Tag Archives: wine

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

Strengths

  • 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.

Weaknesses

  • 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.

 

Opportunities

  • 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.

Threats

  • 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

Strength

  • 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)

Weakness

  • 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.

Opportunities

  • 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.”

Threats

  • 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.

Conclusions

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.

Sources

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.

https://water.usgs.gov/edu/watercycletranspiration.html

https://modernfarmer.com/2015/12/dry-farming-wine/  The Benefits of Dry-Farming Wine—For the Palate and the Planet By Hannah Wallace on December 21, 2015

http://agwaterstewards.org/practices/dry_farming/

http://www.wine-grape-growing.com/wine_grape_growing/vineyard_frost_protection/vineyard_frost_protection_active.htm Vineyard Frost Protection

http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.wawinegrowers.org/resource/resmgr/Winegrowers_Water_Availabili.pdf Washington Wine Growers Water Availability Policy Statement

https://daily.sevenfifty.com/how-south-africas-wine-industry-plans-to-survive-the-water-crisis/?utm_campaign=SevenFifty%20Daily%20Weekly%20Digest&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=61290652&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-8xGseD5Hz94l5IWA1wje30jFJQ6eXpiiWlLyPa8mEsxBCGA_AHI2ZX4Hh4OpEKWNhAxtoE8N1lnv247ykeRMhUIulsEQ&_hsmi=61290529 How South Africa’s Wine Industry Plans to Survive the Water Crisis

https://oeno-one.eu/article/view/1699 Strategic irrigation management in Australian vineyards Peter R. Dry, B. R. Loveys, M. G. Mccarthy, Manfred Stoll

http://quench.me/longform/maritime-climate-affects-some-of-the-worlds-most-coveted-wine-regions/ September 15th, 2017/ By Treve Ring Maritime climate affects some of the world’s most coveted wine regions

https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/01/110111-oldest-wine-press-making-winery-armenia-science-ucla/ Earliest Known Winery Found in Armenian Cave By James Owen, for National Geographic News Published January 12, 2011

https://www.climatedata.eu/climate.php?loc=auxx0010&lang=en

https://www.guildsomm.com/public_content/features/articles/b/gregory_jones/posts/climate-grapes-and-wine Climate, Grapes, and Wine Terroir and the Importance of Climate to Winegrape Production Gregory Jones 12 Aug 2015

http://www.growingproduce.com/fruits/how-to-dry-farm-winegrapes/ Kendall Lambert is the Water Program Coordinator for Community Alliance with Family Farmers.

https://www.winesandvines.com/news/article/115248/Economics-of-Dry-Farming-Winegrapes 04.21.2013  Economics of Dry Farming Winegrapes Amador and Lodi, Calif., growers discuss practices for quality wines and water conservation   by Jon Tourney

http://agwaterstewards.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Turning_water_into_wine.pdf 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

http://agwaterstewards.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/A_new_path_to_using_less_water.pdf In Napa, a new path to using less water Jon Bonné Sunday, March 21, 2010

http://www.caff.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/CAFF-Presentation.pdf Dry Farming Wine Grapes in California Dave Runsten Community Alliance with Family Farmers August 7, 2015

http://caff.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Winegrape_Irrigation-1.pdf

Irrigation Management of Winegrapes with a Limited Water Supply In: ucmanagedrought.ucdavis.edu Terry Prichard

https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/irrigation-now-official-in-france  Jancis Robinson 11 Apr 2007

http://irrigazette.com/en/news/irrigation-grapevines-europe-update-existing-legislation The Irrigation of grapevines in Europe – an update on existing legislation By Fleur Martin, Irrigazette

https://www.bkwine.com/news/irrigate-or-not-in-vineyards/ To irrigate or not to irrigate in the vineyard? by Britt Karlsson on September 4, 2014

http://www.lodigrowers.com/considerations-for-dry-farming-wine-grapes/ Lodi Grape Growers Association Stan Grant

https://naturalmerchants.com/organicwines/dry-farmed-wine/  Ed Fields CEO Natural Merchants

http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-dry-farm-wine-20141123-story.html  Drought revives ‘forgotten art’ at wineries: Farming without irrigation By David Pierson Nov 22, 2014

http://www.deeprootscoalition.org/what-we-do/

http://www.holiday-weather.com/santorini/averages/#chart-head-precipitation

https://www.climatestotravel.com/climate/greece/santorini

https://www.weather-atlas.com/en/greece/santorini-climate

http://www.hnms.gr/emy/el/

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

 

 

 

 

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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.

Strengths

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.

Weaknesses

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.

Opportunities

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.

Threats

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.

