Cork’d is calling it quits

When I started my wine blogging adventure I put this post together for Jon Troutman over at http://corkd.com and was very exited to have my work shared with a much wider audience than my wife and a few friends that actually read my blog posts at http://norcalwingman.com.  I heard the news today that Cork’d is winding down their site to pursue other opportunities in this ever changing online wine world, so I thought  I’d dig up my posting from what seems like ages ago.
Cheers to you over at Cork’d and may the future bring you all great success!  All the best from norcalwingman.com.

How about joining that wine club?

By Brian Wing, March 9th, 2010
If you are lucky enough to live in an area with wineries that you like, you might just want to consider joining a wine club.  Although it may seem like high-pressure sales tactics (I mean, let’s call a spade a spade) there can be some really great benefits that come with belonging to your favorite winery’s club.
First off, you will most likely get free (complementary) tastings for you and your friends that tag along when visiting the winery.  Trust me, if you tell your friends that you get free tastings at a really great winery, they’re tagging along!  Secondly, you will get discounts on the wines you already love.  Usually these are pretty decent – 25-30% off is not unheard of.  You will also be the first to know when these wineries are trying to blow out their old inventory, and that’s when you can get some serious steals (50-75% off!).
In addition to the perks of savings, you will get a couple of shipments (or you can pick up if you’re close enough) of the wines you love.  The really cool part of this is that the selections you get may not be what your favorites are.  Now, you might say, “Wait!  I want the stuff I love.”  But, don’t modify what they plan on giving you.  You’ll get different varietals, many that you may likely have never tried (because you’re stuck buying your favorites every time).  In addition, depending on the club, you may get some “library” selections; smaller production, hard to find wines. This is when being a member really pays dividends.  You have access to some outstanding and truly unique bottles of yummy goodness.
To top it off, wine clubs have parties.  Now these can vary from a backyard barbeque style event to some seriously legit soirées.  De La Montanya’s Summer pickup party rocks, they bring in a band and serve up the year’s best wines and send you home with six future star bottles. Recently my wife and I attended an event at the new Yankee Stadium in New York City.  Prior to that we enjoyed a sunset cruise on San Diego Harbor aboard “The America” (http://www.stars-stripes.com/images/images-5.jpg ) sipping great wine and eating gourmet hours devours.
"The America" overlooking San Diego Harbor
Sonoma-Cutrer’s club is pretty unique, they really dote on their wine club members. These are two examples of wine club events that I’m lucky enough to take part in.
So check out your favorite wineries websites, or call them up, and look into joining their club.  Better yet, if you’re able to visit your favorite winery in person, stop by, shake their hands, and they’ll gladly get you going.   Most clubs have two shipments a year, totaling a case per year of wine.  Some offer Red only or White only options to suit your preferences.  Others even offer varietal specific clubs. Obviously some prehistoric states have shipping regulations, so be sure to ask when you sign up.
Wine clubs offer an additional dimension to the wine experience, one that I think is absolutely worth it.  Now go sign up – your winery is waiting to hear from you. I guarantee it!
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Prelude to a Post-Harvest Post

This past Friday I was attending a little post-harvest  celebration with “the wife” where I had the opportunity to meet the guy who does grape sourcing for her company, I’m assuming for many of the brands.  Anyhow, he was chatting with the general manager and winemaker from “the wife’s” winery and was telling us about some of the growers’s situations.  This year has been a rough one, if you’ve read the papers or some of my earlier posts about the weather you may have already heard it has been challenging.

My Spring post: http://norcalwingman.com/2010/05/27/what-happens-when-grapes-get-wet-feet

A follow up regarding the cool Summer: http://norcalwingman.com/2010/08/03/what-good-is-a-bunch-of-cold-grapes.

So, this sourcing manager was recounting a story about a vineyard that got a touch of the first frost of the Autumn (this last Wednesday).  The canopy of the grapevines were completely wiped out, and the grapes were shy of harvesting level brix.  Without leaves, the grapevines can’t continue pumping sugar into the fruit.  That’s bad news for growers, because without enough sugar in the grapes, their crop is worthless.

I rarely think about this aspect of wine.  I’m usually on the final destination side (yep killing wine by pouring it down my gullet).  Imagine spending an entire growing season, fully expecting to sell your crop after tending to it for a full year.  Caring for the vineyard, by minding the soil pH, checking for and removing pests, pampering and optimizing each and every vine, all for nothing.  Every dollar that was pumped into making the grapes grow, spent and gone, with the assumption that you could sell it, even having a contract that assuring you that you would have someone to buy it.

Here are some articles from local media sources talking about the funky year:
(Harvest Starts)  http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20100828/ARTICLES/100829453
(Coastal Fog Affecting Growers)  http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20100806/news/8061043
(Rain Stalls Harvest) http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20101021/BUSINESS/101029864/1350?Title=Weekend-storms-will-stall-grape-harvest-

Anyhow, harvest is over here in Sonoma County.   I’m sure some growers may be picking their hanging fruit, hoping that the sugar is somewhere in the acceptable range, but after a full week of rain and cold, I’d say there isn’t much hope for them.  I’m going to try and get out to interview some more winemakers and growers to see how the season turned out for them.  I’ll try and talk to some viticulturists too and see if we can get some insight into what impact this year may have on next year’s growing season.

But now, I’m going to pop open a bottle of the stuff we all love, and toast the growers who are affected by this FREAKY 2010 season, may next year bring better luck and prosperity!

Cheers and Happy Halloween from The Norcal Wingman!

Have you had wine in China?

Dateline: Nanjing, China

In a “5 Star” Hotel, in the capital city of Jiangsu Province, the Sheraton Nanjing Kingsley Hotel & Towers, one might expect to be able to find a drinkable wine, however, you would be mistaken.

