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Monday, September 15, 2014

Some Wine Trivia

A few things you may not know about wine:

  • The first reference to a fermented grape beverage was 9000 years ago in China.
  • The earliest Western evidence of wine is in the Georgia-to-Iran area 8000 years ago. The wild grape vines from this region are the ancestors of modern cultivated grape vines.
  • Wine making improved greatly during the Roman Empire.
  • The Greeks and Romans both worshiped wine gods (Dionysus and Bacchus).
  • Wine showed up in the New World with the first Spanish Conquistadors in Mexico as the Catholic Church required wine. These original Mission grapes are still found in a few areas.
  • In the last half of the 19th century an aphid from North America, Phylloxera, wiped out nearly half of France's vineyards. Phylloxera feeds on the root systems. North American grape rootstock isn't nearly as susceptible, so today most wine grape vines have North American rootstock grafted onto the vines.
  • At the start of Prohibition in 1920 there were over 250 wineries in Sonoma County. Most were gone within a few years. We didn't reach that number again until a few years ago.
Bacchus in his creepier-looking days
Later he was softened up to look more like a regular party guy

Modern Times
  • Phylloxera is still a problem, but is more-or-less held in check. The other main insect problem is the Glassy Winged Sharpshooter which carries a disease that kills grape vines and other fruits. So far most of the damage from the Sharpshooter is confined to the Temecula area of Southern CA.
  • Premium wine grapes are very particular about where they grow. They prefer a warm, dry growing season, but with a cooling influence (like an ocean breeze). They want well-drained soil and a soil that's not too rich so as to promote too much vine growth--you don't want energy going into the vines that should be going to the grape clusters.
  • Grape varieties are very finicky to growing season weather. Some, as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (these two grapes are related), want cooler temps to produce the best wine. Cabernet Sauvignon won't ripen in these same areas and wants somewhere that averages just a few degrees warmer. 
The Future
  • What happens to the famous areas of Bordeaux and Napa, for instance, if global warming really does take effect mid-century as many scientists say? Do Cabernet vines move to areas like more northern California or Oregon? And maybe from Bordeaux to Burgundy?
  • Technology will have its influence on wine quality and costs with everything from drones in the vineyards to robotics. Currently, grape growing and wine making are very labor intensive.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Get your beer certificate here!

I don't know what's involved in getting a college-level beer certificate, but you've gotta admit it sounds a whole lot more fun than a degree in macro-economics, for instance.  

Sonoma State University has a Wine Business Program offering degrees and certificates. Their program is for the administrative side of the business rather than wine making. SSU is now offering a beer course next spring from their School of Science & Technology along with assistance from nearby Lagunitas Brewery. At the end you'll get an official certificate in beer! (With Lagunitas involved I smell a final exam in IPA).

It'll look great on the resumé. I assume you won't mind the homework. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Coming Wine Industry Labor Shortage

The U.S. economy is gaining steam although the growth isn't equal across all job categories, of course. The wine industry is in a boom phase and doesn't know where its future workers are going to come from.

You can see the problems coming with the current grape harvest. In the autumn a large bump in staffing is required to process the wine grapes. Getting these temporary employees, from the U.S. and overseas, hasn't been a problem until this year. Almost everyone I know is operating with too few workers. There are just too many other opportunities for people. Those wanting to learn the wine industry are coming, but those just looking for a job are not.

Harvesting Pinot Noir
Image from

Washington state expects a record-size grape harvest this year and it's not just the temporary harvest workers they need. There's a shortage of skilled, experienced workers in wineries and vineyards. There is a shortage of people with degrees in wine-related fields.

Some of this has to do with U.S. immigration laws as vineyard work has traditionally relied on migrant labor from Mexico. This is true for all American agriculture. Now Mexico's own booming ag business is importing their own farm laborers from south of their own border.

Winery work includes production, admin, and hospitality. The hospitality side is made up people willing to put up with the relatively low wages in exchange for the "wine lifestyle." Many are fresh out of college; many are older workers.

The number of wineries in the U.S. has increased dramatically in the last decade or two. Today there are over 8,000 wineries with much of the growth outside of the West Coast. Most are small, but all require someone to make the wine, sell the wine, and pay the bills.

An Oklahoma Winery
How many people in Oklahoma are properly trained to grow, 
make and sell wine?
Image from

Monday, September 8, 2014

What wine for National Literacy Day?

September 8th is National Literacy Day, but instead of wine how about a beer? I nominate one of these:

Apparently some of those beer guys don't get much collage learning.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Harvest 2014 -- Fast and Furious

And early!

In farming you never know what Mother Nature will give you. For three years we've had early bud break in the spring followed by an early harvest--and a large wine grape crop.

In "the old days" it seemed you started picking the wine grapes mid-September and finished up at the end of October. Often Sauvignon Blanc is first, Cabernet Sauvignon last (although grapes for sparkling wine are picked less ripe therefore earlier). In recent years we've had warm spring weather or warm, mostly dry, winters (like this year). This kicks off an early growth cycle.

People are already bringing in Cabernet. One Russian River winemaker said he will be completely done within two weeks with the last fruit being some Russian River Valley red grapes--usually some of the slowest to ripen. He also said he'll be done this year before he had even started a few years ago in a year with a very cool summer!

It's not just an early harvest this year, but it looks like a compressed one, meaning it'll be over quickly. If you want to raise a toast to the 2014 vintage do it for the harvest crews working the long hours with no days off.

Following three years in a row of early growing seasons and big crops what does this mean for quality? I don't think anyone is quite sure if wine quality will be affected. As least no one is saying. The proof will be in the bottle a year or two or three from now.

Why has this happened for three years in a row? Some will point to global warming. Or it may just be a natural occurring climatic event as we had four cooler summers in a row before the last three years.

Sorting Pinot Noir on August 21st this year

Follow the action:  A live camera from a custom crush facility south of Napa (yes, near where the earthquake happened).  Cam

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Where the Drinkers Live

An interesting chart from the Washington Post shows beer, wine, and liquor consumption by state. Here's a look at wine consumption:

Heavy drinking in DC explaining why not much else gets accomplished in the capital. New Hampshire folks really look like lushes, however their taxes are low so people from neighboring states (aka Taxachusetts) do their buying in NH.

Overall, the West Coast, New England and Florida are the biggest wine drinkers. Much of what you might call the "interior Bible belt" not so much. 

Going to the article in the link below you'll find most of these non-wine drinking states are bigger on beer and hard alcohol except for Utah, of course. Interestingly, the people in North Dakota drink a lot of beer.


Friday, August 29, 2014

Napa to tourists: We're open!

After the scary and much-publicized earthquake early last Sunday morning it dawned on local businesses that people might just stay away in droves thinking the whole place is in shambles. Labor Day weekend and the following couple months are huge in terms of dollars for the area as grape harvest activities draw many people.

Out-of-the-area visitors have called asking if roads are open in Sonoma County, for instance. Folks not understanding earthquakes or the local geography are probably cancelling plans to visit the area.

The earthquake was centered south of the town of Napa. This is the very southern end of Napa Valley. Most of the damage was in the town of Napa and areas just to the south. There are many home and businesses in the town still being red-tagged (marked not habitable). But the rest of Napa Valley to the north is mostly okay as is Sonoma County.

The vast majority of Napa wineries are open. There are some downtown Napa businesses closed and a handful of wineries. If you want to travel up-valley towards Yountville and points north the roads are open. Sonoma County is open. Napa businesses and business associations have put out the word, "Yes, we're open."

Getting Ready for the Weekend from Santa Rosa Press Democrat

Thursday, August 28, 2014

International Cabernet Sauvignon Day, Aug 28th

Or depending on who you ask Cabernet Day might be on August 30th of each year. What did you expect from a bunch of winos? The good news is that Cabernet will be required for at least two dinners this week!

A few boring facts about Cabernet Sauvignon:
  • It's a genetic cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.
  • It needs to be grown in a fairly warm climate. That is, it won't ripen in the same places as Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, for instance.
  • It's home is considered to be Bordeaux, France where it's often blended with other grapes such as Cabernet Franc and Merlot. In the U.S. people think of Napa Valley when they think Cabernet.
  • Cab is the most planted grape in the world.

So, what Cabernet to drink? With so many available the choices and price ranges are almost never-ending.

Some of the most recognizable wineries earned their reputation because of their Cabernet Sauvignon -- places like Silver Oak, Mondavi, Joseph Phelps, Opus One, and Jordon.

In Sonoma County the prime growing region for Cabernet is Alexander Valley, but there are several other areas of the county growing great Cabs including Sonoma Valley and Dry Creek Valley. A couple special areas for Cab in the county are the Rockpile appellation and the historic Monte Rosso Vineyard in the new Moon Mtn. appellation.

Cabernet Sauvignon is arguably at it's best in blends, usually with the other "big 5" Bordeaux varietals of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. Sometimes you see Cab blended with Syrah.

So grill a steak and pop a Sonoma County Cabernet (or two) this week!

A big award winner at last fall's
Sonoma County Harvest Fair
Image from

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sonoma County Events - Fall 2014

It's harvest season and there's lots to see and even smell! Great weather, great wine, great food, and great music. There are many events going on during this autumn season. Enjoy the bounty of Sonoma!

