy pub atmosphere were a joy and we left well-fed, very happy and prepared for the drive back North after the vacation.
 
Other than all the English wine I managed to work my way through a mixed bag of bottles during July. The best of the bunch was also one of the cheapest; the medium bodied Cantina di Merlara 2006 Valpolicella Ripasso from Aldi at £5.99. This had a rich, dark, smoky nose with a mix of complex flavours in the mouth along with a juicy fruit finish, albeit a little short.
Best white was the 2005 Clefs du Papes Blanc Chateauneuf-du-Pape , a Roussane blend with a rich honey perfume, floral with white stonefuit and a full mouthfeel with a honey mid-palate and dry finish. This full-bodied white made its 14% abv known but was still very enjoyable and was purchased from Costco late last year for £10.
Also worthy of a mention was the oaky La Motte 2004 Millenium Bordeaux blend, strong on chocolate and liquorice, and the refreshing Château Pesquié Perle de Rosée 2007 which I brought back from the Côtes du Ventoux – a balanced and moreish dry Rosé.
 
July came to a close as it started with rain managing to hide the threat of a summer, but even without the sun it was a busy and enjoyable month which saw new wine experiences continuing and the promise of more to come.
 
Greybeard.

 

The Fight For The Calistoga AVA, Pt. 1 The Legal Front

Ξ August 9th, 2009 | → 2 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Wine History, Wine News, Wineries |

During the Wine Bloggers Conference, Saturday, we departed on separate busses for a number of ‘blind’ destinations where, first, we heard a Napa Green Presentation. I was fortunate to arrive at Sterling Vineyards. Part one of my education has been posted. Part 2 will soon follow. Back on the bus, we were then taken to what was called a Vintner Discussion Panel. Our grateful group found ourselves at Storybook Mountain Vineyards. There we sat down for a talk titled Do AVAs Matter? presented by Dr. J. Bernard Seps of Storybook (on the left), Dirk Hampson (right) of Nickel & Nickel, and Ladera’s proprietor, Pat Stotesbery (center).
 
Dr. Seps discussed the Calistoga area overall, its historical and cultural dimensions in the main. Mr. Hampson tackled the question of AVA terroirs, again, with special reference to the Calistoga area, while Mr. Stotesbery provided what I have called a ‘bare-knuckled’ talk on the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau). All gentlemen had important things to say, and I will, in a short time, post their full remarks here. But I begin with Mr. Stotesbery simply because if you are ever in a bar fight you’d want this guy covering your back.
 
The petition for the recognition of the Calistoga AVA was filed with the TTB in 2003 by Bo Barrett of Chateau Montelena. According the an article in the Napa Valley Register
 
The designation would affect two wineries, Calistoga Cellars and Calistoga Estates, neither of which source 85 percent of their grapes from Calistoga.
 
After Calistoga Cellars objected to the AVA application, TTB came back in 2007 with a proposal that would pronounce Calistoga a distinct AVA without forcing Calistoga Cellars to change its name. Calistoga Estates, which was founded after the AVA petition was filed, was not included in the grandfathering proposal.

 
It is here we pick up the story. All that follows is a faithful transcription of the gentleman’s talk.
 
Pat Stotesbery I’d like to talk a little bit about what’s going on in the regulatory environment today. It’s been going on for a couple of years now. A little background first. In 1986 we all started operating under one set of rules which basically said that if you pick name for your wine that is a geographically significant name and subsequently, over time, that name becomes an AVA, you’ll have to conform to the normal AVA requirements with your brand or else change your name. And that’s the way the wine industry has operated for 23 years. It wasn’t really apparent until the poster child case of Calistoga came along that the government might not enforce their own regulation.
 
They’ve now had two proposed rulemakings, that the TTB has written. The first one, number 77, deals directly with Calistoga, and it basically allows a Calistoga winery called Calistoga Cellars to continue to sell their wine under the Calistoga Cellars label even though the wine does not come from Calistoga, which is in direct conflict with the 1986 regulation. Suddenly we find that perhaps the TTB is going to take the position that a brand’s rights, if you will, trumps the former regulation, the need for consumer protection and truth in labeling.
 
