This ridiculous weather has everyone scratching their heads. As I write on Tuesday morning, a major storm is moving into the North Bay, with up to 1-1/2 inches of rainfall expected. They’re even predicting thunderstorms in Napa tonight. Precipitation will be less the further south you go, with a 20 percent chance of showers along the Central Coast. Today will be the fourth day in June that California has had rainfall. Beyond that, temperatures will be up to 20 degrees below average. But a big warmup later this week, as a ridge builds in and temps in wine country get back to the 90s.
The weather hasn’t been that bad the last two weeks, which is why most of us were hoping that our hideous Spring-that-wasn’t was over. Apparently not. I personally think it’s due to climate change, but the deniers out there will still be denying when the midwest boils away and the oceans flood New York and Miami.
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No writer can write for everyone. We’re a tribal nation now. Each group gravitates toward its favorites, be it the older, white, rich collectors who favor Parker, or the younger independents who look for their voice in the blogosphere.
It’s hard for any individual critic to span all worlds. The elitists are not going to waste their time (in their view) on anything that doesn’t have a famous name and cost an arm and a leg. I recently ran into a rich Napa winery owner who said, basically, that anything under $30 sucks. That was his cut-off point, and his vast cellar–which he proudly showed off to me–was crammed with priceless treasures, more than anyone could ever drink in a lifetime. I explained to him that the U.S. wine industry is a pyramid. At the tiniest tippy top, he exists; without a broad base beneath the top, the wine industry would come crashing down. I don’t think he heard my message, but that’s all right.
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Nice summary of Napa’s various climate zones in this snippet from the Napa Valley Register. It explains how the county’s weather changes fairly dramatically from Zone 17, the coolest area around Carneros, to Zone 14, the Coast Warm area, which is the floor of the valley. I’ve been studying Napa’s climate for 30 years and I still discover new stuff everytime I turn my attention to it.
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Yesterday I reviewed the new PharoahMoans, a Rhône-style red blend from the westside of Paso Robles. It was the fourth vintage I have reviewed it since 2005, and I swear the wine is getting richer and more decadent every year. It is becoming a serious rival to the wines of Saxum, which I love, and which are (I thnk) the most expensive in Paso Robles. I first met Saxum’s proprietor/winemaker, young Justin Smith, when I profiled him for my book, New Classic Winemakers of California: Conversations with Steve Heimoff, which was recently republished in a new edition, with a new Intro by moi. Justin’s attitude toward high alcohol then, and now, was: If people don’t like it, they don’t have to drink my wines. Good for him. PharoahMoans’ winemaker, Guillaume Fabre (who studied with Michel Rolland), seems to have a similar philosophy. Yes, the 2009 is high in alcohol (15.9%), but it is really a deliriously heady, flamboyant wine.
The 2011 growing conditions are starting out eerily like notorious 2010, when “summer never came.” Winter was long, wet and cold. We had a couple of warm days in April, but nothing out of the ordinary. Since then, it’s been nothing but cool, abnormally so. And now, rain.
Significant quantities of rain and hail and even snow at higher elevations (3,000 feet) fell overnight, particularly in the North Country, with rain expected to move south today. This is really crazy for the middle of May–and it’s not over. Rain will pick up in the Central Valley today, and move into L.A. on Wednesday, as a deep trough more typical of January cuts through the West. The National Weather Service yesterday said “winter-like weather will return to Northern California later this afternoon and tonight. Periods of heavy snow will likely redevelop across the northern Sierra Nevada this evening.”
By Thursday, fortunately, it should all be over. But what will the damage be to tender young grapeshoots?
And the extent of the April 8-10 freeze, when temperatures plunged as low as 24 degrees in the Central Coast, is becoming clearer. I was in Paso Robles last Friday, and it was the main topic of conversation. Paso Robles, southern Monterey and the Santa Ynez Valley were especially hard hit. The Western Farm Press reported that “Damage is unquestionably extensive”; several people told me that the Paso Robles crop has been wiped out by 50%. A local radio station reported that, of 25,000 planted acres in Paso Robles, “about 15 to 20,000 acres of those were affected at some level by the frost.” I can scarcely believe the quantity of blasted fruit is that high; maybe it is. There are reports that some wineries in Paso’s western hills will produce no crop this year. I asked a grower about secondary crop. He replied, in effect, don’t count on it.
