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Dry farming versus irrigation. Is there one correct choice for wine vineyards?

15 Mar

Dry farming has become a relatively new buzzword in the wine industry, with supporters touting it as the road to better wine & a better environment.  I thought it was worth taking a look at dry farming and irrigation to see if I could sort out some of the truth from the hype.  What is dry farming?  What are the benefits and risks of dry farming versus the benefits & risks of irrigating?  Is there any middle ground?

While there doesn’t seem to be a regulatory definition of dry farming, there are some basic guidelines.  Here’s my best try at a definition: dry farming is crop production that relies on residual soil moisture during dry seasons.  Some people say that it should be “soil moisture stored from precipitation,” but I believe that natural snow melt that is not channeled by man is a legitimate part of dry farming.  Many practice a version of dry farming that says “we only irrigate in years where we must to avoid losing the crop.”  While I understand the sentiment, & generally agree with the approach, I’m not sure they are really dry farming.  Being a mostly dry farmer may be like being a little pregnant.

The first viticulture was probably dry farming, but it didn’t take long for irrigation to join the party.  It is believed that wine making began around 7,000 years ago.  The Areni 1 Winery currently holds the record for oldest known winery at 6,100 years old. Irrigation was definitely practiced for some crops starting around 5,0000 BC (equal to the beginning of viticulture).  The first known irrigation canals specifically for viticulture are over 2,600 years old in Armenia & in Egypt.  Of course, there may be much older sites waiting to be discovered.

Before examining the strengths & weaknesses of dry farming, it is probably worth establishing where you can & can’t dry farm.  It also might help to have a general baseline for the main grape growing climates.

There are three basic climates associated with grape growing & wine making.  They are Maritime, Continental, & Mediterranean climates. Each has its own water issues.  Maritime climates tend to have a moderate climate tempered by the effect of a large nearby body of water.  They have warm, but not hot summers & cool, but not cold winters. Classic Maritime wine regions include Bordeaux, most of Oregon, Rias Baixas, & New Zealand.  In a Maritime climate, the rain concern is too much rain, particularly during the growing & harvest seasons.  They also can have high humidity, which promotes mold, mildew, bunch rot, & nematodes, among other hazards to grapes.  Irrigation in Maritime climates is generally only necessary in unusual drought years.  Mediterranean climates are characterized by a long growing season with little temperature shift.  The winter is generally warmer than Maritime or Continental winters.  Most rain comes during the winter.  There is very little rain during the growing season, which prevents a variety of problems, but increases drought issues.  Mediterranean areas are more likely to use irrigation during the summer ripening stages. Classic Mediterranean regions include Greece, Tuscany, Provence, Sonoma, & the Napa Valley.  Continental climates tend to be inland & away from large bodies of water.  They can have very cold winters & very hot summers.  Rain falls mainly in the winter & spring.  Areas with soil that has good water retention generally don’t have water issues.  Areas with soils that don’t retain as much water (granite for instance) may have water issues during the summer. Continental growing regions include the Columbia Valley, Texas High Plains, & most of Austria.

There are a few requirements to dry farm grapes.  Some are under control of the producer & some are not.  The most basic is rainfall (including snow melt).  There is general agreement in the scientific community that 20 inches of rain per year is the cut off point for regular dry farming.  Sites with 15 inches of rain might work with just the right soil or rain at just the right time, but it is likely that emergency watering will be needed more years than not.  Oregon based dry farming advocates The Deep Roots Coalition & a couple of other advocates consistently list Santorini as an example of dry farming being possible with 4-10 inches of rain, but if you look up Santorini rain fall, you will see that they get almost 22 inches a year. When the rain falls is important.  Rain in spring and summer matters because that is when you have flowering and fruit set.  In Tuscany, the vines receive about 8 inches of rain during this time compared to 2.4 inches in Napa.  If the soil can’t retain the water from winter rains, that isn’t enough for the vines.

Dry farming requires soils with moisture retention capabilities.  The California Ag Water Stewardship initiative compares it to the same considerations as picking a site for a pond.  Sandy soils or heavily fractured soils do not work well.  Clay & sandy loam are great at retaining water.  Deep soils where vines can burrow down are important.  The deeper roots allow the vine to work its way down to stored water. “Nothing is drought tolerant on shallow soils,” says Andy Walker, a professor at the University of California-Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology.  Dave Osgood, who dry farms in Paso Robles says “See what grows there naturally. If it is only dry grass land, then it may be hard to dry farm, but if you have oak trees, shrubs, flowers, and grasses, then you have water in the soils.”

Rootstock selection is also important when dry farming.  St. George rootstock seems to be the preferred rootstock for dry farmers due to its drought resistance.  It isn’t as popular in some areas because it reduces yields, but dry farmers aren’t looking for high yields anyway.  Rootstocks can make it difficult to switch an existing vineyard over to dry farming.  After the AxR1 debacle in California (a rootstock that turned out not to be Phylloxera resistant), many vineyards were replanted with a riparian rootstock.  Those roots love water, but don’t have drought resistance.  To convert a vineyard with riparian rootstock to dry framing would probably require ripping out the vineyard & replanting.  That isn’t sustainable from an environmental or commercial perspective.

Trellising, or lack thereof also plays a part.  Dry farmed vineyards are frequently bush pruned.  This promotes smaller vines with less wood (which means it needs less water).  It also allows natural shade for the vine while still having air flow.  Vines need to be spaced further apart than in standard modern vineyards.  Depending on the soil & rainfall, this can vary from 32-120 feet.  You see this in the Toro region of Spain, where the vines are spaced far apart in bush vines to get enough water to survive.  The nice side effect of this, is that they never got the Phylloxera louse.  Dry farmed vineyards in the California North Coast are spaced at 8 x 8 or 9 x 9 feet intervals, but south in Paso Robles, you need to go to 10 x 10 or 12 x 12 foot spacing.

Finally, some grapes do better with dry farming than others.  Vigorous grapes do best, because the reduction of vigor in dry farming just brings them into balance.  That means that classic hot climate grapes like Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, & Tempranillo do well, but grapes like Pinot Noir do not. Barbera is considered one of the harder grapes to dry farm.


With all of that background out of the way, we can finally get to the comparisons.  Sorry for all of the buildup!  I just wanted to get the ground rules down.


Dry Farming SWOT


  • Dry farmed wines probably show a purer terroir. If terroir is everything about the site that makes it unique, then adding anything to it, whether that is water or fertilizer, takes away from that expression.
  • There is some evidence that properly dry farmed grapes can be higher quality for wine making than others. Some growers and wine makers believe that dry farmed fruit is sweeter, with more intensely flavored grapes.  The grapes tend to have lower yields, which is associated with quality.  The berries tend to be smaller, which is advantageous for red grapes because it means the skin to juice ratio will be higher (which means more anthocyanin & tannin extraction).  The wines are thought to have more dry extract, which increases ageability. One study noted, “Long-term responses to water shortage include re­duced canopy size, increased root-to-shoot ratio, improved water-use efficiency, and altered fruit composition (Chaves et al. 2010).”  All of the wines that originally won the 1976 Judgment of Paris that put California on the world wine map were dry farmed.
  • If you believe in minerality in wine, then dry farmed wines have a better chance of minerality. The roots go deeper & can extract more minerals.  I’m not tackling minerality right now.  One controversial subject at a time is my motto.
  • As expected, there is a tremendous water savings. 16,000 gallons of water per acre is a solid estimate.
  • There is an energy savings. The energy used to transport & pump water for irrigation is eliminated.
  • Weeding (or herbicides for non-organic growers) is decreased. Part of dry farming involves tilling the soil & creating a dry layer of soil (called dust mulch) on the top to trap moisture.  It is dry enough that fewer weeds grow.
  • Money & time spent in establishing & maintaining irrigation is eliminated. Irrigation systems seem to require a lot of maintenance & in my experience, someone is always damaging some aspect of the system.
  • The initial installation cost is much less. Dave Osgood says it costs about $6,000 per acre to plant non-irrigated, head pruned vines in Paso Robles & between $30,000-$40,000 per acre to plant with trellising & irrigation.
  • The vines may become heartier. CAFF policy director Dave Runsten said, “the vines become self-regulating, which can create resilience to drier seasons and heat events.” (Community Alliance of Family Farmers).
  • There are some wineries that will pay more for dry farmed grapes, and some customers who will pay more for dry farmed wine.
  • Some argue that dry farming decreases the stomata on the bottom of the leaves and that this leads to reduced sugar/alcohol potential. I have seen no studies that support this conclusion and have seen several that refute it.  I’m just including it here because it is a common belief of some dry farming supporters.


  • It isn’t possible in some vineyards. Starting new vineyards in Argentina for instance would be virtually impossible without irrigation.  Mendoza averages fewer than 9 inches of rain per year and Patagonia veers between 3.5 and 17 inches.  Anything less than 10 is considered a desert.  Some areas in the eastern portion of the Barossa Valley in Australia average 12.4 inches.  East of the Cascades rain shadow in Washington State, vineyards average 6-8 inches of rain. The largest growing area in America would be deeply impacted without irrigation. The southern San Joaquin Valley between Fresno (11 inches) and Bakersfield (6 inches) would not be able to grow grapes.
  • Long term water deficits damage vines. One study concluded, “Prolonged and severe water deficit may reduce vigor, yield, and wine quality, and may have cumulative effects on growth and yield formation in subsequent years.” (Matthews and Anderson 1989, Romero et al. 2010, Dayer et al. 2013)
  • Heat stress causes a rapid increase in sugar production (up until it shuts down photosynthesis). When the Spanish government decided to allow irrigation, it cited this problem.  They observed that heat stress causes rapid sugar accumulation, but the phenolic components, which give the wine its flavor, consistency, and color developed more slowly.  The result was that growers were forced to let grapes hang longer to achieve phenolic ripeness.  This meant that vineyards that produced 12% alcohol wines in the past, were now producing 14-16% alcohol wines. For those that champion low alcohol wines, this is a problem.
  • Vineyards come into production slower. It can take as long as 5 years for a dry farmed vineyard to achieve full production, versus 2-3 years for irrigated vines. This must be taken into consideration when determining startup costs.
  • Another economic consideration is yield. While decreased yield may increase quality, if the increase in grape prices doesn’t compensate, it can be disastrous. Philip Coturri, who runs a vineyard management company Enterprise Vineyards that specializes in organic farming said “As an organic farmer, I’m in demand. I pay my workers between $10 to $12 an hour. To do that I must produce a consistent 2.5 to 3 tons an acre. On so many of these properties if I dry-farmed them, I’d get 1.5 to 2 tons. It’s a matter of sustainability.”
  • Small berry size is great for red grapes due to the increased skin/fruit ratio, but there aren’t many advantages to small berry size for white grapes.
  • Heat stress can shut down some vines. Pat Rohan, who runs a vineyard management company and does some dry farming says, “When we get three or four days of 100°F heat, we need to water Barbera. When Barbera shuts down, it’s done. In contrast, Zinfandel will shut down and come back.”
  • Too little water can cause grapes to raisinate. This can change the taste of the wine dramatically.  It also takes additional labor or equipment to remove raisenated grapes from the bins before fermentation.
  • Dry farming techniques require a lot of cultivation. That is part of the process of creating the “dry mulch” that retains water.  For hillside vineyards, erosion can be exacerbated.  For dry farmers who otherwise farm conventionally, this can lead to an increased emission of nitrous oxide, which is a powerful greenhouse gas.  This isn’t nearly as much of a problem for organic growers.