Sheraton Nanjing Kingsley Hotel & Towers
Sheraton Nanjing Kingsley Hotel & Towers

I had the fortune of having my first visit to the country of China a few weeks back.  I have heard much about China becoming one of the largest markets for fine wine, and thus, was unconcerned that I would be able to find something to drink for the #Cabernet day being put on by Rick Bakas on September 2nd.  I had even seen a review of one of the other Sheraton hotels on the “SPG” channel where the host had a chat with the hotel sommelier and they discuss how outstanding the wine selection is and enjoy a glass over some conversation and gourmet snacks.  So when the evening of September 2nd rolled around, I happily boarded the elevator, bound for the forty-first floor (where the cigar and wine bar are located) and marched in.  I found myself a spot at the bar (which was completely empty BTW) and asked for the wine list.

Now, a side note.  The girl working the bar this particular evening had waited on me on previous evenings at the hotel’s Irish Pub, and she was always exceptionally helpful and courteous.  There was clearly a language barrier but she was always willing to try her hardest to serve the customer properly.  Her English name is Cassy.  Now back to the story.

I looked over their wine list; which for being touted as an extensive list was seriously lacking, but anyhow… I chose a Chilean Cabernet, which I know to be one of the best value Cabernets in the marketplace.  After all, I didn’t really want to blow my expense reports out of the water by picking a super expensive wine.  No luck!  The bartendress said it was out of stock…  Okay, back to the list for a second choice.  Since that Cab wasn’t available, I thought I’d keep it in the Bordeaux varietal club.  There was an Argentinian Malbec on the list and I’d had some good Malbec on my flight over from the states, so I thought I’d settle for this.  I happily ordered up a bottle of that, again, I was dashed.  This too was out of stock.  Slightly more dejected this time I buried my nose back into the wine list.  By this time I had eliminated most of the less expensive options and was down to some seriously expensive French Cabs and a few Californian Cabs.  Now, I don’t know about you but I thought that it would be ridiculous for a guy, from Sonoma County, to travel Six Thousand miles (A 12 Hour Flight) and order a Cabernet from less than 20 miles from his home.  But, it was either that, or order some seriously expensive (even for Chinese standards) French stuff, so, I did it.  I found a Sonoma County Cab that was on the list and ordered away.  The Barkeep checked her list and confirmed, it was available…  or so she thought.  She pulled down bottle after bottle from her wine rack, she showed me the ones she couldn’t read and asked if that was okay, none were what I had asked for.  She finally came back with one, a Napa Cabernet.  2001 Beringer, Knight’s Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  Now, here’s the funny part.  The wine list showed only a 2005, but I figured if she was willing to give me the 2001 for the same price, it was either that or forget #Cabernet Day, so I bit.

Table Tent featuring some interesting wine reviews
Table Tent featuring some interesting wine reviews

Cassy opened my wine and poured me a glass.  As usual I gave it a whirl and a sniff… eh, cough.  Well, it smelled a bit off but, again, it was #Cabernet day so it was my duty to drink some damn Cab on this day or die trying.  I muscled through about 1/2 of the glass before I couldn’t drink any more.

Now I’ve heard from my friend, Dominic Foppoli of Foppoli Wines, that the Chinese wine palate is very “young” and “undiscerning,” that they usually mix their wine with cola or 7-up, even really expensive Bordeauxs.  That drinking expensive wine is just a status symbol and that they don’t actually enjoy wine for its intrinsic characteristics, yet…  So this wine was spoiled.  It was terrible at best, and disgusting at face value.  I imagine that it had sat on some customs dock, in the sun, cooking in its own bottle.  Disappointed, I gave up on having a good #Cabernet day.  But, somehow, a little part of me was glad for the experience.

Now, here’s where the rubber should meet the road.  An open comment to the management of the Sheraton Kingsley, Nanjing, China.  Your wine selection seems decent, however, your staff are untrained on wine and if wine is spoiled, you should not charge your customers for it!  You should not advertise on your “Starwood Preferred Network” that your Chinese based hotels offer an excellent wine experience.  They do not.  I’m disappointed with your wine list not being up to date with what you actually have in stock and perturbed that you boast about your wine offerings.

I know that at some point, trade with China will become simpler.  That fragile agricultural products will not have to rot on some customs dock, while someone waiting to be bribed sits on product bound for eager consumers, and that the palate of the new generation of Chinese young urban professionals will grow to appreciate wine for its multifaceted character.  Until then I will stick to Chinese Budweiser…  Sad, I know.

The King of Beer
The King of Beer

What good is a bunch of cold grapes?

Well here we are, firmly in the middle of Summer and damn it’s Hot!  Hot everywhere but here in wine country that is.  I have heard that this is going to be the hottest year on record, McClatchy has a report stating that according to NASA 2010 is on track to be the hottest year ever, 2009 WAS the Second Warmest ever recorded according to NASA, but here in Wine Country we’re hoping to get some Summer weather to warm up these grapes.  By this time of year the grapes should be well into verasion.

Verasion
Grapes in Verasion - Photo Credit Tablas Creek Vineyard Blog

I wrote up a piece earlier this year that talked a bit about how the long and late rains might affect the vineyards and I thought I’d follow it up with some info on what this cold might be doing to our beloved grapes.

Once again I’ve called upon the local experts to get the lowdown on some of the terms that I hear used and also asked for some commentary and color on their predictions of the 2010 growing season and vintages.

Here’s what Dr. Merilark Padgett-Johnson, instructor for the Viticulture program at the Santa Rosa Junior College.

NC: I was wondering if you could add some color to the discussion.  Is there an easy way to explain what “degree days” are, so non-farming/non-viticulturalists could easily grasp the concept, and include some of the science that goes into calculating it?