I know nobody wants to hear about 2011 being as weird as last year, but why shouldn’t it be? Every vintage since 2005 has been cooler than the one before it. We thought 2008 was cool (despite the wildfires) and then came 2009. Then came 2010, the coldest year in memory. People are still freaked out by it. So far, 2011 is showing no sign of being any different.
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I speak today at the International Special Events Society, which is meeting in Sonoma County. They asked me to talk about trends in the wine world. I plan on mentioning the different values and outlooks between Boomers, on the one hand, and Millennials and Gen Xers, on the other; the search for value; a movement toward lower alcohol levels in wine; new negociant models; a spate of M&As in California; social media, and a boom in the acreage of “alternative varieties.” Maybe one or two other things will occur to me. I don’t like to be too prepared when I speak to groups. I like things loosey-goosey. It’s more interesting when nobody, including me, knows what’s going to happen. I like to encourage questions and comments. Good feedback, even disagreement, from listeners inspires me; it makes me say things that surprise myself, things I didn’t even know I knew. Unfortunately, the drive up to Sonoma is likely to be a drag, with all the rain and fender benders. More tomorrow.
Americans have finally figured out that red wine is good for them, but they don’t know that drinking too much of it is bad, according to a new American Heart Association survey.
“[W]e need to do a better job of educating people about the heart-health risks of overconsumption of wine,” said an AHA spokesperson.
I don’t think the problem is a lack of education. Doctors have been saying for decades that drinking too much is dangerous. Everybody knows that. The reason people drink too much isn’t because they’re ignorant but because they’re unhappy and want to self-medicate. That’s the real problem, and I don’t know if it has a solution.
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Here’s the V-Man in the news again, reminding businesses to be “heartfelt” and “human”, to give their customers “a hug or a handshake” and “overcare” and “listen” to them, instead of “pushing.”
Can’t disagree with that. What I wonder about is why, in person, Gary strikes me as rather arrogant–just what he tells businesses they shouldn’t be.
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Nice to see the Salt Lake [City] Tribune reassuring Christians that wine is “a blessing, not a curse.” I always thought that anti-alcohol Christians were being a little hypocritical. How can they condemn drinking wine when wine is practically at the center of everything people did in The Bible, both Old and New Testaments? Jesus himself made wine, and made it part of the sacrament. These anti-alcohol Christians are the same kind of people who talk about “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” I don’t trust them.
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The State of Pennsylvania, some time ago, made history when it began selling wine through kiosks in public spaces. Now, “the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board is toying with making hard liquor available in the kiosks.”
That’s a good idea, but the real problem isn’t that the kiosks, which require swiping photo IDs and credit cards and taking a breath test, are too complicated to use. It’s that PA remains a control state that doesn’t trust its adult citizens enough to let them buy booze in a grocery store. What’s all this talk about Big Government I hear coming from the right? I’d like to see the Tea Party get behind eliminating control states and coming out for the free shipping of alcoholic beverages throughout the U.S.
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OMG, now it’s the Battle of the Mommy Wines!
Not exactly up there with other celebrated battles, such as Hastings, Waterloo or Gettyburg. But the war of words is heating up between Clos La Chance (an excellent winery), which produces “Mommyjuice” wine, and “Mommy’s Time out,” an Italian wine whose New Jersey importer claims to own the copyright on the “M”-word.
I say let the two company CEOs fight it out in a UFC Octogon, armed with baby carriages and used Pampers.
And that’s your news roundup for today!
There you go again: California-bashing
1WineDude wrote in yesterday, “I spent the better part of this past weekend tasting / celebrating with friends, and the majority of that group openly despised the New World, CA Cab style.” Later, he added, “It was odd being the lone dissenter.” Welcome to the club, young dude. I experience this California-bashing all the time, sometimes even from my fellow Wine Enthusiast editors, but more often from Europhiles. It makes me think: If I, who love California wines, can also love European wines, then why can’t people who love European wines also love California wines? Could it be that I lack aEdit type of snobbism that Bordeauxphiles possess in the extreme?