  • There is marketing value in dry farming. It is a way to stand out in a crowded wine market.  As mentioned above, there is an opportunity to charge more for the grapes.  Tom Holdener, of Macchia Winery in Lodi says that he prefers to buy dry farmed grapes.  He said, “Grapes from dry farmed and deficit-irrigated vineyards have good flavors, and I think dry-farmed fruit generally tastes better…. we know that the crop level will probably be in balance in relation to the growing season, and we don’t have to ask the grower to drop crop.”
  • Global warming may increase water scarcity and encourage dry farming. As water becomes scarcer and more expensive, there should be a boom in dry farming in areas where it is physically and economically possible.  In Oregon, most of the growing regions receive as much as 40 inches of rain a year.  There will be pressure to convert to dry farming.


  • Global warming won’t be an across the board positive for dry farming. In southern France, the droughts of 2003, 2005, and 2006 had a huge impact on the industry, particularly in the south of the country. Even with irrigation, the producers have faced water rationing.  The problems this created have resulted in a decrease in plantings as farmers have pulled vines.  The number of hectares under vine has dropped 11% since the year 2000.  The is particularly noticeable in Provence, Languedoc-Roussillon, and the southern Rhone valley.  Marginal areas for dry farming may become areas where it is no longer possible at all.
  • Extended droughts seem to be occurring more frequently. Dry farmed vineyards that are viable with a year or two of drought may not physically or economically survive a 5-year drought.
  • If grape costs don’t rise to support dry farming, it may not be economically feasible. Dick Cooper of Cooper Vineyards in Amador says, “Generally, given the costs for production in this area, if you’re not producing 4 tons per acre and getting at least $1,500 per ton, you aren’t going to make it.”  There are some grape varietals that just won’t justify that price.

Irrigation SWOT


  • Irrigation gives the grower options. If there is sufficient rainfall, don’t turn it on.  If there is a drought, you have water for as long as your water supply holds out.  If you want to practice regulated deficit irrigation (RDI), you have that option.  If it looks like frost, you have options. Steve Thomas is the vineyard manager of the 600-acre Kunde Estate in Kenwood, of which 100 acres are dry-farmed. Thomas said that even if he was able to convert to dry farming he would keep the pipes, which cost $1,600 an acre, as insurance and for applying vineyard treatments such as nutrients, fertilizers and pesticides through the system.
  • Irrigation permits “growers to adjust water supply to control shoot growth, manipulate fruit composition, and conserve ir­rigation water” (Chaves et al. 2010, Keller 2010).
  • The majority of the world’s grape production regions are in regions where there is water stress. This may be seasonally dry summers where summer rainfall is not enough to compensate for evapotranspiration.  It may be areas prone to drought. It may be vineyards in desert climates like Mendoza.  Irrigation allows those areas to make wine consistently. Cantina Pizzolato in the Veneto region of Italy says, “The local agriculture is based on the use of irrigation. During this 2017 production year the regions that are not yet allowed to use irrigation have lost about 30% of production.”
  • Irrigation has helped with the 20th Century explosion of good quality, inexpensive wine. Temperature controlled fermentation and mechanical harvesters are probably the two most important legs of this stool, but the inexpensive wines from California’s Central Valley or Southeast Australia depend on irrigation.  These may not be connoisseur favorites, but they are a key part in the democratization of wine.
  • Some people prefer shallow roots. I’m not a huge fan of the concept, but UC Davis viticulture and enology professor Larry E. Williams likes them. “If you’re a grape grower, you want to have that vine dependent on what you do so you can manipulate them,” says Williams, whose academic work focuses on irrigation management. Williams further explained: “Since the vine is getting most of its water from the drip system, then a grape grower has greater control on how much the vine gets water.”
  • Irrigation allows growers to achieve greater vine density. This sounds like a way to increase yield, and it can do that, but it is more about emulating Bordeaux & Burgundy.  Before the rise of irrigation in Napa, vines were planted at 450 vines per acre.  They now are able to reach up to 2,500 vines per acre, which is more like the tight spacing in Bordeaux and Burgundy.  There is an idea that the density forces the vines to compete for nutrients & promotes higher quality.  I don’t know if that’s true or if it is just a case of looking at how good wine is in those regions and then imitating what they do, but that’s rampant in this discussion (they don’t irrigate in Bordeaux & they have great wine, so dry farming must be the key to great wine).
  • Irrigation helps produce the ripe style of wine that is currently popular. “Remember eucalyptus and green bean flavors?” asks Philip Coturri, “Those were due to unripe grapes. To get today’s super-ripe flavors the vines need hydration. Irrigations produce a very different type of wine. Irrigation is a tool for extended ripening.”
  • Evidence for water dilution of berries is anecdotal rather than scientific. It appears that it is based on rainfall in Europe rather than drip irrigation. “The evidence in favor of a “berry dilution” effect of late-season water supply seems to come from production regions where high water supply is associated with rainfall rather than irrigation. During rainfall or overhead sprinkler irrigation, ripening grape berries may absorb water through their skin” (Becker and Knoche 2011). “It is unknown, however, whether the berries also import excess water that has been taken up by the roots following drip or flood irrigation. Fur­ther, it remains unclear whether excess water close to harvest may lead to an increase in berry size and whether this may alter wine composition.” (Keller, Romero, Gohil, Smithyman, Riley, Casassa, & Harbertson)


  • Irrigation can waste precious water. Dave Runsten said, “We’re over-irrigating a lot of crops in California”
  • Some argue that it leads to additional work in the winery to correct problems caused by overwatering. Thibaut Scholasch, of Fruition Sciences in Emeryville say that not only is too much water used in vineyards, but that it also impacts the costs in the winemaking process. He thinks it can lead to weaker flavors, less productive vineyards because they require severe cropping to achieve ripeness.
  • Irrigation encourages shallow root systems. Although Professor Williams likes a shallow root system, many believe that deeper root systems lead to healthier vines. It certainly gives them more protection if the irrigation supply runs dry during a drought.  For those who believe in a direct link between soil minerals and mineral uptake in the vines, deep roots would be preferred.  It may also be that the microbes that are part of the terroir are more completely accessed with deeper roots.


  • Irrigation allows the practice of regulated deficit irrigation (RDI), also called partial root zone drying. There are different approaches to this practice.  One system is to withhold water from the vines at particular times in the growing season to reduce vigor while watering at other times as needed.  It also can mean applying water to the roots on one side of a vine, but not on the other side.  This causes the vine to promote concentrated fruit growth because the vine is essentially tricked into thinking it is stressed and needs to put out berries, without actually damaging the vine.   Under RDI, less water is applied than a vineyard loses to evapotranspiration during a portion of the growing season. Deficit irrigation may result in red wine with more fruit and less vegetal aromas, more anthocyanin pigments, and sometimes lower astringency” (Matthews et al. 1990, Chapman et al. 2005, Castellarin et al. 2007a). “Moderate water deficit in vineyards is generally associated with desirable changes in fruit composition compared with fruit produced under abundant water availability” (Chaves et al. 2007, Keller 2005). “The smaller berry size due to water deficit is often cited as the main reason for such improve­ments, but water deficit may also alter the biosynthesis of quality-determining compounds independently of berry size” (Castellarin et al. 2007a, 2007b, Roby et al. 2004). “Increased light interception by the clusters due to lower shoot vigor under water deficit may be responsible for some of these changes” (Castellarin et al. 2007b, Chaves et al. 2007, Romero et al. 2013).
  • Irrigation is expanding. In 2016 France began to expand the approval of irrigation depending on the time of year and the region.  It is generally approved between June 15th & August 15th.  For AC vineyards, it must be sanctioned by the authorities for that particular appellation.  The driver behind this decision seems to have been global warming.  Oddly enough, they do not allow the installation of permanent drip irrigation.  This means that they are promoting a much more wasteful form of spray irrigation, but that’s something for another day.  In Italy, irrigation is permitted in at least 30 AOC vineyard areas.  Roughly 26% of all wine vineyards are irrigated now, with as much as 85% of the vineyards in Tuscany irrigated.
  • Irrigation systems with an over the vine capacity can protect against frost. Ted Goldammer wrote in the Grape Grower’s Handbook “Over-vine sprinkler systems involve spraying the vines with a fine mist of water as the temperature falls to freezing. This water then freezes encasing the canes and buds in ice. As the water changes to ice on the surface of the vine, it releases a small amount of heat (known as latent heat) that protects the vine from any damage. Latent heat prevents the surface temperature of the vine tissue from falling below 32 degrees F (0°C). Conversely, when ice melts, or water evaporates, the temperature around the water is cooled. Water evaporating from the surface of a vine will draw heat from that vine.”
  • Irrigation may be a response to global warming to preserve growing regions that might otherwise fail. Michelle M. Moyer, PhD. Associate Professor, Dept. of Horticulture, Statewide Viticulture Extension Specialist at Washington State University wrote, “Our researchers would argue that reliance on dryland farming will ultimately result in less resilience to climate change. Irrigation is a tool growers use (often in dryland areas as well, to make it through years of drought) to help mitigate inconsistent weather patterns.”


  • Global warming may make irrigation less reliable. Growers who have been dependent on wells may be out of luck when the well runs dry and the shallow roots of their vines can’t compensate for the loss of water.  Water will become more precious as the earth becomes drier.  The cost of water for irrigation will increase and even then, its availability may decrease.  Brendan Lowe writes that this year in South Africa “The water sources most wine producers in the area rely on for irrigation have been rationed for months, with quotas cut by as much as 80 percent, forcing producers to move up vine replacement schedules, introduce water-saving devices in cellars, and use water for only the highest-income blocks—if there’s water left to use at all.”  This isn’t a theoretical issue that may or may never happen.  It is occurring right now.
  • Much less concerning is that irrigated vines may be at a marketing disadvantage compared to dry farmed vines. If the price of dry farmed grapes/wines climbs high enough, then all of the money invested in irrigation won’t pay for itself.


Obviously, this is a complex issue.  There are those who want to make it black and white and say that one side is always right and one side is always wrong, but it just isn’t that easy.  If someone tells you that everything should absolutely be done one way, you probably want to get a second opinion (especially if they tell you that irrigation always increases sugar/alcohol).

I think that the best answer is probably somewhere in between.  I love wines from areas like Mendoza Argentina and I want them to be able to continue to make them.  That requires irrigation.  What I really want, is for growers to use the most efficient systems possible.  The old systems that they are using in France aren’t a viable long-term solution.  Underground or drip irrigation is where anyone who irrigates needs to migrate.

I also think that people who are consistently watering despite receiving 30 or more inches per year are wasting a precious resource.  If you use the minimal amount of water to produce the best quality wine, I think everyone should be happy.  Irrigation doesn’t have to mean high yields, water waste, and inferior quality wine.  Done correctly, it can help create delicious wine.

