Monthly Archives: March 2012

Today’s Wine Word: Bud Break!


It’s happening. Mostly in the southern part of Napa Valley at this point, but it’s happening. The vines are emerging from their long winter slumber.

Every year I kind of worry because the vines look so very dead, especially once they’ve been pruned. I’m afraid that March will go by and they’ll still look like they’re dead – that they’ll never push out that very lovely little bit of pinky-green new growth. 

But, this marks the beginning of the 2012 growing season – may it be a MUCH, MUCH better and easier one than 2011! After what the vineyard managers have been through in 2010 and 2011 I think they deserve a frost-free spring and perfect weather from there on. 

What’s perfect? Around here, from April through October, we’re looking for warm, sunny days (maybe even a few hot ones) and cool, foggy nights – and no rain. Oh, it’s okay if Mother Nature wants to sprinkle a bit to dust off the grapes now and then, but no heavy rain, especially not during harvest!! Continue reading


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Today’s Wine Word: Brettanomyces




Sarah wrote in because she was having dinner with friends the other night and they all agreed that their red wine smelled like Band-Aids. They actually liked the wine pretty well, but once one of them remarked on the Band-Aid character, all of them noticed it and it was hard not to focus on it.

Pretty wierd, huh?

Actually, Band-Aid is a classic descriptor for wine that has a spoilage yeast present calledBrettanomyces. It’s often called “Brett” for short. Technically, it’s a defect, but it’s really quite common. And, whether or not it detracts from the wine is a question of how much the Brett has overtaken it and your own personal taste. It’s harmless, so if you like the character, don’t worry about it. 

Many professionals feel that in low concentration Brett adds to the wine’s complexity. There are some highly regarded wines that fairly consistently show what seems like Brett character. Since Brett might be confused with something else like terroir (a sense of place that may or may not smell like earth or minerals) or varietal character (the meaty, animal character of Mourvèdre can be confused with Brett) only analysis will tell the tale.

In addition to Band-Aid character, depending upon the wine, you might notice earthy, barnyard or horse stable character. Some describe it as mousy, sweaty saddle or cheesy – YUM 😉 It makes a young red smell and taste older than it is and as it progresses it dries out the fruit. The flavors become somewhat metallic.

As far as we know, Brett arrives with the grape skins, just like the good wine yeasts and, unfortunately, over time it can become part of the winery. The porous wood in the barrels makes them especially vulnerable.

If you ever open a bottle that is so Bretty that you just can’t enjoy it, take it back!

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What Makes Napa Valley Special?


Thanks to the handful of readers who wrote back about yesterday’s post on the high price of Napa Valley wine. It was quite natural for them to wonder what makes this region special enough to justify the price. 

As you recall, the simple answer is supply and demand. So, why are Napa Valley grapes in such high demand? What makes the valley so special?

The short answer for that is “pure luck.” And, pure luck translates into a great combination of soil and climate for wine grapes. The growing conditions here are so favorable for growing wine grapes that a grower could almost do a sloppy job of farming and still get pretty good results.

But, the thing is that most growers and winemakers here aren’t content with “pretty good.” They want to grow/make wonderful wine! So, the third, key, element is people: People who are fanatical about what they do. Any winemaker will tell you that if the vineyard grows superlative fruit, she’s 90% of the way home. Her job is to try not to mess it up.

The fact that the valley is small and produces only 4% of California’s wine adds to our “luck” when it comes to demand.

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Why Does Napa Valley Wine Cost so Much?


Question from Rick: Why does Napa Valley wine cost so much?

Reply: Good question – I’ll bet lots of people wonder the same thing. The short answer is supply and demand. But, seen through that lens, the best of Napa Valley Cabs are quite a bargain compared to their European counterparts.

You can expect to pay just over $200.00 a bottle for Shafer Napa Valley Hillside Select Cabernet – a wine that many think of as one of Napa Valley’s unofficial first growths. A current vintage of Chateau Latour, a first growth from Bordeaux, is $1000.00 a pop, give or take, depending upon where you buy it.

I don’t think any tasting panel would come to the conclusion that Chateau Latour is five times better than Hillside Select or that the Hillside Select is seven times better than Robert Mondavi’s Napa Valley Cab.
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