Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas!

We may be hard at work today, but over the next few days we'll be enjoying the company of family and friends, along with Christmas treats like fresh dungeness crab and standing rib roast (it's always about the food and wine here!). We hope you'll be doing the same, regardless of what holiday you're celebrating.

 

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and here's to a fantastic 2012!

The Foursight Family

Friday, December 16, 2011

Our Favorite Lake Tahoe Spots: North Lake Restaurants and Wine Bars

My husband (and awesome Foursight winemaker Joe Webb) and I have been participating in a ski lease in Lake Tahoe for two winters now. We've found it's really the only way we can cut down on work and have some fun together during our slow time.Yes, we ski, but we also spend a good deal of time eating and drinking -- probably our favorite hobby. :)

This past week we actually brought our wines and did a number of tastings for our favorite restaurants and wine bars in the area, and I thought I'd share them with everyone. What follows is a highlight reel of the places we love to eat and drink in North Lake Tahoe. If you're going up this winter (or summer), stop by one of these places -- you won't be disappointed.

Uncorked, Squaw Valley: They've got big, they've got lean, and they have glasses of just about whatever you could want. The selection is fun and eclectic, but they don't neglect the big names either. Cool people too.

River Ranch Restaurant (on Hwy 89, near the bottom of Alpine Meadows): We're spoiled in wine country, and this place serves up everything from a fantastic steak to wild game, lamb -- you name it -- all at a price that makes you feel like you more than got your money's worth. Nice wine list, of course, and friendly people. Also a great place in the summer as they have a huge patio right next to the river.

PlumpJack Cafe, Squaw Valley: Another favorite of ours, we unfortunately miss out on the dining room most of the time because we go up mid-week. However, the bar is just as great and way more casual. The wine list is mind-blowing, and they serve everything from a high-end burger to fig and blue cheese pizza, to full entrees. Yum is my rating.

Evergreen Restaurant, Tahoe City: My favorite thing about this place (besides the great food and wine) is that it's family run. Even the kids help out in the summer. The food is excellent, they have a cozy bar, and the restaurant is literally across from the lake, making it a scenic place to eat summer or winter. Highly recommended.

Pianeta, Old Town Truckee: This high-end Italian food restaurant impressed both my husband and I and my parents -- not an easy thing to do. The ambiance, with the big wooden bar and old brick walls, is cozy, warm and rustic, and the food wows. Fun wine list, plus a ton of stuff on offer at the bar. I would go in for a drink just as easily as I would a meal.

If you have any favorites of your own around the lake, we'd love to hear about them!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Rockin' Video #2: Harvest 2011 Begins!

Last year we started creating crush videos, but refused to set them to soft jazz or instrumental (snore). So, to that end, we're kicking off 2011 with the Beatles -- definite rock icons. Because of the massive amount of footage we took this vintage, there will several installments.

Enjoy!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone out there is having a fantastic holiday! On this day I wanted to say a big thank you to all our customers, wine club members, and friends and family who have supported us during the past few years. We're thankful for you, and all you've done to help us realize our dream. (air kisses!) :)

Now down to the serious business: what am I eating today? The normal turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce (albeit my nana's apple and cranberry from scratch - yum!), along with roasted sweet potatoes, a broccoli ring with hollandaise (no idea where it came from, but hollandaise and butter makes everything delicious) and rolls with my mother's homemade jam. It's all too delicious.

What are we drinking? Bubbles to start -- probably Roederer Estate Brut. Foursight Sauvignon Blanc and Dry Gewurztraminer cut through the thick hollandaise and butter, plus the Gewurzt is awesome with turkey. Then Pinot Noir, of course, which I love with simply roasted sweet potatoes and the not-too-acidic cranberry sauce. Pumpkin pie for dessert, with our 2009 Semillon (just try it - it's amazing together).

Happy Eating!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Foursight in the Press!

We've been very lucky to be mentioned in some great publications this fall, as well as being discovered by some up-and-coming writers. And we've just barely released our 2009 Pinots. I have to admit, however, that I've gotten so caught up with posting on Facebook, Twitter and the like, that I've been neglecting to put it all on our blog! Smartphones make it too easy...

So, to that end, here are links to some fantastic articles about our tiny winery. Enjoy, and have a fantastic Thanksgiving! We're headed to the in-laws house, then back here for the tasting room. We'll be open all Thanskgiving weekend for those looking for some fun with the family!

FOURSIGHT IN THE PRESS

Foursight's 2009 Zero New Oak is "Wine of the Week" from Elin McCoy, also a wine columnist for Bloomberg News: www.zesterdaily.com/drinking/1111-foursight-zero-new-oak-pinot-noir

We're featured in VIA Magazine: http://www.viamagazine.com/road-trips/californias-highway-128#relatedlinks

Foursight's entire line-up in the Aspen Daily News: http://www.aspendailynews.com/section/entertainment/149983

Our little winery is in the Sacramento Bee, among many others: http://www.localgetaways.com/2011/10/anderson-valley-the-perfect-weekend-getaway/

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Will Global Warming Force Us to Change Varietals?

It's a big question that no one in the industry really wants to have to address, but one that's been tugging at the back of our minds for some time. Will we eventually be too warm to grow the grapes that we currently grow?

Yesterday's NPR article summed up the concerns nicely. If we are able to breed new grapes that are more drought-tolerant and heat-resistant, will we be able to sell them? If we have to make up new names for new grapes to adapt to the new climate, will they be commercially successful if consumers still want Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir instead?

It's a bit scary to think about, especially since the NPR article states that we might have to worry about it as soon as 2040 :"According to a recent study from Stanford University, about 2 degrees of warming could reduce California's premium wine-growing land by 30 to 50 percent. That could happen as soon as 2040. Water supply is also expected to be an issue...."

One thing that's slightly comforting to me is that Anderson Valley is starting out as the coldest commercial grape growing region: region one. That means that, if we continue to warm over the next 30 years, then maybe we'll just shift toward region 2 or even 3: the new Napa. Cab everywhere! Of course, it will break our hearts to not be able to grow Pinot Noir, and, if that trend continues and we have to keep replanting to adjust to a changing climate, then we're not much ahead of the game.

As for water, well, that's a dissertation in itself, not a blog post. Here locally, the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association helps to fund a river gage that tracks the level of the river, including during frost and irrigation season. The majority of grape growers here aren't allowed to access the river and instead have ponds that catch winter rain, but it's still important to keep an eye on the state of our water.

Any way you cut it, climate change is something that could have a big effect on what we grow, and what's available to consumers to drink. I imagine if it really shifts and we all have to replant, that many farmers will reconsider their dedication to farming anything at all, especially finicky things like wine grapes.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

France and Napa vs. Anderson Valley

Sometimes it amazes me to think about how tiny Anderson Valley is by comparison to any other well known appellation within California. It's even more interesting to compare it to famous winegrowing regions internationally. For an extremely small valley like ours to have any kind of reputation for premium winegrapes and wine is a big accomplishment, and it makes me proud to be a part of it.

Seven Top French Wine Regions by Acres of Vines

  • Languedoc-Roussillon 528,000 Acres
  • Bordeaux 306,000 Acres
  • Rhône Valley 188,700 Acres
  • Loire Valley 158,000 Acres
  • Burgundy 125,000 Acres
  • Champagne 75,000 Acres
  • Alsace 34,000 Acres
Paso Robles has 26,000 planted acres, and Napa Valley has 45,000. Russian River is a mere 10,000 planted acres.

