Tasting Dão Wines at Paço dos Cunhas de Santar

Ξ February 24th, 2010 | → 2 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, International Terroirs, PORTUGAL, Tasting Notes, Wine History, Wine News, Wineries |

It rarely happens in life that one enjoys a perfect day, a day of balance, when both the intellect and body are equally engaged, happiness and sadness, noise and silence in equilibrium; when one is free to reflect on past and present; a day one briefly glimpses what it might mean to be immortal; when one’s body is lightly transported between ancient and thoroughly modern frames of mind, all bracketed by a sun that rises and sets over a green world. Such was my first day in the Dåo, a wine region in the north-central of Portugal.
From a stay at the Pousada in Ourém, we three lucid dreamers, the brilliant Virgilio Loureiro, cinematographer Nuno Sá Pessoa Sequeira and yours truly, set out to visit the varied typologies of rock presses in Parada de Gonta, Prazias, Paraduço and Vale do Salqueiro (among others), some used until the 1950s. I shall save those extraordinary visions, there is no other word, for another post.
On this occasion I mean to parse the day into discreet, manageable episodes. The first shall be the lunch and wine tasting enjoyed at the solid tourist destination, Paço dos Cunhas de Santar, just outside of Viseu. From Casa de Santar’s Alminhas (little souls) vineyard, the site of the Vale do Salgueiro rock press, a portion of which had been broken to provide a foundation stone for a recent outbuilding, we drove to the estate, our group including our guide, Alberto Sampaio, winemakers Carlos Silva and Mario Rui Ferreira (a very interesting and energetic individual), among others.
Leaving recent political history aside, the provided literature describes Paço dos Cunhas de Santar like this:
Paço de Santar was built by order of D. Pedro da Cunha in 1609. A large ancient farmhouse has stood on this site for hundreds of years. It’s sole purpose was to produce olive oil, fruits and wine for the grand and prestigious Oporto markets. Today, Paço de Santar has 32 hectares of traditional Dão varieties and 5 z (sic) of olive trees.
It was opened to wine tourism in 2008. And its restaurant, open everyday, provided us a spectacular meal. Indeed, our elegant host, son of the Comte de Santar, winemaker Pedro Vasconcelos e Sousa, sat us down to the following menu.
To Start
Bread Toast of Mushrooms, Emulsion of Tomatoes and Cardamon
Main Course
Codfish in Maize Bread, Potatoes and “Migas da Beira”
Second Course
Roasted Goat, Rice of Mushrooms and Spinaches
Cheese Serra da Estrela, “Requeijão” and Sweet Pumpkin
During this beautiful repast we tasted and discussed many of the wines of the Dão. Below is the list, largely in the order sipped, and my brief thoughts, if warranted, about each.
2008 Cabriz Bruto, Quinta de Cabriz, a blend of Malvasia Fino and Cercial. Refreshing and light. My understanding is that this sparkler makes up 10% of their sales.
2008 Comdessa, Casa de Santar, 14% alc. This white wine had a full mouthfeel, a little heat, lightly acidic; its all new French oak was reserved. Almost a Viognier character.
2008 Paço dos Cunhas de Santar ‘Nature’. A ‘biologique’ wine -moving toward Biodynamic certification- it had soft, rounded tannins. Vanished in the back palate; a light oak influence.
2007 UDACA (União das Adegas Cooperativa da Região Demarcada do Dão) Touriga Nacional, 13% alc. Twelve months aging in mixed oak barrels. Light, fragrant bouquet, simple body, sweet, smoky, but short finish.
2007 Vinha Paz Reserva (Antonio Canto Moniz), Touriga Nacional; American and French oak. Sweet, full body, masive mid-palate, round tannins, very long finish- oak present.
2007 Quinta da Falorca, T-nac, Touriga Nacional, 14% alc. Gorgeous nose, full body, beautifully structured; no oak. Brilliant expression of Touriga. A truly world-class effort. (As a side note, after I had made my feelings about the wine known, I was approached by folks associated with the parent quinta. They explained that a certain Mark Squires, Robert Parker’s hit man inexplicably assigned to Portugal, gave T-nac an ‘89′. As silly as that is in itself, Mr. Squires also recommended that they grub up all their Touriga Nacional and replant with Cabernet Sauvignon. Truly terrible advice, a disservice to the grape and to the Dão patrimony.)

2003 Quinta das Roques. 13.5%. Touriga Nacional. Just a baby. Needs time. Very well structured.
2004 Quinta de Cabriz (Dão Sul), Escolha. 14% alc.
2004 Quinta da Falorca, Garrefeira, Old Vines 14.5% alc, Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro Preto and Tinta Roriz. Full mouthfeel, very firm tannins, rich mid-palate. Oak present, a little unbalanced, hot on the finish. Thoughtful wine.
Also served was the 2003 Quinta das Roques Reserve Blend. From the Pessegueiro (peach) vineyard. 13.5% alc. A seamless wine. From mid-palate to finish, a beautiful elaboration. Quite elegant.
2004 Conde, Casa de Santar 14% alc. Very elegant, balanced. Holds the alcohol well, rounded tannins. Good quality, if not particularly memorable.
1994 UDACA 12.5% alc. Touriga Nacional and other, unspecified grape varieties. Extremely satisfying. Very deep, rich and mysterious. I will be fortunate to taste this wine again someday.
I should also mention a 2009 Quinta da Falorca, Rosé of Touriga Nacional (not pictured). 13.5% alc. A little candified, but with good acid. I am especially fond of Tavel rosés. I have had quite a few. So, my palate would need to taste many more Portuguese examples of rosé before I could even hazard an opinion as to the quality. I will say that I did not find Quinta da Falorca’s effort compelling, mindful of the caveat above.
Lastly, we tried to enjoy a magnum of 1970 Dão Garrafeira out of Viseu. Produced by the Federacão dos Viticultores por Dão with the greatest hopes, sadly the wine was quite medicinal. Its day has passed.
We finished the lunch in very good spirits. Thanking our gracious host, we departed light-headed, with much work still remaining this day, about which more later. Resting with the setting sun, we would find our way to the restored 17th century Pousada Santa Marinha in Guimarães.
Update It has come to my attention that a couple of the wines mentioned above also made the reputable Sarah Ahmed’s list of Top 50 Wines of Portugal.


J’Arrive Vinisud!

