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. :)