Guess how many planted acres Anderson Valley has?  2,244. That's it. Two thousand,  two hundred and forty four planted acres. Mostly of Pinot Noir. A drop in the bucket, but a passionate drop. :)

Click here for the official 2010 vineyard census.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Vintage 2011 in Anderson Valley

It's been an interesting harvest, if nothing else -- one that we won't soon forget. The second-latest on record for Foursight's Charles Vineyard (three days earlier than 2010), it seems we've had heat, rain, and everything in between. How does that mean the wines will turn out? Well, that depends...

For those of us lucky enough to have everything off the vine before the rains started, it was a good harvest. I believe the majority of Anderson Valley Pinot Noir falls into this category (50%+). The 2011 growing season provided a longer-than-usual hang time for the grapes, but without the 2010 heat spike that caused some sunburn. Indian summer conditions helped to ripen everything in September, just in time for the rains, which truly started Monday, October 3rd.

Rains followed the next week, off and on, bringing us about 3 inches on the valley floor (totaling up all the storms). I think that the grapes that were the closet to being ripe suffered the most -- sugar setback, rot, and the like were all problems to be faced after multiple inches of rain. Those people trying to get 25+ brix for their Pinots likely had to hang through the rain.

Many producers picked their remaining fruit this week, getting everything off the vine while it's sunny and warm again. There will still be some bigger reds and whites out there, and late harvest grapes of course. As moisture promotes botrytis mold, which then helps dehydrate the grapes and sweetens them up, this may actually be a great year for dessert wines!

Overall, it's going to be a tough vintage for many, but like last year I think we were saved by the noble Pinot Noir grape. As it's adapted to cool climates, it also tends to be earlier ripening, meaning that many -- like us -- were able to escape the bad weather.

At Foursight, we're extremely excited about how the Pinots are looking. Everything was brought in during our perfect window: 23-24 Brix. Acids are naturally high, and flavors are good. The stems and seeds managed to to ripen enough for us to do our typical 30% whole cluster fermentations and the fermentations via wild yeast all went through perfectly. We've now been pressing the Pinot in our basket press, and starting to barrel it all down. We're looking forward to everything winding down and some rest!

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Rain Arrives

Rain arrived in Anderson Valley at about 5 a.m.-ish (took me a few minutes to wake up enough to realize it was rain, then to look at the clock). It sounded like it was absolutely pouring at our house under the trees, but the rain gauge only reported less than 1/4". Not so terrible so far...

I would estimate the majority of the fruit here has been picked, but the ridge top and slope vineyards are still hanging both whites and reds, as well as fruit at the deep end (closest to the coast). Some of our neighbors again picked all night last night. After the chaos of the past week, it's probably a nice job to process freshly harvested fruit today while it sprinkles outside. I know from talking to the picking crews, while we were sorting fruit in the vineyard yesterday, that they're glad for the time off.

The forecast predicts some showers tomorrow, then into Wednesday, but nothing more in the 10-day. Let's hope for all the farmers out there (not just of grapes) that the rain moves through quickly and then hot weather dries it back out!


Sunday, October 2, 2011

2011 Foursight Harvest Experience

Yesterday we had an amazing day with an intimate group of Foursight Wine Club Members. For our first-ever Harvest Experience, we invited club members to join us for a day that explored the behind-the-scenes winery and vineyard work (everything you don't see when you simply visit the tasting room). Even though it was drizzly and gray, it was a fantastic day of touring, tasting and eating -- the perfect trio, in our humble opinion.

While Ozzie our winery dog supervised (also known as begging), we had some sparkling wine and small bites in the tasting room, then headed out into the vineyard for a tour with Foursight Winegrower Bill Charles. We tasted berries, then the corresponding wines, and discussed grape growing and how the vineyard is represented in each of the wines. We tested the sugar levels of grapes still hanging, and chatted about the challenges of farming.

Ozzie, satisfied after an entire pulled pork sandwich!
Family recipes - perfect with bubbles!
After our vineyard tour, we headed back to the winery to taste just-pressed Semillon juice, then Pinot Noir juice through the stages of fermentation, and finally the finished Semillon and Pinot Noirs. Our winemaker (and my wonderful hubby), Joe Webb, walked attendees through our winemaking process and invited everyone help us do punch downs (thanks guys!). It was great to see our club members getting dirty!

After wrapping up in the winery, we enjoyed an al fresco lunch of pulled pork and other treats, and of course more wine!
Bill Charles enjoys a glass of wine.
Thank you to everyone who attended. We truly enjoyed showing you the other side of our business here, and it sounds like we'll have to do another Harvest Experience in the future!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Here Comes the Rain!

Rain is always a threat in late harvest years. We always cross our fingers and hope it holds off until all the grapes are picked, but in farming the only certainty is that there can be no certainty with Mother Nature. And, of course, it now looks like we may get 1-2" of rain starting on Monday.

Lucky for us, our last pick for Foursight is Sunday!

Gary Bates, a family friend, and some Pinot destined for Foursight's first dry rose'

OUR FINAL PICK
We'll be bringing in three tons of Sauvignon Blanc on Sunday morning, just ahead of the bad weather. My parents will still have some SB hanging for another winery, but that's due to a number of factors. They very smartly pulled some leaves on our rows, exposing the fruit to more sunlight and ripening the fruit more rapidly. This can be risky in years like last year, where many farmers pulled leaves and then we had a heat wave, causing sunburn and lots of raisined fruit. However, if you play it right, it can make the difference between being able to get the fruit off the vine ahead of the rain, or having to hang it through the rain.

Now, where rain's concerned, anything above an inch is worrisome. Mold increases, and if the rain doesn't let up, the grapes can simply turn to mush on the vines (more or less). Because of this chance, grape growers have been picking frantically all week. It's been hard to get a crew and even harder to get a truck to take the fruit to the winery. The local crews have been picking night and day (literally) -- we've heard our neighbors picking all night for the past four nights so they can ship the fruit to Napa first thing in the morning.

ANDERSON VALLEY FRUIT
Here in Anderson Valley, virtually all the Pinot Noir is now off the vines, meaning that this should be a good harvest for Pinot Noir for the appellation. We'll see how the later-ripening whites and any bigger reds fare (very little planted in the big red department due to our cold climate). And, as for late-harvest wines, I wouldn't expect to see much (unless we end up getting just the perfect amount of rain to encourage some nice, botrytized wines).

As always, it's never dull!

THE FOURSIGHT WINERY
In the winery, our fermentations are going like crazy. The native yeast has kicked off and we have to air out the winery first thing in the morning: the CO2 is so thick we can't work back there until we've replaced the air with the winery fan. We're on to two punch downs (and soon three) per day, and things are looking good and smell fantastic. The one thing I love the most about our tasting room being on the other side of the wall from the winery is that the tasting room smells like fermenting wine all day!

Our first-ever Pinot Noir rose' is almost done with fermentation. Super exciting, and we can't wait to try it as a finished wine. We're not giving it any oak aging, nor are we allowing it to go through malolactic fermentation. Our reasoning for this? We want it to be dry and crisp, with the kind of bright acidity that makes it refreshing and food friendly. We hope to release it in time for next summer's hot days. It's going to be our go-to picnic and patio wine.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Harvest Continues at Foursight

As of today we have everything in except one clone of Pinot Noir (the one that's always behind - 114) and the Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. As it turns out, this isn't the latest harvest on record for Charles Vineyard. We picked four days earlier than last year, 2010. Surprising to us, but that's why we keep records!