But they went even a step further than just allowing this for the case of Calistoga. One interesting side bar point is that the TTB continues to issue Certificates of Label Approval, also known as COLAs. They gave one to Calistoga Cellars, and they [Calistoga Cellars] had filed for that prior to the filing of the Calistoga AVA application by Chateau Montelena, but there was another winery called Calistoga Estates [whose COLA] was filed after the Calistoga AVA application was filed. Notwithstanding that, the TTB approved their COLA, but when they made the rulemaking they excepted Calistoga Estates out. They said ‘you can’t continue to use that label, but Calistoga Cellars, you can’.
 
They went a step further. They issued rulemaking number 78 which takes this grandfathering concept that if you’ve been in business for X amount of time, or you’ve made X amount of wine, then all of a sudden you’ve established brand rights, and it’s going to trump the ‘86 regulation. And so there could be this ‘rolling’ grandfather for anybody who had done this, they will have the right to continue to do it in the future.
 
In addition to the grandfathering right, 78 also says that, [keeping in mind] all this great talk we’ve had about appellations and sub-appellations and the meaningfulness of it, and the consumer recognition of the importance of it, “we’re not so sure” (this is the TTB talking now), “we’re not so sure that it’s such a great thing. We’re not so sure that you should have sub-appellations. And if you do, maybe each sub-appellation is so distinctively unique that they should be recognized and should be the only thing recognized.”
 
For example, us on Howell Mountain, we can put Howell Mountain on our label but then we can’t put Napa Valley on our label [according to 78]. That wouldn’t be a good thing. And it wouldn’t be a good thing for Napa Valley in general. In fact, the Vintners Association has gone a long way in trying to pass legislation, which exists today, it says anytime you use a sub-appellation of the Napa Valley on your label you have to also put Napa Valley on your label. And that’s important for us to protect the overarching recognition of Napa Valley as a world-class winemaking area. And while it’s good and fine for us all to want to define ourselves as smaller appellations (Pauillac might not be very far if nobody had heard of Bordeaux) the rest of us feel the recognition that Napa Valley needs to be overarchingly important or the rest of us are probably going to lose some ground there.
 
And so, everything that the TTB is doing in their two regulations [77 and 78] is proposing to wash and water down everything that we’ve spent 23 years now trying to build up and protect.
 
Further than that, it’s not just the TTB. From the Napa Valley Vintners standpoint, we have for years now been fighting the imposition of other people’s ‘rights’ on the Napa Valley name, not just in California but world-wide. We’ve engaged in registration battles across the globe; Taiwan, Vietnam, China, Italy, Europe… We’re the first recognized Geographical Indicator in the European Union of any area outside of Europe for the value of the Napa Valley. That helped us beat back all the European impositions on our name. And it is still happening all across the world. And right now, we’re having to really battle China because the process is very, very slow.
 
But you wouldn’t think that we would have to battle here in our own country, with our own TTB who established a set of regulations that has been working just fine for us for a very, very long time.
 
So here we’ve got the Calistoga situation in specific right now. We’ve got our current representative here, Mike Thompson, he is the chairman of the Congressional Wine Caucus. He and multiple others, over 50 members of Congress, wrote a letter to former [Treasury] Secretary Paulson about Calistoga’s situation. We have written a similar letter to [Treasury] Secretary Geitner, trying to get these two proposals [77 & 78] back in the bottle, to put the genie back in the bottle if you can, and ask them to just support the law that’s been on the books, that’s been working for 23 years. I mean, we can talk all day about who’s right, brand rights, or of our recognition of an AVA, but we established the regulations in ‘86 and we should be living by them.
 
What their rule-making will do is drive people to quickly try and file for all these COLAs! If they make a Mount Diablo AVA you’ll see everybody out there right away trying to establish a COLA that had Mount Diablo Cellars in the rush to build a brand before the AVA is approved so that they can walk in there and abuse the system. It’s the same thing that we tried to do when we attacked Bronco in their selling of ‘Napa Ridge’ when they had no Napa wine in their label; we were successful all the way to the California Supreme Court with the ruling in our favor.
 
