One of the most fun things I get to do here (besides cracking jokes in this newsletter) is educating employees all about wine. Typically, once a quarter we all get together and go over job happenings and address specific wine subjects related to our work (while sipping the fruits of our labor, of course).
As we discussed what was happening in the vineyard during pruning, one of my coworkers asked what the difference was between being organic, sustainable, biodynamic, etc. What a great question!
All of these vineyard practices share a respect for the environment and the Earth but have key differences in farming.
Can you imagine planting or harvesting grapes based on lunar phases?! Oh yeah, grab your crystals and a glass of wine and let's learn about biodynamics!
By definition, “Organic agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved.”
Farming and making organic wine starts with the soil. You have to plant on "virgin" soil that hasn't been previously farmed with non-organic sprays or pesticides. If the soil was farmed with non-organic substances, you must wait up to 5 years for the chemicals to dissipate from the earth with the help of a rototill and lots of patience.
Biodynamic viticulture follows the belief that we are all connected; from the animals to the plants within the vineyard eco system, everything has a purpose. The farming practices are centered around the lunar and astrological cycles that are said to affect the biological systems within the vineyard. Think of it as a holistic and homeopathic way of farming.
This revolutionary practice was created by an Austrian philosopher, Rudolph Steiner, in the 1920's. This was the first of the organic agriculture movements. Sprouting from this idea (heh heh), a biodynamic calendar was created to let farmers know when to plant, water, harvest, and let the vineyard rest. These days coincided with the lunar phases and the astrological cycles in the sky.
Fruit Days: Best days for harvesting grapes
Root Days: Ideal days for pruning
Flower Days: Leave the vineyard alone on these days
Leaf Days: Ideal days for watering plants
To even take it a step further, composting in a biodynamic setting is anything but ordinary. The prepared compost ingredients (including crushed up quartz crystals) are stuffed into cowhorns and buried. Once they have composted, they are dug up and turned into a "tea" and sprayed and spread throughout the vineyard. This is said to awaken cosmic forces in the soil. I'll take it!
Both organic and biodynamic practices have little human interference with the earth and rely heavily on soil health. With that said, it is also more labor intensive and costly. The vineyards will also see lower grape yields which means a higher price point per bottle.
Both of these practices are becoming more popular among wine drinkers and growers. Whether organic or biodynamic, vitners want to create a deeper connection with the land and the practices our ancestors used hundreds to thousands of years ago.
It is nice to know that we are coming back to a simpler time, rebuilding our relationship with the earth and creating a respectful way of farming again. It is a means of healing the earth as well as the human being.
We freaking made it. 2018. We all have our resolutions, some of mine rolled back from last year (drink more water than wine) but we will see if this actually sticks.
One resolution that is sure to be an easy one to follow, is to be more adventurous with wine. The best part about wine is experiencing new wines with friends. Some of my favorite wines are paired with hilarious to sentimental memories with my loved ones!
Thankfully, many of my friends have caught the wine bug with me and we have been throwing some awesome wine related dinner parties. A recent one was a horizontal tasting. What the heck is that?! Your new favorite thing! Hopefully you will stay in a vertical position after these tastings (but no judgement here!)
A horizontal tasting is a great way to taste the offerings of a specific region from each vintage (think Malibu, Santa Barbara, Bordeaux, etc.). Have each of your friends bring a bottle of the same varietal from the same year (2012 Pinot Noir, 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, you get it) and region and then the fun starts! Make sure everyone picks a different winery or producer so we don't try the same thing twice.
A vertical tasting is tasting one varietal from one producer throughout the course of a few (or more) years. For example, say you try 2010-2015 Semler Cabernet Sauvignon. This is super fun since you can taste the differences in winemaking, and weather. Whether you are a novice or experienced taster, this is the perfect setting to train your brain to pick out the subtle nuances of each wine. Soon, you will be commenting on how 2012 was an exceptional year for Pinot Noir!
Not to be a wine geek, but I recommend everyone have a notepad and pen to jot down their interpretations of each wine. Does Mark smell or taste something completely different than Susan? Does Susan even have the right wine in her glass?! By going around the room and voicing the different profiles of each wine, you can become a better taster over time. Your palate is your own, Susan's is hers, and so on. By hearing what other people pick up in wine, expands your Rolodex for tasting notes. Women tend to pick up floral notes better than men and men tend to pick up earthy and leather tones more. Learn by drinking? Count me in every night!
Text your friends, grab a few cheeses, and line those glasses up because this is about to be a party to remember!
How many Pinot's are there? If you have ever ventured into the best aisle in the grocery store (wine aisle), you have probably caught on that there are a few different colors that Pinot showcases. Let's talk about one of my favorite varietals of all time, shall we?