We expect to be bringing in the final Pinot this coming week, and the Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon in about a week to a week and a half. Of course, there is a slight chance of rain tonight or tomorrow. However, unless it's more than an inch, it won't be detrimental. It will just moderate the temperatures and cause ripening to slow down a bit. And increase the mold pressure of course.

We've been lucky enough to have a friend helping us out for harvest this vintage (go Erik!). Without help from our friends (Johnny, Jimmy, Gary, and I could go on) and family, we wouldn't be able to do everything that we do. Being grape growers AND winemakers adds a layer of complication -- picking for yourselves, plus everyone that you sell fruit to, and processing all your own fruit on top of it. Then, of course, we have the tasting room, wine club, Web site sales, events, and I could go on.

However, there is a method to all our madness. The reason why we staff our own tasting room, pour at our own events, grow our own grapes, and make our own wines, is that we believe it makes for a better end product and a better experience for our customers. If you know Foursight, you've met one of us -- the family. If you've enjoyed one of our wines, you've experienced exactly what our perspective on Pinot Noir is.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Harvest Arrives!

This Thursday and Friday we picked the first grapes at Charles Vineyard. Whereas in a typical year we start picking still wine in the beginning of September, we were just picking some rose' grapes and starting in on some still Pinot Noir this week. So we're running about two weeks later than usual right now.

How do the grapes look? We did get some sunburn with than 100+ degree day a few weeks ago, so those clusters were removed, shrinking the size of an already small crop. Skins are thin this year, making the grapes fragile and we definitely have to handle them with care. However, flavors are really good, and the acids are still holding strong, which we love. You need some structure and some acid to create that balanced, releasable-now-yet-ageable Pinot Noir we're looking for.

Yesterday we picked Pinot Noir for a new Foursight project: a dry Pinot Noir rose'. We're really excited to make a true rose', picking early, pressing gently, letting the juice sit on the skins for a few hours to get that nice pink color, and then fermenting it into a strawberry-laced, crisp wine that I can't wait to enjoy here in the tasting room, or with a meal next spring and summer.

Here are a few images from the madness in the past few days. We also got some amazing video, so I'll throw something together soon to really show you the chaos! :)

Here's to a great harvest and amazing 2011 wines!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Getting Closer to Harvest at Charles Vineyard

Finally, everything looks purple out there in the Pinot Noir blocks! Veraison is pretty much through and we'll do a berry sample tomorrow to establish a baseline for sugars, acid and pH. We're estimating that we might be picking for our dry Pinot Noir rose in a few weeks.

As for the crop, it's going to be light on the dijon Pinot Noir clones, but closer to normal on the Pommard Pinot. The Sauvignon Blanc actually seemed to set a decent crop this year, despite the cool, wet weather. All in all, this will be a light year, not a bumper crop harvest.

However it turns out, we're all excited to see things moving along and progressing out there. It will be the latest harvest we've ever experienced at Foursight, but I'm sure it will make fantastic wine!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Bottling - 2010 Semillon and Pinot Noirs!

This week was bottling week for our 2010 Semillon (with ingredients listed!) and our 2010 estate Pinot Noirs. It's another busy, hectic time during the year -- one that's both stressful and exciting. The stress comes from the myriad of things that can go wrong, and the excitement from seeing another vintage shepherded safely into bottle.

One thing that I've learned: winemakers hate bottling. I think it just puts them in a bad mood. With all the moving parts and the unpredictability factor, it can certainly be nerve-wracking. Questions abound, like: "How much wine will we actually have?" Or: "Is the clarity, sulfur level, etc. good?"

For those of us who have to order the supplies, it's always interesting. You can certainly think you ordered enough of something, only to find out you botched it, or, even worse, the printer or the printing house did. Just last year the printing house we were using had to fire the employee who counted the labels -- our rolls of labels listed the right numbers, but they were short. The guy in charge wasn't making sure the count was spot-on. This year, we were sent the entire wrong set of labels but luckily had enough time to return them and receive the correct ones. We also had our warehouse load pallets of the wrong glass onto the truck. Luckily, we checked before we drove it all the way from Santa Rosa back to Boonville (about an hour's drive).

Mistakes from receiving the wrong glass, labels, corks, capsules or foils to simply missing the deadline for the boat to ship them from Europe are common. Talk to anyone who works a bottling line, and they'll tell you horror stories from winemakers bottling with the wrong vintage on the label to putting Malbec in the Syrah bottle because the hose was hooked up to the wrong tank.Oops! If those aren't bad enough, imagine getting 3/4 of the way through bottling only to run out of corks. Then you have a partial tank of wine now exposed to oxygen (not good for it) and no closures for your bottles. And bottling lines aren't cheap, nor do they always have a free schedule to come back tomorrow and finish up.

Luckily, our bottlings this week went smoothly. There were a few hiccups, but nothing majorly concerning. Big thanks to our friends who came up to help us work the line. And now we can rest for a few weeks while the 2010's are all in bottle and we await the 2011 vintage.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Persistence Sucks

One big lesson that I've learned from launching a new business, and launching a business in what seems to be a never-ending recession, is that things don't always align with your expectations.

I don't mean this in a bad way -- we launched our first wines to amazing acclaim from Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, The SF Chronicle, Wine & Spirits ... and I could continue. We attended some amazing, exclusive events, and build a great wine club with people we love hanging out with. It's just that 1+2 don't always equal 3. Sometimes you get 1.5 and sometimes you get 5.

I've also learned that persistence is vital. And I hate that word. To persists means to continue steadfastly or firmly in some state, purpose, course of action, or the like, especially in spite of opposition, remonstrance, etc. Not exactly the most exciting or inspiring word.


Persistence is vital because, when you aim for 3 and get 1.5, you have to readjust and continue on. We've had way more than our share of success since our 2006 launch, but I've feel that one of the most valuable things that I've learned is how to deal with rejection. When things don't go our way, I've learned to keep pushing forward, moving toward our goals and readjusting our strategy to get there. It's not easy, but I think it comes with the territory.


Everyone wants instant success, but it doesn't happen that way for the vast majority of people. We all go through that moment where we realize we aren't going to be millionaires by the age of 30 after all. It's pushing on, being good at your non-million-dollar-salary job, and loving life that is the accomplishment. And maybe we'll make that million by age 40 instead. :) I mean, one can always hope.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Foursight in the News & A Wild Animal Visit

It's an interesting life up here in Boonville. As I was working away a few minutes ago, a bobcat leisurely sauntered right through our front yard, stopping to smell some plants, then moving on into our neighbor's vineyard. Unfortunately, I couldn't capture one good photo through the glass. Our dog was so mesmerized he forgot to bark.

I have to give the little guy points for being tough, though. We saw him last week, being chased by a doe protecting her fawn. He was headed the opposite direction and didn't even seem to see the deer, but she still went after him like any good overprotective mother. He looked terrified once he realized that he, weighing in at around 20 pounds, was being attacked by a full-grown deer! Luckily, he escaped through the fence to safety.

Beside the wild animal sightings, I've been gathering press clippings from the wine industry publications Foursight was featured in this week (links below).