I think research and experiments are necessary to find the best ways to grow grapes using the minimal amount of water.  That means looking at everything from root stocks, to varietals, to organic practices, to trellising options, to tons of things that I’m not sharp enough to know.  Most vineyard managers accept climate change as a reality.  We need to prepare for grape growing in a hotter, drier world.  If we do that correctly, our grandchildren can toast that success with a nice glass of wine.


I looked at a ton of sources to get my head around this.  Here are some in particular that I referenced.  Not all of these really made it into what I wrote, but they informed me along the way.  There are plenty of other sources I have read or listened to over the years, but these are the ones that I specifically looked at for this.  I apologize if I forgot someone.  The Benefits of Dry-Farming Wine—For the Palate and the Planet By Hannah Wallace on December 21, 2015 Vineyard Frost Protection Washington Wine Growers Water Availability Policy Statement How South Africa’s Wine Industry Plans to Survive the Water Crisis Strategic irrigation management in Australian vineyards Peter R. Dry, B. R. Loveys, M. G. Mccarthy, Manfred Stoll September 15th, 2017/ By Treve Ring Maritime climate affects some of the world’s most coveted wine regions Earliest Known Winery Found in Armenian Cave By James Owen, for National Geographic News Published January 12, 2011 Climate, Grapes, and Wine Terroir and the Importance of Climate to Winegrape Production Gregory Jones 12 Aug 2015 Kendall Lambert is the Water Program Coordinator for Community Alliance with Family Farmers. 04.21.2013  Economics of Dry Farming Winegrapes Amador and Lodi, Calif., growers discuss practices for quality wines and water conservation   by Jon Tourney Turning water into wine To water grapevines or not — the roots of the wine industry’s next great controversy Alice Feiring, Special to The Chronicle Friday, June 1, 2007 In Napa, a new path to using less water Jon Bonné Sunday, March 21, 2010 Dry Farming Wine Grapes in California Dave Runsten Community Alliance with Family Farmers August 7, 2015

Irrigation Management of Winegrapes with a Limited Water Supply In: Terry Prichard  Jancis Robinson 11 Apr 2007 The Irrigation of grapevines in Europe – an update on existing legislation By Fleur Martin, Irrigazette To irrigate or not to irrigate in the vineyard? by Britt Karlsson on September 4, 2014 Lodi Grape Growers Association Stan Grant  Ed Fields CEO Natural Merchants  Drought revives ‘forgotten art’ at wineries: Farming without irrigation By David Pierson Nov 22, 2014

Deficit Irrigation Alters Grapevine Growth, Physiology, and Fruit Microclimate study by Markus Keller,1* Pascual Romero,2 Hemant Gohil,3,4 Russell P. Smithyman,5 William R. Riley,5 L. Federico Casassa,6,7 and James F. Harbertson6

Talks by Gregory Gambetta Sciences Agro professor of viticulture working as part of both Bordeaux Sciences Agro and the Institut des Sciences de la Vigne et du Vin.

Michelle M. Moyer, PhD. Associate Professor, Dept. of Horticulture Statewide Viticulture Extension Specialist Washington State University – IAREC via email






Harvest options Hand versus Mechanical Harvest & beyond.

10 Mar

I needed to write this up for a class, so I figured I might as well post it.  It’s lengthy & may be best for wine geeks.  I hope it does a decent job of discussing hand versus machine harvest & a few other options for vineyard managers & winemakers.

One of the most important steps in producing quality wine is the actual harvest.  Picking the grapes at the right time for the wine desired and getting the grapes to the winery in a timely fashion, in the best shape for the wine desired, and at the optimal temperature is crucial.  There are many options available to a vineyard owner and the options they choose will impact the finished wine. These options break down broadly into questions of timing and method of harvest.

The timing of the harvest depends on a number of factors including legal restrictions, type of wine being produced, winery capacity, and the local weather.  Certain wine regions have specified start dates for harvest. In France the 17 wine regions each decide on a “day 1” of harvest for their region and this date is put out with the publication of the Banns of the grape harvest.  This date generally corresponds to 100 days from the first flowering in the vineyards of the region.  Wineries begin with the end in mind.  That means the type of wine being produced is crucial to timing harvest.  While there may be a theoretical optimal phenological ripeness for grapes, actual optimal ripeness depends on the winery’s planned finished wine.  For a sparkling wine, acid may be favored over ripeness/sugar, so the wine may be picked earlier.  For a full-bodied Zinfandel, the grapes will probably hang weeks longer than for a subtler wine made using the same grape.  In Germany, the difference in wine category depends on sugar content and that may inform the timing of harvest. Weather also may impact the options available to the vineyard owner.  If the weather turns unexpectedly hot, harvest may be advanced to preserve acid.  If there is a brief rain, harvest may be delayed to allow the grapes to return to balance rather than picking water swollen grapes.  If a huge amount of rain is forecast, harvest may be accelerated.  Prior to harvest we always used to have a detailed calendar with dates for each grape from each vineyard that we would press for ourselves or for custom crush customers.  When heavy rain or hail was coming our way, that calendar would go out the window as we rushed to save the harvest and pick what we could handle as quickly as we could handle it.  This rush to harvest highlighted a final way in which timing can be influenced by something other than phenological ripeness.  Even the largest wineries have limits to how many grapes they can process per hour and how much wine their fermentation vessels can hold.  Lack of tank space in a smaller winery can lead to delays in harvest while waiting to move wine from a fermentation vessel into another type of storage vessel.

Before discussing the advantages and disadvantages of mechanical versus hand harvesting, it should be acknowledged that sometimes no option is available to the vineyard owner.  If you have a monopole in Burgundy, you are required to hand harvest.  For Bonnezeaux AOP, Quarts de Chaume AOP, and Coteaux du Layon Chaume Premier Cru, hand harvesting in successive tries in mandated.  This is also the case in Banyuls.  Cremant de Loire, St Chinian Roquebrun, St Chinian Berlou, Corbieres Boutenac, Blanquette de Limoux and many other areas/wines require hand harvesting to comply with the guidelines for the region.

After determining when to harvest, for those who have options, the question becomes how to harvest.  Manual, or hand harvesting and mechanical harvesting are the two options.  Of course, some vineyards will combine methods by hand harvesting the ends of rows, or difficult areas, and mechanically harvesting the rest.  Here are the strengths and weaknesses of these two options.

Hand/Manual Harvesting Hand harvesting is the traditional method of picking grapes and was the only option for thousands of years.  Grape bunches are cut by hand using only hand tools.  These might be as basic as a sharp knife, or as advanced as electric secateurs.


Manual harvesting gives the vineyard manager and the winery greater control.  It allows picking grapes in successive tries, whether this is for production of wines with noble rot, or whether it is just assuring that only ripe grapes are picked.  Manual harvesting requires very little equipment.  For a small vineyard, the investment in secateurs and baskets may be all that is required to bring in the harvest.  Hand harvesting allows for whole cluster pressing, which creates a variety of opportunities.  Hand harvesting is a gentler process than mechanical harvesting.  It should result in fewer broken grapes arriving at the winery.  This can increase the quality of the final wine because only the best grapes go into the wine.  Fewer broken grapes also allows for a longer transport time to the winery without fermentation starting, or red grapes beginning to show color from skin contact.  Manual harvesting also virtually eliminates the problem of matter other than grapes (MOG) entering into the production chain. Finally, manual harvesting works everywhere.  It may be backbreaking work to hand harvest on the hills of Piemonte, the Mosel, or Oregon, but it can be done relatively safely by hand.  Ancient bush vines in Greece or Lodi, or elsewhere can produce wonderful wine, but they must be picked by hand.


Manual harvesting takes more time than mechanical harvesting.  This can negatively impact quality in two different ways.  First, it is harder to pick a vineyard in one night without a large amount of people.  The picking may start at night when the grapes are cool, but may have to continue into the heat of the day.  It is generally preferable for grapes to arrive at the winery cool.  Once grapes have been picked and start to warm, a number of chemical processes will begin.  Not all of them will be good, and microbial growth at this stage may lead to off flavors in the final wine and may require the use of additional SO2 to combat that growth.  The increased time to harvest also means that for some large vineyards, harvest may start when the grapes aren’t quite ripe and then continue until they are overly ripe with the idea that the overall profile will work itself out.  This can lead to lower quality wine.  Timing also becomes a huge issue when inclement weather threatens.  If a storm is rolling in, there is only so much that can be picked by hand and the vineyard may lose enough grapes that they can’t make a profit.  Manual harvesting is also expensive in large vineyards.  It is estimated that, depending on the region, it may cost three times as much to hand harvest.  Finally, on a social scale, grape pickers have historically been exploited.  When small vineyards were harvested by family and friends, this was not a problem.  By the time of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, poor working conditions and poor pay were endemic to the grape industry.  While this is changing, it is still a consideration.  Training is also a factor, since all of the advantages of picking for quality evaporate if the workers can’t tell the difference between good and bad grapes.


Whole clusters obtained through manual harvesting allow for a large range of production techniques.  Carbonic maceration techniques require unbroken grapes.  Champagne permits only hand harvesting for whole bunch processing.  Hand harvesting also presents the opportunity of an initial selection in the vineyard.  This is helpful in producing the best wine and is especially helpful in regions where there are limits on yield.  Hand harvesting allows a winery to leave the vineyard at the proper yield limit rather than just picking everything & then having to discard bad grapes at the winery.  This means that the winery can produce more & better wine under the same yield limits.  Hand harvesting also makes it easier to produce quality rose’ wine & blanc du noir wines, including sparkling wine.  Since the grapes should arrive as whole grapes and whole clusters, the winery has more control over the introduction of skin contact.  That can lead to higher quality wine.  Generally speaking, hand picking grapes allows the winemaker to have all possible options at the winery.  If they want skin contact or no skin contact, they make the choice.  If they want stem inclusion, they can choose at the winery.  If they want to whole press all, or part, of a lot, they make the decision.  Finally, wines made with hand picked grapes have a better perception in the marketplace.  They are associated with higher quality and that means that they can sometimes command a higher price.


Labor for picking grapes is climbing in price and the labor pool is shrinking.  Finding 120,000 people to pick grapes in Champagne for three weeks a year gets more difficult every year.  In Portugal, there has been a population shift from the country to the city and this has decreased the available pool of people to work harvest.  Immigrant work for harvest has become more and more important over the years.  In Europe there are political issues related to refugees and that has impacted the attitude and opportunities for immigrant labor.  In the United States, the government has traditionally turned a blind eye to illegal immigrants who have been migrant workers picking grapes and other crops.  As the Mexican economy has improved, the pool of available workers has shrunk.  To compound the problem, the U.S. government is stepping up raids of illegal immigrants.  In some cases, this has led to crops rotting in the field.  This hasn’t happened yet in the grape industry, but there is concern that it will.  A new threat to the supply of workers has arisen in states like California where marijuana production has been legalized.  Marijuana producers pay as much as three times the going rate for picking grapes.  The work also is indoors, with portions of it air conditioned.  There are more harvests per year, and some marijuana companies are offering medical benefits.  The net impact is that it is harder to find people to pick grapes in areas like Mendocino and the people that you find must be paid more money, which increases the cost of the final wine.