Strengths

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.

Weaknesses

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.

Opportunities

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.

Threats

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.

Conclusion

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.

Why Chenin Blanc should be the answer to your ABC problem

18 Jun

No football article this time.  I need to work on my article on why Roger Goodell must go.  Maybe next week…  In the meantime, here is why Chenin Blanc could be your new favorite wine

 

Many people are members of the ABC club.  That is, they are looking for anything but Chardonnay to drink.  I actually love a great Chardonnay, but I understand how people can tire of it.  It is one of the most planted white grapes in the world & much of it ranges from boring to awful.  Chardonnay has some versatility though.  It can be rich & oaky, or it can be light & fruity.  It would be nice to find another grape that could fill that niche.  I’m here to tell you that Chenin Blanc fits the bill.

Chenin Blanc, frequently just called Chenin, can make slightly sweet or dry crisp wines that have guava, peach, & pear flavors.  At better quality, it can make dry smoky wines that age for decades.  When oak barrel fermented, it can rival the best vanilla & butter textured Chardonnays.  When picked as a late harvest grape or a noble rot infected grape, it makes a sweet wine that can age 50 years or more.   It is also a great grape for sparkling wines.  That is a versatile grape!

Like Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc is grown in many places across the globe; unfortunately it is treated like a red headed stepchild in many of those growing regions.  While solid Chenin Blanc is made in Australia, California (Chalone in particular), & Texas, it really only gets the respect it deserves in The Loire Valley in France & in South Africa.

Chenin Blanc is a grape that has naturally high acid.  In particular, it is able to ripen well in a hot climate without losing too much acid.  It also has a tendency towards high yields.  It is susceptible to botrytis. It has good resistance to disease & wind. It buds early & ripens late. All of these factors affect the wines that are produced in the middle Loire & South Africa.  I’ll write about the regions to give you more details, but you don’t really need to know all of this to pick out a good bottle.  It doesn’t hurt though.

The Loire wine regions

The Loire wine regions

The Loire is a wine region in France that basically follows the Loire River.  It runs from the Atlantic near Nantes east towards Burgundy.  It is north of the wine region of Bordeaux, but South of Paris & the wines of Champagne.  It has 4 distinct growing regions & really would be divided into 4 different appellations if not for the Loire & tradition.  The middle 2 sections of the Loire are the great Chenin growing areas. The middle Loire has a basically continental climate.  That means that it has short cold winters & long dry summers.  Spring frost can be a problem, & sometimes it rains around harvest time.  The Loire itself has the biggest effect on the local mesoclimates.  The river reflects light & that helps grapes ripen even when it might normally be a bit too cool for full ripeness due to the latitude.  It also provides cooling breezes that help the grapes retain acidity when it is hot.  Finally, the river helps provide the moisture necessary for noble rot/botrytis.

The Loire produces several different styles of Chenin, from dry, to off dry, to luxurious sweet wines.  The grape is so ubiquitous there that it was once called Franc Blanc.  Today it is often called Pineau or Pineau de la Loire.

Left to right: a dry Savennières, a lusciously sweet Bonnezeaux, and an off dry Vouvray

Left to right: a dry Savennières, a lusciously sweet Bonnezeaux, and an off dry Vouvray

In the Loire, the grape is usually unblended, although in Anjou or Saumur it is possible to add 20% Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc & in wines labeled Touraine there can be a broader mixture.  The best Chenin in the Loire will be unblended.

Mechanical harvesting is used in much of the Loire. It cannot be used for the production of the classic sweet Chenin Blancs.  The best of these wines will be made from grapes infected by botrytis.  This necessitates more than one harvesting session.  These are called tries & 2 are required & sometimes 3 or 4 are used to make sure that only the grapes that have shriveled with botrytis are picked.  It is a long process which risks a fall rain & the loss of crops.  It results in higher priced wines, but they are still inexpensive compared to other botrytis wines such as Sauternes.

There are few hard & fast rules for the fermentation process & the treatment of the wine in the Loire.  There are some common themes.  There is generally no Malolactic fermentation for the wines.  There is generally no new oak used or very little.  Some lees contact is not uncommon.  Because the climate is cool, it is normal to chaptalize the wine.  Adding sugar up to a 2.5% alcohol increase is allowed & is common except for in warmer years. Most modern wineries have stainless steel tanks with temperature control.  In the Loire it is sometimes necessary to warm the must before & during fermentation to get the wine to finish fermentation. There are some people experimenting with new oak & malolactic fermentation in the hopes of capturing some of the market for oaked Chardonnay.  This is a tiny minority of the market.

