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:

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.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

New Pinot Noir Releases

Foursight has just released two new Pinot Noirs -- the 2008 Zero New Oak Pinot Noir and the 2008 All-In Pinot Noir. Both are from Charles Vineyard here in Anderson Valley. We didn't make much, and are offering both at an amazing price (including a great case special), so check them out here:

Read what we have to say about these wines and the vintage here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Frost Season and Budbreak

Here at Charles Vineyard (our estate) we expect budbreak to happen in the next few weeks. This means that, unless the rain continues into spring, we'll soon be on frost watch as well.

Budbreak is always an exciting time. It's the official start to another growing season, when the little leaves begin to emerge from the vines. It means we get to start really watching weather and growing conditions, and accumulating all that data that will make 2011 a good year or bad year (mostly good and great in Cali, fortunately for us).

Even to the wine consumer who knows nothing about growing grapes, the nearing of frost season is easy to predict: as you drive through wine country in February and early March, look for sprinklers running in the middle of the day. This is the resident grape grower testing out his frost protection system, looking for leaks or other issues, and then getting it fixed before the season starts. Most get around to this within the month before budbreak.

Frost alarms are also tested during this time: if your alarm doesn't go off when the temperature dips in the wee hours, then you're in trouble!

Some growers have automated systems, which turn on automatically. They cost big bucks, but save you some sanity. Here at Charles Vineyard we're old-school: we turn on as late as we can, as judged by Mr. Bill Charles. Then we turn off as early as possible. The vast majority of our ponds here simply catch winter rain, so the more you use on frost protection = the less you have for irrigation during the summer.

So, wish us luck with yet another growing season. While you're at it, wish my father, Bill, many good nights of sleep, because he's the one who has to get up when the alarm goes off!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Rainy Day Dinner

Being in wine country, we spend a lot of time think about and discussing what we're going to eat (it definitely explains those few extra pounds!). I'm always that person in the grocery store that's buying rutabagas, lemongrass, fennel, and any kind of odd squash I can get my hands on. Trying new foods at home could definitely be called a hobby for our household.

Tonight we're not straying far from the norm, but with all the rain it's definitely soup weather. On the menu for tonight: acorn squash soup with a little cayenne and white pepper for heat, perhaps topped with a fresh herb oil from the garden. To accompany the soup, I think we'll do a similarly seasoned pork loin in the oven.

As some of you know, my husband (and Foursight winemaker), Joe Webb, also works at Londer Vineyards here locally. So, to pair with dinner -- the most important part! -- I'd like to try a Londer 2007 Corby Chardonnay from the cellar and the 2009 Foursight dry Gewurztraminer. We'll see which pairs better, but our Gewurzt is always a good bet with any kind of spicy food. The soup, however, has a tiny touch of cream, so hence the Chardonnay.

Anyone else out there with rainy day dinner plans already in place for the evening? What wine(s) are you pairing with it?