Why are we in the news? Foursight is the first winery in Anderson Valley to label a wine with ingredients (one of just a few in the state, really). We're also one of the first in the nation, if not THE first, to list on the label that the wine is suitable for vegan and vegetarian wine drinkers. We were also mentioned because of our involvement with The Wineries of Downtown Boonville -- a group promoting the four tasting rooms within walking distance in Boonville (Facebook page: www.facebook.com/BoonvilleWineries).

Rumor has is that we're also going to be on the VIA magazine Web site in October, plus a few we can't divulge yet!

Here are this week's articles:

Wine Business Monthly

Wines & Vines

Happy Thursday!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Veraison!

Houston, we have color! Just in a few blocks of the Pinot Noir this week, but at least we're seeing some progress out there. I think there's a celebration in order!

Veraison is when the grapes turn from green to purple and finally begin to ripen. Typically you can then predict an average number of days from veraison to harvest. This year, we're all very hesitant to put a number on it, but are hoping to pick by early October.

As always, we'll see!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Veraison Time ... but not this year

Last year - 2010 - was one of the latest harvests we've had at Charles Vineyard. We were roughly three weeks behind our typical schedule. As it turns out, however, we may be even later this year.

The 2010 harvest was behind because of a long, cool summer. It still turned out to be a good year because rains held off until after all our grapes came off the vines. However, looking back at the calendar from last year, we were starting to see veraison (when the berries begin to turn purple and ripen) this week in one of our Pinot blocks. This year's crop is still small and green in all the blocks.

What does it mean? An even later harvest than last year -- unless it continues to be hot and dry and the vines are able to catch up. At this point all we can do it wait and see.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Lost Coast Photos

We recently took a few days off (gasp) and traveled an hour north of Fort Bragg, to the Lost Coast. This area is called the Lost Coast because when they built Highway 1, it was so rugged that they decided to take the road inland. This left an entire area next to the ocean with no major highways, only small, paved and unpaved roads. Given that this is exactly our speed and there was a good chance to take the jeeps out and drive some remote roads and do some camping, we did exactly that.

My overall impression of the area: gorgeous, sparsely populated, and likely just as full of marijuana as rumor has it. The beaches were beautiful and deserted, which was my favorite part. I'd love to hike some part of the Lost Coast trail in the future.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Foursight: The First Anderson Valley Winery to List Ingredients!

Today we a big landmark for our winery: after going back and forth with the TTB for months, we've finally gotten our approval to bottle our 2010 Semillon this August with an ingredients statement and verbiage that states the wine is suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

The TTB has been resistant to allowing our ingredients statement, vowing that we must have missed at least the yeast (nope - we use wild!), and if not yeast then acid, enzymes or something else. This, of course, is ludicrous.You certainly can make wine this way, even if they haven't seen many ingredients statements from wineries and most others that do include ingredients list yeast, tartaric acid and other products.

So, Foursight just became the first winery in Anderson Valley to voluntarily list ingredients on one of our wine labels!

I was also pleased that the TTB allowed us to state that our wines are suitable for vegetarian and vegan diets. Clos La Chance has begun marketing all vegan wines, but the TTB didn't allow them to say that the wines didn't use animal products (see the Wines & Vines article here). Frey is a noted vegan producer but their wines don't list it on the label. So, unless anyone out there has a correction for me, I have yet to find another U.S. producer with a vegan and vegetarian statement on their wine labels.





Yes, we did have to remove our reference to wild ML (they don't recognize it), but that's another battle for another day. All I can say is - WOOHOO!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Wild ML Not an Allowed Statement on Wine Labels

Today was my attempt to reason with the TTB and explain to them why you absolutely CAN make wine with just grapes and sulfur and that it would be okay for our ingredients statement to list only those. Little did I know I would end up having an entire discussion about why wild ML is not allowed on wine labels (surprise!).

In a process that has now stretched about four months, I've been struggling to get a label approved by the TTB that allows us to list our ingredients for the Foursight 2010 Semillon (see my previous posts about this issue). Our ingredients list on the back label reads: grapes and sulfur dioxide. That's what we used when making the wine. Other substances/ingredients added to the wine: zero.

Now you think that, as the agency in charge of approving wine labels, that they'd just accept that people make wine in various styles. Some do a lot of tweaking, and some do little to none. We just happen to be on the none side with this bottling, but apparently they've never seen an ingredients statement with so few ingredients.

My last attempt to submit this label included a one-page rundown of our winemaking procedures per a representative's recommendation. From today's conversation, I now know one page is too lengthy for a TTB representative to read through. Come on, one page?

Also, by saying that the wine was fermented with wild yeast and wild ml in my one-page dissertation, it sounded like we added wild yeast and wild ml. WTF? Whether you call it wild, native or feral, if you know anything about wine terminology you know that using any of those words means that those little critters were absolutely not added. But, as I also learned today that you can't say wild ML on wine labels, without exception.

In the same non-reasoning that prevents the word fortified from being used and prohibits wineries from saying they've added brandy to their wines (her example), wild ML is simply not recognized by the TTB. I feel like throwing in a Scooby Doo-style "HUH?" here. Is this another Saturday Night Live "Really!?!" skit? Really?

And, to top it off, if I changed the sentence claiming that the wine was fermented with wild yeast and wild ml strains to "No yeast strains or ML cultures were added to this wine," then than would be a disparaging remark. In other words, I'd be belittling other wineries by claiming that I didn't add yeast or ML to one bottling of our own and insinuating that they did. (I was literally speechless after that one.)

So, I conceded. I'm removing my claim of wild ML and shortening my explanation to one sentence. Although no one could guarantee that would get my label approved, they thought the likelihood was high. And, in case pure ridiculousness reigns again, I'll have a generic back-up label on file to use for this vintage. But, mark my words, I'm not giving up!

My new mission for the next 12 months: try and get the TTB to recognize the use of wild ML on labels just like they did at one point with wild yeast. I'm sure it will be just as heartening and confidence-instilling as the current process has been.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Why The TTB Says Natural Wine Isn't Possible

In yet another episode of Kristy vs. the TTB ( the government agency responsible for approving our wine labels), Kristy's still not winning and the TTB is still insisting that it's not possible to make wine from just grapes and sulfur. Oh, and now (all of a sudden) wild ML, which we've previously listed on our labels and had approved, is false and/or misleading.

I have to admit that I'm BEYOND frustrated at this point. To have the federal agency in charge of wine tell me, time and time again and after talking with multiple representatives, that it's simply not possible to make wine from only grapes and sulfur and with wild ML strains, is incomprehensible. It's ludicrous! And, most importantly, it's wrong.

Being in the business, most of us have read all about the natural wine movement: although there's no concise definition, I call it making wine with no ingredients. Although we're not strictly a natural wine brand (we add sulfur), that's our basic philosophy here: the less the better. That's how wine was "invented" or, more accurately, "discovered." Grapes are mushed up, yeast that's blowing around in the air and has settled on the skins of the grapes ferment it. ML, or malolactic fermentation, occurs spontaneously, via cultures of bacteria that are also in the environment and make the barrels their home. The wine goes through these natural fermentations, then is put into bottle after barrel aging. And that's how we make the majority of our wines, with a sprinkle of sulfur added for aging.

For those looking to read a little bit more about how wild ML is accomplished (yes, it's possible!), click here. Pay attention to paragraph two. Most winemakers don't because of the "risk factor" but some of us crazies do wild ML fermentation very successfully, year after year.