Basic Chenin Blanc from the Loire has flavors of apple & pear, nuts, & mineral. They can be tight & acidic with a chalky minerality when first bottled. Time in the bottle is necessary for the full range of flavors to appear.  The best wines can age for 50 years or more.  During that time they develop secondary characteristics of honey & beeswax.  As the wines become sweeter, they show sweeter jellied fruits with the same notes.  The botrytis infected wines show the honey & beeswax much more quickly & have more luscious apple & pear marmalade notes. Great Loire Chenin Blanc can be one of the best & most long lived wines in the world.

In Savennières, Chenin is almost always dry.  They wait later than average to harvest the grapes, allowing them to achieve greater ripeness.  Then they ferment them completely dry.  That results in a wine with richness & a bit higher alcohol.  These wines can be somewhat austere in the first few years after bottling.  The best examples will last as long as 50 years & develop complex flavors.  The first thing I notice about a good Savennières is the combination of minerality & smokiness.  This is one of those wines that can fool you.  You might swear it had oak in it, but it doesn’t.  papillonThat smoky flavor is from the fruit.  Good examples also tend to show beeswax & honey.  If you are looking for a fruity & easy drinking wine, this isn’t for you.  If you want a great wine to pair with food & one that offers unexpected delights, give it a try.  I think Savennières pairs well with a wide variety of food.  Probably only Riesling is more versatile.  It isn’t the easiest wine to find.  It doesn’t look like Total Wine or Bev Mo ever stock it.  I picked up a bottle of Domaine des Baumard at Specs in Houston & at a little shop in Santa Fe.  I found Domaine de Baumard’s Clos du Papillon at a Whole Foods.  Check with your local store.

The wines of Anjou, Coteaux de l’Aubance, Jasnières, Montlouis, Saumur, and Vouvray have a wide range of sweetness levels.  In Vouvray the wine generally has some sweetness.  The labels will sometimes guide you, but not always. Tim Atkin MW says that the Loire producers favor a BBC management approach to labeling, “tell the public nothing.”  Generally you can expect the wine to be off dry.  Sometimes they will say something like “Vouvray Sec” & you will know it is dry.  Experimentation is probably your best bet here.  These wines can be great with spicy food.  The drier versions make great poolside wines on a hot day.

The high acidity of Chenin Blanc makes it a great candidate for sparkling wine.  In the Loire, it is used to make Crémant de Loire & sparkling Vouvray.  Crémant is just a French word for Champagne style sparkling wine that is not from Champagne.  Outside of the Loire it is also used in Crémant de Limoux in Southern France.  These wines may not be as refined as Champagne, but they can be vibrant wines showing peach & honey notes.  As with the wines, these can be dry or slightly sweet.  Most of the time, a dry sparkling wine will be labeled as “Brut” or “Sec”, while a slightly sweet sparkler will be labeled as “off-dry” or “demi-sec.”

The wines of the Coteaux du Layon, Bonnezeaux, and Quarts de Chaume are best known for their sweet Chenin Blanc.  Where the wine is labeled according to sweetness it will be sec (dry), demi-sec (medium dry), or moelleux (sweet).  Top producers include Claude Papin, Domaine Richou, & Huet.  The best of these wines are produced with grapes that have been infected by botrytis cinerea.  Botrytis is also called noble rot (marketing!).  Essentially it is a fungus that in just the right conditions (damp in the morning, dry in the afternoon) grows on the grapes & sucks the water from them.  That concentrates the sugar in the wine, making the grapes sweeter.  It also gives the fruit interesting honey & marmalade flavors.  It sounds, & truthfully looks a bit disgusting, but it makes great wine.  Anyone who eats mushrooms or yogurt should be able to handle a little fungus being involved in the production of their wine.  As I mentioned, these grapes all have to be hand-picked.  Pickers go through the vineyard & hand select the infected grapes, leaving the rest.  They will sometimes make 2 or 3 tries through the vineyard to get enough to make the wine.  That costs money, but it is worth it.  These are luscious wines with honey & jam & marmalade notes.  The cool thing about them is that they still have a backbone of acidity.  These wines last for decades & improve as they go.  Many people think of them as strictly dessert wines, but I prefer them with pâté or blue cheese.  I think that is one of the great wine pairings of all time.

I drank a bottle of Chateau de Fesles Bonnezeaux 1998 over the course of about 3 days.  It was just as fresh & wonderful on the 3rd day as it was the first.  Even though it was almost 17 years old, it seemed youthful.  I probably could have left this in my wine rack for another 30 years.  It was everything that I mentioned above & more.  La Revue du Vin de France has called Fesles the “Yquem of the Loire Valley.”  I paid $38 for my bottle & I have seen it at around $60 online.  That’s pretty cheap in the grand scheme of things for a world class wine.

