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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Paul Hobbs Wines in the news

There are literally hundreds of small wineries throughout both Sonoma and Napa counties. Considered one of the best is Paul Hobbs Wines. To visit his establishment in Sebastopol requires an advance reservation. Tasting there is expensive, as are the wines.

Some people and businesses are better neighbors than others. Hobbs doesn't appear to be one of the better ones. Let's just say there's been a pattern of disregard for neighbors and the law--the same laws that all other wineries and grape growers abide by.

Article from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Wine Basics

Why I'm writing this

Wine is mysterious, full of jargon, and full of itself. It don't gotta be that way.

What is wine?

It's adult grape juice--just worst tasting than actual grape juice.

How is wine made?

Yes, grapes are a great tasting fruit. If you ferment them they taste awful so you add some chemicals and sugar and stuff. Fermentation changes the natural sugars in the fruit to alcohol with a byproduct of carbon dioxide. So essentially the little animals called yeast eat sugar, pee alcohol and fart CO2. If you think that's gross where do you think the little air bubbles in your bread come from? Be glad there's no brown stains in your Wonder Bread.

Where did wine come from?

In ancient times (I'm talking before 1990) it was found that alcoholic beverages made water safe to drink. This was all before the fluoridation of water. People would mix wine with water to quench their thirst as getting drunk was better than getting the runs. Usually, unless you fell off your horse.

Although if you ask the French they invented wine.

Why is wine so expensive?

Oak barrels are expensive, stainless steel tanks are expensive, vineyard land in Napa is way expensive. Sure you can get a box of wine for eight bucks that's absolutely fine just like you can get a car for $500, but neither will win you the admiration of friends. More importantly, neither will get you laid.

How is wine rated?

It's a simple 100 point scale. Nobody gets over 96 without creating an outrage from other vintners and other wine "experts." Any wine under 87 point sucks.  Makes perfect sense.

Why is wine rated?

So you'll buy it.  Duh.

How can I learn more about wine?

Figure about $8,000 over the next several years deposited at local wine shops. Then you too can pretend to know what you're talking about. Until then learn the difference between malolactic and negociant.

See, nothing to it!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Treasury Wine Estates -- Getting close to the sale?

Treasury Wine is an Australia-based wine corporation, and one that's not run very well. In the U.S. they own Beringer, Chateau St. Jean and a number of other wineries. Treasury has been in the news over the past year or so, and it's never been good news. It appears they are about to sell to a U.S. private equity firm who might be looked at as a savior with the cash to turn it around or they could be seen as corporate raiders. Yes, they'll have money to invest, if that's what's needed (can you fix bad management by throwing money at it)? Most likely they're looking for a fairly rapid turn-around in Treasury Wine so they can sell them off for a profit.

Articles from BBC and from Santa Rosa Press Democrat

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

"Natural" Wine vs. "Manipulated" Wine

There are a number of people in the wine biz talking up "natural wines." There's no real definition for it. It's not organic or biodynamic wine. It's about getting away from all the extra ingredients (and processes). Extra ingredients? Isn't it just grapes and yeast making alcohol,  maybe some sulfur, or a fining agent like egg whites?  Well, no. That's no more true today than believing Italian maidens still stomp the grapes.

I'm looking through the catalog from a local home winemaking shop. Their "Enhanced Winemaking Products Chart" lists:

Go-Ferm, DAP, Opti Red, Lallzyme EX, Tannin Complex, Flashgum R Liquide, and a host of other stuff.

These can be anything from yeast food to something that removes the sulfur aroma. There are additives and winemaking processes to reduce alcohol levels. That nice, deep color in that Cabernet--it's might be from Mega Purple.

The natural wine movement is about minimizing this intervention in winemaking. Not to argue the merits here because you can read elsewhere the justification for each side from winemakers, consumers, and the wine critics. I suppose it comes down to, do the ends justify the means? And most importantly, does the consumer care?

Friday, August 1, 2014

Yes, the French are more civilized

A French hospital is opening a wine bar for terminally ill patients and their visiting families.