Ξ February 23rd, 2010 | → 2 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, International Terroirs, Wine & Politics, Wine News, Winemakers |

The irrepressible Donna writes:
J’Arrive Vinisud!
Everyone who knows me, knows I love wines from the South of France. They are near and dear to me and I’m a firm believer it is the future of France as we see all the named and historically famous wines become prohibitedly expensive and disappear out of the hands of the regular wine drinker into the very wealthy and increasingly the Asian market.
Here you find amazing value to price ratios unlike most wine regions in the world, save for Spain, which is slowly creeping up and less the value it once was. Unfortunately as successful as the region is, there still is a wave of vine pull schemes which tug at my heart every time I see another report.
The Trade Office of France and Sud de France have very generously brought me to the Languedoc to experience Vinisud, the largest wine trade fair for wines from the Mediterranean. I have to give props to Marie-Helene Courade of the Houston France Consulate who never forgets how I love going on these trips, making fantastic connections and putting up with my indecision when making flight reservations. Also thanks to Sarah Nguyen the Director of the Wine and Spirits for the French embassy trade office in NYC,
The Sud de France organization gave us all a wonderful welcome gift with our itineraries plus small gifts and samples of regional foods. One really neat gift and excellent for quick reference in a fun way is a sampling of wine tubes. Each tube contains a sample of the different styles of wines from the region. The AOC’s are for each style are printed on the back of the tubes along with the authorized grapes of the regions. As a wine educator, I kinda feel like Martha Stewart when I say “It’s a good thing”.
There’s a very busy schedule at these events. Frequently there’s a different hotel every night in a different city, dinner until 1 am, back up at 6 am, on a bus by 8am, repacking every morning, bodies fatigued, palates broken down, livers distended no matter how much wine you spat out but the opportunity to be in an organized visit schedule to meet producers and potentially bring their products to the United States, is gold. This trip I am thankful to be stationed in one hotel and I was able to completely unpack my garment bag and take account of all the things I need which I forgot to pack, but I did remember my Dansko clogs and will decline competing with all the very fashionable French women so I can cover as much of Vinisud as possible instead of moaning about hurting toes.
In addition to all the wines from the South of France at Vinisud I understand there are some wines from Corsica (very excited), Italy and Greece to also be included. I also saw they have a blind tasting room which I’ll be sure to visit and find out what that is about to see how badly I can humiliate myself. For those of you wondering why I’m disparaging my decent palate, I’ll fill you in about two weeks what that’s about.
There is going to be about 12 Halls in total and I received the book on only Hall 1 which is about 350 wines. And looking at the map of the event, Hall 1 is one of the smallest. So potentially, looking at about 5,000 wines? It can’t be that many, although I was looking at the pictures from last years regular Languedoc trade tasting and yes it could be.
Here’s the video from the 2008 Vinisud to see how large this trade fair is.
There is so much to pack into 3 days. They are also doing 3 full days of conference programs. I have signed up for 3, including the International Federation of Wine Journalists and Writer’s roundtable and a course on the new quality labels which I just don’t understand why it’s been changed. I’ll let you know if I’m still cranky about the change after learning about it more from those who really know. I know I want to go to Ryan O’Connell’s presentation about using the internet as a marketing tool on the last conference on the last day. He gave me a shout out on Twitter and I want to see what this young gun and his family are doing to make their wines successful. First look at his website impressed me.
The schedule for February 20th tells me we’re going to Cite de la Vigne et du Vin Gruissan which is on the coast near La Clape and then Carcassonne in the afternoon and for the evening visiting Corbieres de Bourtenac.
Schedule for February 21st has me going to Montagnac then visiting area wineries and then dinner at the Restaurant Le Sequoia with wines from Perpignan hopefully including the famous vin doux naturels from the region. I understand 3 groups of importers are going to enjoying this even on 3 separate evenings and I’m thrilled to be included.
Then finally 3 days of the main event which I have no idea how I’m going to get it all in, plus hopefully do some interviews’ in the time allowed and then home. I still wonder if I turned my hair curler off before I left.


Dark and Delicious, Petite Sirah Among Friends

Ξ February 21st, 2010 | → 4 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Wine News, Winemakers, Wineries |

Friday night’s Dark and Delicious, the annual celebration of Petite Sirah and food, brought a friend and me over seventy miles to attend. Through slow south bay traffic, we finally crossed the Bay Bridge and picked our way through the bleak, melancholic expanses of the Alameda Naval Station to the Rock Wall Wine Company, our destination. Darkness had fallen by the time we arrived, and we couldn’t help wondering after the choice of venue; that was until, turning a final corner, we gasped at an unobstructed view of San Francisco skyline just sparkling to life this temperate evening.
Perhaps 6:15 p.m., the building was already packed. Arousing, rich aromas and a slightly harsh white light spilled over a long line of souls waiting to enter. And excellent live music could be heard. I mean, very good music, a superb band, the name of which I will post shortly. Of the crowd, I could see the dress code was casual, but some were decked out in their finest, including my companion. Dior mingled with Levis. Thankfully, very few wore perfumes or colognes. (Nothing kills the ability to taste wine more efficiently than perfumes.)
All ages were present. I was pleased to see a great many young people in the mix, twenty-somethings mingling with mature professional men and women. I would estimate the average age of the crowd to have been around 40.
The room was divided into three sections, long rows lined with winery and restaurant offerings. These rows were capped by yet another row of servers at one end, and tables covered with Silent Auction opportunities at the other. Although each row was crowded with guests, they were well behaved and polite, quite unlike the slow motion brawl of a ZAP event, for example. Indeed, folks at Dark and Delicious had ample chance to chat with winemakers and chefs; and more so as the evening rolled on, when the live music ended and the Bee Gees, Michael Jackson and the Commodores hummed over the speakers. Then the rows furthered thinned, many folks preferring to dance. This was my opening to more leisurely taste the Petite Sirahs I had come for.
I tasted extensively, sampling (and spitting) nearly every wine. But I do not think it fair to write notes in such an environment. There is simply no way one can credibly claim to have properly thought a wine. For wine is not about tasting alone. Petite Sirah demands careful attention, so varied is its terroir expressions. It is simply too easy to get lost in its mystery, to ‘rate’ in a purely reactionary manner what one does not immediately understand. I have held my head in shame at many of my blogging colleagues who write in this manner. In fact, one of the most fascinating aspects of Petite Sirah is how dramatically it changes in the glass, how it responds to humidity, the ambient temperature, the salt air, and most importantly, food. In addition, the finished grape’s great aging potential, routinely under-estimated in the traditional literature (witness Jancis Robinson’s faint praise), makes patience a necessity whenever a new bottle is opened. The finest examples are rather thrilling contests between the all-too-human, childish demand for immediate gratification and the immense rewards granted adult patience. Who has not been disappointed when finishing a bottle only to find the final pour to be far more sublime than the first? Like a selfish lover, no one leaves the experience any happier.
Of course, the wine of any variety may be so designed as to be ready by the time it arrives from the market to the table. And a heavy dose of new oak on garish display Friday night may fool some drinkers, but not me. The Petites I like best are mysterious, mercurial yet balanced . Now, because of both the cautionary remarks above and out of an abundance of respect for winemakers, their labor, heartache and unique agricultural challenges, I shall mention only two wineries of very special merit, in my opinion.
First up is the Aver Family’s ‘06 Blessings. This wine made from 100% estate grown fruit, wowed me months ago and it continues to soar. Mr. Aver, learning of the Dark and Delicious event late last year, was wise enough to set aside the few bottles he brought last night. His ‘07 was not ready so he made the painful decision to bring the last of his very first Petite Sirah effort. It is especially pleasing to know the grapes are grown in the Santa Clara Valley. The august California winemaking history of the area is perhaps taking a huge step forward with this wine, retaking its place as an important growing region. Petite Sirah growers take note! And drinkers, get your name on their list. As a small producer, they will sell out easily each year, as the ‘06 Blessings already had months ago. Great juice.
Next is a producer I know absolutely nothing about, a new discovery: Marr Cellars Winery. I tasted were the ‘05 Cal. PS Alger Vineyards, Tehama County(!), the curious ‘06 Cuvée Patrick PS, also from Tehama County, and the ‘05 Shannon Ranch, Lake County PS. I met the winemaker, Bob Marr, and shall interview him later this month. The prices are very competitive for such quality, between $18 and $20. Very well-balanced and focussed, the fruit quite pure. The higher acidity and the restraint of oak flavors won me over.
Finally, it was a great a pleasure to meet for only the second the man whose historical family-owned Concannon Vineyard is the first to have released single bottlings of Petite Sirah way back in 1964, an eternity by California standards. Founded in 1883, Concannon has long carried the torch for this lovely grape. Tireless in his promotion of the grape, this picture of Jim Concannon, too, captures the spirit of Petite Sirah itself, at once youthful, spirited and wise. It was an honor to have again shaken the gentleman’s hand. Good work, sir!
Hats off for Jo Diaz!