South Africa has been growing Chenin Blanc for centuries, but only relatively recently have they tried to make high quality wine with it.  Initially the grape was planted to produce brandy due to its ability to get a large crop with good sugar & still retain acid.  It also has good resistance to disease & wind.  Wind can be a real issue in South Africa & can cause transpiration issues.  In fact it wasn’t even known as Chenin Blanc until the 1960’s.  It was called Steen. Chenin is still the most planted grape in South Africa, but at around 18% of the total crop, it has fallen off quite a bit.

There is still plenty of over cropped bland Chenin Blanc produced in South Africa.  It is sometimes sold under a varietal name or blended with Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc & sold with a fanciful name.  These wines tend to have green fruit flavors with melon & mango.  They aren’t necessarily bad wines.  They just aren’t memorable.

Since the 1990’s there has been a revolution in quality at the top end of the spectrum for South African wines.  Growers have been encouraged to reduce yields.  Top producers like De Trafford, Morgenhof, & Anura (my favorite) are using old vines to make big bold Chenin Blancs that can last as much as 10 years.

Anura Chenin Blanc from South Africa

Anura Chenin Blanc from South Africa

Most top quality producers have air conditioned production facilities.  Some Chenin is fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks.  Some producers ferment at least a portion of their Chenin in French or American oak barrels.  These barrels are in cold rooms due to the heat in South Africa combined with the heat of fermentation. Some Chenin is fermented in stainless steel & then aged in barrel for up to 24 months.

These wines show more tropical fruit than the wines of the Loire due to the warmer climate. Melon, mango, pineapple, & grapefruit are common flavors.  The wines that are fermented or aged in barrel will show the toast or nut notes from the oak.  American oak seems to be a current favorite.  It adds coconut flavors that work well with the other tropical flavors in the wines.

South African Chenin Blanc does not yet show the aging potential of Loire Chenin.  Unoaked Chenin in South Africa, which ranges from sweet to dry generally, is drinkable for 1-3 years.  The oaked Chenin usually is good for 3-5 years, but there are some examples that work for 10 years.

Chenin Blanc in South Africa generally does not show botrytis notes.  The heavy winds and arid climate make it unlikely for the fungus to survive in most of the wine region.

Though the wines are very different, both South Africa & the Loire produce high quality Chenin Blanc.  The next time you feel the need to satisfy your ABC desires, try a Chenin Blanc.  It could be your new favorite.

 

 

 

Three questions for the wine industry & three questions for each NFL team for the new season

4 Sep

harvest  We are heading into fall!  That means the grape harvest is beginning & football is back!  The new seasons are full of opportunity.  They  are also full of questions.  I have put together three questions about the wine industry going into the fall.  I have also come up with 3 questions for each NFL team as we begin the season.

Three wine questions

  • How long will the drought last in California & will it necessitate permanent changes?

The USDA now says that 60% of California is in “exceptional drought”, while the rest of the state is either classified as being in “drought” or “extreme drought.”  Wines & Vines reported that the University of California at Davis found the current drought is “responsible for the greatest loss of water for agriculture in history.”  They found that the total economic impact to the state was $2.2 billion so far.  Nearly 430,000 acres of the state’s irrigated cropland is going out of production.  If things don’t change, that will be disastrous for America’s food supply & for the wine industry.

Some people in the Central Valley are pulling out 50 year old avocado & citrus trees because of the drought & are planting grapes instead because they use less water.  It is a weird story to watch unfold.

  • What will China’s impact on the wine industry be over the next few years? The working theory for the last few years has been that the Chinese marketing is going to become a behemoth, especially for high end reds. More recently the Chinese government has cracked down on ostentatious displays of wealth, which has tamped down the sale of wine significantly.  In the long term, there are plans to plant so many vineyards in China that they should pass the United States in vineyard acreage.
  • Will the combination of big brands & big retailers doom the industry? Over the last decade the big wine companies have gotten much bigger.  At the same time, the bigger retailer shave gotten much bigger & more influential.  As a result, a very small number of people now determine an inordinate amount of the shelf space at retailers across the country.  I can think of at least one example where someone who doesn’t drink wine at all buys wine for a chain of over 50 stores.  Is that someone who will find you the next cool wine to try?   There will always be innovative wineries making great wine.  The question is how much of it will we see on the shelves & at restaurants?  I sometimes get depressed when I go to a restaurant or a grocery store & see the available wines.  Of course I get excited when I go to a winery I haven’t visited & discover an amazing new wine.  I just hope that the guys making innovative wine will be able to get it in front of an audience.