Mechanical Harvesting  This is mechanized picking of grapes.  It generally involves over the row harvesters that drive through the vineyard using rubber or fiberglass rods to shake fruit off of the vines and deposit it into trailing bins.  These bins can be very large or very small depending on the machine & the wishes of the vineyard/winery.


Since the 1960’s, mechanical harvesting, along with temperature-controlled tanks has been probably the greatest contributor to the advancement of the wine industry.  It has allowed the industry to expand into areas where the labor pool did not allow manual grape harvesting (Paarl South Africa, major areas of Chile, Argentina, & Texas.  It has allowed the industry to continue in regions like Portugal where the traditional labor pool has decreased.  It has allowed mass production of wine in areas like the Central Valley in California. The lower price of production and the speed of harvest has contributed to there being more technically sound and affordable wine available now than at any time in history.

Mechanical harvesting can allow the grower to harvest at exactly the right moment of ripeness for their wine and to pick it and deliver it to the winery cool from the vineyard.  Mechanical harvesting is at least five times faster than manual harvesting, generally harvesting an acre in slightly under an hour.  While some manual harvest it done at night, it is difficult & takes even longer than usual.  Mechanical harvesters are well lit, and since they just follow the rows, a well-trained operator can harvest just as quickly at night as during the day.  Newer vineyards are often planted using GPS systems & the harvester can have the same GPS coordinates plugged in.  That means that an actual operator is barely required for some of the newest generation of harvesters.  Newer harvesters have optical sorting capability, they are gentler on the grapes, which means that rip grapes fall and green grapes stay attached to the vine. Mechanical harvesting is improving all of the time, while manual harvesting is probably at its peak efficiency.


There are some places where mechanical harvesting is not physically possible, or where it is dangerous.  It isn’t impossible to work the slopes of the Mosel with a small mechanical harvester, but there is a real chance or rollover and death.  Other areas are just too steep to use them at all.  Mechanical harvesters can only make so tight of a turn.  In areas where vines have been planted close to a house, winery, or physical barrier, the turn radius may be too tight to use a harvester.  In those cases, a portion of the vineyard will still need to be hand-picked.  Vine spacing and vine training also can make mechanized harvesting difficult or impossible.  If vineyard rows are planted too closely together, the rows will have to be hand-picked.  I was recently in a vineyard in Argentina where they are experimenting with tight spacing and close rows due to overly fertile soil.  They may solve their vigor issue, but the vineyard must be worked completely by hand.  Bush vines cannot currently be picked mechanically.  While pergola training systems are rarer than they were, it should be noted that they are not conducive to mechanical harvesting.

Most mechanical harvesters shake the fruit until it drops off the vine.  This means that stems are not included, which means that carbonic maceration is not a possibility, nor is whole cluster fermentation.  This takes away options from the winemaker and can limit the quality of the wine that can be made.

Older mechanical harvesters are pretty brutal to the fruit.  The aggressive shaking broke grapes.  That meant that while the grapes waited for transport to the winery, they were exposed to oxygen and the fruit was getting skin contact.  That lead to oxidation, browning of grapes, loss of aromatics, or oddly changed aromatics, and bacterial growth.  It is also impossible to make a blanc du noir or a decent rose’ if the grapes have traveled a long distance floating in juice from the grapes that have broken open.

There has been a belief that mechanical harvesters allow for more MOG.  Even with quality harvesters, there seems to be an increase in insects and worms that are harvested.  This can lead to growth of harmful bacteria in the wine and off flavors.

Many mechanical harvesters just pick all of the fruit.  That means that they get the good with the bad, the moldy, & the under ripe.

While mechanical harvesters cost less to pick an acre of grapes than manual harvest, that is only the operating cost.  The upfront cost of a mechanical harvester is expensive, with the newest versions costing as much as $400,00 U.S. dollars.  Of course, used harvesters are always for sale at lower prices, but older harvesters are more damaging to grapes and have other limitations.  Renting harvesters or using a service are options, but then you are at the mercy of someone else’s timetable and are dependent on their skill and their maintenance capabilities.


Mechanical harvesting has huge opportunities on the horizon.  Each generation of harvester seems to be better than the next.  New systems like the New Holland Opti-grape harvester destem fruit, then use an optical sorter to send grapes to the proper bin based on programmed parameters.  The Optimum from Pellenec supposedly brings in 99% clean fruit, which is probably better than what hand picking manages.  As mechanical harvesters become more accepted, it is likely that vineyard managers will plant vineyards with them in mind.  In Portugal the Socalcoes were designed with mechanization in mind.  Row spacing for mechanical harvesting will be a consideration for large producers.  As the labor pool shrinks, more regions will have to allow mechanical harvesting in order to bring in their harvest.


The largest threat to mechanical harvesting may be perception. No one like to admit they mechanically harvest.  There is a perception that hand harvested fruit is better and that wines produced that way are worth more money.  This perception probably limits the spread of mechanization more than some of the physical limitations.  There may also be an outcry against mechanization because it cuts jobs.  That doesn’t currently appear to be a problem, but it absolutely could become one in the future.


Vineyard management and wine making is not a one size fits all proposition.  There are different options for grape picking depending on the type of wine you are making, the weather, the topography, the rules under which you produce wine, and other subtler reasons.  Vineyard managers and wine makers will have to choose the best option for themselves and will need to consider all of the components above.

Chakana Winery & a Master Class in Terroir

27 Nov

When I was packing for my trip to Argentina, I never stopped to consider the proper clothes for hopping into a pit dug in a vineyard.  Luckily, things are generally casual there & pit hopping is a definitely a casual experience.

The view from the back porch at Cavas Wine Lodge

Last week I made a super quick trip to Mendoza Argentina to visit Chakana Winery.  Sometimes you plan these trips so that you can visit local attractions.  Sometimes they are a mini vacation with some wine tasting along the way.  This wasn’t one of those trips.  We got on a plane in Los Angeles at 3:45 PM on Wednesday, arrived in Santiago Chile at 7 AM the next day, got on a plane to Mendoza & arrived there around 10 AM. Juan Pelizzatti, owner of Chakana Winery and Ed Fields, owner of Natural Merchants Importing picked us up at the airport & we headed to the Intercontinental Hotel.  By the time I got to the hotel & gratefully took a shower, it was lunchtime a day after we left.  That gave me less than 48 hours for the visit before heading home at 7:50 Saturday morning.

We went to lunch at Cavas Wine Lodge in Luján de Cuyo.  It is a boutique hotel surrounded by their own


vineyards.  They have a spa & a number of adobe style villas.  They also have an excellent restaurant that serves wine made from their vineyards.  While there, we met more of Juan’s team: winemaker Gabriel Bloise and viticulturist Facundo  Bonamaizon.  We also tried through a number of their wines while eating way more delicious food than was reasonable.

After lunch, we took some time to look at the vineyards on the property.  Most of them are planted in the pergola style (sometimes called a tendone style).

Vines trained on pergolas

This is an ancient method, used by the Romans, that is now found primarily in Argentina, Brazil, & Italy.  In this system, the vines are trained high off the ground.  These were maybe 5 feet high.  In some places this is used to plant other crops between rows.  It is also used for arid climates to preserve moisture.  That applies to Argentina for sure because the Andes create a rain shadow.  Mendoza receives less than 9 inches of rain per year & anything less than 10 is considered a desert.

After lunch we drove out to Chakana Winery.  Despite the desert climate, it was a beautiful drive.  I hadn’t realized how many gorgeous roses were planted in Argentina.  Everywhere we went over those couple of days, we saw roses.

When we reached the winery, the first thing that we saw was a pond.  The pond is the source of water for the vineyards on site at the winery.  Almost every winery has a similar pond.  They are created with snow melt from the Andes.  The water is regulated by the government.  There are valves that control the release of water into the pond & government agents have the keys to them.  One of the big challenges of starting a winery in Argentina is getting access to this water.  Dry farming is extremely difficult in the area, particularly when starting a new vineyard.  Even with the ponds, water is limited & the vines receive less water than in many other parts of the world. That means that site selection is extremely important.

At the winery we checked out the tanks & barrels.  They have a wide array of options.  They are always experimenting to find the best process for each grape.  Depending on the grape & the vineyard, the wines might go into stainless steel, or concrete tanks (20,000 liters/over 5,000 gallons), or a large concrete egg (which has some interesting convection properties during fermentation).

For wines that see oak at Chakana, the current choice is 100% French oak.  They are looking at buying some Hungarian oak for experimentation.  Having 100% French oak doesn’t mean that there isn’t any diversity.  They primarily use standard size Bordeaux barrels, but also have some large barrels that hold over 900 gallons.  They also use their barrels for a number of years.  The theory is that some wines work well with a strong flavor from the oak & some do better when the barrel is essentially neutral.  Then it allows the wine to breath & age slowly.  That breathing adds complexity to the wines.  It isn’t free though.  They actually top off their barrels every 10-15 days.  They lose approximately 10% of their total volume of wine on wines in oak.  There aren’t a lot of other businesses where it is a standard business practice to lose 10% of your product off the top.

We finished up the afternoon in the vineyards around the winery.  The vines there are planted north to west to give them shade in the afternoon.  The ozone layer is thin over Mendoza & they have particularly long days during their summer.  Long, cool days are good for producing phenologically ripe grapes that retain their acid.  The downside to that is that with the thin ozone layer & long days, it is possible for the grapes to get sunburn.  They are mitigating the possibility by the angle of planting & by leaving more leaf cover than you might in other growing regions.  The other thing that you notice about vineyards in the area is how many of them have netting for hail protection.  It doesn’t rain much in Argentina, but when it does, it can come in the form of severe hail storms.  This link takes you to a truly amazing hail storm from a month ago.

Wow! That’s serious hail.

This vineyard tour started our clinic on the 4 horizons of soil (topsoil, subsoil, parent material, & bedrock).  At

Sandy soil in the epit

Chakana, they dig pits in various places in each vineyard.  This allows them to see what they are actually working with in the vineyard. We visited a pit in the vineyard at the winery.  This pit showed that the soil is sandy with some clay & loam.  The wines made from these grapes tend to be lighter.  That’s great for some grapes, & not for others.  We tried a wine sample made just from grapes from the vineyard.  It was solid stuff, but seemed like it might be best in a blend with grapes from a vineyard that contributed more structure.

We also checked out their long line of compost material.  The winery switched to biodynamic farming a few years back & that compost is an important part of the process.  For those who aren’t familiar with biodynamic viticulture, here’s a super quick explanation.  Biodynamic viticulture is an organic farming concept that looks at the entire farm (& the earth) as a living, interconnected organism.  In theory, it is about 100 years old because it grew from the teachings of Rudolph Steiner in the 1920’s.  In reality, much of it is based on the concepts of farming from ancient times.  There are a number of things that have to happen based on the position of the moon & stars.  That sounds a little hippy dippy to some people, but realistically, that is the way farming was done for thousands of years.  Neolithic farmers couldn’t check the Farmer’s Almanac or use their computers to find the best time to plant or harvest.  There are a number of organic solutions produced to improve the soil of the vineyard & the health of the plants.  I don’t understand exactly why biodynamic farming works, but I have seen that it does.  I think part of it is that in biodynamic farming requires the viticulturist to pay extremely close attention to the vineyard & the soil.  The end result seems to be extremely healthy soil, which makes for high quality, healthy grapes.  It is a lot easier to make good wine when you start with good grapes. Juan says, “even if we do not understand how the relationship with the cosmos works, I think paying attention to it is a very interesting thing.”  For those that are inclined to think this is a marketing gimmick for new age wines, it is worth pointing out that Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, one of the most prestigious, most expensive wines in the world uses biodynamic production techniques.  Juan added, “In regular agriculture, the idea of having high yields & lowering the cost still makes some sense because you need to feed the world & all of those things, but in viticulture, where you want to make quality wine & rally yield is not a factor… what really people are paying the price of good wine, not for the cheap wine…then the yield is not relevant, so why would you use conventional agriculture?.”

