Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Late-Harvest Time

We jumped the gun this year and went ahead and picked the late-harvest before the families arrived. The problem? Birds.

We now have swarms of hundreds (maybe even thousands) of black birds and starlings scouring the valley, looking for anything to eat. Even with our efforts to keep them out (including dogs and four wheeler rides into the vineyard), they ate about 1/3 of our late-harvest Sauvignon Blanc in a matter of a few days. It reminded me of those old videos of locust plagues - they just ate in from the end of the rows until they were chased out. All that's left on those vines are stems hanging sadly from the vine. So, we picked.

Bill, Nancy, Joe and I went out with our bins and took down all the SB and the clusters left on the Gewurztraminer vines. The birds kept flying overhead while we were doing this, hoping for another meal. It only took us about an hour and a half to harvest it ourselves, as so much was eaten.

After picking, we then pressed the grapes in our basket press and put the 10 gallons into better bottles (food-safe plastic carboys) to ferment. (We're trying not to use the glass carboys as much as possible because of all the horror stories surrounding them - winemakers carrying them and they break, cutting their hands, wrists, etc. - yuck.) We're letting the wine go wild yeast, per usual. It's already bubbling away happily, and it looks gorgeous this year - a beautiful amber color in the fermenter.

After picking, the birds came right back. Now we have thousands of them eating whatever we left, plus the second-crop Pinot. Along with the birds came the hawks, and there are several now trying to poach birds from the sky. It's loud, noisy, and really cool-looking. Well, cool now that the grapes are officially all in.

Today both Joe and I's family arrives for the holidays. So, to that end, have a great Thanksgiving and enjoy your days off! I know we all deserve them.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Farallon Pinot tasting

On Saturday Joe and I went to SF to attend the 10th annual Farallon restaurant Pinot Noir tasting - something we've never been able to find time in our schedules to do. First, we met my friend Heidi for some bridesmaid dress shopping (complete bust, although it was nice to see Heidi). We then lunched on Union Square, grabbed a coffee - only green tea for Joe - and went to the tasting.

At $100 a head, the reputation of this tasting is that the brands represented are at the highest end of Pinot Noir. I had assumed that many were allocated or mailing list wines, which was not exactly the case. What has happened over the years is that wineries become grandfathered in to the tasting. Given the space in the restaurant (crowded), unless a brand drops out there isn't room for another to join. So you have a mix of the more established brands (Handley, Greenwood Ridge, Calera, etc.) with newer brands that have managed to score a table.

The wineries represented included: Adelsheim, Argyle, Au Bon Climat, Bonaccorsi, Brewer-Clifton, Byron, Calera, Cambria Estate, Chehalem, Costa de Oro, Domaine Drouhin, Domaine Serene, El Molino, Etude, Fiddlehead, Flowers, Fort Ross, Foxen, Freestone, Gloria Ferrer, Greenwood Ridge, Handley, Hartford Court, Hendry, Hitching Post, Iron Horse, J, Keller Estate, Kosta Browne, Littorai, Londer, Lynmar, Marimar Estate, Melville, Merry Edwards, Michaud, Morgan, Patz & Hall, Paul Hobbs, Peay, Pey-Marin, Ponzi, Radio-Coteau, Rex Hill, Robert Sinskey, Saintsbury, Sea Smoke, Siduri, Skewis, Soter, Talisman, Talley, Testarossa, Thomas Fogarty, Whitcraft and Williams Selyem. (I believe a few may have been missing.)

The tasting only ran 3-6 p.m., so you can see that, being the driver, I didn't have time to make it all the way around. Plus I was spitting like crazy and trying to grab the appetizers that floated around (not enough to have a meal, but delicious - fois gras, smoked sturgeon, duck gizzards, etc.). There could have been better dump bucket placement for spitting, but they did provide little paper cups as the tasting progressed.

Many wineries were pouring multiple vintages, and even some library magnums from '94, '97 and and '99. There were quite a few 2006's, which overall I found to be somewhat light and thin as a group. My favorites of the day (minus the library wines because that isn't a fair comparison) were the Costa de Oro, Talisman, Talley, Whitcraft, and then Lynmar for the best overall lineup. Kosta Browne was only pouring the Russian River and the Sonoma Coast, so it was hard to judge their basic bottlings against other wineries' best wines. The biggest surprise of the day was El Molino, which makes Rutherford Pinot. I've seen some great reviews and scores for them, but was surprised at how restrained and delicate the wine seemed from a climate known for Cab.

Overall, it was educational, which is the whole point of going to these tastings. And I think our 2006 would have showed brilliantly against any of the wines in the room, which is satisfying to know.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The End of the Season, Beer making

After our Vino Moda event last weekend (which I would highly recommend next year to anyone who likes clothes and jewelry and has a little money to spend) we are coming to the end of the event season. This means a slow-down for us from working 7 days a week to hopefully just 6, and considerably less time in the car. We love doing the tastings, but sometimes it's nice just to have an afternoon off.