M P-J: Degree days are what it sounds like, heat units accumulated over time.  Grapevines achieve net growth when the temperature is over 50 degrees F.  Under that threshold, no net growth.

Degree days (DD) are calculated by taking the daily average temperature  (max temp + min temp /2),   then subtracting 50.  This is gives you the degree day figure for that day. For example, if the max temp for one day is 78, and the minimum is 56, that average is 67; subtract the threshold 50 from 67, you get 17 DD for that individual day. Degree days are calculated individually, then accumulated daily over the course of the growing season.  Different cultivars have different degree day requirements for ripening their fruit.

NC: Secondly I was wondering if you had any commentary on the weather and your predictions for the effects it may have on the 2010 vintage.

M P-J: Predictions I don’t do, who knows?   We just hope to get enough degree day accumulation from here on out, to meet the DD necessary to ripen the fruit.

I asked my sources at another local vineyard to pass my questions on to their Viticulturist and they were kind enough to respond and have provided some outstanding insight and detailed information about their concerns.  I’m also including a document written by them which they put together back in May with predictions on this year.  I’ve taken some basic Viticulture classes and this is some interesting stuff.  I’m very sure I don’t grasp all of the nuance, but any of you out there who are steeped in vineyard management and viticulture should really appreciate it!

NC: I was wondering if you could add some color to the discussion.  Is there an easy way to explain what “degree days” are, so non-farming/non-viticulturalists could easily grasp the concept, and include some of the science that goes into calculating it?

Viticulturalist: A degree day is the measure of accumulated heat between two set points (calendar dates).  It’s known that certain varieties of grapes need a set amount of degree days to ripen.  For example if you wanted to plant variety “A” in a valley, and you know it takes 2500 degree days to ripen variety “A”, you wouldn’t plant it in a valley where the total degree days are 1500.  So, in regards to knowing what to plant and where, it is a very useful tool.

The degree day model is also very good for predicting the life cycles of insects and plant pathogens.  This is extremely helpful because we can time our spray application to be the most effective.  There is a degree day calculator available for most plants, insects, and plant pathogens and is readily available.

We know are fields very well, and we know the timing of three major events, bud break, bloom, and verasion.  We can gauge whether the season will be early or late based on the timing of those three events.  My experience has been farmers don’t talk about degree days in regards to ripening and when to harvest.  Grapes samples are taken for analysis two to three times a week for at least a month before harvest.  The analysis will basically give the percent sugar, titratable acidity, and pH.  Those are what usually determine when to harvest.

NC: Secondly I was wondering if you had any commentary on the weather and your predictions for the effects it may have on the 2010 vintage.

Viticulturalist: I’ve attached a document my assistant, <name deleted> and I wrote about the upcoming 2010 season back in May.  It has turned out a very good predictor of what we are seeing in the vineyards in terms of bloom/shatter in relation to yields, and Botrytis Bunch Rot.

My prediction for the upcoming vintage is the slow, cool, wet, growing season may not be a bad thing for the early ripening varieties like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Sauvignon Blanc.  Provided they are planted in an early ripening area.  The grapes that manage to ripen without getting a bunch rot infection will be outstanding.  I just don’t think there will be many grapes without rot this year.  I also think some of the later varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Zinfandel may never make it off the vine.  Those later varieties will have trouble making sugar (ripening) because of the cool, extended growing season.  The possibility of them rotting on the vine is very high.

NC: Do you have any other thoughts on how strange the year seems?  For example all the rain we had, well into late Spring/early Summer, etc.

Viticulturalist: The running joke in the vineyards is no year is ever normal.  However, this year is particularly challenging.  The long wet cool spring, followed by a cool and summer has placed the vines about 3 weeks behind schedule.  In a “normal” year we would begin harvest the last week of August.  We are expecting harvest to begin around the 10th-15th September.  The longer the grapes are on the vine the greater the risk for pathogen damage, particularly bunch rot.  It is quite possible we could lose at least 20% of the crop.

Here is the growing report shared with me detailing predictions of the 2010 Grape Growing Season:

The 2010 growing season has been plagued by nearly two solid months (April and May) of below normal temperatures and above normal precipitation.  In fact, statewide, the month of April ended up being the 12th coldest on record.   Furthermore, the excessive precipitation delivered in April made it the top ten wettest in the North Coast in the last 100 years of record keeping.  Currently, for the month of May, we are experiencing unseasonably cool temperatures and weekly precipitation events.

This combination is contradictory to what is commonly considered ideal viticultural conditions for these two critical months.  The consequences of the prolonged cool and wet spring have not yet revealed themselves completely, but from experience, it is possible to predict with some confidence what they will be.  Two areas in particular are worth noting: an increase in disease pressure both short and long term and the unavoidable effect on bloom and eventual yield.

The primary disease concern is Botrytis cinerea, a fungus favored by wet conditions.  The resulting infections can affect shoots, leaves and clusters with necrosis that often leads to the loss of the affected tissue.  Only the much cooler than normal temperatures have prevented widespread infections from appearing this year.  The major concern is the ability of the fungus to go dormant inside the flower cluster, and when warmer and drier weather returns and the ripening clusters are exposed to free water of any kind – be it from rain, fog or heavy dew, the fungus will begin to sporulate and the cluster will begin to rot from the inside.  Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are well-known for their susceptibility to the fungus, and it should be expected that botrytis bunch rot will pose a serious threat as the season moves into harvest.