Chakana has a real commitment to biodynamics.  In fact, they will be hosting the 7th South American Biodynamic

That’s a lot of compost

Conference later in November.  They are also certified with Fair for Life, which is a fair-trade certification. Many wineries in Argentina use child labor & they don’t, so that is part of the certification. Another part of the certification is that they must create a fund from their income that contributes to the community.  Juan said “We are trying to create an environment where labor is well paid, & somehow we contribute to the society where we are & to the local community we are in.” They are also the only non-GMO certified winery in Argentina.

After about 6 hours of sleep, we were ready for day two with the Chakana team.  Mostly ready, might be more accurate.  Nonetheless, bolstered by large quantities of terrific Argentine coffee, we set out to visit more vineyards.

We drove from the winery to Tupungato.  Tupungato has a few different meanings.  The base for it all is the Tupungato volcano.  It is one of the highest mountains in the Americas.  It is also a stratovolcano.  I had no idea what that was, so I looked it up.  It turns out that it is a volcano built up from successive eruptions over the ages.  They tend to be extremely steep.  They are the most common kind & my quick google search was happy to tell me that famous stratovolcanos include Krakatoa, Vesuvius, & Mount St. Helena.  It looks fairly safe though unless you have to climb it.  Tupungato is also the name of a town of about 30,000 people around 40 miles from Mendoza.  Finally, it is the name of a wine region.  It is the northernmost sub region of the Uco Valley of Mendoza.  It is marked by volcanic rocks, basalt, granite, & calcium carbonate.  The average vineyard in Tupungato is at 4,200 feet (1300 meters) above sea level.   The sunlight exposure is more intense then at lower elevation, but because of that elevation, you get a big diurnal shift (difference between day & night temperature).  There are also cool breezes from the Andes.  Putting those elements together is a prescription for quality wine with grapes that hang for a long time, slowly building sugar without losing acid.

When we got to their Tupungato vineyard (Gualtallary sub appellation), Tupungato Winelands, we learned the

Stony Vineyard

somewhat odd story of its creation.  The area was designed to be a resort/second home destination.  A real estate development company bought the land & sectioned it off.  They have built polo fields, a golf course, & a hotel with a spa.  The idea was for people to build a second home on a plot there & then have a vineyard on their property.  They could then have the grapes made into the wine.  It is an appealing thought to have your hacienda looking out at the Andes over your vineyard while sipping wine from that vineyard.  So far, not that many people seemed to have agreed with me though.  As it is, these developers seem to have stumbled onto one of the best vineyard sites in the area.  Juan explained to us that he paid real estate prices for his 8 hectares of vineyard property.  That’s about 3 times the going rate for traditional vineyard land.  I think he may have gotten a bargain though.  It is a fantastic rocky area.  There really isn’t much soil to speak of.  It is mostly rock, ranging from small stones, to huge boulders that must have made it miserable to plant.

Vineyard pit in Gualtallary

We immediately went to one of their pits.  That’s when I had to hop in to see just how big some of these rocks were & to see the roots weaving down among the rocks.  The vineyard is filled with basalt, granite, & calcium carbonate.  When you turn over a rock, you see the calcium carbonate on the bottom.  Micro-organisms (microbes) pull the calcium carbonate from the basalt.

This appears to be virgin soil. As far as anyone knows, nothing was ever cultivated here previously.  After looking around at the rocks piled everywhere in the vineyard & right below the surface, I can see why it wouldn’t be anyone first choice to grow crops.  The fact that it is virgin, rocky, deprived soil, makes it a great place for them to plant own rooted vines.  Most vines planted today are grafted.  The roots are from American vines (vitis labrusca, vitis riparia, etc.), while the part that produces grapes is from vitis vinifera (with common names like Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc.).  This is because of a tiny louse commonly called the Phylloxera aphid.  It eats grape vine roots & kills the European varieties.  The American roots evolved with it, so they are resistant.  Since the bugs aren’t in this particular area, it is possible to plant vines that are ungrafted.  It is a bit of a risk, but some believe that you get better, healthier grapes that way.

After looking at vines & climbing in the pit, we headed over to the hotel/spa for some lunch.  It is named the Auberge du Vin.  It is part of the Starwood Preferred Guests program, so if you have extra Marriott points to burn, check it out.  We ate at their restaurant, which was Epic.  I mean it is named Epic.  The food itself is actually extremely good, if not epic.  After eating way too much food & trying some terrible Argentine beer (Cerveza Quilmes seems to be the Argentine equivalent of Miller lite), we were sufficiently fortified to visit another section of the same vineyard.

This section included some of the original area & an area that they are planning to plant.  In the unplanted area it is easier to see the structure of the land.  Once upon a time, there was a river flowing through the area.  The river is long gone, but you can see its path on the surface.  Gabriel & Facundo showed us that the real difference is actually below the surface.  We looked at two different pits.  They were dug on opposite sides of the old river bed.

On one side of the long-gone river, there was a relatively thick layer of topsoil.  The water seems to have pushed the sand & clay up onto the bank.  There were still plenty of big rocks, but it looked a little more like something you might actually use for farming.  On the other side, there was virtually no topsoil.  The ground seemed to be not much more than big rock piled on bigger rock, piled on boulder.  There was much more basalt, & much more calcium carbonate.

We opened 2 bottles of wine.  One was from one side of the river bed & one from the other.  The old river bed wasn’t more than a few feet wide, but there were miles between the two wines.  The wine from the side with sand & fewer rocks was a good Malbec.  It had most of what you want in an Argentine Malbec.  The wine from the stony side was a revelation.  It was a massive wine with plenty of spice, layers of blackberry & plum & that almost indescribable taste that we call minerality.  They were both good wines, but one was a world class wine.

To keep those grapes separate requires a lot of work.  The grapes from the sandier side are ready to be picked earlier than the grapes from the rockier side.  Facundo & Gabriel go through each row of vines & mark the spot for the pickers to stop on their first pass through the vineyards. They have to watch to make certain that no one picks grapes from the wrong vine, because even though it might be right next to one that they are supposed to pick, that vine won’t be ready for a week (or more).  It is a difficult job, but it means that each grape is picked at the correct time to make the best wine.  We discussed their plans for additional planting.  This time, they will have breaks at what was the river bank & the rows will follow the river rather than trying to have a clean alignment.  That will mean more work for them in the vineyard in many ways, but it will make picking easier & will ensure the best quality fruit.

We visited one more vineyard site.  There they were experimenting with closer planting of the vines to stress them a bit because the soil was perhaps a little too fertile.  We also checked out their piles of wood.  The piles are set up along rows, ready to be lit if there is a risk of frost.  Frost is the other big issue for Argentinian grape growing.

After all of that wine & viticulture it was time to head back to the winery to crack a beer & have an asado.  It was about a 40-minute trip. We stopped along the way at a little shop to pick up meat for the asado.  Gabriel explained that the butcher there got meat fresh daily & did his own work.  It was slow when we got there, but a line quickly formed while we waited for the butcher to be available.  Gabriel appeared to buy at least one of everything. We passed many other vineyards, lots of barren land, beautiful roses, & a large pen full of llamas.  Once we got to the winery, Gabriel passed out some of the beer that he & his wife make.  These beers are about to enter commercial

Lunatica Blond Ale

distribution in Argentina.  If you see a wine labeled Lunatica, you are in for a treat.  The guys at AmBev should just go ahead & buy Gabriel & his wife out now because their beer is so much better than something like Quilmes that I can’t see how anyone could drink Lunatica & go back to the other stuff.

Starting the asado

While we drank beer & ate cheese & prosciutto, Gabriel & Dario, the operations manager set up for the asado.  An asado is an Argentinian barbecue & it is the epitome of low & slow grilling.  There are professional looking setups, but this was a low-tech version.  Starting at around 6PM, they got a fire going on the ground out in front of the winery.  The wood was a mixture of wood from a tree & vine cutting from that year’s trimming.

Dusk at Chakana

Once the fire was roaring, which is pretty quick when you have grape vines, Gabriel had a big grill surface that he stood up against the flames to clean.  Then he set up bricks at 4 corners & set the grill on top of that.  Once the fire died down to embers, he slowly took coals from the fire & placed them under & around the grill.  He used a device that looked a little like an 8 iron to scoop up individual coals & place them.  Once that was just right, he started adding meat.

The grill is full!

The idea is to add the meat in stages until everything is on the grill.  Then everything slowly cooks & is ready in a sequence.  He didn’t pull the first item (chorizo sausage) off the grill until around 9 PM.  During those 3 hours we talked, snacked, & watched the sun set behind the Andes.  It was still somewhat light once the sun went behind the mountains & you could really see the snow on the peaks.  During the day, it was really too bright to see.  As it got dark, the only lights besides the winery were from the fire & from fireflies.  I love fireflies.  We used to watch, them or chase them & catch them all of the time in the summer when I was a kid, but I never see them anymore.  Juan told me that before they went organic in the vineyard, they didn’t have fireflies, but now they do.  There is probably a lesson in there somewhere.

The first meat comes off the grill 3 hours into the process

Finally, we sat down to eat & have some wine.  Dario or Gabriel would go outside & bring in one piece of meat, slice it, & then pass it around while the rest of the meat stayed outside.  It is amazing that nothing got over done.  Each piece seemed to come in at the perfect point.  It seems like there is a real art to the asado & Gabriel has mastered it.

Speaking of Gabriel mastering a difficult art, we got down to some serious wine tasting.  We were tasting through the Inkarri line of wines.  We had tasted them earlier, but tasting them with dinner is always best.  Inkarri is the newest line of wines from Chakana.  This first shipment was on the water when we tried them & they just hit the warehouse this week.  The name comes from the Argentinian myth of Inkarri.  According to legend, when the Spanish conquistadores executed the last ruler of the Incas, he said that he would return one day to avenge his death & reclaim his land.  The Spanish supposedly buried him in pieces around Argentina.  The legend is that he will grow larger & grow together until he can return, take back his kingdom, & restore harmony in the land.  The idea behind the wine name is that at Chakana, they are trying to reclaim the land from chemical, industrialized, wine production.  The symbol for Inkarri is an Inca symbol of the 4 dimensions of the world coexisting. Viticulture for the future is the tag on their wine boxes.

I have tasting notes for the wine below.  One thing that was particularly interesting was blending components of the wines.  As I mentioned earlier, they keep the grapes from the different vineyards, & sometimes even rows, separate.  We had bottles of wine from some of these different sites.

