Tag Archives: Napa Valley

Today’s Wine Word: Hangtime

Picking

I was tasting with a  client today and noticed that they already had fermenting Sauvignon Blanc samples out on the tasting counter. That’s 2013 Sauvignon Blanc I’m referring to! And, the winemaker who handles the reds says they’ll bring in some Pinot Noir next week. All of this reconfirms that harvest is early this year. What does it mean in terms of quality? Who knows?

But it reminds me that the #1 topic at harvest time is “hang time.” The term is literal. It refers to the length of time the grapes hang on the vine before they’re harvested.

If you’ve grown tomatoes, you know that when the tomatoes first appear on the vine in early summer they’re hard, green and you don’t even think about tasting them because you know that they’re sour.  As the summer goes on they plump out, soften up and begin to change color and you know that the sugar is on its way up and the tartness (acid) is on the way down. Well, it’s just the same with grapes. Continue reading

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Grape Flowering 2013 in Napa Valley

Grapeflower_chard

Flowering’s wrapping up here in Napa Valley. See those tiny white, protrusions? They represent the potential crop yield this year for the 2013 vintage.

Perhaps you’re underwhelmed by the beauty of the grape flower. True, true – they’re not exactly roses, are they? You have to get up very close to even see or smell them. From a distance they just look kind of fuzzy.

Nevertheless, even as we speak the last of the flower petals are shedding their delicate caps to open up, liberating the pollen to fertilize the waiting ovules! Good, gracious me – I think I need a sip of wine!

And, all of that happens without the help of bees or other insects. Believe it or not, those little bitty things contain the pollen-bearing stamen and the ovaries. How convenient! All we have to worry about is the weather. Everything else is taken care of as long as the weather’s good. You could put a paper bag over those flower clusters and they’d still produce a crop! Continue reading

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Bud Break in the Vineyards

What is bud break? Every spring the tiny buds (growing points) on the vines begin to swell up and  tiny bits of pinky-green new growth break through –  bud break!

I’ve already seen some new growth on some of the early varieties like Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc but the Cabernet vines I’ve seen are still sleeping in. This is a beautiful time of year, here. What’s your favorite time of year to visit wine country?

My husband is getting much better. We hope he’ll be moved to a skilled nursing facility this week, to regain his strength. Thank you so much for the kind messages and emails.

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Gorgeous Wild Mustard in the Napa Valley

Susan wrote in because she was in Napa Valley last weekend and wondered if we plant all the pretty yellow flowers she saw everywhere, and if they serve a purpose.

The mustard season is fleeting! They’re predicting another beautiful weekend here in the Napa Valley, so come on down and take in the view! Cheers!

Visit A Million Cooks for more brief videos from experts on the food you eat: Where it comes from, where to buy it and how to prepare it.

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Recipe: Duck Breast with Porcini Mushrooms and Pink Pepper Sauce

How about a quick, easy and delicious recipe to pair with Cabernet Sauvignon? This one’s courtesy of Chef Michel Cornu of Raymond Vineyards here in the Napa Valley. Bon appetit! 

Long Island Duck Breast with Porcini Mushrooms and Pink Pepper Sauce

Cornu: “The wine’s softness, roundness and balance make it a good match for Raymond’s Generations Cab. It’s good with the sweetness and gaminess of the duck,” Another cab might be too big. It needs to be a soft cab with good acidity.”

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Today’s Wine Word: Hangtime

Picking

That’s what it’s all about, this time of year, and hangtime is an easy one because it’s literal. It refers to the length of time the grapes hang on the vine before they’re harvested.

If you’ve grown tomatoes, you know that when the tomatoes first appear on the vine in early summer they’re hard, green and you don’t even think about tasting them because you know that they’re sour.  As the summer goes on they plump out, soften up and begin to change color which tells you the sugar is on its way up and the tart acid on the way down. Well, it’s just the same with grapes.

The best winemakers want the grapes at peak maturity, just like a great chef needs to buy the best meat and produce. There’s only so much you can do with average-quality ingredients in a restaurant or a winery. This is where hangtime really comes into play.

In our warm climate here in the Napa Valley, the sugar builds quite readily and the acid softens quickly too. Since the sugar provides the alcohol and alcohol gives wine much of its body, it’s important to pick at the right moment. But, is the flavor development in line with the increase in sugar? Not always, in a warm climate. Sometimes the sugar reading (brix) screams “PICK ME!” at the winemaker, but the flavors haven’t quite turned the corner.

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Today’s Wine Word: Veraison

Veraison

Aren’t the purty? There’s something so sweet and lovely about the clusters as they begin to blush and change color. By the time they’re finished they’ll be almost black in color. 

And, the color change is such a significant event that there’s a name for it – French, of course 😉 – veraison. 

Veraison signals that the shoots have stopped growing and that the vine’s energy has shifted into fruit ripening. It’s a kind of code language to the vineyard manager and the cellar master to get it together for crush because the grapes will be pounding on the door before long. 

Veraison is usually complete within about ten days, if the weather’s good. Shortly after, the vineyard manager will get a baseline sugar reading. Folks who are called field samplers are hired to walk the vine rows, collecting grape samples. Because most vineyards are harvested only once, they get specific instructions from the vineyard manager because the sample needs to represent the section of vineyard as a whole. The winemaker wants an average reading of sugar, acid and pH. Continue reading

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Cool vs Warm-Climate Wine

Black_grapes

We’re having such a lovely summer this year in Napa Valley. Our days have been made up of comfortably warm daytime temperatures followed by chilly, foggy nights with the occasional brief blast of heat, so far, which happens to be the  formula for an excellent Napa Valley vintage!

Marty wrote in to ask about frequent references I make to warm vs. cool-climate wine and this is a great time of year to talk about it, although the real story can’t be written until harvest is over, hopefully by Halloween. 

If you like to garden, you know how seasonal temperatures affect the ripening pattern of your fruit and vegetables. Imagine trying to ripen tomatoes on your patio if you live San Francisco, where it’s foggy daily, in the summertime, and temperatures rarely rise above 65F.  Those are going to be some tart, green tomatoes, right?  The same thing applies to grapes.  They start out with high levels of acid, low levels of sugar, and vegetative flavors.  As the weeks go by they gain fruitiness and sweetness, and the acid decreases, provided they get enough heat and sun. So, depending upon where they’re grown they’ll ripen slowly or quickly and end up tasting more or less ripe since the level of sugar and acidity is affected.  Continue reading

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Today’s Wine Word: Fog

For the first time this spring I woke up to fog this morning – not clouds – fog. I thought of all the lovely people visiting Napa Valley waking up, looking out the window of their hotel, and feeling a little bummed. I could just hear them saying “Darn! It’s going to be cloudy and cold today! Is it going to rain?”

I wished I could somehow tell them all not to despair. But, at least their disappointment was short-lived. By the time they had breakfast and hopped in the car for their 10:00 winery appointment things were already starting to break up. They thought “Maybe things are looking up.” By 10:30, or so, we had full sun. 

And, I was thinking “Yay! We’re moving into our summer weather pattern!” It’s made up of mostly cool, foggy nights and bright, sunny days. Very comfortable for the visitors and the vines.  

Why am I prattling on about this? Because, when it comes to climate, the fog is really the key reason Napa Valley is a famous winegrowing region. Without San Pablo Bay, down there at the southern end of the valley, it would be too hot, here, to grow good wine. The warm days encourage maturation. The foggy nights keep the progress kind of leisurely and the cool temperatures also keep the acidity bright.  Continue reading

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Today’s Wine Word: Bud Break!

Bud-break-2

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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