We have also noted the presence of a rarely-seen abiotic complex this year that is affecting Pinot Noir.   The complex is characterized by the sudden discoloration and death of leaves located at the mid-shoot position.  This affliction has been observed by other growers in our area and appears to be quite pervasive.   It has recently been determined that the necrosis is caused by an accumulation of ammonia resulting from an abnormal build-up of nitrogen.  This occurs because the unseasonable cold has retarded vine growth, and the nitrogen which has been taken up by the root system is not used but instead pools up in the shoots and leaves.  It is currently unclear what the progression of this problem will be or what longer term effects it will have on the affected vines.  However, with soil temperatures running in the 50’s, (another unfortunate consequence of the cold, damp spring ) – as opposed to the 70’s, where they would be in a normal year, it is almost certain this problem will continue to appear as long as the late-season rain and abnormally cool regime prevail.   We have also seen many mid-cane shoots in Chardonnay which have slowed their growth to the point of cessation, with the shoot tips giving every indication their growth has stopped for the year.  This is problematic because the shoots have not reached a length which will adequately ripen the grape clusters which they are supporting.  While it is hoped this phenomenon may be reversed somewhat by a return of normal late spring/early summer temperatures, it may be difficult to achieve given the stage of the vine growth cycle.

With regard to the inhibition of bloom, we have already observed many of this year’s early-blooming grape flowers being prevented from successfully completing the entire process because of the excessively cool and damp weather.   The cap (calyptra), which covers the male flower parts (the filaments and the pollen-bearing anthers), is staying attached to the flower instead of falling off.  This keeps the pollen grains from landing on the opening of the female flower part (the stigma) where a pollen tube will begin to grow leading to successful fertilization of the ovary and the eventual production of a grape berry.  The dampness also has a deleterious effect on the ability of the pollen grains to be easily released by the anthers that hold them which also has a negative effect on pollination.  For these reasons, viticulturists are fond of seeing bloom time weather that is warm (not hot – lest the pollen grains become dessicated in the heat) and dry.  In due time, the amount of unfertilized berries will shatter off of the grape cluster, and we will have a much better idea of how our potential yields have been affected by this almost unprecedented combination of rain and cold.

There are very possibly two other negative consequences of the late and protracted bloom: irregular ripening of the fruit and a later than normal harvest which may confront October rains should they occur.  The irregularity of the bloom and pollination will likely end up causing problems for accurate sampling as, even within a single cluster, flowers may have been pollinated serially over a period of several weeks.  Under these circumstances, berry sampling would be an exercise in frustration.  This is perhaps a year when cluster sampling might prove to be a considerably more accurate tool in assessing fruit maturity.  If the maturity of normally earlier harvested vineyards is pushed back to later in the year, while the usually later harvested blocks remain closer to their average harvest date, it is possible that many disparate blocks could be ready for picking at the same time – a logistical nightmare for both the viticultural and enological sides of our operation.

One last point to make would be the effect on the 2011 crop.  In all likelihood, there will also be some longer term effects resulting from this spring’s egregious weather.  It is well-known that bud fruitfulness, which heavily influences the potential size of a crop, is determined in the late spring and summer prior to that crop’s actual appearance on the vine.  A basic requirement of fruitful buds is ample sunshine on the shoots and canes that bear them.  Given the lack of sunlight so far this year, bud fruitfulness (or lack thereof) for next year’s crop is rapidly becoming an issue.  In addition, the excessive amount of water in the ground will only encourage rank vegetative growth on the vines – particularly when the weather gets warmer – leading to increased shading of shoots and canes and necessitating leaf and lateral pulling to encourage better sunlight penetration into the canopy.  If, as we suspect, a number of the shoots have stopped growing as mentioned above, the probability of this abundant supply of water being channeled into lateral growth becomes even higher, exacerbating the shading of next year’s fruiting buds and leading to a lighter yield in 2011.

As you can see, this is going to be an exceptionally strange year, even the experts are expressing concern and there may even be lingering effects for the following vintage!  I hope this is interesting to you too.  I’ll try to follow up with these folks after harvest and see how everything turned out.  So keep checking back!

Cheers
Brian

Tom Simoneau, “The Wine Guy” – A Make-a-Wish Charity Auction Lot

A few months back I attended the annual Make-a-Wish event at the Sonoma-Cutrer vineyards and was lucky enough to win one of the live auction lots, the Wine Experience with Tom Simoneau “The Wine Guy.”

Make-A-Wish May 2010
Make-A-Wish May 2010

The stars aligned and we were finally able to schedule this event and get together to taste some great wine, eat some great food, and have some amazing conversations about the juice we all love.

Here’s a little background on Tom, I snagged this clip from his website, http://www.tomsimoneau.com/ (I’ll add some personal color from our experience).

Tom Simoneau, the KSRO Wine Guy for the past thirteen years, knows the wine business. A grape grower, a winemaker, a wine marketer, wine educator, wine judge and wine critic, Tom Simoneau is the walking definition of “Wine Guy”.

Born in Maine and educated in Boston, Tom shunned graduate school at Boston University to form a country rock and roll band. It was his musical career that eventually placed Simoneau in wine country. “We based our California operation in Healdsburg because it reminded us of Maine and it was close enough to San Francisco, so we could pursue our dream of a record deal.”

Since Tom is “The Wine Guy” here is a his syndicated wine minute from our Make-A-Wish Event:  Click Here to play audio – Make-A-Wish072910.

Tom Simoneau - The Wine GuyNorcal Wingman on-air Live this Thursday!

I will be on the radio with Tom Simoneau this Thursday, July 29th around 4:30 PM, on KSRO’s The Drive with Steve Jaxon.  You can listen live by visiting KSRO.com and clicking on “Listen Live” or tuning into 1350 AM, if you live in the greater Sonoma County area.  The Drive is on daily, from 3:00PM to 6:00PM (Pacific Time of course) and usually features local Sonoma County luminaries, of a much higher caliber than myself.  Check it out HERE.

Tom and his wife Brenda really put out the red carpet for us. We decided upon a Cabernet Sauvignon tasting and Tom said he had something creative he’d put together for our group.