Should Wineries Promote Green Practices?

Ξ February 17th, 2010 | → 0 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Technology, Wine News, Wineries |

A report just published by the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication titled Americans’ Actions to Conserve Energy, Reduce Waste, and Limit Global Warming demonstrates the willingness of Americans to engage in a broad range of conservation practices even if they do not always follow through. Despite the recent body blows climate change science has suffered, it is clear from the report that the depth of America’s commitment to ‘green’ themes has only increased with time.
Conducted between the months of December, ‘09 and January of this year, 1001 Americans surveyed, 18 and over, readily agreed with the proposition that recycling at home, bicycling to work, using public transport, reducing energy use at home, among a few of the survey’s questions, were important personal pursuits and social values generally. However, the report also highlights the contrast between the motivation to act ‘green’ with the actual performance of the same. Now, what might prove of interest to the wine industry is that despite or perhaps because of shortcomings of the practical application of ‘green’ behavior of the surveyed, a large percentage indicated their willingness to reward companies perceived to engage in environmentally beneficial activities and to punish those companies perceived to be engaged in destructive behaviors.
From the report:
Consumer Behavior
Q201. Over the past 12 months, how many times have you rewarded companies that are taking steps to reduce global warming by buying their products?
2010 2008
Many times (6+) 4 5
Several times (4-5) 7 11
A few times (2-3) 17 22
Once 5 4
Never 68 58
Q202. Over the past 12 months, how many times have you punished companies that are opposing steps to reduce global warming by NOT buying their products?
2010 2008
Many times (6+) 5 7
Several times (4-5) 7 8
A few times (2-3) 13 14
Once 3 3
Never 72 69
Q203. Over the next 12 months, would you like to punish companies that are opposing steps to reduce global warming by NOT buying their products…
2010 2008
More frequently than you are now? 32 40
About the same as you are now? 58 53
Less frequently than you are now? 10 7
Q204. Over the next 12 months do you intend to buy the products of companies that are taking steps to reduce global warming…
2010 2008
More frequently than you are now? 34 40
About the same as you are now? 58 56
Less frequently than you are now? 8 4

Clearly, benefits may flow to a winery able to raise its ‘green’ profile. I have written about The Gort Cloud in precisely this connection. And Social Media, Facebook, for example, offers the winery an easy way to reach potential customers and other influencers. However, if we examine the otherwise excellent list of 50 Facebook update ideas for wineries from a recent post on the wine industry blog Fermentation, we find no mention is made of ‘green’ practices of any sort (as of this writing). I believe this to be an unreasonable oversight. I would strongly encourage wineries to add such a category to their Facebook update cycle as well as to their blogs, and any other public interface for that matter. It can do no harm, and may successfully tap into the incompletely realized personal ‘green’ ambitions of the American public.
2/18 Update. Please see the just released Drinks Business Green Awards for 2010.


Work In Progress

Ξ February 16th, 2010 | → 0 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, International Terroirs, PORTUGAL, Wine History, Wine News |

It has been a very busy time for the Reign of Terroir. Your intrepid admin has just returned from a very successful adventure in Portugal. And like the deep well on Pico Island pictured, I have much to offer. Primed with a 1001 tales of that extraordinary wine-producing country, from the Alentejo to the Azores, I shall soon begin the very pleasant work of recounting as many as I am able.
Not meaning to shirk my domestic responsibilities, I also have planned a series of stories about wine events in both California and Washington State. And I will post a number of interesting pieces from the environmental and technological fronts.
Below, in no particular order, is a partial list of work to come.
— Portugal
I shall return to the subject of Colares with insight into the life’s work of Paulo da Silva of the Adega Beira-mar and a look into the Adega Viuva Gomes, an impressive stop along the Bucelas, Carcavelos and Colares winer route.
Off to the Alentejo, I will take readers to the Sõa Cucufate ruins, one of the largest Roman villae in Iberia. It is but a short drive to Vila Alva and Vila de Frades, both centers of clay jar wine production, a technology of great antiquity. Also recounted will be a visit to adegas in Amareleja, also clay jar wine producers.
Next up will be a look at the ‘urban vineyards’ of Fazendas de Almeirim while on the way to Ourém and a tour of the Espite Valley with the gifted Andre Gomes Pereira, president of Vitiourém, an organization deeply dedicated to the preservation of the local wine culture.
Then it will be the startling rock presses of the Dão region which will be described. Used until the 1950s, I will attempt an explanation of their practical application. So too will I relate a brilliant wine tasting at Paço dos Cunhas de Santar where more than a dozen wines were offered over the course of a leisurely lunch of traditional foods beautifully prepared.
Have you been to the Etrurian-style vineyards of the Vinho Verde, Bastos and Amarante regions? I will try to explain why you simply must make it a travel destination. The region’s brilliant mastery of vertical space and its associated biodiversity, with vines over 12 feet high, deserves to be much more widely known.
How can so tormented a landscape, so harsh an environment, for people and vines, give rise to one of the most amazing wine cultures in all the world? The Azores is an archipelago of extreme contrasts, as are its vineyards, at once seemingly impossible yet very productive. How to get such profoundly unique wines into the markets of Europe and America? I will show, among other places, the Biscoitos Cooperative on Terceira Island, and on Pico Island I will explore the thriving Cooperativa Vitivinicola and other cultural treasures situated beneath the active Pico volcano.
—California and Washington
This Friday I will be attending a PS I Love You event, their celebrated Dark and Delicious.
And generously sent to me from L’Ecole No. 41 out of the Walla Walla Valley, Washington, there will appear my take on some of their wines.
These are but a few of the pieces begging to be written. Many more will follow in the fullness of time.
To work!