So that really kind of sums up where we’re at. We do have one other thing that we are pursuing through the Napa Valley Vintners, and that is the designation of place. We’re trying to build a coalition around the world of other wine growing regions of significance to recognize such significance and drive this whole on a world-wide basis. We currently have had two signing sessions in Washington D.C. We have 13 regions really spanning the globe all saying “We’re going to stand next to one another and try and make other people recognize the importance of place and the need for truth in labeling.” So that when a consumer sees the name of something on a bottle they don’t have to read the back label, or read the guy’s website to determine if it is really what they think it is.
 
When you walk into a store and see a bottle of ‘Calistoga Cellars’ you’re going to assume, as a normal consumer, that that wine is coming from Calistoga. That, fundamentally, just isn’t right.
 
End of Part 1
 
Admin

 

PS I Love You, Tasting Petite Sirah At Concannon

Ξ August 6th, 2009 | → 2 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Tasting Notes, Wine History, Wine News, Winemakers, Wineries |

PS I Love You, Petite Sirah’s highly motivated advocacy group, held their 7th Annual Petite Sirah Symposium and tasting at Concannon Vineyard August 4th. I was invited to attend the Media Tasting by the organization’s executive director Jo Diaz (also of Diaz Communications and Juicy Tales). I knew I would be away on vacation in the San Juan Islands of Washington State on that date but the draw of event proved irresistible. That, and the simple fact you don’t turn down an invite from Jo. I cut my vacation short, hopped on a plane, and was at Concannon Vineyard outside of Livermore Tuesday morning, well before the Media Tasting was to begin. As a wine lover with very little understanding of Petite Sirah or of its producers, it was too good an opportunity to ignore. And I am very glad I attended!
 
I had tried single varietal bottlings of Petite Sirah (or Durif, as it is also now known. Long story! For a good write up please see Dennis Fife’s article) in the past, all of it from the supermarket. Routinely disappointed, I simply didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. Often the wines were flabby, big fruit monsters with little finesse or complexity, no acid or vigorous tannin, especially when purchased at a lower price point, and when sourced from larger AVAs, the Central Coast, for example. Long known principally as a grape used to fix or modify other varieties, some larger producers, by blending Petite Sirah fruit harvested from around the state, have done the grape’s reputation no favors as a stand-alone variety. Like much of low-end Pinotage, another little known, easily ruined grape, the drinking experience can be positively awful. But when I took a look at PS I Love You’s impressive membership roster of wineries producing at least one variety bottling, I must say I suspected I was in for a brutally honest reeducation, the kind of comeuppance in which every wine writer ought to delight.
 
The first question I had, when confronted by this extraordinary member’s list was why were there so few Petite Sirahs in the supermarket? Even in better markets with well-regarded wine selections, I could rarely find more than two or three producers, even then almost always from the usual suspects. And they would be shelved below the Syrahs and at some remove from the monotonous ocean of Cabernet. I can honestly say I am no closer to understanding why after having now been floored by the excellence of the wines I tasted at the Symposium. The experience was not unlike that of opening the door to a long-forgotten room at a museum. Ah! So this is where we put the American Wine History display.
 
And what a history is enjoyed by this grape. Indeed, one of the finest wines I tasted was from the former site of the PS I Love You Symposium, the venerable Fopianno Vineyards where Petite Sirah has been grown for decades. I was to enjoy their ‘03 Russian River Estate Reserve in the presence of the winemaker, Natalie West. The wine was young, with a bright acidic finish, firm tannins, and just a hint of oak rounding out the finish. Ms. West explained she uses only 20% new oak. For me wine is all about structure. This wine had it.
 
And this Petite Sirah example was among the last I tasted, over 25 in all, many of them twice. Yet still there was a compelling, obvious distinction from all others I sampled. Indeed, one of the great surprises was the extraordinary plasticity Petite Sirah has to differing terroirs, and equally is it a testament to the respect for the same shown by almost all of the winegrowers. Of course, there were some ‘troubled’ wines, wines lacking in terroir, to say the least. But of all those that brightly shone each was very unlike the other.
 