I tried a sample of 2017 Malbec from the Paraje Altamira vineyard.  The wine is very much still a work in progress, but here’s what I noticed: It had a big mouthfeel, with dark plum & red plum, blackberry, & other black fruits.  This was a good, full bodied wine, but I felt like it was missing something.  I feel like it was a bit of a donut with big fruit at the beginning & the end, but somewhat lacking in the middle.

I then tried a sample of the 2017 Malbec from the ​Gualtallary region (the stony Tupungato Winelands vineyard).  This wine had massive mineral notes on the nose.  It had meaty notes, an almost chunky texture, huge tannins, & plenty of spice.  It was a powerhouse wine.

I blended the two with 90% ​Gualtallary & 10% Paraje Altamira & it was amazing. It brought out an intense menthol note.  I tried a couple more blends before I decided to just drink the finished wines upon which Gabriel had already worked his blending magic.  These wines are well balanced & delicious across the board & I highly recommend them.  I’m not the only one.  They mentioned that Tim Atkins had been at the winery recently to sample the Chakana wines.  He asked about trying a couple of the Inkarri wines that weren’t quite finished.  Despite the wine not being ready for release at that time, he tried the red blend of Tannat, Cabernet Franc, & Petit Verdot & gave it 92 points.  The Chardonnay received 93 points.

We finished the meal by trying their Chakana Straw Wine 2013.  That was a late harvest viognier where the grapes were dried before vinification.  It is a delicious sweet wine.  It has the high acid to balance the sweetness.  It seems full of honey, floral notes, lemon zest, & nuts.  It was a tremendous way to finish a meal.

By this time, it was midnight.  It was time to call it a day.  Juan took us back to the hotel.  We got back at 1 AM.  That gave me almost 3 ½ hours to sleep before heading to the airport for an early flight to Lima Peru & then another to Los Angeles.  It was both a short & a long trip.  I would love to go back some time with a little more time to spare.  Next time I might wear work boots instead of wingtips.

Tasting notes

Chakana sparkling wine (50/50 blend of Chardonnay & Pinot Noir)

This is made using the tank method.  It is a pale wine with crisp peach, melon, & fig notes & some golden apple notes.  I think it is an interesting wine that expresses some different aspects of the grapes than I might have expected.

Chakana Sparkling rose’ (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay & a touch of Malbec for color)

This is a mineral focused sparkling rose’.  It also shows melon, which is somewhat unusual for a rose’ & some classic strawberry.  The strawberry lingers on the long finish along with the high acid.  Some of the mineral notes linger as well on this complex sparkler.

Inkarri White Blend 2016 (60 % Sauvignon Blanc, 20 % Chardonnay, 20 % Viognier)

60% of the wine is aged in 225L French oak barrels for a minimum of 8 months. 40% of the wine is aged in concrete vats without epoxy sealing. The alcohol is 13.5%.  Acidity is 4.86g/l. Residual sugar is 3.75g/l.

This is a solid white blend.  It has notes both on the palate & in the mouth of nut, toffee, lemon zest, pineapple, honeysuckle, & apricot.  It has a medium body & a medium finish.  It would be nice paired with seafood, pork, or slightly spicy Asian food.

Chakana Torrontes 2017

14.5% alcohol.

This is an aromatic wine with intense floral, peach, & melon aromas.  It is a clean, simple, intense wine.  It has pure melon & peach.  The high alcohol doesn’t show in an aggressive manner.

Chakana Chardonnay 2016

13.5% alcohol.  This wine shows honey, pear, & green apple on the nose.  On the palate, I tasted cream, baked golden apple, ripe pear, peach, & honey along with some nice baking spice.  This is an easy wine to pair with food.  It has enough acid to stand up to food with a creamy texture.  This is a very good white wine for many occasions.

Inkarri Chardonnay 2016

12.5% alcohol.

This is a tasty chardonnay.  It has sweet spice, with some nice golden apple notes.  It has a creaminess, but it isn’t over the top.  This is an easy drinker, but it has enough acid to pair well with food.

Chakana Rose’ 2016

95% Malbec & 5% Syrah blend.  13% alcohol.

This is a simple, but enjoyable rose’.  There isn’t a lot more than strawberries & cream going on her, but that is pretty nice on a hot day.

Inkarri Bonarda 2016 (for California wine drinkers, I should mention that this is the same grape as Charbono)

13.5% alcohol. Residual Sugar 2.30 g/l · Acidity: 5.79 g/l. 40% of the wine is aged in 225L French oak barrels for a min. of 8 months.

The nose shows earth, black cherry, plum, & baking spice.  It has sweet tannins, baking spice that blends well with the fruit, sweet spice, red cherry, black cherry, & plum on the palate.  While this is a single varietal wine, I think it would appeal to fans of reds blends.

Inkarri Syrah

60% of the wine is aged in 225L French oak barrels for a min. of 8 months, 40% of the wine is aged in concrete vats without epoxy sealing.  Alcohol 14 %. Residual sugar 3.75 g/l · Acidity: 4.86 g/l

On the nose, this shows plenty of spice, both pungent & sweet.  It also shows tobacco, blackberry, black fruit, lavender, plum, & black cherry.  On the palate the flavors on the nose come through along with some added leather & pepper notes.  This is a fairly complex wine with medium plus acid & a long lingering finish.  This is a great food wine.  It really opened up after a few minutes in the glass.  It might not hurt to decant this wine if you have time.

Inkarri Malbec 2016

20-30% of the wine is aged in 225L French oak barrels for a minimum of 8 months, 70% of the wine is aged in concrete vats without epoxy sealing. Alcohol 13 % Residual Sugar 1.87 g/l · Acidity: 5.10 g/l

This is a fresh & fruity approach to Malbec.  It is more about the blackberry, red cherry, & blueberry fruit & sweet spice, but it has complexity, with hints of leather & tobacco towards the back.  There are hints of soil.  The tannins are integrated & sweet.  This wine has a lot going on, but it doesn’t make you think about it.  This is an easy drinking wine.

Inkarri Cabernet Franc 2016

100% of the wine is aged in 225L French Oak new and used barrels for 12 months. Alcohol 13% . Residual sugar 2.23 g/l · Acidity: 5.46 g/l.

This wine has a pronounced nose, with toasted nut, coffee, herbs, & forest floor notes.  The rich coffee & dark roasted green herbal notes on the nose are rewarded with rich, dark fruit, dark herbs, coffee, & a certain meatiness on the palate.  The tannins are high, but well integrated.  The finish, with coffee & black fruit rolled in herbs.  Some blueberry appears towards the finish.  This is a very tasty wine.

Inkarri Winemaker’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

100% of the wine is aged in mostly new French oak for 12 months. Alcohol is 13.5%, Residual sugar 1.93g/l, Acidity 5.46 g/l.

This is clearly Argentinian Cabernet Sauvignon.  If you are expecting Napa, you may be disappointed, but if you approach it on its own terms, it is an elegant wine.  The nose has floral, herbal notes before you get to the fruit (blackberry & plum).  There is also a beautiful mineral note to the nose.  On the palate you get more of the herbal notes & some nice spice to go with the blackberry & plum.  The oak shows as nut & coffee, but it doesn’t overpower the more delicate flavors of the wine.

Inkarri Winemaker’s Reserve Malbec 2016

60% of the wine is aged in 50hl French oak barrels for 12 months, 40% of the wine is aged in concrete vats without epoxy sealing.  Alcohol 14 %. Residual sugar 1.67 g/l · Acidity: 5.4 g/l.

The wine has a pronounced aroma, with meaty, leathery notes combined with blueberry, black cherry, & coffee.  The tannins on this wine are high & may need a couple of years to settle down.  The medium plus acid & big fruit balance it out nicely though.  The fruit has clean notes, but also has a roasted note, perhaps like ripe fruit in coffee.  There are leathery, meaty notes as well.  This is a well-designed wine that is nice on its own, but could really use some grilled lamb to show its best.

Inkarri Red Blend 2016

50 % Tannat, 30 % Petit Verdot, 20 % Cabernet Franc

Aged in a 35hl (924 gallon) French oak barrels for 12 months.  Alcohol 13.5 %  Residual Sugar 2.33 g/l·  Acidity: 5.16 g/l.

This is a deep dark wine.  On the nose there is oak, black cherry, mineral notes, with earth. On top of all of that, there are beautiful floral & rose notes.  On the palate, the floral notes come across as lavender.  There is pencil lead, blackberry, forest floor, fresh fruit, including red cherry.  This is a complex wine.  It has delicate floral, lavender notes on the nose, but it isn’t a light wine.  The football analogy for this wine would be a great left tackle.  It is big & strong, but light on its feet. The wine has strong dry tannins, but they are supple & integrated.  This has a long-lasting finish with long lasting tannins.  This is an elegant, but huge wine.

Chakana Straw Wine

100% Viognier.  16.5% alcohol

That was a late harvest viognier where the grapes were dried before vinification.  It is a delicious sweet wine.  It has the high acid to balance the sweetness.  It seems full of honey, floral notes, lemon zest, & nuts.


Backup quarterbacks + Time for the Texans to sign Kaepernick

7 Nov

I have always hated the saying “If you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have one.”  I don’t think it was bad for the San Francisco 49’ers to have Joe Montana & Steve Young.  When Montana went down, Young stepped in & went on to a Hall of Fame career.  It was tense at times when Aaron Rodgers backed up Brett Favre & it ended poorly, but can anyone say having the two of them on the team meant that they didn’t have a good quarterback?

Having a solid backup is important.  It is rare for something to work out like Tom Brady coming off the bench when Drew Bledsoe was injured or Kurt Warner coming in for Trent Green.  You definitely need at least a Matt Cassel in 2008 level backup if you have a team that wants to compete for the Super Bowl (& that team didn’t make the playoffs).

This week we have seen two teams that didn’t have a competent replacement & one that did.  Case Keenum will probably never be an All Pro, but he is a competent quarterback.  Seeing the Vikings win this year with essentially their 3rd stringer is a testament to their team, their coaching, & their front office.  It isn’t always pretty, but Keenum is completing 63.9% of his passes & while he only has 7 touchdown passes, he only has 3 interceptions.  He’s on pace to pass for a little more than 3,000 yards.  That won’t win any personal awards, but it keeps the team in games & as good as their defense is, they will always have a chance.

On the other side of the spectrum, I watched Tom Savage & Brett Hundley play this week & they both failed to pass a basic eye test of quarterback competence.  They both took too long to get the ball out.  They both threw balls far enough out of bounds that they didn’t give their receivers a shot at catching the ball.  They both threw late & behind the receiver.  Savage is probably more disappointing because he got starter snaps during the preseason & started the first Texan game.  It truly makes me wonder what the Texans were seeing in preseason.  How could they have seen this & thought for a second that Savage was the best option.  Deshaun Watson had the team averaging over 30 points a game before he got hurt & the rest of the starting cast is basically the same.  Football is a team sport & you never want to give one player too much credit or too much blame, but it is pretty easy to see where the problem is here.  The Hundley situation is a little different.  Rogers got most of the reps & Hundley was never expected to play.  The result is the same though.  Both teams had a chance at some post season success & losing one player seems to have doomed them (obviously the Texans have lots of injuries, but they looked like a playoff team until this week).