The most frustrating part of this fight is that Bonny Doon has already forged the path by labeling some of their wines with ingredients. However, they do list yeast and other items "used in the winemaking process" (see below). Apparently our big problem is that we have no other ingredients to list. If I were to tack on yeast and tartaric acid (neither of which we actually used for our 2010 Semillon), the label would likely be approved.


The worst part about all of this? I've been working on this label since spring and we're coming up on bottling next month. This means that I may have to strip all of this off my label so I can make the bottling date. But, I promise, if I do, I'll continue to push an ingredients statement for our 2011 wines. Perhaps if we can get it approved it will allow for other wineries to be able to do the same in the future. After all, if we want to be more transparent, and communicate exactly what's used in our winemaking process, why shouldn't we? Isn't part of the TTB's role to make sure wineries are transparent and truthful when they label their wines?

Just for reference, here's an image of the label we're trying to get approved (below). Wish me luck!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Foursight Farmers Market

Yesterday I spent some time walking around our winery property, taking photos of evidence that summer is FINALLY here. We actually got a spring crop of loquats and figs (2 figs in total, woohoo!), which is extremely rare and due primarily to the mild spring frost season. Everything else -- quinces, Indian peaches, apples, walnuts and wild plums -- are moving along per schedule. Nothing will have a large crop this fall, but I think we'll see our first wild plums in the next week or so. That is, if the birds don't get them first.

Here are some photos of all the gorgeous fruit, flowers and more that can be found just by walking around our tasting room lot. We have to give most of the credit for the fruiting plants to both nature and the homesteaders who originally lived on this land. Most of the fruit trees are 100+ years old. Many of the flowers we put in with the tasting room and winery.

When the fruit ripens, we often have bowls of everything in the tasting room for our customers to enjoy and take home. The loquats and peaches are delicious with our Sauvignon Blanc, and the plums and figs with our Pinot Noirs. The quinces, well, don't go with anything raw, but cooked into some homemade quince paste are transformed.When you come visit us this summer or fall, don't be shy if you see a bowl of fruit. It will be ripe and organic by neglect. :)




Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Few Days Respite

This week Joe and I escaped to our ranch (aka a plot of land with nothing but a cabin on it) for a night of camping and 24 hours off. We hiked, we ate, we drank, and we relaxed with our books and all the industry publications we have a hard time keeping up with. It was heaven.

On one of our walks, Joe thought it would be fun to try a rope swing into the pond that hasn't been used for about 15 years. He tested it, had a trial swing, and then walked farther up the bank to get a little extra speed. Right about the time he reached the water, all I heard was a big "snap!" The rope broke, Joe plummeted into the water, luckily just making it past the bank. My heart stopped, but he came back up holding the rope and with just a few scratches. Whew! It's never dull.

Joe holding the broken rope

The dogs join Joe for a swim

Monday, June 20, 2011

Aftermath of the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival

Part of having a blog is the ability to rant and rave about things, and this is definitely one of those posts, so don't read on if you'll be offended by what 2% of the population does to make the rest of us look stupid. :)

This weekend was the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival -- a music fest mostly featuring reggae artists (and some fabulous ones at that). It's a three-day festival, starting mid-day on Friday, going into the wee hours on Friday and Saturday, and ending Sunday about midnight. A crowd of thousands comes up to mostly camp at the Boonville Fairgrounds, at the brewery. Guest houses, inns and hotels are also booked for those tired of tent city.

It's a great festival in many ways. We enjoy the music and the food inside is fantastic, although I admit I haven't been inside in a few years due to work. However, as with any large crowd, there are always issues, and there are always people who try and ruin it for everyone else.

There are quite a few arrests this weekend -- most due to over-imbibing or overdosing on various substances in abundant supply. There are fights, and there are helicopter trips to the hospital. All standard I think for a large event.

Foursight is in a unique position: literally across the street from all the action. For the most part, the crowd this weekend is respectful and leaves us alone. But there are always exceptions (like the woman two years ago who threw up all over my bathroom).

Now my complaints. First I'll start with business: it's lousy! With all the madness going on in the street, people pass right by, and wineries down the road don't always want to send people in this direction. I've talked to other local merchants, and they mostly agree: this festival does nothing for business. In fact, it deters a lot of our normal summertime traffic. Our wine club members avoid the weekend because of a lack of housing and abundance of general craziness.

Secondly, I just don't like having to kick people out of my tasting room! This year I had to kick out an older man who was already intoxicated and came in without a shirt, in just some jean shorts. When I told him tasting would cost him $5, he muttered "my ass," and walked out. My other customers respectfully tasting at that moment weren't so thrilled.

A young woman came in later in the afternoon. She used the bathroom, bitched about my dog being in the tasting room because she's afraid of them, then tried to leave after making me hold my dog. When I asked her if she was going to taste wine she admitted to just wanting to use the bathroom, told me she was a good person, and that porta-potties have hepatitis C! Okay, now don't get me wrong, I understand that some people are afraid of dogs, and sure, she probably is a good person, but if you're going to camp for three days at a fairgrounds, you're likely going to have to face a blue room or two. Your fear of hepatitis isn't my issue as a local merchant! And believe me, she isn't the only one. I currently have a sign on the door saying my rest room is for customers only, because we get a lot of people (especially before heading home on Monday) using all our paper towel and having a mini-shower in the sink, then leaving.


Another common complaint for me: people trying to park in our lot and go to the festival. One couple yesterday slammed a few tastes of white wine in an excuse to park and walk around for a bit. We have "no parking" signs on our driveway because people camp all weekend, light BBQ grills in the dry grass and leave not only needles and discarded baby diapers, but boxes of marijuana trimmings.

And to top it off: yesterday some guys were feeding chicken bones to my dog and laughing about it!

So, to sum it up, I think we're going to close the place down for the festival next year. It will be a good excuse to take a nice summer vacation and take a weekend off, which we rarely do. It's just a little sad that we have to come to that decision.

Friday, June 17, 2011

My Favorite Recipes: Braised Lamb Shanks with White Beans

I know this isn't exactly a summery recipe, but sometimes it doesn't matter what time of year you make a dish - it's delicious every time! This is one of my favorite lamb recipes, and it helps that lamb shanks are one of the cheapest cuts you can get.

This recipe looks slightly daunting, but it's easier than it seems. It just takes several hours because the shanks have to cook slow and long. Start these on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and you'll be good for dinner. Also, you can use canned beans! I normally do. Still simmer with broth, butter and veggies and season.

Drink this with a Pinot Noir. We're loving the Foursight 2007 All-In Charles Vineyard Pinot.


Braised Lamb Shanks with White Beans

For lamb shanks:
  • 4 lamb shanks (about 1 pound each)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped coarse
  • 1 medium carrot, chopped coarse
  • 1 celery rib, chopped coarse
  • 8 garlic cloves, chopped coarse
  • 3 1/2 cups Bordeaux or other full-bodied red wine
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 fresh thyme sprigs

For gremolata:
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves (preferably flat-leafed)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest (about 1 lemon)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced

For beans:
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 small onions, chopped fine
  • 2 small carrots, chopped fine
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped fine
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups cooked white beans (preferably Great Northern or navy)
  • 2 to 2 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 3 fresh tarragon sprigs

Preparation

Make lamb shanks:
Pat lamb shanks dry and season with salt and pepper. In an 8-quart heavy flameproof casserole heat oil over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking and brown lamb shanks well in batches, transferring to a plate as browned. To casserole add onion, carrot, celery, and garlic and sauté until onion is softened. Add wine and simmer mixture, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced to about 3 cups. Return lamb shanks to casserole and stir in broth, tomato paste, and thyme. Bring liquid to a boil and simmer, covered, stirring and turning lamb shanks occasionally, 1 1/2 hours. Simmer mixture, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 1 hour more, or until lamb shanks are tender. 