Greybeard’s Corner, January 2010

Ξ February 9th, 2010 | → 0 Comments | ∇ Greybeard's Corner |

Ice and snow were to the fore in January and there wasn’t much warmth in the news either, with one event on January 12th overshadowing pretty much everything else last month. Since that tragic day there have been some heart-warming displays of generosity and the wine world has not been absent, with Decanter reporting on several initiatives including the online Wine for Haiti auction at Palate Press. One hopes that the generosity of the donors and bidders will be translated into efficient relief for those suffering unimaginable hardship.
Although the recession finally came to an end in the UK its effects were still being seen as the First Quench saga continued with news that the failed business owed drinks giant Diageo nearly £2m – although that paled into comparison to the nearly £14m owed to the UK Government in unpaid taxes. Slightly more hopeful was news that many of the 88 franchises are bidding to buy the stores they were running.
On the other side of the world Australia’s biggest grape buyer, Constellation, confirmed it was not renewing contracts of 300 South Australian growers in the next few years as part of downsizing efforts to combat the recession, while wine and health hit the headlines again when the World Cancer Research Fund called for drinking less alcohol to cut cancer risk – the research prompting calls for lower alcohol wines. Jeremy Laurance took a factual stance with some depressing statistics in The Independent, while Jonathan Ray was more realistic in The Telegraph.
Finally, poetic justice made an appearance as a French Sauvignon Blanc from Loire producer LaCheteau was banned in Australia for sounding to much like a New Zealand wine with its screwcap “Kiwi Cuvée”.
I managed two tastings in January, with the first at my monthly NEWTS meeting where Portugal was the focus with Paul Raven and Alan Holmes of PortoVino contrasting some of their new Reserva wines with the same estate’s standard offerings. We were told that Reserva in Portugal is not based on aging, as in Spain, but on quality (and often alcohol level) determined by committee judgement.
The Reservas did not fare well to begin with, with the citrus fresh Prova Regia preferred to its oaked Quinta da Romeira stable-mate, the Morgado de Santa Catherina Reserva – both made with the Arinto grape. 2 sets of reds followed from Alentejo and Estremadura, all acceptable drinkers (with the Reserva a little better overall) but nothing inspiring enough to detail until we moved to the Douro and a well made 2006 red blend from Quinta da Fronteira which everyone seemed to enjoy. When the 2007 Reserva was poured it was also popular, with extra complexity and a longer, fruity finish – however at £25 for the Reserva the £8.50 Tinto suddenly looked like the bargain of the night!
The final red was something of a luxury, as it is not available for retail in the UK and was given to PortoVino by the producer for special tastings only. This was the 2004 Icon d’Azamor, an Alicante Bouschet, Syrah, Touriga Franca blend from the Alentejo. I’ve enjoyed the standard Azamor wines before but this had one of the best noses I can recall with a mix of aromas, including sweet tobacco. It was very smooth to drink (all the more surprising as it was aged for 16 months in new French and American oak) although there were comments about not enough complexity and being a little one dimensional, and as the retail price in Portugal is about 50 Euros it was hard to recommend for value but I found it a gentle wine which caressed the palate, no faults and 4 stars (the nose was 5 stars!).
We finished the evening with a delicious 10 year old Tawny Port from Quinta da Romaniera which had a warming raisined richness to it that reminded me more of a 15-20 year old tawny – very good indeed.
The second tasting was a week later, and was hosted by The Wine Society in Newcastle. The theme of the night was “If you like that, try this…”; 10 bottles from a mainstream region or variety and then 10 of something unusual as a contrast and an attempt to move people outside their comfort zone. Given that I am a seasoned wine adventurer then some of the choices seemed a bit conservative, but I relished the chance to try some of the pairings starting with the Boizel Brut Champagne alongside the English Nyetimber 2003 Brut Classic. This was my first taste of Nyetimber, an English producer frequently in the news for its award winning wines, and it was a positive one; a full and creamy nose was very floral with none of the yeast, biscuit or bread aspects typical of Champagne – it was dry in the mouth with an elderflower and citrus zest and long finish, much more refreshing and interesting than the pleasant but quick finishing Boizet.
Other stars of the night were the subtly perfumed and bone dry Hatzidakis 2008 Santorini, showing lemon with a long finish, and Château de Beauregard 2007 Macon-Vergisson which had a strong honey nose continuing into the taste, good body and complexity. Stand-out reds were Hahn Estates 2006 Monterey Merlot – relatively subtle for a Californian with a deep fruity nose, creamy with some vanilla, balanced tannins and rich complexity – and the Warwick 2007 The First Lady from South Africa – a weird nose of Hungarian Pickled Vegetables was a minor detraction to an otherwise a delicious wine. As to the unusual, then the 2005 Tandem Syrah from Alain Graillot’s Moroccan winery showed well with nice balance (maybe a touch acidic) but was let down a touch by a rubbery nose.
Normally I’d not detail the wines that didn’t show well, but there were a couple I felt should have been so much better, such as the Crozes-Hermitage 2007 la Matiniere by Ferraton – much too lean and acidic – and I was also disappointed by the only red Burgundy on offer, the Societies St Aubin Rouge (Domain Henri Prudhon 2007), which was very light and over acidic.
All in all I felt it was a successful evening and, although it did get a bit crowded around some of the tables, was well hosted by the Wine Society’s John Granger and the two Sarah’s.
The Wine Society was also heavily involved in my January purchases as I took advantage of the £20 joining discount and placed my first ever order with them. Like a child in a candy store I’d read my way through their wine list (twice) before deciding on a mixed case of 9 wines befitting my eclectic tastes – so 9 countries and 9 separate blends came together; Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Lebanon, Portugal, France, England, Germany & Austria. I am most looking forward to the Catena 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, the L’Avenir 2005 Pinotage and the Henriques and Henriques 15 year old Bual Madeira – although the Hochar Pere et Fils 2002 is a safe bet as I’ve had it twice before and any Grüner Veltliner by Willi Bründlmayer should be good!
Other purchases during the month included two bottles of English white (including the excellent Chapel Down 2006 Bacchus Reserve) and Tim Adams 2008 Clare Valley Riesling to replace his deliciously rich 2005 which I finally opened after 3 years mellowing at home – a petrol-heavy, crisp and precise wine.
I’m not sure whether it was the aftermath of the New Year season but January had me opening some wonderful bottles along with that Riesling; the jam & chocolate Eos 2004 Petit Sirah, the sweet and salty Arnaud de Villeneuve 1982 Rivesaltes Ambre Hors d’Age (a delight with Marzipan), the fine-tannin Port-wannabe Domaine de La Maurelle 2003 Gigondas and the cream & berry Philipp Kuhn 2003 Kirschgarten Spätburgunder from Pfalz (my first “quality” German red).
The month drew to a close with Burn’s night on the 25th of January where some of South West Scotland’s finest Haggis was washed down with a very palatable New Zealand red, the Seven Canoes 2007 Syrah Viognier from Hawkes Bay, which was a pretty good match for the peppery offal and oat mixture.
I’ve neglected direct mention of the weather as most of you will have seen in the news how the UK was covered in a thick layer of snow for the beginning of the month. Apart from providing an easy method of chilling sparkling wine, the novelty value of the Arctic conditions wore off quickly once the holidays were over and the daily commute to work began anew. It seems that although January is over the winter continues with forecasts of more snow throughout February on both sides of the Atlantic, so stock up on warming reds and have a glass on me!