3 General things I hope for this year in the NFL

  • I would love to go a year without a key player being lost for the season because the opponent goes for his knees instead of a form tackle. It is a cheap shot & anyone who thinks that you can’t make legal tackles without going low is just wrong & probably a little scared of trying.
  • It would be nice to go a year without hearing a commentator say a variation of the phrase “when you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have one.” It is a common saying.  I did a Google search & got 62,000,000 matches for it.  We will probably hear it a lot this year about teams like the Browns, Vikings, Jaguars, Raiders etc.  The reality is that the Packers weren’t hampered by having Brett Favre & Aaron Rodgers.  The 49ers were all right having Joe Montana & Steve Young.  Danny White was no Roger Staubach, but it sure was good having him as the back-up & successor for Staubach.  Having Tom Brady on the bench when Drew Bledsoe went down may have been the best thing to ever happen to the New England Patriots.  Having 1 great quarterback & no one behind him leads to problems like Green Bay had last year without Aaron Rodgers, or the debacle in Indianapolis when Manning was hurt, or the Dolphins have had since Dan Marino retired.  Smart teams need a really good back-up quarterback and a plan for the future.
  • I would like to go through the rest of the year & have All of the news be football related & not have 1 player get arrested for drunken driving or spousal abuse or any of the myriad other crimes that have seemingly flooded the NFL this off season. Take out your aggressions on the field in a legal manner & use some of the millions of dollars you get paid to call for a limo service.

3 Questions for every NFL team this year

Arizona Cardinals

  • Can they maintain their momentum from last year?

They won 7 of their last 9 games  last year & just missed the playoffs.  They have had a number of changes during the offseason & it will be interesting to see if they can pick up where they left off.

  • Will the defense be as good as it has been the last two years?

Over the last two years the team has changed defensive coordinators and a number of key players, but has been consistently excellent.  This year they are missing at least 3 key starters from last year’s team.    Can they put together a third year of excellence?

  • Will we see the Carson Palmer we saw last year?

Palmer’s career seemed to bottom out in 2012 in Oakland.  When he was traded to the Cardinals, expectations were low.  He confounded expectations with easily his best season since 2005.  He passed for the most yards in his career & completed 63.3% of his passes.  He still threw too many interceptions (22), but he gave the team the first hope they have had at quarterback since Kurt Warner retired.  His performance this year will go a long way to determining the answer to the first Cardinals question.

Atlanta Falcons

  • Who will run the football? Steven Jackson is having hamstring problems again.

He has said he will be ready to start the first game, but hamstring injuries can hang on past expectations.

  • Will the defense be able to stop anyone?

They were 29th in sacks last year & their main rushing threats are another year older.

  • Is Julio Jones fully recovered?

He has looked great in limited action during pre-season, but pre-season isn’t the same as the real thing.

Baltimore Ravens

  • Will the running game improve?

Last year Ray Rice had a 3.1 yard per carry average after never dropping below 4 yards per carry in his career.  They have brought in more help this year, but probably the biggest addition is Gary Kubiak as offensive coordinator.  He has brought with him the zone blocking system that consistently produced great running attacks in Houston & Denver.

  • Will Joe Flacco play up to his contract?

Flacco got paid like an elite quarterback after his Super Bowl MVP performance.  Despite that, Flacco has never performed like an elite quarterback for an entire season.  He hasn’t completed 60% of his passes in any of the last 3 seasons.  He threw 19 touchdowns with 22 interceptions last year.  If he were another quarterback he would be facing competition, but he isn’t…at least this year.

  • Will Steve Smith help the offense enough to make a real difference?

At 35, & with a reputation as a bit of a jackass, the Carolina Panthers decided to cut Smith despite not having a solid replacement on board.  The Ravens immediately picked him up.  Can his intense work ethic enable him to perform at a high level with a new team at an age when most wide receivers are in decline?

Buffalo Bills

  • Will Kyle Orton start before week 9?

Normally you would think that a high draft pick like E.J. Manuel would get a couple of years to prove himself.  With the pending sale of the team though, everyone is in win now or lose your job mode.  Manuel hasn’t impressed yet & I can see them turning to Kyle Orton sooner rather than later.  Week 9 is their bye week, but if things are going south, I could see a switch before then

  • Is there any way that Sammy Watkins was worth it?

The Bills gave up two first-round picks and a fourth-round pick to move up to draft Sammy Watkins.  It may turn out to be a great deal, but even if he turns out to be a good to great receiver, the move reeks of desperation.

  • Can the defense carry the team?