Here come the grapes!
Image from


29-31 Sonoma Wine Country Weekend - Wine tasting at the beautiful MacMurray Ranch, plus an auction, winemaker lunches and dinners, BBQs, all at various locations around Sonoma County. Info


6  Healdsburg Beer in the Plaza.  About 35 microbreweries. Info

Cajun/Zydeco Festival in Sebastopol. Food, beer, wine, and lots of music. Info

9-11 National Heirloom Exposition at the Sonoma County fairgrounds. It's about the small, local farmer. Info

17-21 Wine County Film Festival in Sonoma. Info

19-22 BR Cohn Fall Music Festival in Sonoma Valley. Rock & roll, dinner, golf. Wallflowers, Melissa Etheridge, Peter Frampton, Huey Lewis, and a lot more. Info

20-21 Russian River Jazz & Blues Festival in Guerneville. Info

20-21 Wings Over Wine Country. Air show at Sonoma County Airport. Info

26-28 Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival in Sonoma. Art, music, and lots of wine. Info

26-28 Sonoma Valley Crush. Harvest activities at various wineries. Info

27  Heirloom Tomato Festival at Kendall-Jackson. Info


3-5  Sonoma County Harvest Fair at the fairgrounds in Santa Rosa - Food, award-winning wines, beer, music, "World Championship" Grape Stomp. Info

11  Cotati Oktoberfest - Eat and drink in your lederhosen. Info

26  Pinot on the River in Healdsburg. Info


1-2 Wine and Food Affair - A northern Sonoma County food and wine event weekend with over 100 participating wineries. Info

28-29  Heart of Sonoma Valley Open House at about two dozen Sonoma Valley wineries. Info

The harvest / crush / vintage - Grape harvest season this year started in August (a few weeks earlier than the norm) It generally runs until about Nov 1st with the busiest time about mid-Sept through mid-Oct. 

Individual wineries harvest events - Many wineries have their own harvest parties and winemaker dinners. Check with your favorites to see if they have anything going on.

Concerts -  Entertainers appearing at various venues this fall include Trace Adkins, Cheech and Chong, Elvis Costello, Melissa Etheridge, Heart, Diana Ross, plus the Temptations/Four Tops.

Thanksgiving weekend - Wineries are closed on Thanksgiving Day. The rest of the weekend is usually very busy with many wineries putting on holiday open houses.  Check with your favorites to see if they have a special event. Be prepared for big crowds on Friday and Saturday.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

What wine for Nat'l Senior Citizens Day?

August 21st is a day to "honor our elderly population." Well, that's nice and all, but the question is, "what wine for senior's day?

It appears any wine is good, but any red wine is better. Here are a few articles on the benefits of wine for the elderly:

Red wine may help prevent seniors from falling. Resveratrol, a compound in red wines, may help with mobility issues in older people. Okay, it may take several hundred glasses of wine a day to get enough resveratrol to do any good, but give it a try and let me know how your balance is.

A glass a day keeps depression away for those over 55. Grandma is happier if she's partyin'.

A glass of wine to help prevent Alzheimer's. Study shows those over 75 who consume a glass a day have less risk of getting dementia. So you won't forget where you left that half glass of Chardonnay.

Wine, tea, and  chocolate are good for the brain. A study says these increase cognitive performance in the elderly. I've got the wine and chocolate covered, have to work on the tea.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

How to overpay for wine

Wine comes in all price ranges and that's nice as there is something for every budget (some wine geeks forget not everyone can, or is willing to, spend fifty bucks for a bottle). Plus there's something for every occasion (maybe you don't want to share that seventy-five dollar Cab with your mother-in-law who prefers Pinot Grigio).

When you get into the moderate-to-expensive range of wines, lets say over twenty-five dollars, there are ways to insure you are spending more than you need.

Fancy labels

It is, of course, obvious that rich-looking labels and other fancy packaging has no impact on what's inside, but in the emotion of buying you forget that. How do you think Mercedes sells cars? Buying a wine that is packaged like a Mercedes could mean you've spent a lot more than necessary if a Ford could have worked just as well.

Fancy growing regions

Napa?  + $xx   Bordeaux?  + $xx or even $xxx
This doesn't mean you should not buy a Napa Valley wine. It just means don't buy just because it's a Napa Valley wine because it'll cost you extra to get that on the label. Bordeaux or Napa on a label has "snob appeal" compared to Lodi or Yakima Valley, for example.

Fancy wineries

Often small wineries or just small production wines cost more only because there isn't much of them around (supply-and-demand). You want a Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay or a Korbel Brut? They're everywhere!  You want a cult wine from some guy in California that makes only 200 cases a year then it'll cost you. This doesn't mean the small production wines aren't worth their cost, but it doesn't mean these wines are automatically better just because there's less of them.

Medals and points

This is the thing you'll see on the "shelf talkers" to sell a wine, "So-and-so gave this wine 92 points!" First off, one good rating doesn't mean much. Just like movie ratings where it's best to get a consensus of the critics; it's the same with wine. One gold medal or one 90+ point rating doesn't mean the wine isn't worth the price, but look for multiple good scores or medals on a wine. And be sure it's for the same vintage year and appellation. It's not unheard of for someone to promote a 2012 Sonoma County Chardonnay when it was the 2011 Russian River one that won all the medals.


I didn't say wines meeting any of these characteristics are not worth the price. Just saying not to buy one just because it meets one of these criteria.

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