Take the Mounts Family ‘07 Dry Creek Estate PS. It was a much lighter style, perhaps the lightest of all PS present. Even at 15.5% alc it was well balanced, very fresh, with almost a rustic finish. A world apart from the Foppiano, but as much a pleasure. (Imagine the difference between Sta. Rita Hills Pinot and that of a Pinot from the westside of the Santa Cruz Mountains, for example.) The wine was poured by the Gary Cooper-like David Mounts, winemaker.
 
Between each of those expressions, with respect to weight on the palate alone, was the truly outstanding ‘04 York Creek, Dynamite Hill Ridge from the Spring Mountain District. Again, the balance of this wine and the first two was a delight. The ‘04 Ridge had higher acid, was quite lean, tannic, with a long fruit finish. Beautiful wine. It will age well for years. An ‘03 Lytton Estate was also poured by David Gates, Vice President of Vineyard Operations for Ridge. But inasmuch as it is a blend of 77% PS and 23% of Zinfandel, it is outside of consideration for my purposes. (It was very good!) Thank goodness I arrived early. When the membership broke for lunch a bottle of any producer’s already opened wine was taken to one of a dozen random tables. That was the last I saw of the ‘04!
 
Another expressive terroir wine, this one from the a higher elevation, 2000-2400 feet, is the first release of Fortress Vineyards, an ‘07 Estate Petite Sirah from the Red Hills AVA in Lake County. Owner Barbara Snider (along with her husband, Gary) explained to me that after many years of selling their grapes to wineries they finally decided to begin wine production themselves. Why is it that first time winemakers so very often knock it out of the park? Well, their Petite Sirah is another quite superb expression, this one, as noted, from upper elevations.
 
And about first time winemakers, I simply must gush a bit about the Aver Family Vineyards’ offering, the ‘06 Blessings. Near the end of the tasting I wandered over to their allotted space in Concannon’s barrel room and was casually poured a taste. My eyes must have bugged out of my head because Carolyn Aver, wife of John Aver who was also present, began laughing at my expression! John Aver in all seriousness said “We get that a lot.” There exists only a few cases left of this wine from an initial production of 25. A fellow blogger next to me was also drawn to the juice. I begged her not to write about it until I could buy some. She said she was just about to Tweet her favorable opinion. Desperate, I asked the Avers if I might buy some then and there. Tomorrow my half-case arrives!
 
Strictly speaking, the Aver Family wines, though from their estate fruit, are made and finished at CrushPad in San Francisco. The winemaker in charge is the very talented Kian Tavakoli. But the Aver’s involvement is considerable.
 
There were many other excellent examples. Those mentioned above especially pleased me. Indeed, I’ve had my understanding, such as it was, entirely recast with respect to this variety. Give the grape a try.
 
A very special thanks goes out to Jo Diaz for inviting me to this embarrassment of riches. And to Concannon Vineyard for their hospitality.
 
Admin

 

Three Choirs Vineyards, Gloucestershire, England

Ξ August 4th, 2009 | → 4 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time |

Three Choirs is one of the largest commercial wineries in England and a visit here was a perfect opportunity to get an understanding of some of the factors influencing English winemaking. What I also found was that a walk through an English vineyard is an introduction to some of the more obscure cool climate grapes you are ever likely to encounter.
I suspect the mention of English wine to most people will result in a blank stare or possibly a raising of the eyebrows; even as a resident Brit I had previously only tried a couple of bottles, although I knew a little of the U.K. wine scene from background reading. 2 million bottles a year can come out of the 1100 hectares (ha) of vineyards mostly scattered along the Southern English (and Welsh) counties – for more information on the industry as a whole, including a potted history dating back to Roman times, check out the English Wine Producer’s website.
 
Three Choirs Vineyards itself is near the Gloucestershire town of Newent and traces its history to 1973 when local wine retailer Alan McKechnie started with a ½ acre (1/5th of a hectare) of vines on a fruit farm. The scorching summer of 1976 gave a bumper harvest and encouraged him to expand to 8 hectares (ha) by 1984, when the farm was sold. Tom Day, the farm manager-cum-winemaker at the time inspired local investment and the Three Choirs name was chosen, based on the famous local Choral festival held between the Cathedral cities of Hereford, Worcester and Gloucester. Eventually local businessman John Oldacre took control and the vineyards went through a period of expansion to the current 30ha – less than Denbies (106ha) and Nyetimber (105 ha) but with grapes also coming in from local growers the winery is certainly one of the busiest, producing up to 300,000 bottles in a good year. Managing Director Thomas Shaw discusses a little of the vineyard history and the 2008 harvest in a video piece on local news site “This is Gloucester”.
 