There are many mutations that Pinot has evolved to, the most popular are: Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris (Grigio), Pinot Blanc, Pinot Munier. They aren't just related to one another, they all share the exact same DNA showing that they are all the same grape!
Pinot is one of the only grape varietals that can make a sparkling, white, rosé, and a red wine.
There are 6 mutations of Pinot to note:
Pinot Noir: A hard-to-grow black wine grape with green flesh that originated around Burgundy.
Pinot Gris: A pink-skinned wine grape that produces white wines to rosé-colored wines.
Pinot Blanc: A white grape that often has been confused with Chardonnay.
Pinot Meunier: A black-skinned grape that ripens a bit earlier than Pinot Noir and is mostly used in Champagne.
Pinot Teinturier: A black-skinned grape with red flesh that was observed in vineyards periodically over the last 100 years.
Pinot Noir Précoce: A mutation of Pinot Noir that ripens 2 weeks earlier than regular Pinot Noir.
Pinot Noir is one of the most sought after grape varietals in the world, being known for being a perfect example of the terroir of the region. Because of it's delicate skins and vibrant aromas, the flavors and aromas compliment the region in which it's grown.
If you try a Pinot from every country, after a while, you will be able to identify where the grape was grown. Don't believe me? Try it!
Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are also the same grape, just named differently due to the country! Pinot Grigio is from Italy whereas Pinot Gris is from France.
It truely is one of the most facinating grape varieties there is, with so many variations and different flavor profiles in each country. So, drink up and cheers to evolution!
How do we know how much wine we will make this year? Can you prepare for the large (or small) amount of grapes you will harvest? Thankfully, for both these questions, the answer is YES!
During the lag-phase of the grape's maturation, we take advantage of the slowing of growth to weigh the grape clusters. With this information, we can estimate how many clusters of grapes each vine will produce and how much wine we will receive after harvest.
The process is a little bit of science, a little bit of dirty work, and a lot of fun!
We take two grape clusters (like the one's pictured above) from 12 different areas of the block we want to measure. This gives us a good look at how the entire vineyard is doing since some areas can be more mature than others. As we take samples from each test vine, we also count how many clusters are on each vine. This will help us later.
Once we have taken our samples, we weigh all the clusters as one, then weigh each cluster individually. We then average the weight of the clusters.
Remember, how we counted how many clusters there were per vine? We calculate the average cluster weight x number of clusters per vine x number of vines in the vineyard block. And VOILA! We can calculate approximately how many tons per acre we will have for harvest (for that varietal).
Does your brain hurt yet? Don't worry, mine does too, that's why I drink wine!
It's getting hot, California!
With this record breaking heat, we have to protect the ones we love the most from the sun... our wine collections. Yes, California, this is an epidemic that we can solve together!
Let's be real, we've got our white wine chilling in the fridge but what happens to the reds we neglect for a few weeks when the heat makes us stand in front of the freezer? Depending on where it is stored, that wine could be damaged in the bottle by the time you're ready to drink it in the cool weather. You don't want to do that to your friends (the wine, I mean).
Here are some tips to make sure your wine collection survives the summer so you don't lose the one's you love the most!
1. If you don't have a wine fridge, get one! - Depending on how large your collection is, a few bottles to a few hundred, a wine fridge is the ultimate tool and they are surprisingly affordable. Sometimes it's a little hard to splurge on something when you've already been splurging on wine, but if you add up all that wine, it's definitely an investment worth having!
2. Store in a dark, cool area of the house - Avoid top of the fridge or under the sink. Avoid the garage or attic, and no direct sunlight. Treat your bottles like your significant other, a little TLC goes a long way. (I store my excess wine that doesn't fit in the wine fridge on the ground in my bedroom closet... insider tip people!)
3. Beware of leaving wine in the car! - Just like an animal or baby, don't leave your wine in a hot car! Car temperatures can soar in the heat and can get well above 140 degrees! You will be opening a bottle of vinegar if you forget!
If your home stays under 75 degrees consistanly, it ideally won't be a problem. Just watch out for the big temperature fluctuations and your wine will be good to drink for the rest of the year!
Cheers to a "chilled" summer!
My favorite hobby is wine tasting (shocker, I know)! Summer is the high season for wine tasting, with endless sunshine and a glass of wine, talk about heaven!
There is a scary stigma with wine tasting, if you've never been, it can be intimidating! Many people think you need to be a professional, but listen, we are all there for one purpose and it certainly isn't to look at the glass.
There are some key fundamentals to tasting and evaluating wine. To look like you've been doing this for years, follow these easy steps to fool us all!
1. Look: Take a peek at the color, opacity, and viscosity (wine legs) of the wine. The more vibrant the color, the younger the wine. Reds that have some browning tend to mean they are older. White wine that is more yellow in color tend to be aged in oak. But there are always exceptions to the rule since winemakers all differ with their styles. So, basically, just see if it's wine.
