Sunday, February 27, 2011

Snow in the Vineyards!

Every year, Hwy. 253 from Boonville to Ukiah gets some snow. A few inches stick and families take their kids up to have snowball fights and build tiny snowmen. Down here in the valley snow is rare, this week predictions came true and I left the tasting room to blowing snow!

We're 400-600 feet above sea level here, so snow is always an awe-striking sight. It was spectacular. Beautiful, big flakes fell while I trudged around to feed all our animals. It was gorgeous, and freezing (low 20's). Luckily, our wood fire was chugging away, and after a lovely dinner at the Boonville Hotel (thanks hotel!) we came home to a warm, cozy house.

Here are some photos of the snow in the vineyard and on the western hills off of Mountain View Road:

Monday, February 21, 2011

Vegan and Natural Wines & Wine Ingredients

This past week I was interested to see a Wines & Vines article (thanks Paul Franson) about vegan wines, albeit focused on one winery's new line of vegan wines. For about a year now I've been discussing and fielding questions (and phone calls) about our estate wines, which are all vegan. Now we're starting to see this topic in the press.

Another area of growth in the business: natural wines. It seems wine retailers all over are now touting and carrying natural wines. In a purist sense, natural wines have nothing added to them (even sulfur) and are commonly made from organic grapes. Of course, there are no guidelines or rules yet in the U.S. for this. As it happens, we at Foursight follow the natural winemaking methods to a rational degree (we consider things like sulfur a necessity, as our wines, particularly our Pinot Noirs, are built to last).

We don't label our wines vegan (the TTB won't allow it, apparently) or natural, even though we don't use products derived from animals nor do we manipulate the wines like a mad scientist in the back room. They're just damn good wines that happen to be both vegan and natural because we don't add crap to them. Period. Perhaps I should just put that on the back label: "This wine was made under our philosophy of not adding a bunch of junk to a perfectly sound wine made by nature." Nature in this instance being a bunch of grapes, wild yeast and wild ML cultures and a sprinkling of sulfur (hey - a natural product too).

All of the increased interest in vegan/natural/organic/sustainable wines proves that consumers are finally becoming interested in what goes into their wines, just like their food. It's not the fault of wine consumers: most tell me they always assumed wines were just grapes and just now are beginning to understand that's not necessarily the case. Wineries have definitely helped that perception along throughout the years.

Want an interesting read on your Monday? Take a look at some of the wine ingredients regulated by the TTB. A big asterisk is needed here, though: there's stuff in here that I've never heard of a winery using.

I'm not an arrogant person, but I do have to toot our own horn for a second. Between the interest in lower alcohol wines, an increased knowledge of wine ingredients and a shift toward smaller, more eclectic wines and wineries, I believe that brands like ours are exactly in the cross hairs of where we need to be for a new era of wine consumption. In fact, I have my own label for what we produce at Foursight: honest wines.

Friday, February 11, 2011

New Oak and Pinot Noir

I love Pinot Noir. I do. There is always a bottle on our table, even if it's the sparkling version. Lately, however, I'm becoming more than a little frustrated with my favorite grape.

The 2007 California Pinot Noir vintage was heralded as fantastic for most of the state. It was an easy year; you could pick whenever you pleased, with no major weather looming. Ripening was steady, and flavors developed well before sugars (at least in our neck of the woods). So why, WHY, does 90% of the California Pinot Noir that I've been drinking just taste like a new oak barrel?

Bottle after bottle we've been pulling out of our cellar. Brands that were very elegant and showcased some gorgeous fruit in 2006 are oak bombs in 2007. Big-name brands that we are "lucky" enough to get an allocation of, to smaller, less known producers, all seemed to kick up the new oak regimen in 2007. And, to be honest, I'm tired of it.

Pinot Noir is delicious right out of the vineyard. It's like going to the farmers' market and grabbing your favorite berries and squishing them all up. In wine form, without being clobbered by oak, it's got fruit, spice, earthiness, and so much more. When we harvest I eat handful after handful of Pinot berries for an impromptu breakfast. They're amazing. Even with the seeds.

So WHY does everyone think that Pinot needs to taste like a barrel? Yes, 2007's are relatively young, but in many there's not enough acidity to prove to me that they'd get any better in bottle. These wines are too oaky to pair with our dinner and too oaky for me to sip before or after. I have plenty of barrel-staves-turned-BBQ-fodder that I could use as toothpicks if I wanted, but you don't see me whittling all night.


Here at Foursight we use a much lighter oak regimen: 20-30% new on most bottlings, and we make one Pinot Noir with not a single new oak barrel (our Zero New Oak blend). Yes, I get that it's our style and preference, and not universal (wine would be no fun if we all liked the same thing). However, knowing how gorgeous and expressive the fruit can be, my plea to put out into the universe is this: let the Pinot shine through! Give the fruit a chance! I promise, not only will your winery bank accounts look better (those new barrels are expensive!) but you may draw in a whole new customer segment by balancing fruit and oak.

Meanwhile, I'll continue to pop corks and likely rant and rave about it. Hopefully I'll find a few more bottles that surprise me.