A Look Inside The Colares Cooperative

Ξ February 2nd, 2010 | → 11 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, International Terroirs, Interviews, PORTUGAL, Technology, Wine History, Winemakers, Wineries |

Presented here is a detailed look into a historic winery, the Adega Regional de Colares outside of Lisbon, Portugal. It is also the conclusion of my thorough interview with Colares enologist, Francisco Figueiredo. He was very generous with his time, spending more than two hours indulging my curiosity. I would encourage readers to, well, read the first two installments: The Vineyards of Colares, A National Patrimony At Risk and From The Vineyards To The Adega Regional de Colares. It is a strange twist of fate that well after thinking I should not soon pass this way again, in two days I shall in fact be returning to Portugal for more wine work. More details to come.
Admin You were bottling the other day? This is your machine?
Francisco Figueiredo Yes. It is a little messy in here because we just got forty pallets of bottles. We were bottling some of the red 2004 Colares. And this is our bottling machine.
I’ve seen these guys before. Is this Italian?
FF Yes. Many are. So are the crushers and de-stemmers. The press is French. We have, more or less, modern machines. We still have some work to do. We have some walls to paint. We laid down a new floor about two years ago. We have to go slow with the investments. We will repair the roof and the walls soon, I hope.
These are the old lagares where the grapes used to be crushed and pressed. And part of the reds were fermented here. We don’t use the lagares anymore.
Does anyone still use lagares?
FF Yes. In the Douro Valley there are places where they still use them. And some of our own growers, they also do their own wine at home, they use them… Here are the old cement vats, fermenters also. We don’t use them anymore, either. And here is an old centrifugal crusher. And our new one. We use a pneumatic press for our wines. We also have two hydraulic vertical presses over there which we can use if we have a problem with the pneumatic press. And we have a machine to fill the ‘bag-in-box’. We use that type of package for our table wines. They are the boxes with the small tap. We use vacuum filling. The wine stays good for quite some time. And that is now our substitute for the glass jug. We are getting good sales from using the bag-in-box system.
So we ferment in temperature controlled stainless steel. Some of the red, because we don’t have enough room in the stainless steel, we still use those big wood vats over there. We call them ânforas; we still use them for some of the table wine. Of course, we have no temperature control with them. An interesting fact about those is that, as you know, for our steel vats we have to use the pump to circulate the juice, from the bottom to the top, to pump over to get the color out. But in the wooden ânfora, the process is done naturally because the carbonic gas pressure that builds inside is enough to push the wine to the top; and it fills that cup on the top so that the pomace always stays beneath the wine. We can do this without the use of pumps or electricity, just the carbonic gas pressure which build up naturally during fermentation. I have not seen these anywhere else in the world. The system is the same for the cement vats called ânfora Argelina, but I have never seen wooden ones.
Where did these come from?
FF They were built here. The wood is Portuguese Chestnut. Each takes ten tons of grapes. And later we then bring over the pneumatic pump and open a small door to take the pomace to the press. This has a tube inside. The cup on top has a hole, in the center, so the wine goes up, fills the cup, and the wine then drains back on top of the pomace.
It’s like a giant coffee percolator!
FF (laughs) Yes. Almost exactly like a coffee percolator. This is the same system as the traditional cement that appeared in the ’60s.
May I climb up?
FF Yes. As long as you are not afraid of heights!
We climb up a narrow ladder.
FF You can see the tube. This is really spectacular to see during fermentation because the cup is filled with wine and it bubbles! It is a pretty sight.
The doors are very small. How do you clean out the interior?
FF We go inside. Someone has to go inside to remove all of the pomace. We put a ventilator up here and let the vat breathe for some time because of the danger of suffocation. In fact, four people have died in Portugal during this harvest time because of carbonic gas. They die without knowing it. We are very careful about that. For cleaning we have a special device that sprays hot water. But it is very difficult to be 100% sure that it is perfectly clean. It is wood, after all.
But we don’t have a problem with Brettanomyces because our wine has a low pH. And we don’t have a lot of sugar in the wine. We produce dry wines, around 12% alcohol. All the sugar is consumed by the yeast. So it is not easy for Brett. The main problem for us is not having temperature control here; not the wood but the temperature control. The wine can heat up quite a bit, around 40 degrees celsius.
FF Yes. That is high enough for the wine to lose a lot of the aroma. The tube, by the way, is connected to the crusher so that the grapes come through here. We use two or three of these vats or ânfora, each year.
Whose initials are these, JVN? The maker?
FF That means Junta Nacional do Vinhos, the National Wine Institute [founded in 1937]. Since the fifties, until 1994, this cooperative was a kind of hybrid organism; it was half cooperative, half was intervention by the state, the agricultural minister. Because of that all of the wine had to be made here in order to use the Colares DOC. That is no longer the case.
And what are these tools?
FF We don’t use them any longer, but they are for pushing down the cap. They were used if we didn’t put in a full 10 tons of grapes inside the ânfora. With less grapes inside, the carbonic gas would not be enough to push the wine out of the top. These forks would be used to push the pomace, the cap, down to mix with the wine. We now use a pump for that if it becomes a problem.
These are beautiful. I trust they will eventually end up in a museum.
FF Yes, yes. Some of them already are. And they are not permitted for use these days. They are made of wood and iron. What was done at the time was to paint, to use special paints to protect the iron parts in the tools and machines. Now it is all stainless steel. But every year all of the old tools had to be painted with the special paint that protected the iron from contact with the wine.
We climb down the stairs.
So, to be clear, someone has to climb into the anfora from the top…
FF Yes, yes. You go up to the cup and climb in from there using a ladder. The center tube is pulled out and someone goes down.
Do you ever have any cork issues?
FF No. We use only corks. I have never received cork taint complaint. Never. I will always choose cork.
I agree with you completely.
FF Would you like to taste some of the wines?