2. Smell: This is arguably the most important part of tasting since your nose will pick up most of the tasting notes right away. The big components to think about are: floral notes, fruity notes, earthy notes, herbacious, and any baking spices. Baking spices tend to be from the barrel (vanilla, clove, coconut, dill). Honestly, you don't have to have a rolodex in your head of specific items within a floral group. Just being able to pick out a few broad notes makes you one step ahead of the rest!
Tip: Smell the wine an inch from the lip of the glass. This is where you get all your floral notes. Putting your nose deeper into the glass will reveal fruit, earth, etc. notes. If you smell mostly alcohol, give it a big swirl to open it up and stick your nose in one more time.
3. Taste: The best part! Take a sip and swirl the wine in your mouth. Are you salivating? That is the acid in the wine. The more saliva, the higher the acid content. This tends to be with white mostly. Are you getting a dry sensation on your tongue? These are tannins reacting to your saliva. This happens with red wines and if you give your glass a couple vigerous swirls, they should loosen up.
Tasting the wine will also validate anything that you smelled before, do the notes match up? Do they surprise you? Not all tasting notes match nose to tongue so no worries if you taste something completely different than you smell.
4. Do you like it? If so, score! Chances are you won't like everything you taste, but it is always fun to keep an open mind with wines you think you may not like. Winemakers and wine regions can surprise you, so even if you are skeptical of a certain varietal, it's always fun to give it a try anyways.
Courtesy Tip: If you don't like a certain wine that you tried, it is always a polite gesture to not explicitly say that in front of the wine maker or the tasting room associate. If they ask if you like a not so great wine, it is always best to reply with what your favorite one was so far. "It was nice, but I really like... or I can't wait to try..."
Wine tasting is supposed to be fun! Walk the property, take in the sights, drink the wine (in moderation), and repeat!
You know when you finally finish a long project and feel so accomplished? That's how we feel when we bottle our wine! Lillie, our Director of Vineyard Operations, and I went up to make sure our wine made it into the bottle, then the case, and soon into your glass!
Click HERE and check it out in action! You may even see our awesome Lillie Manescala watching the fruits of her labor... har har.
Bottling is the final step before the wine hits our shelves, the process is pretty exciting to wino's like ourselves!
Check out the process below!
Wine is great for any time of day; morning, noon, night. You name it, there is a wine that perfectly matches the time. Quite honestly, I could make wine a full meal easily. Champagne/sparkling for an appetizer, sauvignon blanc for a first course, pinot noir/sangiovese for a second course, Malbec/syrah for a third course, then port for dessert. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!
The one thing I get asked all the time is what deciphers a dessert wine from just a sweeter wine and what is the difference in dessert wines, anyways?
We will focus on the difference between ice wine and late harvest wine today since there are hundreds of styles of dessert wine around the world.
Ice wine (or Eiswein in German) is one of the hardest wines to produce. Ice wines wait until the first freeze of the year (typically 1-2 months after harvest). Frozen on the vine, they are picked at around 20 degrees and pressed while still frozen. Most of the vineyard workers pick in the dark of night while the temperatures are the coldest to ensure the grapes are frozen.
The grapes will typically be twice as sweet as Coca Cola and take 3-6 months to ferment before being bottled.
The story goes: In 1794, winemakers in Franken, Germany were forced to create wines with the frozen grapes available for harvest that year. The result was extremely sweet but extremely delicious wines. They became so popular, the eiswine technique was adopted.
The process for ice wine is tedious. After harvest, the frozen grape marbles are immediately brought to a grape crusher and into a grape press. Imagine trying to crush a marble with a nearly frozen press, the results are many, many broken presses. Only about 10% of the liquid in the grapes are used for ice wine. Imagine caring for these vines for the whole year to only see 10% of the product complete? A lot of work for a small gain! This is why you will see steeper prices for true ice wines. Look for labels from Canada, Germany, and Austria. Some northern US states that border Canada make it as well.
Late Harvest Wine
Late harvest wine is picked roughly the same time as ice wine, 1-2 months after harvest (but in warmer climates, so no snow here!). The grapes are left hanging to become sweeter over time and the sugar content becomes more concentrated as the grape dehydrates. It is basically like pressing raisins and getting the bare minimum juice left to create that syrupy goodness.
Because of the higher residual sugar, there is also a higher alcohol content than most wines, so they are served in 2-3 ounce pours rather than the traditional 5 ounces. Alcohol content ranges from 18-20%. Phew!
One of the most sought after late harvest dessert wines is from Sauternes, France. This particular dessert wine is created from a fog phenomenon. The Sauternes region is located next to a foggy section of the Garonne river. The fog creates a mold on the grapes and infects them with a fungus called “noble rot”. The mold is a less than desirable gray color and are not easy on the eyes. The mold sweetens the grapes and makes a deliciously sweet wine.