I was visiting the winery for a 3 day stay in their guest accommodation as part of a short summer vacation. As well as the winery buildings Three Choirs has a visitor shop, fine dining restaurant, 8 guest rooms on the complex and three guest Chalets in the vineyard itself. With a per night cost equivalent to a luxurious hotel the stay is a step above Bed & Breakfast, but for any wine enthusiast it is well worth the expense. I was especially impressed by the audio commentaries available on their vineyard walk (giving a history and background information on the vineyard and viticulture) and also a row of demonstration vines showing several of the trellising techniques in use around the world. Wildlife in and around the vineyard included a local Alpaca farm, the obligatory sheep and cows, green woodpeckers and Bertie, the resident 16 year old ginger Tom cat who loves to settle down in your room given half a chance!
 
On the first evening of our stay we had winery tour led by Jo, a bubbly and knowledgeable guide who was happy to answer a range of questions on the vineyards, winery and the wine itself (mostly from me!). There were about 10 of us that evening, a comfortable number to try a few wines and have a sedate wander around the compact premises, but Jo mentioned that as many as 80 people have been on the regular daytime tour open to visitors (which sounded a little unmanageable).
We walked to the main building past the German (Willmes) pneumatic press, able to hold 2 tons of grapes and produce 800 bottles of juice at a time (the pomace produced ending up as feed for a nearby pig farm).
 
Inside the building, temperature controlled to 52 degrees, was a fully loaded riddler for sparkling wine, its bottles were in the vertical and ready for disgorgement. Three Choirs lay down their traditional method sparkling wines for 9 months minimum, 12 months for the Cuvee and 24 months for Vintage, with little or no dosage, and a new £10,000 riddler had just arrived (the Hungarian delivery truck was still parked outside) to expand their sparkling production.
 
On one side of the building was a wall of oak barrels mainly used for ageing their red wines, and in front was a motley collection of fermenting and storage tanks, some old, but including a new batch of temperature controlled stainless steel tanks that had cost £40,000 – winemaking is an expensive business if you want to keep your kit up to date!
 
Further on was the relatively new bottling plant in a positive pressure sterile room, the Italian equipment able to handle 2000 bottles per hour, although the labeling section next door is older and slower, so when bottling is on a full run extra hands are needed to prevent a log jam!
The winery is currently in a changeover from cork to screwcap – with the majority of their wines a fresh, young style designed for early drinking there is no benefit in using corks & risking TCA spoilage.
 
As well as vinifying their own grapes Three Choirs have contract growers providing extra fruit and also make the wine for a host of local vineyards under their own labels, such as Strawberry Hill who grow grapes in a commercial greenhouse including Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (not normally successful in this green and pleasant land).
There’s always something going on since cider and beer are made on site in a winery-cum-brewery which operates all year round – with British weather the way it is having extra options to winemaking isn’t a bad idea! The Whittington’s brewery was named for Richard (Dick) Whittington, Lord Mayor of London and pantomime inspiration who was born locally in nearby Pauntley.
Three Choirs was also the location at the end of Episode 6 of “Oz & James Drink to Britain”, the recent installment of the Oz Clarke & James May road trip series on the BBC following on from France and California. Although you only see a few seconds of wine drinking on film I am informed that both of them left the vineyard significantly worse for wear after many more glasses off camera!
 
Onto the vineyard, and the 75 acres (30ha) are planted with 800vines/acre (2000/ha) on sandy soil using the Geneva double curtain (GDC) trellising system, designed to keep the vines high for improved ripening and frost protection. A combination of spur and renewal cane pruning is used (which, along with the GDC, are discussed at the Wine Doctor) and the vineyard is pesticide free, believing in more natural pest control methods aided by regular dosing with sulphur spray. Tree and hedge windbreaks temper some of the strong winds in the region, but air circulation around the wines is required to prevent rot so the vigorous weeds and grasses between the vines need regular trimming.
 