Of course! You know, I have a odd thing to ask. Being from America, we like to collect hats or shirts of the places we’ve visited. I’m looking for something with the name ‘Colares’ on it. Do you know where I can find such a thing? A rather silly idea!
FF No. But it is not a silly idea. It is an idea I have given to the directors. Why not a polo shirt or something? Even for the workers!
Not to mention Gonçalo, the winegrower we spoke with earlier. He wasn’t even wearing a hat!
Francisco laughs while getting two tasting glasses.
It must be very satisfying work for you. You’re doing so many things at the same time; preserving a way of life, preserving a wine culture, preserving memory…
FF Yes. It is all very important. I am also afraid that things might not go well in the future. The vines are in danger. That’s the only thing that I regret.
He uses a thief to draw a barrel sample. This is the white Malvasia, sandy soil, 2008. We will bottle it probably in a couple of weeks. [Late November.] Malvasia has a very citric, very minerally, acidic taste, and an almost salty taste, I notice. It also has an oxidative character; I think of hay or honey.
Very oceanic… very bright and fresh. How is the water quality here?
FF We analyze it inside our HACCP plant: ‘Hazard Analyses and Critical Control Points’. (laughs) There is some paperwork that we have to do. We have to analyze the water. It is good.
That’s one helluva name. So when you’re doing bottling session how many people would normally be here?
FF Working? Around four. We do it with a small crew to get into the rhythm. We can do about 1000 to 1200 bottles an hour. That is a good speed for a machine like ours. One guy puts the bottle on the carousal, another one taking it off and putting in the cork, another one carrying the bottles, another stacking the bottles. It would be quicker if we had one of those pallet movers, but we don’t have one yet.
Do you use wild yeasts?
FF No. We inoculate. The reason is that I had some experiences making the wine with natural yeasts, the wild yeasts, but I had some problems with starting the fermentation. It is too risky for me to risk that when I do 7000 liters of Ramisco or 2500 liters of Malvasia. But I did make an experiment. It is a question of trying to select a natural yeast from the area; that would be a project that I would like to do.
So you have experimented…
FF Yes, with several yeasts. For the whites we use a Portuguese yeast; it was selected in the Vinho Verde region, in the north of Portugal.
How was it done historically?
FF Naturally. But the big difference is that it would have been in an open lagar. That makes a lot of difference from using the closed stainless steel vats. I have made wine at my parents home using, not a granite lagar, but a small plastic lagar, more or less; and I had no problem starting the fermentation. Sometimes we have a problem with it stopping!
It can stop at 12% ?
FF Yes, before the sugar is depleted. That is a risk for the wine. But the main problem is fermentation within a closed tank. That’s when it becomes difficult. We would probably have no problem if I did the Ramisco in the lagar.
Francisco draws a second wine.
Have there ever been experiments done with fortified wines in Colares?
FF No. Just for the workers. I have done one this year. (laughs) We call it jeropiga or Abafado. I have taken the juice out of the tank before fermentation started and added our wine distillate. I made five liters last year. We give a small bottle for each of the workers. It is for drinking now. We have a tradition of drinking it during Saint Martin’s Day, the 11th of November. That day it is traditional to release the young wine for the first time; and you also drink abafado. An abafado is when the fermentation has started a little bit, like a Port, it is the same. Port is a special type of abafado. We add the spirits before the fermentation has started. One is usually a little bit sweeter than the other.
He pours the second wine.
FF This is the Ramisco. This has been in the big wood vats for around two years. Then it was put into these oak barrels. This is not young oak. It is three year-old oak. Our Ramisco wine doesn’t go well with new oak. It is too strong for our wine. So we use a two to three year-old barrel. What we are doing now is three years in the big exotic barrels in the other room [another part of the adega] and one year in the small oak barrels. We now see that this is the best for the wine.
How warm does it get in the other room?
FF This room is much hotter than the other. Even during the summertime the other room only gets to 16, maybe 20 degrees celsius. Here, no.
We drink the Ramisco. This Ramisco is regional because it has not yet been certified. It becomes DOC only after certification. Before that it is regional. Six months before bottling we have to send the wine to a certification board and they will certify the wine as DOC.
What does certification involve? And who is on the panel?
FF It involves a chemical analysis and a tasting. The panel is made up of one representative of the city, there are the persons who represent the associations and cooperatives of the Estremadura region, and then there are representatives of the producers. The panel or board has about 15 people.
What wine do you use for topping off?
FF We use the same wine held in a different vat. We can mix a maximum of 10% of different years of Ramisco. If we have the need we can do that, to play with the volumes. When you use new oak, and I’ve this experience in other places, you often have to use 15%. The Australians usually don’t top. They put the barrel on its side and leave it there for a only a few months. They probably do that in California as well.
Just out of curiosity, what do you think of wine ratings, and wine descriptions, the tasting notes?
FF They are very exaggerated. Wine is simpler than that. I think that is the beauty of wine. Sometimes a wine smell like something, but the critics exaggerate. Sometimes the wine smells like something tangible, but….
We exit the adega and make our way to his car where I retrieve my personal effects.
What do you have here in the back of your car?
FF My mother-in-law sent this to my mother. It is a basket of walnuts and some chestnuts, and a bottle of jeropiga! (laughs) It is my mother-in-law’s present to my mother.
Thank you very much, Francisco. This has been an eye-opening visit.
FF It was a pleasure, Ken. Let me give you some wine before you go.
Does the adega keep a wine library?
FF Yes. Since 1931, the first harvest in the year of the foundation of the cooperative; the first wine we made.
Back to 1931? My goodness. So what is next for you, your next series of tasks?
FF We will bottle a few things. We always have a busy commercial time at Christmas. After that, in January, we usually transfer the young wines to the wood vats, take the lees out. Then we continue to bottle if we have the need. And I start in the springtime I get out of the cellar to give technical support to the vineyards. And then the cycle begins again!