Think about it. You will never, ever hear a California winemaker bash French or Italian wines. But you hear European winemakers bash California wines all the time. Too ripe! Too obvious! Too oaky! Too fruity! Too Tammy Faye Bakker! Yet every time they have a good vintage — look at the 2009 Bordeaux — they celebrate their wines’ ripeness and alcohol levels (as they did in 1947). Why is that?
I do think there’s a certain self-superior smugness among the A.B.C. (Anything But California) crowd. I can’t explain it for sure, but it’s something I feel. Look, California makes really great wine, and if you can’t acknowledge that, you should re-examine your own self.
Fritz Maytag sells Anchor Brewing
Editor’s note: In an earlier edition of this story, I incorrectly wrote that Fritz Maytag passed away. He did not, and I sincerely regret my error.
You may not have heard of Mr. Maytag (even if your mom had a Maytag washing machine in the basement), but Fritz was and is a Big Man in San Francisco. He owned (from 1965) and resurrected the Anchor Brewing Company, on Potrero Hill, producer of Anchor Steam Beer, which historians regard as America’s first microbrewery. He has now sold it, and it should continue in business for a long time.
More importantly, from a wine point of view, he owned the York Creek Vineyard, which I believe he bought and expanded in 1968, up on Spring Mountain.
Ridge used to bottle a York Creek Cabernet (so did Freemark Abbey). (Fritz Maytag had actually roomed with Paul Draper, at Stanford.) That Ridge bottling was an early example of a cult wine, not as important as, say, Heitz Martha’s Vineyard, but still very much in demand. Although my friend Jim Laube rated it only a Fourth Growth in his 1989 book, California’s Great Cabernets, other critics liked it better, and some of the old Ridge York Creek Petite Sirahs were über-famous. I remember, in the mid-1980s, going to the Safeway store out in Pacifica, where they always had a barrel of discontinued wines. I plucked three bottles of 1978 Ridge York Creek Cab out, for $2 each, and felt I’d hit the jackpot.
Speaking of Spring Mountain, I’m speaking at a “green” panel this Thursday up at Spring Mountain Vineyard, where I think I’m to play the role of Chief Debunker (as usual), in the sense that I don’t believe that calling yourself “green” results in better sales for a wine (although it may send the winery owner straight to Heaven). I’m not alone in this dubiousness. Check out this article, from Reuters via Yahoo! News. It says, “Organic, biodynamic and sustainable are words being used to describe wines but the eco-sounding terms have little impact on wine lovers.” One winemaker, an Aussie, said, “It’s [i.e., green] definitely a niche market, but 99.9 percent (of wine drinkers) didn’t respond to having organic on the label.” Ouch. On the other hand, going green can’t hurt.
And finally, “Don’t count me out” — Parker
The Great One makes “a rare appearance in Asia” in May, for a three-day “Ultimate Parker in Asia” in Singapore. “Parker is god,” somebody by the name of Arnaud Compas told Reuters; Compas founded a London firm called Hermitage, which sells rare and expensive wines (and obviously has a vested interest in anointing Parker to Deity status, since every time Parker blesses an Angelus, Dom or Cote Rotie, the price skyrockets, and Arnaud’s bank account swells). Okay, okay, so I’m jealous. Parker does Ultimate Asia, I get a few days in Paso Robles. But I’m not complaining. After all, I like California wine!
It was nice to see my blog listed the other day as one of seven “Must-Read Wine Blogs” on Forbes.com. Also on the list were Tyler Colman (Dr. Vino), Alice Feiring, Alder Yarrow (Vinography), Tom Wark (Fermentation), Wineanorak, and Eric Asimov’s The Pour.
Not bad company for a little blog!
Everybody’s doing the Millennial Stomp
Meininger’s Wine Business International headlines “How the Millennials think” and writes an analysis of how the wine industry can capture the their interest. I was reading it (“To communicate better to young people, we also use the Internet”) when an email came in from the Wine Institute. In conjunction with the California Association of Winegrape Growers, they’re having a “dialogue session” where we will “hear young California vintners and growers” talk about such things as “Hip and Trendy Marketing” and “The Next Generation: Passing the Torch.” An interesting move for these two old organizations — both fairly stodgy and not known for being “hip and trendy.”
So did the rains hurt, or not?