The harvest typically starts in late September and continues on into early November. A fine 2006 produced 400 tons of fruit, but the last 2 harvests suffered from the perniciousness of the British weather and only 75 and 80 tons respectively were harvested. This has led to a severe shortage of wine left in the Three Choirs stocks, they are literally running out of wine to sell, especially the dry white award winners such as the Bacchus and Siegerrebe.
 
Those two names may give you a clue as to the types of grapes planted around here. There are apparently 16 different varieties over the 30ha (although I could only count 13 of these on my stroll through the vines) and the range helps spread the risk in England’s cool, wet summers. These are a mix of Vinifera and the few French-American Hybrids tolerated by the E.U. regulators, but they are all cool-climate vines with different ripening times which German and Canadian growers will likely recognize;
Seyval Blanc (England’s most planted variety) and Reichensteiner (a close second), Huxelrebe, Madeleine Angevine, Schönburger, Siegerrebe, Phoenix, Orion and Bacchus make up the whites (Muller Thurgau has been used in the past and may have been hiding while I was there). The red grapes planted are Regent, Triomphe (aka Triomphe d’Alsace), Rondo & Pinot Noir (which barely ripens in most years). For a summary of these and other varieties used throughout England go to the English Wine Producers “Varietes” page.
 
And so to the wines themselves, produced by winemakers Owen Davies and Martin Fowke (UK Winemaker of the year in 2004 & 2008), who is the son in law of the original winemaker Tom Day. The general style can be summarized as light, fresh & delicate – unsurprisingly there are no blockbusters or fruit bombs here!
I tried the dry, fruity non-vintage Classic Cuvee Brut sparkling (Seyval Blanc & Pinot Noir) which had nice apple tones, frothy mousse and a pleasant zestiness, however I was not overly impressed with the dry whites such as the 2008 Coleridge Hill (Phoenix blend); for me they were a little too sharp and crisp although they had their charms, especially when it came to aroma.
Much more to my taste were the medium dry whites such as the 2008 English House and 2007 Willow Brook. The latter, a Schönburger & Siegerrebe blend, had a light Alsace style with a touch of sweetness, not dissimilar to a Gewürztraminer. Moving onto the medium-sweet style and the tight-nosed May Hill was pushing the sugar hit too far but, although it worked well with cheese, it couldn’t compete with the 2006 Late Harvest dessert wine (Siegerrebe & Schönburger ) which oozed succulent lychee behind an acid backbone, a light sweetie and a serious 3+ wine.
The colour deepened with the just-bottled 2008 Rosé, with Triomphe adding colour to Seyval Blanc and giving a dry, refreshing drink with a strawberry and rhubarb taste. Finally the reds and a taste of the 2006 Four Oaks (Regent & Rondo) gave some toffee on the nose and a fruity, medium-light, easy drinking red, the best English red I’ve tried (by way of qualification, it is only the second English red I’ve tried!).
 
Just by looking at the wines I enjoyed the most during my stay I can see Siegerrebe as a consistent theme, and this ties in with the 2006 and 2007 vintage of their single varietal dry white taking top prize and the 2008 and 2009 English Wine Awards. Unfortunately their award winning wines, the single varietal Bacchus and Siegerrebe, were not on show for either tasting or purchasing (remember they said they were running out), but they did have a 2006 Pinot Noir and 2003 Siegerrebe Noble Harvest botrytis wine in the shop which caught my eye, so I bought a bottle of each to bring home with me plus a Rosé, English House, Willow Brook and Four Oaks.
 
The vineyard has made some special blends for The Wine Society and I recently saw bottles of “Ripe & Fruity” and “Crisp & Fresh” on the shelves of my local Tesco hypermarket, but if you want to get hold of their own labels then you’ll need to be in the Gloucestershire area or visit the vineyard itself, there just isn’t enough of the stuff to go around! Hopefully a run of warm summers may change this, although so far for 2009 this is not looking likely.
 
My visit showed me that English wines have an intriguing style of their own which is worth learning (if only to appreciate the difficulty in getting it into the bottle!) and there’s a nucleus of winemaking expertise around that should continue to develop and be successful over the coming years, weather permitting.
 