Our group, was not an ordinary tasting group, I can’t remember what Tom said exactly, but he said he was going to really have to put something special together.  Included in our tasting crew were Sonoma-Cutrer’s new winemaker, Mick Shroeter (formerly of Geyser Peak & Penfold’s) his lovely wife Linda, my wife’s Aunt and Uncle who are also wine grape growers and home winemakers, and me and “the wife.”

TastingCrew
The Tasting Crew - Pictured (from left to right): Brian & Michelle Wing, Mick & Linda Schroeter, Sharon & Bob Duste, Brenda & Tom Simoneau

Upon our arrival we were greeted with glasses of Chandon bubbly and we began getting acquainted over some fantastic hors d’oeuvres, prepared by Tom’s wife Brenda.

Chicken Salad on Fresh Cucumber
Chicken Salad on Fresh Cucumber

Now, just to be clear, Tom and Brenda’s house, “Simoneau Ranch,” has one of the most spectacular views of the Alexander Valley that I’ve ever seen.  They’re located just east of Hwy 101 in Healdsburg and the view from their back porch looks across the Simoneau vineyards, and up toward the Geysers and off to the right in the distance you see Mt. St. Helena, a truly stunning spectacle!  Anyhow, I digress.  We chatted about wine and toured the property.  Tom showed us his vineyards and gave us a nice look at his cellar where he has cases upon cases of wines stacked to the ceiling, ribbons and awards for his wines, and some empty bottles, “trophies” of past experiences, each with a story.

After the tour it was back up to the house where we enjoyed some more snacks and tasted Tom’s two wines, a Chardonnay, “Brenda Lee’s,” a lovely, lightly oaked Chard, with about 10% malolactic fermentation, and his Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  Oh, I forgot to mention, Tom used to sell his grapes to Silver Oak up until recently when the economy tanked so now he just makes his own Cab (it’s great by the way).  Well after some tasty snacks, a goat cheese flan (see recipes below) and some bacon wrapped figs stuffed with blanched almonds, we got on with the main event.

Tom and Brenda had set up a double-blind, Sonoma versus Napa, no-holds-barred Cabernet Sauvignon battle royale!

Double Blind
Six Cabernet Competitors

The Cabernet Contenders:

From the West (Sonoma County):

2005, Jordan, Alexander Valley, Cabernet Sauvigon, $52
2005, Chateau St. Jean, Cinq Cepages, Sonoma County, $75
2004, Robert Young, Scion, Alexander Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon, $58

From the East (Napa County):

2006, Oakville Ranch, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon, $60
2006, Swanson Vineyards, Alexis, Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon
, $75
2005, Revana Family Vineyards, St. Helena, Cabernet Sauvignon, $149

All Set for a great Tasting
Table for 8 with 48 Glasses

We each tasted though the wines together and discussed the characteristics and qualities we saw, smelled and tasted.  It was quite an educational experience for me.  Having both Tom Simoneau (who also teaches wine tasting/judging at the local community college) and Mick Schroeter discussing and dissecting the wines and then sharing what they experienced and comparing that to what I was getting out of them was really cool.

A Great Tasting
Blind Tasting Crew at Simoneau Ranch

It gave me insight into what a world-class wine maker looks for when tasting and judging wines.  It also made me feel pretty good about my own palate and overall sensory capacity for wine, I’m making some incremental improvements (if I do say so myself).

So when it was all said and done, we had a clear winner and two wines that were so close that second and third place could have been combined into a tie for second.  Here are some of the scoring details:

First Place: 2006, Swanson Vineyards, Alexis, Oakville, Cabernet Sauvignon. Big and Juicy with grainy tannins, hints of licorice.

Second Place: 2004, Robert Young, Scion, Alexander Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon.  Coffee and Cocoa cover this Alexander Valley beauty, great tannic structure that is well representative of the AVA.

Third Place:  2005, Chateau St. Jean, Cinq Cepages, Sonoma County Red Wine.  Soft and supple, ripe red fruit and easy drinking tannins make this Sonoma Valley Red shine.

And the Winner is...
The Favorite Cabernet Is...

A great time was had by all and I can’t wait for next year’s Make-A-Wish event so I can try and win again.  Not only did we have some great wine and great conversation but the money made from Tom’s donation and my winning bid goes to help out a great cause.  The Greater Bay Area Make-A-Wish Foundation® grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength, and joy.  Please support them if you can, it’s an amazing organization.

Again, I want to extend a heart felt thank you to Tom and his wife Brenda for being such gracious hosts.  This was truly an exceptional experience and it could not have been possible without their generosity to both the Make-A-Wish foundation, and to us.

Cheers!
Brian
norcalwingman

Below are the recipes of a few of the outstanding treats Brenda Simoneau prepared for us, Enjoy!  Be on the lookout for a cookbook by Brenda in the not to distant future.

Savory Goat Cheese Flan

Recipe by Brenda Simoneau

1 cup half-and-half
8 oz. sour cream
3 eggs
1 tsp. kosher salt
8 oz. Bucheron goat cheese
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
2 tbsp. of unsalted butter at room temperature

Depending on the size of your ramekins (custard cups) generously butter 6 – 8.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

While the goat cheese is cold remove the rind, place goat cheese in your mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let it come to room temperature. Once at room temperature, mash with a fork. Add one egg at a time mixing well. Add the sour cream and mix well. Finally, add the salt, thyme, and half-and-half. Mix well.

Divide the custard among the ramekins, place them in a baking dish, and add very hot water to the pan so it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins.

Bake until the custards are set, about 25 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven. Place the ramekins on a cooling rack and let sit for about 5 minutes.