Last year the team was able to really pressure the quarterback, but had trouble against the run.  Bringing in Brandon Spikes should help with run defense & they arguably have the best defense in the AFC East, but the Bills have been underachievers for years.  Will this be the year they turn it around?

Carolina Panthers

  • Does Dave Gettleman really have a plan at wide receiver?

Very few G.M.s would be comfortable going into a season with no wide receiver on the roster who had caught a pass from the quarterback the previous year.  If you knew the quarterback was going to miss most of training camp, you might be even more unlikely to do it wouldn’t you?  Not Dave Gettleman.  We’ll see what happens.  They weren’t exactly the most impressive receiving corps in the world last year, so maybe it will work out.

  • Will Cam Newton be 100% for most of the year?

Newton missed most of training camp & the he suffered a rib injury in the third preseason game.  Will he be able to develop timing with his new receivers?  Will he be able to run like he has in the past?

  • Will the secondary hold up?

The secondary features a number of solid players, but many are either new to the team, or on the backside of their career, or both (Roman Harper).  How will they look 10 or 12 games into the season?

Chicago Bears

  • Does Chicago have the best wide receiving corps in the NFL?

It isn’t difficult to make a case that Brandon Marshall & Alshon Jeffery are the best pair of receivers on a team.  They combined for over 2,700 yards & 189 catches last year.  Individually they are difficult to defend & together, almost impossible.  The question is whether the rest of the receiving crew can take advantage of single coverage to help the team win more games.

  • Can the new defensive parts come together in time?

The biggest concern for the Bears in the off season was to fix a broken defense.  They brought in high profile free agents like Jared Allen & Lamarr Houston.  They also used their first round pick on a safety & drafted two defensive ends,  Due to injury & personal issues, the entire projected starting defense has not taken a snap together during the preseason.  Will they come together?

  • Can Jay Cutler stay healthy all year?

It’s a perennial question with him & if he can’t, will Jimmy Clausen be able to fill in as well as Josh McCown did last year?

Cincinnati Bengals

  • How will the team respond to the loss of both coordinators? The good news is that the Bengals have been successful enough that both Mike Zimmer & Jay Gruden became head coaches this offseason.  That is unprecedented for the Bengals!  Now the question is how will they move on?  It looks like they have capable replacements, but it can’t be seamless can it?
  • Can Andy Dalton play in the playoffs as if it were a regular season game? I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but Dalton has obviously not been as good in the playoffs as he has in the regular season & that is a huge part of the reason why they have made the playoffs 3 years in a row, but lost in the 1st round each year.
  • If they don’t move beyond the first round in the playoffs, is Marvin Lewis in danger of being fired? Lewis is at an even 500 for his career at Cincinnati.  He has had some success & an equal amount of failure.  He is signed for one year after this.  If things go wrong this year, will he be back?

Cleveland Browns

  • How short will the leash be on Brian Hoyer & how will that impact his performance?

Competition is a great thing, but when a quarterback feels like any bad play could get him benched, it can cause problems.  Brian Hoyer looked pretty good last year and I think he deserved a shot at the starting job in Cleveland.  The problem is that if he doesn’t look great, there will immediately be calls for him to be benched for Johnny Manziel.  That can lead to trying to make every play perfect & every throw perfect & that usually leads something far from perfection.

  • Do the Browns have a secret plan to replace Josh Gordon?

They knew during the draft that he would probably be suspended for most or all of the season.  They didn’t make any major moves to replace him.  Miles Austin has a lot of potential, but he also has a lot of hamstring issues.  I truly don’t see what their plan is.

  • Will Ben Tate succeed as a starting running back?

Tate put up great numbers in relief of Arian Foster in Houston.  He also showed real toughness playing through injuries.  The difference for him this year isn’t just that he is the starting running back; it is that he won’t be playing in a zone blocking system.  There are probably some players who have been successful running behind zone blocking & then were successful with a team running more traditional blocking patterns, but I can’t think of any.  That’s part of how the Denver Broncos used to be able to seemingly plug in anyone at running back & have them rush for 1,000 yards.

Dallas Cowboys

  • Will Tony Romo be able to play at the top of his game?

Jerry Jones keeps saying that Romo is fully recovered from back surgery.  I’m not sure that I trust him as a qualified doctor (or general manager really).  As bad as the team’s defense was last year, they still finished 8-8 in large part because Romo figuratively carried the team on his back.  His back may literally be too weak to do it again this year.

  • The defense can’t be any worse can it?