News article

Meanwhile, in Scottsdale, AZ, a congressional-hopeful held a fundraiser called, "Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms" at a local gun range. Andrew Walter states, "The price of food, gasoline, education, and healthcare are all going in the wrong direction." So for a donation of up to $1,000 you could shoot stuff, then have a cigar and some drinks with Walter--probably while complaining about the high cost of scotch and ammo.

Wine News from the Sierra Foothills

   The foothills region of the Sierra Mountains east of Sacramento may not be the world's most famous wine region, but it puts out some pretty nice red wines, and a few whites. The two counties of Amador and El Dorado are known mostly for Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Barbera.

   California is having its share of wildfires this year. There's one burning near Plymouth in Amador County. It's already destroyed several homes. There is now worry of smoke taint in the wine grapes. In 2008 there were numerous fires in Mendocino County just north of Sonoma County. The skies were actually full of smoke for the month of June that year. At the time no one thought much about wine-related problems from the smoke, but later found smokey flavors in many wines from this region. It doesn't seem like the smoke will hang around as long in the foothills fire, but growers are concerned. We'll probably know in a few months. Article


   One of the wineries in Amador County that helped put the region on the wine map, Amador Foothill Winery, is changing owners. After 35 years Katie and Ben are calling it quits. You may have never heard of their wines as they make only a few thousand cases a year. I first learned of Amador Foothill Winery in the 1980s as Katie had previously worked at Gundlach-Bundschu Winery in Sonoma. Every two of three years we try to make a road trip to the Amador/El Dorado area and always stop at Amador Foothill where Ben could be found in the tasting room. The good news is that they've sold to another local wine family, the owners of Lava Cap Winery. Article from the Sacramento Bee.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

America's Adult Beverage of Choice

Beer is #1 in America though wine has closed the gap in the last few years.

Per an article in The Drinks Business the popularity of beer is at its highest level in a decade. However, men over 55 years old prefer wine as do women.

Gallup has an interesting poll showing the popularity of beer, wine, and spirits for the past couple of decades. There is a slow, but steady increase in the popularity of spirits over that time. Wine shows a bigger increase while beer has been up and down, but mostly down. Interestingly, it appears that during the recession wine decreased and beer increased in popularity as folks were probably looking for something less expensive.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Wine and Food Pairing--It can be Simple

Some People Want to Make it Complicated

Remember how you used to think sex was complicated? Later you figured out it's really pretty simple. When it comes to wine & food matching there's not really that much you need to know. Oh, there's been billions of words written on food/wine pairing by gobs of experts. (This post is not written by an expert, btw). Is there really any way to know the nuances of every wine you might buy and know exactly how to prepare a certain meal to match it? I mean, do I need a different wine for the meat, the potatoes, and the vegetable? Well, I'm not going to do that and neither is anyone else I know. Life's already too complicated!

The Basic Law of Wine and Food Pairing

If you take a great meal and have a mediocre wine with it, overall you have a mediocre meal. If you take an average meal and add a great wine you have a great meal.

Extreme Examples

Let's say you go out to the nicest restaurant in town. You order their fresh seafood of the day, their best steak, or maybe a nice pork tenderloin. Pair that with White Zinfandel and see how the meal works out.

Or let's say you grill up some Safeway hamburger and put it on you basic white bun with your basic condiments. Now open up a ten year old notable Cabernet you've been saving. You've just created that special event! And those burgers will taste pretty good.

Pairing by Quality

Okay, you're not likely to do either, but you get the idea. Always upgrade the wine. If you've got $60 to spend on the meal don't spend $50 on food and $10 on the wine. Make it more like $30 each.

Notice there's been no mention of, "Serve white wine with this and red wine with that." It's not as important to having a quality wine. Not saying you can't have an inexpensive bottle of wine; just saying it won't be as memorable of a meal.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Gallo -- All you need is money and lawyers

Gallo has never been what you'd call a friend of other wineries or grape growers. Most wineries and growers, especially the smaller ones, get along just fine and will help each other out. Gallo is not a friend of wine wholesalers either as they've been really good at muscling the smaller guys out. Yeah, it's supposed to be a dog-eat-dog business, but when you find restaurants in Sonoma County that only carry Gallo brands you have to wonder.