Make the gremolata while lamb is cooking:
In a small bowl stir together gremolata ingredients.
Make beans while lamb is cooking:
In a saucepan heat oil over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking and cook onions, carrots, celery, and garlic, stirring, 2 or 3 minutes, or until softened. Add beans, 2 cups broth, butter, and bay leaf and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally and adding enough remaining broth to keep beans moist and to reach a creamy consistency, about 30 minutes. Discard bay leaf and add half of gremolata and salt and pepper to taste. 

Transfer lamb shanks to a plate and keep warm, covered with foil. Strain braising liquid through a sieve into a saucepan, discarding solids, and stir in butter and tarragon. Boil sauce, stirring occasionally, until thickened slightly. Strain sauce through sieve into a bowl and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. 

Sprinkle lamb shanks with remaining gremolata and serve with beans and sauce. 

Recipe originally from Epicurious.com

Friday, June 10, 2011

2011 Growing Season Update

Now that we're finally getting some warm, sunny days, hope has returned. Or at least it seems so when you talk to a grape farmer like my father, Bill Charles.

Because of the wet, cold spring, the vines are behind. How far behind? Well, as much as a month according to many farmers here, but this summer will be the true determinant for how late we pick in 2011. With an even, warm summer the vines can catch up. With a cool summer, we end up with another 2010 -- just fine for most of us with early ripening Pinot, but not so good with late-ripening varieties like Cab or Zin.

Today the Associated Press ran a comprehensive article about the challenges of 2011 and growers' outlooks on the vintage. Click here to read it.

One thing that a grape grower in the AP article mentions is leaf pulling. Farmers often do this to expose the fruit to more sunlight and to open up the canopy for more airflow. This helps the grapes ripen faster, and helps reduce mold pressure. Unfortunately, this is what many growers (including ourselves) did last summer to help speed up ripening and we got burned. Literally. Several days above 100 degrees arrived in late summer and sunburned the grapes. Luckily, we only had a few blocks with about 5% sunburn. There were vineyards in more southern climes that were almost decimated.

We cut off the sunburnt grapes and moved on with our lives last year, bringing in our fruit before any fall rains. Likely we'll be a little more cautious this year when it comes to leaf pulling!

One thing we always know is that every year is different, and it's truly too early to call whether or not the 2011 vintage will go down as good, bad, or excellent. We'll just have to wait and see, which is one of things farmers are the worst at doing.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Wine Spectator Magnum Party

This year we were lucky enough to be invited to attend the annual Wine Spectator "Bring Your Own Magnum" party. Armed with a magnum we literally made two hours beforehand, we arrived at the Hotel Healdsburg to find the entire place closed to the public (including the hotel lobby, restaurant and outside grounds) for this spectacular event.

We were greeted at the door with sparkling wine and the magnums were in abundance, organized alphabetically in various rooms throughout the venue. The food was fantastic and they had a band doing covers from 70's hits to C-Lo! Plus dancers.

It was great to reconnect with people from our past in Sonoma and Napa, including every one of Joe's old bosses, and to meet some new friends. A core group from Anderson Valley was also in attendance that night, and it was great to see so many AV winery owners and winemakers there.

All in all, great night. So great that we ended up staying over! :)

Here are a few cell phone snapshots from the evening:

Joe with our 2009 Clone 05 Pinot Noir magnum.

One of the bars at the event, full of magnums.

Our gorgeous magnum!

Attendees mingling outside.

The band.


We looked everywhere for ours, only to find it empty next to the Hanzel1!
Cigars were passed around at the end of the evening.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Vineyard - Now

Tiny clusters already forming.

New growth at Charles Vineyard.
This time of year the vines are starting to need warm, sunny days to really take off. Small clusters, like the ones in the top photo, are already forming, and the tiny yellow flowers will soon emerge. With some luck, those flowers eventually turn into grape berries. Unfortunately, the weather doesn't seem to want to cooperate quite yet this year.

So far, it's actually been a mild spring in Anderson Valley. We've only had a handful of frost nights where we had to turn on frost protection. All the winter weather hit before the vines had emerged from dormancy, so none of the snow, hail, or big rains were an issue.

What we're now worried about is getting enough heat to ripen the grapes before fall weather hits. Last year - 2010 - was one of the latest harvests we've ever had. We picked about three weeks later than an average year. Luckily, we also picked several weeks before fall weather arrived (aka rain). If we have another cool summer, then we could be looking at the same problem. However, with just a bit of sun and warmth, the vines are quick to catch up to their normal time frame.

It's not panic time yet, but with farming it's always time to worry!

Monday, May 23, 2011

AV Pinot Noir Festival Wrap-Up!

We had an amazing, and tiring, Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival weekend this year! The events started on Thursday night and culminated yesterday with our annual open house and wine club party. It was a great event, and many thanks to all our friends, family and customers who came to see us and help out.

On Saturday we poured a Pinot Noir vertical at the grand tasting at Goldeneye Winery, which was a hit. That evening we hosted a winemaker dinner with Roederer Estate and Phillips Hill, at Roederer in Philo. The food was amazing - everything from halibut, mussels and clams with our 2009 Sauvignon Blanc to squab with our 2007 All-In Pinot Noir. Yum! Even the strawberry cream puff for dessert was awe-inspiring. On top of the great food, the company was even better.

Our open house on Sunday, May 22 featured a band and foods that ranged from tri-tip sliders with fingerling potatoes and roasted eggplant, to a blue cheese table (great with our 2008 Pinot Noirs), and shrimp ceviche in filo cups for the white wines. Of course that's just naming a few.

Here are a few photos of yesterday's open house (notice the lack of shoes on my father's feet in this first photo - what???):






Monday, May 16, 2011

Ingredients Labeling - Try Number Two!

I had posted earlier about our effort to label our 2010 Charles Vineyard Semillon with ingredients (grapes and sulfur dioxide) and a statement reading "this wine is suitable for vegetarian and vegans." We submitted the label to the TTB for a label approval (a necessary hoop to jump through before bottling any wine), and it was rejected.

Our rejection stated that our ingredients statement was not complete. What?? So I called the TTB and a wonderful lady there told me that they probably assumed we missed something. Like yeast, acid, enzymes, or something, surely. After all, no one makes wine with just grapes and sulfur dioxide!

This prompted me to explain that we fermented this wine with 100% wild yeast, 100% wild ML strains, and then added nothing but some sulfur dioxide for protection and aging potential. The wine will be bottled unfined and unfiltered late in the summer.

Her suggestion was that I amend the application and add this statement for clarification:

OUR INGREDIENT STATEMENT IS COMPLETE - WE USED ONLY WILD YEAST AND WILD MALOLACTIC STRAINS AND ADDED NO OTHER INGREDIENTS IN THE WINEMAKING PROCESS. WE LABELED THIS AS SUITABLE FOR VEGETARIANS AND VEGANS BECAUSE NO INGREDIENTS WERE USED OTHER THAN SULFUR DIOXIDE, THUS NOTHING WAS USED THAT WAS DERIVED FROM AN ANIMAL PRODUCT. 