As awful as the Colts are, they now have a solid starting quarterback with starter Andrew Luck gone for the season.  I certainly think they should have acted sooner, but after seeing Scott Tolzein in action for one game, they traded for Jacoby Brissett.  Brissett would have been better with more prep time.  He went from 3rd stringer for the New England Patriots to starter for the Colts.  He has passed the eye test.  Even though he hasn’t had the time to develop connections with his receivers, he is still playing fast & has completed 61.1% of his passes with 7 touchdowns & 4 interceptions.  He has an 85.6 passer rating & is on track to throw for 4,000 yards.  The Colts were wrong to go into the season thinking Tolzein would work, but at least they owned up to it.

The Texans haven’t.  They signed Matt McGloin & T.J. Yates to back up Savage.  Neither is particularly impressive.  Yates has a background with the Texans & his claim to fame is that he quarterbacked the team to its first ever playoff win.  The truth is that he was terrible in that game & played terrible in losing the playoff game the next week.  He has a 72.8 career passer rating & has thrown 2 more interceptions than touchdowns in his career. Matt McGloin played for coach Bill O’Brien in college, so he had familiarity.  It didn’t help.  He was cut.  Recently, when asked about Colin Kaepernick, coach O’Brian said “Colin Kaepernick is a good football player, hasn’t played in a while.”  Now they have signed Josh Johnson, who last threw a pass in an NFL game in 2011.  Johnson sports a 54.2% career completion rating, which is similar to his 57.7 passer rating.  He has thrown 5 touchdowns & 10 interceptions for his career.

I was never really a Colin Kaepernick fan.  I felt like he had regressed to a one read & then run quarterback.  He is a 59.8% career completions passer with 60% considered the minimum for a quality quarterback. With Hundley at 55.1% for his career & Savage at 55% (45.6% this year), though, 59.8% is starting to look good.  On the political front, while I agree with some of Kaepernick’s positions, I thought his protest was poorly done & I can’t respect someone who doesn’t like election results, but refuses to vote.   “I think it would be hypocritical of me to vote,” Kaepernick said. “I’d said from the beginning I was against oppression, I was against a system of oppression. I’m not going to show support for that system. And, to me, the oppressor isn’t going to allow you to vote your way out of your oppression. (CSN)” That being said, he has donated a million dollars to good causes & being a dumbass has never been an impediment to a job in the national football league.

Kaepernick is a slightly above average quarterback who can make some plays with his legs.  If he is your starter for a year, he will throw for a little more than 3,000 yards & he will get you a 7/3 touchdown to interception ratio.  His career passer rating is 88.9.  The league average is 83.2.  Despite coming close to winning a Super Bowl, you probably shouldn’t count on him as the key factor to get you to one.  He won’t hurt you though.  Right now, I think that he is better than 11 quarterbacks who are currently starting.  That sounds about right for his talent level.  He is someone who would hover between the 20th -25th best quarterback in the NFL.  That’s not great, but it beats the alternative.  It really tests my belief in the NFL as a meritocracy that no one will sign him.

I think that the best move would be for the Houston Texans to sign Kaepernick.  I know that many Texans fans hate him because of his political beliefs & would make a lot of noise about boycotting games (which are already sold out).  I’m sure someone would get on local TV burning some Texans gear.  That’s a given.  There are a lot of fans that might be conservative, but hate to see their team lose.  I think that if Kaepernick came in & played average for him, that the Texans have a solid chance to win 5 more games & possibly 6.  The offense that the Texans were running with Watson was somewhat simplified & Watson was able to use his legs when protection broke down.  That sounds like a prescription for Kaepernick to succeed.  They have won the division twice in a row at 9-7 & it could happen again.  That would mean more money for the owner & a lot more fun for the fans.  Speaking of the owner, this could be a positive move for him.  First, it would probably be a get out of jail card (so to speak) for his bad image thanks to his recent “can’t have inmates running the prison” quote.  It would also most likely shut down Kaepernick’s collusion lawsuit against the NFL.  It would be hard to prove collusion if he gets a chance to start for the Texans.  I don’t know if McNair would get anything besides a pat on the back from the other owners for ending the lawsuit, but it couldn’t hurt.

The nice thing here is that this could be a win/win for everyone.  Kaepernick would get a legitimate chance to show that he can still be an effective NFL starter.  If he wins, he can go somewhere else next year with a chance to start, or stay & make decent money as a backup & the Texans won’t have to worry about screwing up the position if Watson has trouble coming back from his second ACL tear.  On the other hand, if he plays poorly, Bob McNair & the Texans can say that they did their best to field a winning team, the collusion lawsuit goes away & takes Kaepernick with it.  Then we can all quit reading about how he deserves a chance because he will have gotten one.

I’m not advocating this because I have strong political beliefs about Kaepernick.  I don’t.  I have strong feelings about football though, & watching Savage & Hundley play this week was just miserable!

One final thought on quarterbacks & miserable football; wow the Browns suck.  Having two good quarterbacks doesn’t mean that you don’t have one.  Having three crummy quarterbacks that you regularly yank from games means that you don’t have one good one, or that your coach has no clue, or both.  At least the Packers & Texans can take consolation in knowing that they will never approach the futility of the Cleveland Factory of Sadness.

A visit to Domaine Gioulis

2 Jul

I was recently part of a group that visited Domaine Gioulis Winery & vineyards in Klimenti (or Kliméndi) Greece.

greek wine jug

Wine jug in Corinth museum. This was designed to be poured from 3 different directions for ease of service.

Here are the wine related things that I can remember of the experience.  There would be more, but there was so much wine, beer, liquor & food that some details have inevitably or fortuitously been lost.

After studying at the University of Bordeaux, agronomist and oenologist George Gioulis founded Domaine Gioulis in 1993. He was joined by his brother Konstantinos.  The vineyard he planted was one of the first to be certified organic in the country and is the only one to hold National Organic Program (NOP) certification in the U.S.  Their vineyards are some of the highest in Greece as well.

Gioulis family

The Gioulis family in Corinth

While George is still the owner, much of the day to day operation is in the capable hands of his children.  Dimitris Gioulis is the wine maker & his sister Ermioni Gioulis is the marketing manager.

The village of Klimenti is in the province of Corinth (generally known in America as the recipient of 2 fairly cranky epistles from the Apostle Paul). It is on the slopes of Mount Ziria in northern Peloponnese. The town dates to 1,400 AD. In Klimenti, winters are harsh & summers are relatively cool (generally staying below 90 F).

Because the climate is sunny with adequate, but not high rainfall, it is a good area to pursue organic practices.  The winds coming from the Mediterranean and the mountain breeze from the Ziria Mountains also help to reduce the need for chemicals to battle the various molds, mildews, and nematodes that can be the bane of a grape grower’s existence.

We visited two of the Domaine Gioulis vineyards and drove past a third that is laying fallow due to frost issues.  They have around 60 acres under vine.

The first vineyard we visited sits at close to 1,000 meters elevation (3,280 feet).  It is one of the highest, coolest vineyards in Greece.


Vineyard at 960 meter elevation

The vineyard is surrounded by hills and trees.  The soil is calcareous with clay and limestone.  Calcareous soils are found in some of the most famous growing regions in the world (Chablis, Champagne, Saint-Émilion).  The soils drain well and do not retain heat.  The drainage (and relatively porous soil) forces the vines to dig deep for water and establish healthy root systems.  The fact that they don’t retain heat means that the grapes ripen more slowly.  This allows them to retain acidity while hitting, or in this case just barely hitting, phenolic ripeness.  It also allows the red grapes to build solid tannins.  That’s a recipe for flavorful grapes, which leads to flavorful wines.


There is distinct variation of the mesoclimate in the vineyard. At one point, there is a gap in the surrounding hills & you can feel cool wind coming in from the Mediterranean.  The vines closest to this area may be harvested weeks after others in the vineyard.  There is a huge tree on a hill near the gap.  It has a beautiful view that on some days allows you to see through to the Mediterranean.  Thanks to the ample shade and the breeze, it is a perfect spot for a break or a picnic.  At this vineyard, there are some fairly steep plantings of vines.  This is a vineyard that requires a maximum amount of manual labor.  To make matters more interesting, Dimitris claims that they occasionally run across vipers in the vineyard.

The second vineyard that we visited was at around 800 meters elevation (2,624 feet).

D and E in the vineyard

Ermioni and Dimitris in the vineyard

It is still a cooler/higher altitude vineyard, but it is a bit flatter.  It is still harvested by hand as well.

The vineyards are planted with both native and international grape varietals.  Greek grapes planted include Agiorgitiko and Moschofilero. International varietals include Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, and Chardonnay.

During an amazing lunch at the winery, we tried through the wines.

lunch by the barrels

Set up for lunch by the barrels at Domaine Gioulis

The wine kept coming and the courses never seemed to stop.  Here are some of the wines we tried with a few notes.

Sofos is the brand of wine that Domaine Gioulis sells in the United States.  The name means “Wise One” in Greek.  You would be wise to check out these wines.

Sofos White Blend 2016 (50%Chardonnay/50% Moschofilero)sofos white

This is a lovely wine.  Moschofilero is a grape from the Muscat family and as with so many of those grapes, it has a beautiful perfumed, flowery smell.  It is pronounced something like Mos ko fee’ le ro. It can be tough to grow because it ripens late and doesn’t handle heat well.  That certainly isn’t a problem at their vineyard!  This wine shows the fragrant rose and perfume notes that you expect from the grape.  The Chardonnay is here probably more for weight and texture than scent, but it does contribute some citrus and melon notes.  On the palate, the wine is medium weight (unoaked), with medium plus acidity.  It is bursting with pear, apricot, white peach, and melon flavors.  There is also a hint of lemon and spice.  It has a medium plus finish.  This is a wine that is delicious on its own.  It also will pair well with seafood, chicken, pasta, and many other meals.

Domaine Gioulis Rose’ 2016 (100% Cabernet)

This is a solid Cabernet rose’.  It has red fruit and intense strawberry notes.  It has nice acidity, which makes it a good food wine.  I must admit that I didn’t take detailed notes on this wine.

Domaine Gioulis Agiorgitiko 2016 (100% Agiorgitiko)agiorgitiko

I really feel like this is a grape variety that could be a big hit in the U.S. if it weren’t such a tongue twister for most of us.  It is actually the most planted grape in Greece.  It is sensitive to fungal infections, but since the Domaine Gioulis vineyards dry quickly, this is not a real problem for them.  The wine made from this grape is sometimes referred to as the blood of Hercules because Hercules supposedly drank this wine around the time he killed the Nemean lion.   The grape is pronounced Ah yor yee’ ti ko according to, although my phonetic version is ah yur  E tico.  Either way, it doesn’t roll off the tongue for most people & it isn’t pronounced the way it is written.  That’s a shame, because the spicy, aromatic, fruity wine it produces is exactly the sort of thing that appeals to a broad swath of wine drinkers.