We won’t actually know for a while if the October rains harmed the grapes still on the vine (mainly Cabernet and Syrah) in the North Coast. Common sense suggests they did, along with the humid days that followed. I’ve gotten emails in the last 24 hours saying, in essence, no harm done. For example, the Russian River Valley Winegrowers put this out yesterday: “Contrary to popular belief, recent rains haven’t been the worst case scenario for most of the growers in the Russian River Valley.” And today’s Santa Rosa Press Democrat quotes Bob Anderson, executive director of the United Winegrowers for Sonoma County, as saying, “I think it has been a mad scramble ever since that big rain, but it looks in pretty good order now.”
True, the weather for the last week has been pretty spectacular: warm, dry days, gentle breezes, just about perfect. My concern, though, is whether the damage was already done, with botrytis in those bunches, especially in the cooler areas. Anderson’s money quote cuts to the heart of the matter: “Growers and wineries are still looking at some of the ‘cab’ and the debate is whether there are going to be some warming up days ahead of them this week…The problem is that the sugar levels have not changed much over the last couple weeks, so time is running out.” Yes, time is running out, and more rain is coming in. Unripe Cabernet is not good, especially if it’s infected with botrytis, although the “noble mold” may make for some spectacular dessert wines.
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I am off this morning to an Appellation St. Helena tasting at the Rudd Center. This is always a fun, instructive event at which I try, and usually fail, to find something truly “St. Helena-esque” in the Cabernets and Bordeaux blends. I think I “get” Oakville (blackcurrants) and Rutherford (sour cherrry), but St. Helena confounds me. Is it possible to isolate a flavor or textural particularity, or is that paradigm a dated, 19th century one appropriated from the Médoc? I’m more inclined toward the latter explanation, although I’m sure some of the speakers will describe for us some St. Helena attributes that, once we hear them, we will instantly find in the wines.
Next, the entire Planet Earth!
“The USA will soon have the world’s largest wine appellation,” Decanter is reporting, with its tongue just ever so slightly in its staid British cheek. The happy new AVA baby is dubbed Upper Mississippi River Valley, and it is, Decanter tells us with a touch of malice, “more than double the size of Wales…and fifty times greater than Bordeaux.” (Just to prove I, too, can look stuff up on Google, at 30,000 square miles the appellation is larger than ten American states.)
Of course, an appellation this gigantic is silly to the point of meaningless. The only unifying terroir the TTB apparently could find was “evidence of a glacial retreat 15,000 years ago.” Under the circumstances, they might as well approve a Planet Earth AVA, because after all, we’re all products of the Big Bang. (I guess they couldn’t call it an AVA if it was the whole world, could they.)
So here’s what I don’t understand. Why is it easier for TTB to approve something so big, when they couldn’t even do Westside Paso Robles? I’m not saying they should have — I came out against Westside for the same reason TTB did: It didn’t make any sense. But neither does Upper Mississippi Valley. As my homes say, Wassup wid dat?
I’d love to, but I can’t remember where I left the corkscrew
The big news of yesterday was the headline, trumpeted around the world, that “Glass of wine a day can stave off Alzheimers”
The good, no, make that the great news is that “Moderate consumption of wine could reduce the risk of contracting Alzheimer’s disease among those over 75, according to a study revealed at a conference in Vienna.” The downside, unfortunately, is that “For those already suffering minor memory problems who drank more than two glasses a day, the risk [of Alzheimer’s] was twice that of non-drinkers with similar impairment.” I suppose that includes many readers of this blog, but since active intellectual exercise also helps to prevent Alzheimer’s, I recommend you continue stretching your gray matter by reading me.
A word on Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc (and more to come later)
I’m glad Joe Roberts, over at 1WineDude blog, wrote about Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, which has been much on my mind lately. Two years ago I wouldn’t have said Napa was home to some of the best SBs in California, but I’ll say it now. Peter Franus, Cockerell, Illumination, Robert Mondavi Tokalon Reserve (Fumé Blanc), Honker Blanc (from Duckhorn, a steal at $12), Toquade, Cade, Crauford, Alpha Omega, Broman, Girard, St. Clement, the list of great Napa Sauvignon Blancs goes on and on. I don’t know what they’re smoking up in the valley, but the collective Napa consciousness apparently has decided to reinvigorate their efforts at this oftentimes cranky variety. I do have to part company with Joe, however, on his praise of the St. Supery SBs. Too feline for my sensibilities.
What did I do now?