Serve warm in the ramekins or run a knife around the edge of each ramekin, turn them out, and serve with a simple green salad.

Kalamata Olive Breadsticks

Recipe by Brenda Simoneau

1 tsp. active dry yeast
5 oz. warm water
1 tbs. olive oil
2 cups of flour
1 tsp. salt
30 pitted kalamata olives roughly chopped

This recipe makes about 76 skinny breadsticks. You’ll want to set up more than one baking sheet, so you can quickly rotate them in and out of your oven.

Stir the yeast into the warm water in a large mixing bowl. Let it stand for about 10 minutes. Stir in the olive oil.  Add the salt, chopped olives, and 1 cup of flour. Stir until everything comes together. Add half cup flour and stir until the dough comes together. Add a ¼ cup of flour and stir until the dough comes together. Lightly sprinkle some of the remaining flour on your work surface and knead the dough. Sprinkle and incorporate more flour as needed until the dough is smooth and soft.

Pat the dough into a rectangle (roughly 6” x 14”) on a surface that you can use a knife on. Lightly brush with olive oil and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit for 30 minutes.

Heat your oven to 350 degrees.

The dough should be very elastic now making it very easy to shape your breadsticks. Cut off a piece of dough about as thick as a finger. Lay it on your work surface, roll back and forth as your hands work out to the ends. This stretches out the dough to the desired length. Remember they will puff up in the oven to about twice the thickness that you rolled them out to. Lay them about an inch apart on the baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, turn the pan and bake for 10 more minutes. Continue baking and checking every 3 minutes or so until they’re crisp and golden.

Chicken Salad

Recipe by Brenda Simoneau

1 poached boneless, skinless chicken breast
¼ cup diced celery
¼ cup chopped pecans
2 tbsp. chopped fresh tarragon
½ tsp. salt (or to taste)
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup mayonnaise
¼ sour cream

Slice the chicken against the grain, and then chop into small pieces. You want about one cup. Place the chopped chicken and all other ingredients in a bowl. Mix together. Taste and then adjust the salt and pepper.

Serve on cucumber slices, crackers, or toast.

Not Bad for a Thursday Night – Saturday Summer School Edition #2

Another week of summer school is down, thank god!  I’m tired.  I volunteered to help out “the wife” this weekend at her winery’s wine club pick-up party.  Let me tell you, I have the best of both worlds, that of a wine consumer and living on the fringe of being “in the industry.”  I was recruited to do some pouring, help with set-up, and general support of the party.  Here’s where it gets cool.  The party included a cooking demonstration with Chef Mateo Granados;

Chef Mateo

and wine tasting seminar with Sonoma-Cutrer’s new winemaker Mick Shroeter.

Sonoma-Cutrer Winemaker Mick Schroeter

The wine seminar was a side-by-side tasting of three of Sonoma-Cutrer’s 1999 Vintage Chardonnays, The Founder’s Reserve, The Cutrer, and Russian River Ranches.

A Great Lineup

So this won’t be a post with anything I’ve cooked (Yet!)  It will be a gratuitous plug for the Sonoma-Cutrer winery and wine club, as well as for Chef Mateo and his catering business.

Chef Mateo’s focus is on Yucatan cuisine utilizing fresh, local, sustainably and organic or bio-dynamically farmed produce and meat.  Let me just tell you, It is amazing!  In addition to catering, Chef Mateo has a mobile restaurant that sets up in random spots around Sonoma County (mostly in the Healdsburg area).  Here’s a great post from Heather Irwin (Bite Club Eats) on some of the latest gossip on Chef Mateo’s Mobile restaurant. (http://www.biteclubeats.com/2010/06/mateo-on-the-move-again.html)

Chef Mateo and "the wife" (Michelle)

So Today’s menu included four great dishes, each paired with one of Sonoma-Cutrer’s awesome wines.

1.  Tacones, Olive oil Guacamole with Carne Asada – Paired with “The Cutrer”
2. Papadzules, an Egg Stuffed Tortillas with Pumpkin seed and epazote sauce – Paired with “Founder’s Reserve”
3. Ceviche curado with chicharone – Paired with “Russian River Ranches”
4. Empenadas stuffed with fingerling potato and fava – Paired with “Les Pierres”

The cooking demonstration covered the Ceviche Curado and Papadzules.  Chef Mateo is really into cooking with what’s in season.  He said he would normally use some tomato with the ceviche but they are not currently in season so he used rhubarb to add some tartness instead.

Here’s the recipe courtesy of Chef Mateo Granados.

Cured Bolinas halibut, chicarrones, & market greens—severs 4 people

Ingredients:

1 lb. halibut or your favorite white fish

5 Meyer lemons

¼ lb. pork back fat

1 bunch radishes

½ lb. curly cress or watercress

Good quality olive oil

Sea salt

Cure halibut:

-on a sheet pan place a layer of plastic to coat the bottom of the pan

-thinly slice fish

-add the juice of the 5 Meyer lemons

-cure 45 min. at room temperature

Chicarrones:

-dice pork fat into 2 inch dice

-generously salt the diced pork and let stand for 10 min.

-slowly render pork until crispy

-remove to cool

Market Salad:

-shave radishes

-pick cress

-mix together in a small bowl with a drizzle of olive oil and sea salt to taste.

Plate:

-arrange 4-5 slices of cured fish (do not dry) on a 10” plate

-garnish with market salad

-sprinkle chicarrone for texture

Ceviche Curado

The food and wine pairings were all fantastic and it was fun to hang out with some wine club members, drink some great wines and play some croquette.

Norcal Croquette

I’m kind of partial, but I have to say that being a wine club member over at Sonoma-Cutrer actually has some pretty serious benefits. This event was no cost to the wine club members!  I highly recommend checking out this club, they do events across the US to accommodate their non-norcal members, so even if you don’t live in wine country you can enjoy the benefits of membership.