Greybeard.

 

Memorable Wines From The WBC Tastings

Ξ August 2nd, 2009 | → 5 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Tasting Notes, Wine News, Winemakers, Wineries |

The wines poured freely. Moments after arriving, having checked into my room and taken the wine blogger’s holy sacraments, checking email and stats, I went to ‘Meet the Sponsors’ in the Flamingo Room. Immediately a glass found its way into my hand. I attacked the D.O. Rueda table. The bright fruit and biting acidity of the Verdejos and Sauvignon Blancs was brilliant. My style. Food friendly wines of the first order. It was hardly noon and I had already been to an apex of affordable quality and finesse.
 
The next inspirational wines came during the Live Wine Blogging fracas. As has been noted, the wi-fi service was down for extended periods of time. The schedule was quickly modified to give the techs time to get things working. We sat through the Wine Blogging Awards’ presentation instead, a ceremony mc’d by the capable Tom Wark. It was during this lull that an enterprising lad brought to our table one of the best domestic Syrahs I have had in recent memory. Alan Baker is his name. And he runs a blog called The Cellar Rat. The Cellar Rat Syrah is his first wine. It is a small miracle, Cornas in character, beautifully balanced, with black pepper and abundant tannin. An extraordinary pleasure. The only other Syrah I very much enjoyed last weekend, and to which Mr. Baker’s favorably compares, is that from Montemaggiore of Dry Creek Valley. But to truth to tell? Mr. Baker’s was the finer wine if only because it is less polished.
 
The Montemaggiore Syrah, poured later in the day at the Grand Tasting of Sonoma Wines, was as beautiful and balanced, and I’d say as intellectual as the winemaker herself, Lise Ciolino. Trim, fit, and very smart, she makes wines in her own image.
 
With the wi-fi now hiccuping along, I also enjoyed a Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon. I asked Craig Camp, General Manager, had Alice Feiring tasted their wines? He said Alice hated them! Surprising to me. (Correction. Alice tells me she has never had the opportunity to taste Cornerstone’s wines. Mr. Camp may, in fact, have said Alice wouldn’t like them owing to stylistic differences. And see Mr. Craig’s comment below. Apologies to Mr. Camp and lovely Alice.)
 
Although many of the wines presented at the Sonoma Grand Tasting were not to my liking (I love high acid, brutal tannins, rustic wines in the main), the Russian River After Hours Party came a bit closer to my palate. I found agreeable the wines of Joseph Swan and a most unusual Pinot from Matrix Winery, their ‘06 Nunes. Garrigue on the nose and palate, curious floral notes, lavender and rose notes in a mid to heavy body. Just fascinating. Unlike anything else I tasted in a California Pinot over the weekend.
 
Saturday took certain of us to Storybook Wines where I had another ‘intellectual’ wine, their ‘05 Estate Cabernet. Along with the two Syrahs already mentioned, Storybook’s ‘05 was possibly the finest Cabernet of my visit (if I do not include an older vintage wine, a beautiful 1977 Sterling in magnum brought by Doug Cook of the Able Grape for a brilliant, irregular late-night tasting).
 
Later Saturday afternoon, at the Grand Tasting of Napa Wines held at Quintessa, it was Quintessa’s own offering when we stepped off of our busses that pleased the hell out of me. It was their ‘Illumination’, a minerally, tart Sauvignon Blanc, lighter than air. It took me by surprise, its delicacy, its feminine esprit. Head brimming with information from a Napa Green Presentation, this wine to me was the perfect exclamation point to the day’s education. ‘Green’ in a glass!
 
Other notable wines from the ViniPortugal tasting included Cortes de Cima’s ‘Incognito’ and the 2003 Mouchao from Vinhos da Cavaca Dourada, a blend of Alicante Bouchet and Trincadera.
 
All the wines served at the Conference had their raving fans. Nothing went uncelebrated. Though my standouts are few in number, I nevertheless was moved to mention them. Does not often happen in the Golden State!
 
Quick update. Gary Vaynerchuk informs me he will be attending next year’s WBC in Walla Walla.
 
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From the Vineyard to the Glass, Winemaking in an Age of High Tech

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