Morgan’s Halfway House For Wannabe Winemakers, pt. 2

Ξ February 1st, 2010 | → 2 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Interviews, Wine News, Winemakers, Wineries |

The title for this second and concluding part of my interview with Morgan Clendenen, owner and winemaker for Cold Heaven Cellars, comes during her detailed discussion of the very real practicalities of farming grapes. Make no mistake. It is fraught with anxiety and uncertainty. Not that there is much anyone can do about it. She holds farmers in the highest regard. They are different. They know what is within their abilities. Indeed, having learned her lessons well, Morgan approaches winemaking with a kind of dispassionate Eastern quietism, an attitude she will patiently encourage, well, wannabe winemakers to adopt. It is all about a clear understanding of what is within one’s power, one’s control, and what powers properly belong to the world. Small miracles and potential disaster struggle for ascendance in the brain.
This attitude is equally important to cultivate in the winery. After making wine for more than a decade, three truths have emerged for Morgan Clendenen: Do not hesitate to do what you must to save a vintage; there is always more to learn; and winemaking is not for whiners.
Part 1.
Admin Could you say a little more about your earlier Pinot effort?
Morgan Clendenen I haven’t made one since 2002. In 2003 I was getting all of my Pinot from Au Bon Climat and we lost our entire crop that year. That’s when I started making Syrah. The 2008 and 2009 are the first Pinots since then. I love Syrah when it is from a great vineyard. So many people do Syrah, and Syrah usually is not something I reach for. My 2005, I’m absolutely in love with this wine, but it has a Pinot Noiresque quality to it. That’s probably why I love it so much!
Yes. Syrah has fallen on hard times here in California. I like Northern Rhone expressions in any case…
MC Syrah is a real tough road here. The only thing I’ll say is that my Syrahs tend to stand out, away from the group, not being so ubiquitous, because we do two years barrel, two years bottle before release. I come from…, I was raised raised in the house of Au Bon Climat cuvée; the acidity and restraint are definitely a number of the building blocks of my wine education for winemaking.
Yes. Would you say a bit about ‘green’ practices on the property itself? The vineyards? Do you have certain standards, certain requirements?
MC Not directly, because I don’t own the vineyards. Sanford and Benedict was for a period of time organically farmed. I have issues with some of the organic farming. I find that there is a lot more ‘product’ on the grapes themselves than some of the people who farm non-organically. I see more product! And I just can’t help but wonder how much of that is getting into the wine, and how that makes it ultimately ‘better’.
What do you mean by ‘product’?
MC Well, there are a lot of organic compounds that they use in spraying vineyards. I don’t know. I’m not vineyard manager or viticulturist. I make wine. So I really can’t tell you those kinds of things. I know that Le Bon Climat is farmed organically, and I will tell you that they are the ugliest damn grapes I get. (laughs) They are! We have a motto in the winery: “Ugly grapes make great wine.” (laughs)
And I had some ugly Pinot Noir this year and I had some beautiful Pinot Noir, and I have to tell you, the beautiful Pinot Noir tastes beautiful! The ugly is o.k. (laughs) Now I’m struggling to decide what I want to do, whether I want to blend it all together or keep it separate.
With organic preparations you are often required to use them more frequently. Their effectiveness is limited if contrasted with more industrial strength pesticides. They break down more readily, and so on. What kinds of pest pressures do you have there?
MC We have mealybug, I know that. White fly is a huge problem out at Sanford and Benedict over the years. The white fly basically shuts down photosynthesis, that it causes your grapes not to be physiologically ripe in the end. That’s a bad thing. Mealybug is really horrible because it kills the plant. We’ve really been watching the mealybug problem. We have a big mealybug problem at Le Bon Climat. And I think part of the reason we have a really big problem is because we are organic. What’s being applied over there is not proving effective enough to take care of the problem.
That said, I want to be greener. Hey, I moved my winery into Buellton and moved my house to within a mile of my winery. Before I was driving 45 minutes to get to my winery every day. That doesn’t feel green! Especially when you’re driving a big truck. In those terms, there is always something we’re trying to figure out; how to be a greener business, how to leave a smaller carbon foot print. And I have toyed around with biodynamics. It’s something I’ve read about, studied some… I’ve even gone as far as to procure the horn! (laughs) But I have never buried it in the ground.
Where do you keep the horn?
MC I have the horn at the winery, actually. It’s a buffalo horn; it’s not a cow horn.
Well, buffalo horns won’t work, of course.
MC I don’t know. The place where I was doing it, at the ranch, (actually it’s my ex-husband’s ranch, but we’re pretty friendly on that; basically, I let you keep your stuff. We’re cool.) So over at the ranch, because I was growing organic vegetables over there, I was extremely interested in biodynamics. Yves, my French partner, just laughs his ass off at biodynamicism. He says it’s a fashion, and then takes me to look at vineyards that he knows are biodynamic. And they are pretty sad looking. But I can’t say that they make terrible wine. You know? Biodynamics has some interesting things about it. It is rather archaic in some of its principles.
I remember meeting Telmo Rodriguez, a Spanish producer; and he said his vineyard was biodynamic. It was a time when I really didn’t know much about it. I asked him about it. He wouldn’t tell me! Finally I asked, ‘if you’re not willing to share with people what specifically you are doing in the vineyard, then don’t talk about it being biodynamic’. It is a vineyard he owns, after all. I think what’s going on is that Spain is a Catholic country. Biodynamicism is a little bit of witchcraft mixed in with some homeopathy and astrology. In that way it makes it interesting to me. But, I’ve never had the chance to actually see it in action. So… I’m almost dead certain that Beckmen Vineyards is all biodynamic.
I think that anything that puts you in your vineyard more frequently, that makes you more connected with it, is better for your vineyard. Period.
I think that is exactly right. But now, with respect to the mealybug problem at Le Bon Climat, it might be interesting to think about one of the major selling points of the biodynamic approach is that it restores a certain kind of balance. It would be interesting to see whether you could do like a test block.
MC It’s at a point where nothing, not even biodynamics is going to cure it. (laughs) It’s really bad. I’m sure the rains are not helping. Rain just spreads it around. It’s a constant battle. I have a total respect for farmers. How to deal with that kind of uncertainty in a job… you can’t predict what the weather is going to do. And even when you try to predict it, that doesn’t mean you can always do something about it. I can’t imagine how stressful it must be to be a farmer.
It’s funny. During harvest, when it starts raining, everybody around me gets all nervous an upset; and I say, ‘you know. I’m just not gonna’ because there is nothing I can do about it’. The best thing I can do is that when my fruit comes in see what the deal is and go from there. To winemakers I ask ‘Why cry over spilled milk?’ Now, I don’t hear the same bellyaching from farmers out there working their butts off.
Yes. I had a wonderful conversation with Bryan Babcock last year sometime. He is a hard core farmer, I’d say. And he is very outspoken in this regard, about the exigencies of farming. He’s a tough guy.