Who would have thought that a mold could make one of the world’s most expensive wines? It definitely is a “noble” rot. Har har.
All of this rain is making Malibu look more like Ireland than a beach town (no complaints!) Our land is being replenished and our wells and lakes are feeling full again. This is also a great start to our year, rain early on in harvest is exactly what we need to start a great vintage year.
We have been pruning our vines, gearing them up for spring. We hope that this rain continues (since we are looking to be at least halfway out of our drought!) but slows as spring emerges.
The biggest indicator of a good year will be the weather. From bud break to harvest, we rely on the weather to help us create a beautiful wine to offer in the coming years.
The ultimate year would consist of ample rain in the winter, easy breeze in spring time and an Indian summer before harvest. Warm summer days and cool nights are the perfect puzzle pieces for a successful growing season. But every year is different and unpredictable (ahem, El Nino).
This is why you hear many people say “2012 was a great year for California wines” or “2012 was a terrible year for France.” Weather in the US in 2012 caused one of our best vintages to date, while in France, it was one of their worst (in their opinion). If you are a collector, you bear this date in mind when buying wine. If you are a novice drinker, it will not affect your choices as much since wines still tend to be consistent (most of the time).
If you are buying or tasting boutique wines (like Semler) you can taste the weather patterns in the wine. High alcohol and bold flavors express hot summers while lower alcohol and higher acid indicate some weather battles. Both of these factors result in a great wine, they just will age differently. Wines tend to be consistent throughout each year. Once you taste vintages year after year, you can notice subtle differences that you may have missed before. This is the “terroir” of the wine.
There is an art to cultivating and helping the grapes grow to maturity. A vineyard manager must make sure the grapes are flowering, watered properly and have adequate air flow.
Wine is delicious art.
So, what happens if the weather isn’t exactly ideal? That’s what the winemaker is for. Wine can be manipulated with different yeast strains, types of wood barrels vs. stainless steel, aging process, etc. There is an art form to creating a beautiful wine. Just because some wines have faults doesn’t mean the wine is bad. Every winemaker creates with the intention of letting nature speak for itself. Sometimes we need to make up for what nature couldn’t do.
Every artist is different, as is every winemaker. Winemakers follow ideologies that they were taught along their career and these ideologies vary in every AVA or country. You can’t appropriately compare Picasso to Leonardo da Vinci, so why compare a French winemaker to an Australian winemaker. Find your niche and drink up.
Wine is art. Appreciating art is divine, and I appreciate it every night.
It is finally February; I have never been so excited to be done with the first month of the year! Last month I tried and failed to stick to the Whole30 diet that basically every woman on Instagram was doing. I can take out sugar, carbs, dairy, even food from my diet, but wine? You must be taking crazy pills. The wine guy at WholeFoods would send out a search party if he didn’t see me for a month, or even a week for that matter.
You can still drink a glass of wine a night and be your healthiest, fittest self. You just have to be smart about the type of wines you are drinking. There are plenty of studies that show wine is in fact good for your body. It has 13 essential vitamins and minerals, it’s basically like taking a multivitamin! But the sugar content is the real kicker here for absolute heath and weight management. Full transparency, I would rather choose wine over food any day but you may not be as dedicated to wine then I am.
TIPS TO DRINKING SMART:
1. Choose wine with a lower alcohol content: Wine with less alcohol tends to have less sugar. Dry white wines (Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Vinho Verde, German Riesling, Chenin Blanc) have the least amount of calories with 110-150 calories per 5 ounces with 9-12% alcohol. Red Fans? Dry red wines with less than 13.5% alcohol will be your best friend (Pinot Noir to Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah)
2. Choose European wines: Whaaaaat? Yes. Europe has incredibly strict wine laws that restrict alcohol content to a certain parameter. Remember, alcohol content is key, so go on a world tour and try something new!
3. Stay away from “New World” wines: America to Argentina to Australia, new world wines boast high alcohol and high sugar wines that will undo all that hard work at the gym.
4. Eat Protein!: If you are like me, I am always thinking of French fries after downing the third glass of Pinot. This isn’t because you are weak, the wine is just really good at peer pressuring you. Alcohol enhances the taste of salt and fat so your brain tells you to reach for the bad stuff. To prevent the little voice telling you to make midnight bacon, eat a handful of almonds or cheese to calm your cravings before pouring the first glass.
5. Earn that glass: The greatest glass of wine is one after you kick your own butt at the gym. During my demise with Whole30, I allowed a glass of wine after a great workout and never regretted a thing. Maybe it’s just me, but thinking about getting a “bikini body” doesn’t motivate me at the gym, knowing wine is at home does.
6. Everything in moderation: This is one of those tips that I have to say but don’t follow.. Obviously one glass is better than three but my best writing is after at least two glasses so we give and take here.