Normally I would say that regression to the mean would get the Cowboys defense back to just bad, rather than historically bad.  The signs are not good though.  Salary cap problems led to the cowboys parting ways with DeMarcus Ware & Jason Hatcher. Then Sean Lee had his seemingly annual season ending injury.  That is a lot to replace.  The defense hasn’t impressed in the pre-season.  If they can just be mediocre, the Cowboys could make the playoffs.  I just don’t know if they can move up to mediocre.

  • Is this Jason Garrett’s last year as coach?

Despite Jerry Jones giving him consistent support, it feels like Garrett has been on the hot seat for years.  If he can’t hit 9-7 or better this year, I can’t see him coming back for another year.

Denver Broncos

  • Should Wes Welker walk away?

Welker will miss the first 4 games of the year due to a suspension for taking MDMA that was spiked with amphetamines.   This is of course why you should always buy name brand MDMA instead of the generic knockoffs.  I’m hoping I can get my blog sponsored by Johnson & Johnson’s Ecstasy.  “With a name like Ecstasy, it has to be good!”

Welker has had 3 concussions in his last 10 games.  All professional football is dangerous & professional football players knowingly take those risks.  On the other hand, when you are a receiver with a history of concussions and a job that depends on you catching passes across the middle in traffic, you might want to think about having a long happy life with your beautiful wife & being able to be coherent at your kid’s graduation (if he has kids down the line).  Welker has made over 25 million dollars during his career & seems to have a flair for betting on horses.  Maybe he should think about walking away relatively healthy.

  • Can Peyton Manning equal last year?

The offense looks like it could potentially be better than last year.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Manning had another phenomenal year.  The counterargument of course is that Father Time is undefeated & Manning will be no exception.  In 2001 & 2002 Rich Gannon was the MVP of the Pro Bowl, something that had never been done in consecutive seasons.  In 2002, he was the league MVP. Then he was injured in 2003 and was never the same.  I don’t think Manning will go that route, but it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise ever.

  • Will the defense be dominant?

John Elway added big free agent pickups like Aquib Talib & DeMarcus Ware to the defense & Von Miller is healthy this year.  On paper, they should be one of the best defenses in the league.  Of course plenty of things look good on paper. As the philosopher Mike Tyson poetically put it, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

Detroit Lions

  • Is Jim Caldwell a legitimate NFL head coach?

I think Caldwell will bring needed discipline to the Lions, but there is definitely some doubt about his credentials.  In 8 years as a college coach, he compiled a record of 26-63.  At the NFL level he & Peyton Manning led the Colts to the Super Bowl.  Of course without Peyton Manning in 2011 the team went 2-14.  I think that part of that was on the GM for not trying to bring in a better quarterback than Curtis Painter.  The question remains, can he really win without a Hall of Fame caliber quarterback?

  • Can the team play with discipline?

If this team could have avoided stupid penalties & Matt Stafford throwing stupid interceptions, they would have made the playoffs.  An argument could be made that they have a Super Bowl quality team (except at cornerback), but I don’t think many people outside of Detroit expect much from this team because they have had so many self-inflicted wounds over the years.

  • Can Joe Lombardi bring balance & creativity to the Lions offense?

It is hard to blame a team for building its offense around the best wide receiver in football.  That being said, it hasn’t worked so far and the team has been incredibly predictable.  Lombardi was previously the quarterbacks in New Orleans and has spent the last 4 years learning from Sean Payton, who is one of the more brilliant offensive minds in the NFL.

Green Bay Packers

  • Will the defense be improved?

The defense was the weak link for the Packers last year.  In the offseason they added Julius Peppers, who might still be able to help, but they lost B.J. Raji for the year due to injury.  If they can improve the defense, they could be Super Bowl contenders.

  • Can the team achieve a balance between pass & run?

Eddie Lacy had a breakout year at running back for the Packers last year, but I don’t think he would have done it without the injury to Aaron Rodgers.  Once Rodgers was out, the team turned to Lacy & he responded.  Will they balance their run/pass distribution, or will they go back to their pass heavy offense of the last few years.

  • Will Corey Linsley rise to the occasion?

Who is Corey Linsley?  He’s the rookie starting center for the Packers.  Last year’s starter is gone to Tampa Bay & the projected starter, JC Letter was injured in the 3rd pre-season game.  That doesn’t give Linsley much time to work with the starters & learn the no-huddle signals.

Houston Texans

  • Do they really think that Ryan Fitzpatrick is their best choice at quarterback?

I was kind of excited about Fitzpatrick when he first started for the Bills.  I thought he was a smart player with a good arm & mediocre receivers.  After watching him over the years I saw a guy who could be good for a few quarters & absolutely horrible for a few more.  I really don’t see how he is a better option than Matt Schaub…except that he isn’t Matt Schaub.  Maybe Ryan Mallett will do something.