Yesterday, for example, we did some work at the tasting room and talked with journalist Heidi Cusick Dickerson who will be writing an article about us for the Ukiah Daily Journal (also syndicated via Business Wire). Afterward, we gathered with family friend Andy Berry and had an extended, European lunch outside in the sun. We spent the afternoon making barley wine - one of Joe's favorites.

We try and make a few batches of beer every year but have been putting it off for quite a while. So yesterday we finally got out the carboys and beer kits and found a burner to cook it on (the 5-gallon pot ruins electric burners, trust me on that one), and we started the process. Barley wine yesterday, amber ale today, and oktoberfest tomorrow.

Making beer is about 10,000 times easier than making wine. Especially since we use clone kits - pre-packaged beer kits you can buy at the local home brew store that imitate famous recipes. One of our beers this time is a clone of Sierra Nevada, and we love it because we know this way what the final product will taste like. The hardest part is hand-bottling the beer. We're starting to think about going with kegs, which aren't quite as convenient for giving away to the family, but they eliminate the bottling process, which takes hours of prep and sterilizing, and then hours of filling and capping.

What else is up for us in the next few weeks? Thanksgiving, for one: Joe's family is joining us here on the compound this year, which will be fun. After that, a trip to Tahoe for Joe's birthday (and possibly the city beforehand - we're trying to go to both Bubble Lounges in NYC and SF within a month). We're going to stay open for tastings on Thanksgiving weekend and probably the week of Christmas (minus Christmas Eve and Day), so we'll continue to take appointments. Then - 2009 budget time (yuck).

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Free Shipping - Two More Days!

This is a blog - a place for thoughts, reflection and news. So, besides mentioning that we're now offering free shipping on 6 or more bottles of our Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir until this Friday, November 14 (available on our Web site along with our normal 10% discount on 6-11 bottles and 15% discount on 12 or more), I thought I'd offer a few thoughts about this whole concept:

I'm a wine consumer too, and I get all the offers and newsletters. Many wineries have been offering free or discounted shipping this holiday season, most I believe due to concerns about sales with a slumping economy. I understand, but I have one major pet peeve: I've gotten some offers for 1 cent shipping or 99 cent shipping. What is that? Pennies are the things that we dump into change jars, hoping to ever use again sometime in the next 10 years - perhaps to buy a hot dog once we've acquired about 10,000 of them. They're not for shipping. As a winery, I would absolutely loathe having to add a penny to everyone's orders - it's not even worth my time. I get it, they're trying to be different, but just make it free already! Save everybody some time and change.

When it comes to FREE shipping, I love it. Personally, I hate shopping around the holidays. I prefer to order online and have it all come to me, but I always know that if I just make one trip out, I can save myself a lot in shipping charges. That's where the free part comes in. I figure, with free wine shipping, I save myself anywhere between $15 and $25 in shipping charges (okay, I admit I buy pretty much exclusively from CA wineries) and it arrives on my doorstep a week later. And most wineries offer a quantity discount. So, let's take 6 bottles of our Pinot for example - if you combine the savings in shipping, plus a 10% discount for 6 bottles, that's like $50 in total savings. I can definitely get creative and spend that $50 on another member of the family, plus I have the wine to give away. It's a win, win. In fact, I think I hear the FedEx truck pulling up now.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Furniture Lust

Nothing exciting today, for once. Except the arrival of a new IKEA catalog. I think the arrival of an IKEA catalog is for women what a fresh Victoria's Secret catalog is for men. I could spend about $10,000 in the next 2 minutes, then be completely confused when 10,000 Florts and 3 Muddus arrive at my house a week from now. Sigh...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

SF Ski and Wine Festival

This past Saturday Joe and I poured at the San Francisco Ski and Wine Festival (which was followed by the boards and brews event on Sunday). It was our first non-wine event, meaning that the emphasis was placed on the ski gear vendors and resorts selling season passes rather than the wineries. It was at Ft. Mason and there were probably several thousand people that passed through the doors that day. The crowd was the most diverse we've ever poured wine for - from just-21 and freshly tattooed to Baby Boomers to young couples with young kids in tow.

For a first-time event, the wineries roster was pretty impressive (and just as diverse as the crowd). Cakebread, Louis Latour, Schug, EOS, Enkidu, Foppiano, Barefoot ... and the list goes on. We were right next to the NOS energy drink booth, where they had a DJ and, for a solid portion of the day, were playing too loud for us to talk to people across the table without yelling. It was a good thing because it attracted people to our corner (in the back of the venue) and they were giving out free vitamin waters, but our voices were hoarse halfway through the event. They played club music, then for a while in the middle it sounded like we were at someone's wedding, then back to the club. Entertaining, at the very least.

The ultimate verdict was that it was a fun event, but too long for pouring wine. We got there at 9:30 a.m. (having gotten up at 6) and left at 8 p.m. WAY too long to stand on a concrete floor and pour wine. By the time we caught some dinner with our friends (note Erik in the photo below, looking bored), and then drove home, it was an 18-hour day. TIRING.

Joe, Kristy and Erik

Our booth, in front of the NOS energy booth.