MC For Le Bon Climate vineyard, Jim (Clendenen) would be in total agreement with Bryan. And I think it is the same thing with wine. If you get wine that doesn’t have any acidity in it you’d be a fool not to put some acid in it, in my personal opinion. I had a guy at Morgan’s Halfway House for Wannabe Winemakers this summer (laughs) who was making some Syrah. I looked at his numbers. He told me how much acid he was going to put in, and I said, ‘you know, I would put in twice as much.’ He said that he was afraid to do that. I told him not to be afraid of the acid. As perfectionists, we want to produce the best wine that we can. That is very trying. In your mind’s eye you’d really love to have fruit and juice that’s perfect; juice you don’t have to add anything to. Everything is natural, and so on. But that is just not reality. Yes, you can take your natural fruit and just let it go, don’t do anything to it. Or you can hold its hand, make sure it gets to the end point, the right place, and still have it be commercially viable. If you don’t do that you’ll end up with wine that the public may not necessarily want to drink.
So, just as in the vineyard you have to address problems as they come up, sometimes you have to be a lot more pro-active than in your heart you want to be, whether it’s chemical or whatever. And in the cellar it is the same thing. You want perfect fruit, but that does not mean you’re going to get it. You have to work with your boundaries to make the best wine you can.
Last year at Le Bon Climat the grapes were absolutely perfect. The numbers, perfect. I didn’t have to do anything. It was a cakewalk. I loved the wine. But that only happens once every two of three vintages, that you get the perfect balance. So, yes, we’re going out there, we’re testing the sugars and such, but sometimes it’s a box of chocolates; you get what you get. This year was very odd for me, the 2009 vintage. The sugars were not very high. I don’t think I picked any Viognier above 23 Brix. Most of it was 21.5; but it was physiologically ripe. Very, very strange vintage. But they will have low alcohols; they will be fresh. It not going to be green, I can tell you that; which is what 21.5 would suggest.
I thought about additions and that sort of thing, but the fruit tasted good. The juice was yellow, with a green tinge. It was a very unusual year for Viognier. A friend of mine, Karen Steinwachs, who is the winemaker for Buttonwood, I met her for lunch right before Christmas, and she said she brought in, I think it was Sauvignon Blanc at 22 Brix, somewhere in there, and she still got 14.5 alcohol! We can’t figure it out. How does that translate? It doesn’t make any sense. There is something going on, but we can’t figure it out. And she is meticulous. She tested it at her lab and she sent it off for testing. Now, we know within 99.9 % that fruit, the Brix level, was at 22. We’re stumped. Perhaps different yeasts are responsible. There are so many different yeasts now, maybe that’s the reason. Some scientist may tell you that’s just rubbish, but in five years maybe some breakout scientist will say something different. There are certain things that I don’t know to be always constant. So I told her that I’ll tell her what my alcohol is in the end. I’m not predicted to have anything above 13.5% alcohol. It’ll be interesting. If it goes higher then she and I will definitely be contacting Davis! Houston, we have a problem. (laughs)
Is she using wild yeasts?
MC She’s using commercial yeasts. I use commercial yeasts. The Saints and Sinners is a wild yeast, however. I am not a big fan or wild fermentation because most of the time some of the wine gets stuck, it doesn’t finish. If you’ve ever restarted a fermentation I don’t think there’s anything more unnatural that you can do to wine. It made me sick to my stomach and I never want to do it again. When you have to take wine and heat it up, and then add 25 pounds of sugar… that does not feel good. It does not feel natural. It feels intrusive.
Strictly speaking, with the wild yeasts on the grape skins, and even though you may use a commercial yeast, you really don’t know which yeast finished the fermentation. There is no way of knowing. There are thousands of yeasts in there.
Yes. Indeed, a number of commercial yeast companies now include combinations of wild and commercial yeasts, Saccharomyces cerevisiae principally. The idea is that the wild yeasts get a toehold before the commercial populations overwhelm them. Some qualities are imparted before others.
MC That’s what we’ve been doing in my cellar. We’ll monitor the juice, and when it is starting we’ll let it go for a couple of days. And then we inoculate. I do like natural yeasts; I just don’t want to have to deal with restarting the fermentation. You’d then have to use commercial yeasts in any case. I think that is the dirty little secret of natural fermentations. People always talk about using nothing but wild yeasts, well, ya know, bullshit! I don’t believe you! Especially for California with the high sugar levels, if you then go with wild fermentations it is a recipe for a stuck fermentation, in my mind. You don’t really know what goes on behind closed cellar doors! (laughs)
And just because it’s ‘commercial’, that does not make the yeast unnatural. It’s yeast, for god’s sake. It’s not plastic. In the past I played around with making sourdough starters from red grapes. One year I did one from Sanford and Benedict and two other vineyards. And it was interesting! The sourdough starters themselves were so very different in the breads. I had one from Gold Coast vineyard that, I swear to god, tasted like cinnamon in the bread! And that was because of the yeast starter. I took some red grapes; I put some flour in at a certain temperature, and created a starter. Once I had it started it was like having a newborn. You had to feed it… I mean, ok, I can’t deal with this anymore! (laughs) So I really like my yeast that comes in a packet! I am very comfortable with it.
I actually use a Champagne yeast for most of my Viogniers because I like the clean expression; it is a clear expression of the grape without adding this fruit factor or floral factor, all these things that the different yeasts are supposed to do. If it ain’t broke I’m not going to fix it.
Well, wonderful. I have a lot of material to work with here. I want to thank you…. wait, one more question. What do you think of the usefulness of new Social Media for a winery’s promotion? Does it help? Can you see the benefits?
MC You know, I use Facebook for work all the time. I get accosted by my friends all the time. ‘Ah, you’re on Facebook all the time, blah, blah, blah.’ Well, it allows me to get in touch with people in San Francisco, New York, Chicago, France… boom, all from one place. I think if you’re smart and learn how to use it, it offers great benefits. And it’s free. How many things out there are free that you can also benefit from, certainly on a business level? It can be intrusive. At times I wonder what the heck am I doing. I do get stalkers! But for the most part it has really helped my business.
I’ve always been a little behind the scenes, a little bit underground. I am not, as my Facebook persona may suggest, as out front as you might think. I always been more of a ‘behind the scenes’ person.
Thank you very much, Morgan, for the opportunity to speak with you. Oh, one last question, did you really ride an elephant in a vineyard?
MC Yes, I did. That is totally true. A socialite that used to live here in the valley held very elaborate parties. She chose her guests based on their entertainment value and willingness to go along with her party ideas. For her 50th birthday she had an Indian themed party. All the guests, all women, were required to wear a sari. The party was held by their pond located in the middle of their vineyard. I actually ordered a sari from India and learned how to fold the layers of cloth; there were many! Nothing like being swadled in a colorful sheet when it’s 100 degrees out! But the surprise of the party were the three elephants… I must say it was a majestic feeling, lumbering slowly through the vineyard, slightly higher than an elephant’s eye. I will never forget that view, for a time an Indian princess riding in a California vineyard.
Very cool. Take care, Morgan.
MC Bye, Ken.


From the Vineyard to the Glass, Winemaking in an Age of High Tech


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