Well, I’m sorry I didn’t provide you a “Norcal Wingman” prepared Not Bad, hopefully this will be a viable substitute.   The ceviche is an awesome warm summer day dish, it’s cool and refreshing especially when paired with a great Chardonnay.

Cheers
Brian

Guest Blogger / Interview with Jim Mau from 2 Degrees Above Normal

2 Degrees Above NormalInterview with Jim Mau, Biologist and Producer for 2 Degrees Above Normal, a documentary film about how climate change is affecting the cultivation, economics and culture of wine on a global scale.

http://2degreesabovenormal.com/Terroir/

Jim Mau Bio, from 2DAN Website:
Jim is a former principle and executive in two biotechnology companies. His responsibilities there encompassed R&D of a product line for the diagnosis of enteric pathogens, manufacturing process development and validation, Quality Control and oversight of regulatory matters. Jim is a scientist who in his studies of disease ecology has witnessed the development of global climate change over the past twenty-five years by its effects upon the biology and ecology of disease causing organisms. He has a unique understanding of the consequences global climate change can have on the health of entire ecological systems and the potential devastating affect climate change presents for human health worldwide.

NW – Good Morning Jim. How’s the climate in southern Oregon?

2DAN – Well, you know Brian, it’s kind of like in Sonoma, changing.

NW – So what can you tell us about global warming and why do you feel it is so important in regards to wine?

2DAN – Well Brian, let me answer that question with a question, if I may. Do you like wine, Brian?

NW – Well, yeah!

2DAN – Do you have any wines you like in particular?

NW – Of Course.

2DAN – And why would you like any particular wine over another?

NW – Well certain wines have characteristics that make those wines exceptional to my particular tastes, to my palate and to my nose.  Many have subtle characteristics that just appeal to me.  It’s, you know, a Terroir thing, I guess.

2DAN – Exactly Brian. You love the wines you do because they have a particular character that appeals to you and that particularity comes not just from the wine making process but mostly from the soils and climate where those wine grapes are cultivated. And to put it quite simply, if you change the character of the soil or you mess up the climate you mess up the wine. And that is the problem, Brian. Because of naturally occurring affects of climate change and compounding human activities, climates around the world where grapes are grown is changing and with that comes changes in not only the traditional viticulture of a region but also in the economics and even the social and cultural aspects of that region.

We also know that wine grapes are a sort of ‘canary in the coal mine’ when it comes to agricultural crops. Wine grapes tend to grow on the very margins of cultivatable land and if they begin to fail then you can rest assured that everything else is at an even greater risk of failure. We also know that an increase in night-time temperatures of just 2 degrees Celsius can ruin a wine grape growing region because the wine grapes just won’t handle the change. And, thus the title of our film: 2 Degrees Above Normal, a documentary film about how climate change is affecting the cultivation, economics and culture of wine on a global scale.

So, by using a commodity that so many can relate to – wine, our desire is to educate wine growers, wine makers, wine distributors and retailer as well as wine enthusiasts to the revealing sciences of climate change and its affects on the world of wine.

As you know Brian, there is a huge historical and cultural identity associated with wine producing regions. A region known for a superb varietal might need to shift to another kind of grape, changing a cultural identity that has developed over centuries. In addition, changes in cultural identity for a region could be followed by shifts in the economics of that region and the pricing and availability of classic varietals worldwide. While it is clear that improvements in grape growing and wine-making technology have produced better wines, climate will always be the wild card in determining year to year variations in quality.

Our film will seek to examine the affects of global climate change on viticulture and wine. How climate change is affecting the quality, culture and availability of wines enjoyed today and in the future and how climate change is altering the economics of wine regionally and globally. The film is based primarily on the research of Dr. Gregory Jones, Climatologist, at Southern Oregon University and others.

2 Degrees Above Normal will convey the affects of climate change on viticulture and wine production over the past 150 years predicting similar affects of climate change on wine regions worldwide over the next 50 – 100 years. What is the delicate connection between wine production and climate that makes it such a “canary in the coal mine” for studying climate change? Where and how have the changes happened, what is predicted to happen in the future and possible mitigating solutions will be examined. Affects on both the wine industry and regional cultures will be explored.

NW – So, Jim, what do we do?

2DAN – I would like to refer to a comment written by Steven Kolpan in a June 3, 2010 article in Salon entitled Great wine: Global warming victim? wherein he writes:

“The next time you sip your favorite wine, maybe think about it a little differently. The message is clear: Wine is a precious product of nature, and its future is threatened. In your glass of pleasure there is also a microcosm of our shared environmental concerns, concerns that can no longer be ignored, no longer be denied. Global warming and wine: an inconvenient truth that has yet to resonate with much of the global wine industry, much less wine consumers.”

And you can see this in so many of the magazine articles and Twitter tweets you read. Most are about how great a wine is but I have to wonder how many consumers really relate to what the ‘terroir’ and climate are from where those wines originated and do they understand what is going on today climate wise in regards to those wines they are enjoying. Again, this is why we need to produce our film on the affects of climate change and wine. Educating the wine consuming public as well as the industry is paramount to the future of wines.

I also love the tagline: Wine is climate change you can taste.’

NW – Yes, that is an intriguing tagline. Certainly sums it up doesn’t it. Is there anything else you would like to add?

2DAN – Yes. I would like to refer your readers to an article published in August of 2007 in Wines & Vines when Pancho Campo, MW from the Wine Academy of Spain addressed the Sonoma wine community regarding the affects of climate change on wine. It provides a good opportunity for reflection of things spoken three years back, where we are today and where we need to be tomorrow:

Coping with Climate Change: http://www.winesandvines.com/template.cfm?section=news&content=49616&htitle=Coping%20with%20Climate%20Change

NW – Well thank you Jim for your comments and for your concerns regarding the affect of climate change and the compounding affects of human activities on wine. Is the anything that my readers can do to help move this issue and your documentary film along?