We tried some of the 2016 Agiorgitiko from a tank sample. It was fantastic! My notes say “the wine is damn near purple.”  That’s not a technical term, but it works here.  On the nose, it has floral notes of roses.  On the palate, it has nice acid, spice and spicy cherry.  The tannins are medium to medium minus. The finish is medium. We had it with goat & beef & it was great.  This may be hard to pronounce, but is almost too easy to drink.

Sofos Red Blend 2016 (50% Agiorgitiko/50% Cabernet Sauvignon)Sofos red

Cabernet Sauvignon is often added to Agiorgitiko.  The Cabernet provides acidity and power, while the Agiorgitiko provides spice and aroma. This ruby colored wine is an excellent food wine.  It has sweet spice and chocolate on the nose along with blackberry, raspberry, and a hint of tobacco.  That’s also a pretty good description of the palate.  I also noticed some plum on the palate that I didn’t notice on the nose.  The acidity is medium plus (higher than the 100% Agiorgitiko), the tannins are medium and are soft. The wine spends 6 months on oak and you definitely pick up some oak notes and structure, but it doesn’t beat you over the head with it. The finish is medium.  This is a wine that will pair well with a wide variety of foods including stews and grilled meats.

I was impressed with the winery.  Their commitment to growing native grapes, their commitment to organic growing practices, their high-quality standards, and their amazing hospitality all stood out.

I also was able to spend time talking to Dimitris and Ermioni and found them to be funny and intelligent, and thankfully, great English speakers.  Dimitris studied oenology at the University of Athens.  He has a deep knowledge of Greek history and is fiercely proud of his country.  Ermioni studied the business side of wine at the École Supérieure de Commerce in Dijon. She is finishing up her WSET Diploma, which I just finished last year, so we talked about the WSET and their way of testing and grading.

The only words I know in Greek are Ya mas, which translates to “to our health.”  That’s a common toast & an appropriate one for this winery.

I have many wonderful memories of our trip to Greece.  Listening to Sweet Child O’ Mine

by Guns N’ Roses with top of their lungs accompaniment by Melissa Dotson and Ruta Bliukyte while Dimitris drove us through the mountains was a standout.  Hanging out and drinking with three locals in Klimenti at 2 AM was pretty cool.  We wandered over & joined two men sitting outside a local store that was having the interior painted.  When they found out we were from America, they called a friend who had lived in America for a few years to come down and join us.  He was a Philadelphia Eagles fan, so we talked football.  I never expected to be in a tiny town in Greece discussing Donovan McNabb, but sometimes that’s how things go. We also visited the Acropolis, which was incredible

Temple of Athena

The Temple of Athena at the Acropolis

The Parthenon

The Parthenon

and had a tour of the museum of ancient Corinth.

Temple of Apollo in Corinth

The Temple of Apollo in Corinth

If you have an opportunity to visit Greece, I highly recommend it.  Until then, I recommend that you look for Sofos wine at your local wine shop.  If you can’t find it, check with their importer, Natural Merchants.  I’m sure that they will point you in the right direction.

Ya mas!


Domaine des Cèdres

27 Aug

Domaine des Cedres

The Rhône is a wine region in the Rhone Valley in Southern France.  It is divided into a northern & southern region with different rules for the two regions.  The only red grape allowed in the north is Syrah.  There are 10 different red grapes allowed in the south.

The southern Rhône has a Mediterranean climate (mild winters & hot summers).  Drought issues are bad enough in the Rhône that limited irrigation is allowed (irrigation is regulated by EU & appellation rules).  There is a large diurnal shift, so large pebbles are often grouped around the base of the vines to absorb heat during the day & then release it at night to keep the vines from getting too cool.

Cotes Du Rhônes are the most produced AOC wines in the area.  They are generally designed to be lighter weight easy drinking wines which are not intended for aging.

Cotes du Rhône Villages wines are a step up (or a ring in if you think about the appellation as a dart board).  Grenache is the primary grape & the wines are required to have at least 50% Grenache.  They can have 20% Syrah &/or Mourvèdre combined.  That leaves a maximum of 20% that can come from the other 6 grapes.  The minimum alcohol is 12%, which isn’t much of an issue given the heat & Grenache’s propensity for ripeness.  There is another Villages level that involves named villages, but that isn’t the case with Domaine de Cèdres.

Domaine des Cèdres was founded in 1906 & is owned by Dominique Pons & his wife Genevieve.  Dominique is the

Dominique and Genevieve Pons

primary winemaker.  They have 30 acres of vineyards planted on south facing slopes.  The soil is clay & limestone with the traditional Rhône stones.  They are a single vineyard producer rather than a négociant, like most Rhône producers.

The vineyards have been certified organic since 1973.  They currently farm bio-dynamically, but have not been certified. The Pons were named Pioneers of Organics in 2011.

These two wines are a nice example of the difference between Cotes Du Rhônes & Cotes du Rhône Villages.  You have the same producer & similar grapes, but very different wines.

Domaine des Cèdres Côte du Rhône 2014

60% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 20% Carignan This was fermented & stored in cement & enamel tanks.

This has fresh fruit flavors, especially after sitting for a while.  It has medium plus acidity, medium body, medium alcohol, & medium flavor intensity.  On the palate it has sour cherry, cranberry, raspberry as the primary fruits.  The fruits seem slightly under ripe, not in a bad way, but very tart.  There is some black pepper & more white pepper. There is also a little bell pepper & some green herbaceous quality.  As it opens, there are some nice violet notes that are indicative of Syrah. The tannin is medium plus.  The finish is medium plus.  This is a juicy fresh red fruit wine that would be great with a burger or grilled meat.

Domaine des Cèdres Côte du Rhône Villages 2014

Older vines from higher up the slopes are picked for this wine.  The blend is Grenache, Syrah, and Carignan, but I don’t have the percentages handy.  The wine ages for a year in new oak.

This has medium plus acid, medium body, medium alcohol, medium flavor intensity, & a medium finish. The tannins are medium plus.  There is a clear blueberry note that almost seems like a northern Rhone Syrah. There is also a slight hint of bacon fat, although is fades after it has opened up. There is still some of that dry red fruit, particularly cranberry & sour cherry that the regular Cote du Rhone has. It has a meatier taste than the CDR.  This would work well with grilled or braised meat.  It would be great with grilled lamb. It even us a slight mint note that would be good with lamb.

Here are a few bullet points to remember about these wines


  • They are one of the earliest organic wineries in the region (certified since 1973)
  • They have used bio-dynamic practices since 2003, but are not certified
  • The wines are vegan friendly
  • They are estate wines
  • They are good picnic or grilling wines


Andrew Luck wasn’t ranked too low at #92 on the NFL top 100

27 Aug

There isn’t a ton of news during the off-season after free agency & the draft finish.  The NFL network has done a decent job of creating news out of nothing.  One very successful program has been their NFL Top 100 series.  Each year they manage to get 11 shows (with another 11 reaction shows & endless bits of commentary) out of a simple concept.  They poll the players & based on that poll, they show the top 100 players, 10 per episode except for the final two, where only 5 players are shown.  It is a fun program & it always gets a big reaction from players and fans about why they or their favorite player weren’t ranked or weren’t ranked high enough.

I usually just enjoy it & don’t think too much about it.  This year the indignation in the press & fan blogs for one perceived snub made me want to dive into it a bit more.

In 2015 Andrew Luck was named the 7th best player in the NFL.  In 2016, he fell all the way to number 92.

The media, sensing an opportunity for some eyeballs, went nuts.  The USA Today said “And this is exactly why NFL players do not, and should not, vote on major awards or All-pro teams.”  Chris Wesseling of Around the NFL referred to Luck’s “preposterously low ranking.” That was one of the calmer reactions.  Luck has been considered the next great NFL quarterback since the Colts seemingly tanked their entire season to draft him as the #1 pick in the 2012 draft.  It seemed crazy that he wouldn’t be highly ranked by the players despite missing most of the year with injury.

I actually think that he was lucky to make the list at all.  Part of that is based on his play in 2015 & part of it is based on how the list is compiled.  Let’s look at both aspects.

In 2015, Andrew Luck played in only 7 games.  There is a pretty good argument that he was injured & hurting during at least a few of those games, but the NFL chose not to look into the Colts potentially gaming the injury reports (can you imagine what they would have done if it had been Tom Brady?).  In those 7 games, the team won 2 & lost 5 games.

If you look at the NFL statistics page where they rate quarterbacks by 16 metrics & then rank them, you will see that Andrew Luck rated 32nd for 2015 among quarterbacks.  He managed to rank one spot higher than his backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, despite Hasselbeck having an 84 QB rating compared to Lucks 74.9.  At least 3 quarterbacks who ranked above Luck have lost their starting job this year (Brian Hoyer, Nick Foles, & Josh McCown).  There are a couple others who may not end up starting the majority of their games this year.  Hasselbeck has retired, but is worth noting that he led the Colts to 5 of their 8 wins in 2015.

In 7 games, Luck threw 12 interceptions.  At that rate, he would have thrown more than 27 interceptions in a 16 game season.  For comparisons sake, 27 interceptions are more than Tom Brady has thrown in the last 3 years combined (25).

One other statistic is worth noticing.  In the today’s NFL with the rules geared towards the passing game, starting quarterbacks are expected to complete at least 60% of their passes.  In 2015 Luck completed 55.3% of his.  That completion percentage places him #63 out of the 72 quarterbacks ranked.  That is terrible.

The other aspect of his ranking that we should look at is how the votes are tallied.  There isn’t actually a vote of the top 100 NFL players.  There is a ballot where players list their top 20 players.  Points are assigned for votes from 1-20 & the players with the top 100 point totals are chosen.  There is actually a huge difference between the two systems.  For one thing, one or two players ranking a player on their team in the top 5 can shoot them up in the polls.  For another it can leave out or lower the number for a player who isn’t a star, but is legitimately a player that everyone would agree was a top 80 player but not a top 20 player.

Looking at the Andrew Luck situation through that prism, it is kind of amazing that enough people chose him as one of the 20 best players for him to make the list.  If I were to make a list of the top 40 players in the NFL it would be hard to include him.  Off the top of my head, do you think Luck is really playing better than these guys…

Geno Atkins Jamie Collins Tyran Mathieu Ben Roethlisberger
Odell Beckham Jr. Fletcher Cox Gerald McCoy Richard Sherman
Le’Veon Bell Larry Fitzgerald LeSean McCoy Ndamukong Suh
Eric Berry A.J. Green Von Miller Earl Thomas
Tom Brady Rob Gronkowski Cam Newton Joe Thomas
Drew Brees Todd Gurley Greg Olsen J.J. Watt
Antonio Brown DeAndre Hopkins Adrian Peterson Muhammed Wilkerson
Dez Bryant Julio Jones Patrick Peterson Russell Wilson
Kam Chancellor Luke Kuechly Darrelle Revis Jason Witten
Jamaal Charles Zack Martin Aaron Rodgers Marshal Yanda

That certainly isn’t a definitive list.  If I made a new one tomorrow, I’m sure I would change out 4-5 players.  The point is that Luck wasn’t better than 21 of these guys.

Every year is a new year & a new chance for players to rise above their past performance.  Every year time catches up with a great player & their level of play drops.  Next year at this time, Luck may have established himself as a top 20 player, but he hasn’t so far. Chris Wesseling & some other pundits should take a chill pill.