The Jackson Family (Kendall-Jackson, La Crema, etc) and Gallo (Frei Brothers, Rancho Zabaco, etc) are the largest vineyard owners in Sonoma County.

Gallo is the largest winemaker in the world. One of every three bottles of wine made in America is from one of Gallo's brands. You often don't even know you're drinking Gallo as they have over 50 labels. They made their money initially off the cheap rotgut stuff like Thunderbird, Ripple, and Night Train. These wines sold well in the slums and to poor drunks as the "wine" was cheap and high in alcohol. Gallo received a lot of public pressure concerning this so in a bit of civic responsibility they removed their name from the label. If you look at the Gallo web site for a list of their wine labels you won't see these listed.

In the past Gallo employees voted to kick out the United Farm Workers labor union. That vote was overturned when it was found Gallo management pressured people to vote their way.

Gallo's latest act? There is a small shop in North Carolina that sells pizza kits. It's run by a husband and wife, Tom Gallo and Susan Devitt. They call their company GalloLea Pizza Kits (like Galileo, cute, huh)?  Well, Gallo Wines was sure people would confuse their wine empire with this pizza outfit. After $140,000 is legal fees and new marketing costs to change their name this ma-and-pa shop is ready to go again.


Really, Gallo?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

What Wine with Ice Cream?

The third Sunday in July is National Ice Cream Day as signed into law by none other than President Ronald Reagan. The first ice cream cone was served at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904.

So, what wine should you have with your ice cream? There are some basic wines that will cover most flavors: sweet to slightly sweet Sparkling wines, Ruby (red) Port-style wines, and late harvest whites, especially Sauterne-style wines. 
Mmmm, homemade ice cream

Wine / ice cream pairing suggestions:

A Sauterne-type wine works. This is usually a sweet Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon wine with apricot and honey flavors. Also, Trentadue Winery in Sonoma County makes a late harvest wine called Chocolate Amore with actual chocolate in the wine--maybe you could just pour some of this on top.
A chocolate stout beer makes an excellent vanilla ice cream float.

This is where the red Port-style wine works (not the Tawny style). This is a rich, sweet, heavy wine. In California you'll find Zinfandel and Petite Sirah-based port-style wines.

Chocolate Mint
You can use the Ruby Port or maybe a Zinfandel, especially one of the more fruit-forward styles of Zin from a producer such as Mazzocco or a region like Lodi, CA. Or have the best of both and get a Zinfandel made as a port-style wine.

With the fruit-flavored ice creams I'll go for a slightly sweet sparkling wine. A rosé would be great.

Go with the slightly sweet sparkler here, too.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Reasons NOT to Visit Sonoma County

Come to California's wine country? What were you thinking? Don't do it! Here's why:

You'll eat too well and put on a little weight

image from

You'll also drink too much

image from

All the restaurants are too fancy to be affordable

image from

 Wine, wine, wine. You'd better like wine. There's nothing else to drink.

The roads are terribly crowded

If you get lost there will be nothing to do

Okay, wine and food, but there's nothing else to do or see

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

U.S. Brewery Count = 3,000

  According to the Brewers Association there were 3,040 breweries operating in the country in June 2014, the highest number since the late 19th century. California has over 500 breweries. Sonoma County is home to 23 craft breweries at last count.

  One-third of all breweries are located in four states: California, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado.

  Maybe a better stat is from Vermont with just 29 breweries, but the volume of beer produced puts them at 15 gallons annually per adult (ranked 1st in the country). In case you were wondering Mississippi comes in last with only four craft breweries.

  You just have to go back to the early 1980s to find that there were only about 90 breweries in the whole country (aka, the bad ol' days). At that time small breweries were considered operations like Anchor Steam, Hamm's and Yuengling. Boy, things have gotten better!


One of the little guys in Sonoma
They're expanding!
Image from