2DAN – Certainly, Brian. For one they can read our blog at: http://2degreesabovenormal.com/Terroir/. I try to keep our readers posted on the most recent research, events and articles regarding climate change and wine. And, as this film is a project under a California 501 c 3 non-profit corporation**, contributions and sponsorships are what is ultimately going to decide if it gets made and how well. Donations to the film can be made directly on our blog via a PayPay Donate button.

We also believe that corporate sponsorship of this film offers an excellent international marketing opportunity to numerous areas of the wine industry, especially now. Though wines on the market today are excellent, there is a glut and many brands are struggling. The world of wine is changing and that change is being driven by an increase in consumer demand worldwide in emerging markets like China, Russia, India and South America. Sponsorship of this film offers an excellent opportunity to demonstrate a brand’ environmental commitment with ‘being Green’ on the mind of consumers these days as they consider purchase of product.

Should any of your readers or industry contacts be seeking such marketing opportunities, we would be happy to speak with them. We can be reached either through our Contact Us page on our blog or they can email me directly at 2degreesabovenormal@gmail.com.

NW – Excellent Jim. Thank you.

2DAN – Thank you, Brian.

** 2 Degrees Above Normal is a project of the Northern California Resource Center, Fort Jones, CA, a 501 c 3 not for profit organization.

You can keep up with 2DegreesAboveNormal on Follow 2DegreesAboveNormal on Twitter and 2DegreesAboveNormal on Facbook.  Help support their cause by stopping by and spreading the word, or making a donation (on their website)!  Special Thanks to Jim Mau for getting this post together.

Grape Cluster
photo credit: Eric Weisinger

The new Thursday…and a quickie

Hello everyone.  I wanted to give you an update since my next four weeks will be exceptionally hectic.  Thursday Night Dinner is going to have to take the proverbial “Back Burner” position as I slog through a summer inter-session course at school.  I’m hoping that this move will allow me to continue to provide all eight of you who actually post comments something while I’m buried in condensed coursework!

developingMgmtSkills
Developing Managment Skills

I will also endeavor to review a wine or two (and a Soiree Wine Decanter) at least once a week but we’ll see how intense school gets.

By the way, I wanted to extend a huge thank you to Shana Ray and Dani Stranghellini for getting me involved with the Russian River Valley Single Night.  I had a great time and met some cool people.  Keep up the great work!

leadership
Leadership w/new RRV Glass 😉

Until then, Cheers!

Okay, just one quickie.  In the glass is some 1990 Les Pierres, Sonoma-Cutrer brought home as a treat from a grower’s relations dinner.

The Nose: If you have had Les Pierres you know that it has a really subtle oak character, but this one is big oak on the nose, with melon and floral aromas (honeysuckle?).
The Taste: Crisp green apples with a backup of fresh Bartlett pear, followed by toast
The Mouth Feel: Great tart acidity kicks off the show and gives way to a silk covered palate this sultry twenty year old has it going on.  Great legs and all.  She leaves you a reminder on the way out that she’s been there and she left without any bitter feelings!
The Color: Solid Chardonnay Yellow, through and through
The Nitty Gritty:
Sorry I don’t have much on this 80% from Les Pierres Vineyard and 20% The Cutrer Vinyard.
The Verdict: yum, you can’t have any it’s all mine and there wasn’t much to go around!  89 Pts,  B+

Alright, I really must be going.  I have two chapters to read and a self-assessment to start (stay tuned for that, I’m guessing quite an expose blog post to be generated from that).

Cheers,
Brian
norcalwingman

Reply From Senator Feinstein:RE: HR5034

All,

I thought I’d share this with you, I’m sure all of you Cali folks received the same form letter, but I thought it might be worth posting:

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Dear Mr. Wing:

Thank you for writing to express your opposition to H.R. 5034, the “Comprehensive Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness Act.”  I appreciate hearing from you and welcome the opportunity to respond.

Congress is expressly granted the power under the Constitution to enact federal laws that supersede state laws.  While sometimes it is necessary to preempt state law for the sake of uniformity, Congress should only do so with careful consideration of the effects on state laws and protection of consumers.  With these goals in mind, Congress has long sought to ensure that states can regulate the sale of alcoholic beverages consistent with their public policy but cannot discriminate against out-of-state shippers.  In the 2005 case of Granholm v. Heald, the Supreme Court held that state schemes that allow in-state, but not out-of-state, wineries to make direct sales to consumers discriminate against interstate commerce and unconstitutionally limit direct-sale shipments.

I have long supported the ability of wineries to ship directly to consumers.  Direct shipping enhances consumer choice and can be an important market for small, niche wineries – many of which are located in California.

On April 15, 2010, Representative Bill Delahunt (D-MA) introduced H.R. 5034, the “Comprehensive Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness Act.”  This legislation would declare that it is the policy of Congress that each State or territory shall have the primary authority to regulate alcoholic beverages and that state alcohol regulations shall be accorded a strong presumption of validity when they are challenged in court.  I understand your concern that this bill could allow states to discriminate against or otherwise limit direct-to-consumer shipments from local wineries in California to out-of-state customers.

H.R. 5034 has been referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary, and companion legislation has not been introduced in the Senate.  Please be assured that I will keep your concerns in mind should this bill or related legislation be considered by the Senate

Again, thank you for writing.  I hope you will continue to keep in touch with me on issues of importance to you.  If you should have any further questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact my office in Washington, D.C. at (202) 224-3841.  Best regards.
Sincerely yours,
Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator