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Brrr! Time for a Glass of Port!

If ever there was Port weather in the Napa Valley, this is it.  Highs in the 30s. Lows in the teens. It’s a bit warmer today –  it’s supposed to wander up into the 40s.  I know that this is nothing compared to what may happen in Nebraska or Niagra, but never the less I say “Brrrr…..”

Why does a glass of Port taste and feel so good on these very chilly nights?

Aside from tradition and romance, there’s actually a logical explanation for it. Port falls into a category of wines called “fortified” wine. What’s the fortification? Grape spirits, or brandy. As the wine ferments, the yeast gradually consumes the grape sugar and converts it to alcohol. The spirits are added before all the sugar is used up. The extra alcohol is too much for the yeast to tolerate so the fermentation ends, leaving a wine that’s typically between 18 and 22% alcohol and noticeably sweet. Continue reading

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Today’s Wine Word: Press

pressing
As you’ve probably heard, crush in Napa Valley was early this year. And for most producers, it’s been over for at least a week or two. Exhale…
But, for red wine, the work isn’t over quite yet. There’s still a little pressing to do. the winemakers are greedily getting the last bit of color and flavor out of the grape skins for their reds before sending them off to the barrel cellar.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that there’s quite a lot of confusion about the difference between crushing and pressing, so let’s get it straightened out. Here goes…

The Stemmer-Crusher

This machine is first stop for most reds when they come in from the vineyard. It removes the stems and breaks the grape skins open. When you’re finished crushing, you’ve still got the skins and seeds,which go right into the fermentation tank with the juice. As you know, all of the color and most of the flavor in red wine comes from the skins.

The press

The press leaves the winemaker with only liquid, however cloudy.

Think of the press as a giant strainer. Picture yourself dropping broken grapes into this strainer. Of course,some of  the juice runs off. Then, you push down with your fist to squeeze more liquid out of the skins. That’s pressing. There are a few different styles of presses a winemaker can use, but I won’t bore you with that unless you ask.  Continue reading

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Are Syrah and Petite Sirah the Same?

Well, they’re related but not quite the same. And what about Shiraz?

Are you a fan of Syrah or Petite Sirah? What are some of your favorite brands?

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September 12, 2013 · 7:12 pm

Napa Valley Harvest has Begun!

44a86-boxes_Yes, indeed, and about two weeks ahead of “normal,” whatever that is.  It’s interesting that the Santa Rosa paper (Sonoma) reported this before the Napa papers – what’s up with that?

The first grapes were harvested on August first, destined for Mumm Napa Valley. It’s typical that the bubbly producers start ahead of still-wine producers because they pick the grapes at slightly lower sugars than everyone else – which is a discussion in itself.

What’s really interesting is that a friend, who was talking to one of the winemakers at Robert Mondavi Winery, said that they harvested some Sauvignon Blanc on the first. Now that’s early!! We think of Sauvignon Blanc as a late August/early September variety.

Why is crush early? Because of a really warm spring and early summer. It really pushed things along, just as it would the tomatoes in your back yard. Great year for tomatoes, here, by the way – they love the heat and are sweet as candy! Yum! Continue reading

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A Little Wine-Grape Trivia

As we see the grapes turning from green to purple, how about a little grape trivia?

What’s your favorite bit of wine trivia?

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Q and A: Balanced Wine

Sarah wrote in because she’s noticed that the term “well balanced” turns up often in wine descriptions. She’s not quite sure what it means. Here’s a brief explanation:

Maybe you chemists and microbiologists can weigh in and enlighten us with other possible causes? Cheers!

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Cluster Thinning in the Vineyard

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Napa Valley came through flowering quite nicely this year, thank you very much, and the crop is looking good.

Vineyard managers should have finished up with springtime shoot thinning by now – a way of keeping the vine in balance. And, now that we have cute little baby grape clusters hanging, it’s time to take a close look.

Believe it or not, part of managing a crop destined for fine wine production (as opposed to most wine) is counting the clusters. Yes, literally.

After the lovely weather we had during flowering (rain, hail, high winds and extreme heat can cause problems) there’s a very good chance that there are bonus, unexpected clusters out there. Unfortunately, for fine wine, more isn’t better.

If there are far more than expected there’s a chance those grapes will never get ripe, but in our climate, that’s rarely the concern. It’s just that if you add a few extra clusters per vine, the flavors can become diluted. This stuff isn’t regulated but It’s really hard to get $40.00+ for a bottle of Cab that’s kind of thin and lackluster.

Or, it could be that you see a kind of short, wimpy looking shoot in there with 3 clusters on it. There’s no way there are enough leaves on that shoot to bring three clusters to maturity. Better to go with one or two clusters, depending upon just how wimpy…

So it’s quite common to see tiny little clusters scattered on the ground around the vine rows this time of year in Napa Valley.

Shoot, leaf and cluster thinning are ongoing activities that begin in April and can continue almost up to harvest time, depending upon how things shape up. Vineyard management has become almost like gardening!

Next big event: veraison – when the grapes turn color, probably late next month.

Anybody out there making plans to visit wine country and see any of this stuff up close and personal?

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