So, in went the application again. And, hopefully, in about 20 days, we'll get an approval back. Crossing my fingers, because if they tell me again that we can't make wine with just grapes and sulfur, I might go on a tirade!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Beer Festival!

Today's the Boonville Beer Festival and, for the last hour, I've been working on my laptop while doing a little people watching. Let me tell you: there are more Hawaiian shirts than I expected. :) And more jackets, since this year's event will barely miss out on some rain coming in tonight. It's cloudy, cold and gray - not good beer drinking weather overall.

It doesn't seem to deter the early drinkers, though. One of the fun things about people watching as the crowd walks by from campground to event venue, is spotting the many arrays of containers used to conceal early morning adult beverages! Plenty of red cups to brown bags to camelbacks not full of water.

Have fun to everyone out there. Hopefully they'll all stay dry.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurztraminer Scores & Reviews

Here are a few new scores and reviews for our recently released 2009 Charles Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc and our first-ever 2009 Anderson Valley Dry Gewurztraminer:

Wine Spectator awarded our 2009 AV Gewurztraminer 89 points, with Associate Editor Tim Fish rating the wine 90 points!

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat ran several recommendations for our 2009 Charles Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, giving it four out of five stars! The full review read: "A complex sauvignon blanc with aromas and flavors of lemon blossom, grass and mineral. Creamy texture. Lush."

Click here to see more accolades for our wines.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Vegan/Vegetarian Wines - Our first label rejection!

This week I received an e-mail from the TTB, rejecting our 2010 Semillon label that read: "This wine is suitable for vegetarian and vegan diets." (see label, to the right)

Our rejected 2010 Semillon label

We listed this on our label because we don't use any animal-derived products in making our wines (the 2010 Semillon has nothing but some sulfur added - no yeast, ml bacteria, acid, water or anything else). And, to be honest, we expected the rejection. Although, to be totally honest, I'm not exactly sure why wineries are not allowed to claim this.

There's been a lot of discussion about vegan wines lately, especially as consumers become more aware of products used in the winemaking process. If you're ethically opposed to using animal products, this is a huge issue for you. And U.S. consumers are not the only ones having this conversation.

The Canadian government will soon require wineries to list if they use fish, egg or milk products. They'll also have new sulfite regulations and will require wineries to list "contains sulfites" on the bottle if they use more than 10 parts per million (something the U.S. government has required for years; organic wines must have less than 10 ppm sulfites here). Read the full article about the changes in Canadian wine labeling, here.

To be honest, even though we're a winery that voluntarily tried to list that our wines are suitable for vegetarians or vegans, I still believe this should be voluntary for wineries. Here's why:

Winemaking products derived from animal ingredients are most often used for fining, or to clarify wines: they grab big particles then fall to the bottom of the tank. The clarified wine is then "racked" or removed off the top of the particles and other sediment in the bottom of the tank, then most often filtered (let's be honest - not that many producers offer unfiltered wines anymore). Most wineries sterile filter, which, when done right, will remove all living things in the wine (yeast, bacteria, pieces of grape skin, etc.). Not much survives sterile filtering, hence the name.

So, all in all, listing wines as vegan or vegetarian or listing animal-derived products is really more of an ethical question than an allergy question.

Either way, I've been blogging about consumer awareness and the increased level of transparency in the wine business for a while now. This is just another piece of evidence of this shift in the industry.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wine Prices Rebound!

Just in time for a follow-up to my last post about wine prices, here's a story that ran in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat about rebounding wine prices:

http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20110427/business/110429507


I'm extremely happy about this, and here's my rant and rave about why:

Wineries were pressured from all sides during the recession. Not only were wine drinkers demanding better prices for higher-end wines, but distributors and brokers were also demanding discounts deeper than have been given in as long as we can remember. Considering the fact that wineries have to sell their wares to distributors at 50% off as standard pricing (brokers range, depending upon the state and broker), that's taking a HUGE hit. Even many local restaurants (which wineries often just sell to direct from the winery), were asking for discounts, then marking up the wines more than they ever had (so the consumer paid the same as pre-recession prices).

What does this mean? For the past few years, it wasn't uncommon for distributors, restaurants and brokers to make more money on the wine than the winery was. Their reasoning? They have overhead. The winery's reasoning for being mad about it? They have overhead too! And the cost to make the bottle in the first place!

When wine is discounted as deeply as it has been the past few years, someone pays for it. During the past two years, it's been the winery for the most part. So, you can understand why I'm happy that pricing is starting to return to normal. A lot of wineries have been just trying to hold on for dear life, so it will be a great help to the industry to get back to normal, or whatever the new normal will be.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Low-Priced Wines - Now the Norm?

This morning I found myself nodding in agreement as I read Patrick Comiskey's LA Times article: "Fine wines at great prices." (Click here for the story.) In this piece, he discusses what seems to be an downward adjustment in wine prices and the many deals and steals now found in the marketplace:

"...In 2009, we wrote in these pages that, in terms of a sales sweet spot, $25 was the new $40. If anything, that median is trending further downward in 2011. For many, $15 to $20 might be the new $25." ...


The article goes on to quote wine retailers and the trends they've seen, including the increasing floor space they're giving to "bargain" wines. The quality, sub-$20 bottle of wine has been a hot commodity for retailers and wineries alike during the past few years, as have unique varietals and white wines (typically more affordable than reds).

I agree with a lot of what Patrick and the retailers report. This discussion about wine prices and what will be "the new normal" has been ongoing within the wine industry (and the industry publications) ever since the 2008 crash. Wineries who were forced to cut prices or make more affordable wines because of the times have been holding their breaths, waiting to see if prices come back up. And they have, to a certain degree, but those "affordable" bottles do seem to fly off the shelf faster than they used to.

Even up here in Anderson Valley, we've seen wineries cut prices on certain wines and work on producing more affordable bottles. If they're not already making more of these wines, then they're certainly talking about it for the future. While, as Patrick states, good Pinot Noir can be difficult to find at low price price points, producers are certainly trying. The higher-priced bottles are still moving due to prestige, points, scores, or reputation, but for the average consumer walking in the door, if they can get a deal, they'll take it.

Here at Foursight we're not an exception to what's happening in the industry. This past month we released some Pinots that retail at $20 and $28 a bottle, and they're flying out the door by the case (click here to see our wines list). We're also lowing our mid-priced Pinot Noir bottling for the future by a few dollars a bottle to reflect the changing point of resistance, so to speak, for our consumers.

We've sensed that the top price people are willing to pay for a great bottle of Pinot has lowered slightly. I say slightly because for tiny producers like us who sell direct to our customers and produce small lots of high-end wines, there's still a demand for the premium bottlings, and we believe there will be into the future. However, we've felt that perceived value has become more important to wine consumers during the past few years.

As one customer described it, in the past buying a "bargain wine" could be a source of embarrassment among a group of friends who all collect cult wines and like to show off their wine cellars. Now, getting a good wine at a great price is something to call everyone up and brag about.

I think this possible price adjustment also speaks to the changing demographics of wine drinkers. As studies have shown, millenials don't purchase as much wine for reasons of prestige and are more willing to experiment with different producers, varietals and regions.

So is the new, hot price point really $15-$20 per bottle? I think we need a few more years to really call it, but I can guarantee every wine producer out there is watching this closely.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Traveling

My husband, Joe, and I are about to fly across the country to visit some friends. It's been two years since we've flown anywhere, unbelievably, and, per usual, there are always changes. Like body scans. Am I the only one who would almost rather have a female security officer feel me up than walk through one of those? Ugh... Makes me shudder.

Anyway, we're now busy printing itineraries, jotting down confirmation numbers, arranging car pick-ups, and the like. It's amazing how much work goes into travel. I mean, this is a part-work, part enjoyment trip but it takes HOURS to prep for what's only a week-long trip in the continental U.S.

Either way, we're excited to see our friends who have moved WAY too far away, and take some time away from the property. We love what we do, but absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? :)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

First Frost Morning of 2011!

This morning I woke up to the sound of sprinklers running in the vineyard. Our frost protection was on for the first time in 2011!

Temperatures didn't dip to freezing until the wee hours this morning, and finally my father had to turn on the sprinklers to keep the new buds (and next year's developing buds inside the vines) at freezing and not lower. Also, the process of making ice creates a small amount of heat in and of itself, which can further protect the buds.

It's unusual for us to survive the entire month of March without frost. By this time last year we had already turned on the frost protection seven times. I'd like to say we've had an easy spring so far, but before budbreak even started we had frost, hail, floods and snow. We lost electricity for two days, and Highway 128 was closed twice! So, even though those events happened while the vines were dormant (and therefore mostly immune to weather events), there was still plenty of worrying over the property, culverts, road conditions, and the like.



A lot of people ask me about frost protection and water use. Here's the scoop: here in Anderson Valley, very few vineyards have the right to pump from the river. Most of us have off-stream ponds, meaning that all we do is collect winter runoff and rain water, then we use it throughout the year. When it runs out, it runs out.

When we turn on frost protection in the spring, the vines barely have even an inch or two of growth (less now). They're using very little water, especially since it's still raining and the ground's completely saturated. So, the vast majority of water put out in the vineyard ends up right back in the water table.

Many vineyards also now have drains in low-lying areas. These can collect water when running frost protection and funnel it right back into the pond, where it can be reused.

The reality is, in cold areas of the valley, if you don't frost protect, you likely don't have a crop. Vineyards aren't immune to this, but either are apples, oranges, and most other fruits.

A few more frost nights are imminent, but then on to another storm. Hopefully it will be a light frost year. Most likely, given history, it will just frost later in the season to make up for our wet March. :)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Wine Alcohol & Truth in Labeling

I'm just reveling in all the posts we're finding where people (often industry experts) are now willing to talk honestly about wine. And not just about wine in general, but about touchy issues like alcohol, ingredients, and labeling. Things that are often cloudy and confusing (and sometimes purposefully so) to most people not in the wine business.

This blog post by Sean Sullivan of the Washington Wine Report kicks off a good discussion about alcohol and labeling: http://www.wawinereport.com/2011/03/do-wineries-fudge-alcohol-levels.html

It's true wineries have some wiggle room when labeling their alcohol levels (1.5% under 14% alcohol and 1.0% over 14%). Mainly, this is to allow for variation in test results, and that makes sense. However, wineries can also take advantage of that wiggle room to list their alcohol as slightly lower (the vast majority) or higher (rare) than it actually is.

I actually find the discussion very interesting in the comments section of this post. There are instances where wineries will have a final wine with an alcohol of 13.98%, or something VERY close to bumping them up into the next tax bracket (14% and over). I've heard of wineries who decide to label as 14% and pay the higher taxes vs. staying right under 14%. They figure that if the government actually checks and they've paid higher taxes than they need to, then they'll be left alone. Honestly, we've never tested the theory, but it seems hard to believe the Feds would return money and make you pull product off of store shelves.

At home, however, we're now putting people's labels to the test. My husband and Foursight Winemaker, Joe Webb, recently bought an ebuillometer that now lives at our house. This is a small piece of equipment that measures alcohol by measuring the boiling points of liquids. It is widely accepted as an accurate way to test wine alcohol. When we come across a wine that we think may be listed inaccurately, we run it through the ebuillometer. Et voila! We know for certain.

I've been surprised by the number of bottles we've tested during the past few weeks that have been almost spot on. As it turns out,  most of the brands we drink are being honest about alcohols to within 0.1% to 0.2%. We've only tested a few who are pushing their 1.0% margins to the very edge, and they were producers either known to make lower alcohol, "natural" wines or they were white wines. A surprising find...

I look forward to continuing to play with our new device - it's always a fun surprise.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Megapurple and wine

Want a darker wine with no blending? Don't want anyone to know the difference? No problem! Megapurple to the rescue.

I've done a few posts now on natural winemaking and even recently listed the TTB's allowed ingredients on my blog (see it here - yuck!). Megapurple is another little industry dirty secret I get to discuss from time to time with my customers in the tasting room. Foursight, of course, is opposed to adding concentrates like megapurple or megared (along with most other enzymes, additives and the like). We believe that Pinot should look like Pinot. Period. But, people do use this stuff.

Wine Press Northwest does a great job with this interview of wine journalist, educator, and judge Dan Berger, below. Watch it to learn more about megapurple and Dan's thoughts on how the concentrate may affect the taste of wine. Very interesting...

Monday, March 21, 2011

We Have Power!

Today it's business per usual after spending the past day and a half without power or water. Thank god!

For the first time since we've opened, we had to close down the tasting room yesterday because the town of Boonville was without electricity. It hurt to do, but without working restrooms, refrigeration for the white wines, or running water to wash wine glasses or rinse stems, it's hard to do business. Not to mention our computers and credit card swipers being out of commission without electricity (we do have order forms in case of emergency).

It's been a while since we were without power, although I remember how exciting it was as a kid because it meant the possibility of a day off from school. Unfortunately, our local school ended up purchasing a back-up generator, so unless the entire valley was out or 128 was flooded, we usually still went to school.

Our power here comes via Ukiah to Philo, so when the wind blows like it did Saturday night (and it blew, believe me - we were headed over Mountain View Rd. and kept dodging limbs as they plummeted from trees), trees often fall on the lines and wipe everything out. Sometimes they get the Philo to Navarro lines, and sometimes the Philo to Boonville lines. Sometimes both. This time Philo and Navarro had power and Boonville was out.

Having no power or water is a disconcerting thing. It's amazing how difficult it is to function without those conveniences. We are lucky that my father is an ultra fix-it guy, so he was able to give us a few hours of water and electricity for our refrigerators via portable generators. This meant that we were able to shower and fill some water jugs (yay!) and our food didn't all go bad.

For now, I'm just glad it's business as usual, and good luck to all of those still camping in their houses!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Red Wine Protects Against Radiation

Yesterday a family member sent me an article from the UK's The Telegraph, entitled "Red wine 'can protect against radiation." Although this article originally ran in September 2008, after the nuclear plant explosions in Japan, I can certainly understand why it's making the rounds again today.

As workers at Nissan are testing cars sent overseas, and the U.S. is monitoring planes arriving from Japan for radiation, it's understandable that everyone is concerned about the issue. The good news? Apparently drinking red wine can help protect you.


The Telegraph article states that "...A team at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have discovered that resveratrol, the natural anti-oxidant found in red wine, can protect cells from the damage caused by radiation. ..."

They gave acetyl-altered resveratrol to mice before exposure to radiation and discovered that the rodents' cells were protected from radiation-related damage.

So, instead of stocking up on potassium iodide (which can be very harmful to some people and is sold out anyway due to global panic), just have an extra glass of red wine! That's a recommendation I can definitely get behind.