  • Can Arian Foster return to his previous form or is he done?

Just a few years ago, you could make an argument that Arian Foster was the best complete running back in football.  He was a threat to take it to the house any time he touched the ball.  He picked up blocks in passing situations when he wasn’t slipping out of the back field to make spectacular catches.  As a result, he carried the ball more than just about anyone else in the league.  Over the last couple of years he has been constantly injured.  Every so often though he flashes the kind of brilliance that shows what he is capable of when he is healthy.  Will he stay healthy, & if he does, can he be the same player again?

  • Will Jadeveon Clowney fulfill expectations?

He has looked good at moments this preseason & when he dropped back in coverage he has looked pretty bad.  In theory, he should have huge numbers by virtue of playing with J.J. Watt.  In his last collegiate year Clowney didn’t have impressive numbers.  The reason given by many commentators was that he was double & triple teamed.  This year he won’t see many double teams since Watt commands a lot of attention.  If he is the real deal, Clowney should have double digit sacks.  I don’t know how he will do in coverage.

Indianapolis Colts

  • Will Reggie Wayne be as effective as 2 years ago?

Wayne makes a profound difference to this team.  He is a leader & a playmaker.  He is also a 35 year old coming back from an ACL injury.

  • How well will Bjoern Werner play the first 4 weeks?

He didn’t look great as a rookie last year.  This year he will start at least the first 4 games while Robert Mathis is suspended.  If he can’t bring a solid pass rush, the secondary will have a hard time.  Peyton Manning will be the opposing quarterback week one, so it could be a rough start.

  • How strong will play be this year?

Speaking of playing against good quarterbacks, how much will they miss Antoine Bethea?  Right now it looks like they will rotate players based on the situation, but no one really stood out in preseason.

Jacksonville Jaguars

  • After this preseason, will they really sit Blake Bortles for his rookie season? Normally I think it is a good idea for rookie quarterbacks to redshirt a year if it won’t cost anyone their jobs.  After seeing Bortles in preseason & then looking at their schedule, I think they might as well start him now.  I don’t think they face an elite defense until week 7, & that’s the Browns, so it probably won’t be a high scoring game.
  • Will Toby Gerhardt be effective as a lead back? He has looked great in relief of Adrian Peterson, but he never has had to carry a team.  This will be a real test.
  • Whoever plays quarterback, does he have weapons to throw to now?

Kansas City Chiefs

  • Will Jamaal Charles ever get the credit her deserves?

Last week I was reading an article about breakout rookies & the writer mentioned that one new Chief could be the most dynamic play-maker for the Chiefs since Dante Hall.  That’s about par for the course for the coverage that Jamaal Charles gets these days.  Today’s season preview on NFL Network had pundits talking about how Marshawn Lynch was the only challenger to Adrian Peterson & LeSean McCoy for best running back in the NFL.  Here are the average all-purpose yards per season for the running backs: Peterson 1,748,  McCoy 1,520, Charles 1,507, Lynch1,274.  Of course that is based on dividing annually & including the year where Charles only played 2 games.  Taking that out, his average yardage per year is 1,790 yards per year.  In his first year he was a backup & only rushed 67 times.  There are only 8 running backs in the history of the NFL to average 5 yards or more per carry for their career (minimum of 750 attempts).  Adrian Peterson is #8 with a 5.0 average.  Charles is #1, with 5.79 yards per carry, ahead of Hall of Famers Marion Motley, Jim Brown, Gayle Sayers, & Barry Sanders.  He personally generated 35% of the Chief’s offense last year.  What does he need to do…besides play in a bigger market?

  • Can the Chiefs play up to the competition?

Last year the team made it to the playoffs by beating up on losing teams.  This year they will have a much harder schedule.

  • Can the offensive line perform?

The line was a strength last year.  Now their previous left tackle has left in free agency.  They are hoping that Eric Fisher, who was underwhelming at right tackle last year will be able to slide to left tackle.  They are playing a guard (Jeff Allen) at right tackle to start the season.  That doesn’t sound like a formula for success.

Miami Dolphins

  • Will Mike Wallace become a real #1 receiver?

When Wallace was signed as a free agent after his years in Pittsburgh, he was expected to become the #1 receiver & the team’s deep threat.  Instead, he had an average year.  Technically he had his most receptions, but only by 1 catch.  He also posted his lowest average yards per catch.  This may have been a chicken & egg thing where the quality of the quarterback made the difference & Ryan Tannehill just wasn’t able to get the ball to him the way Ben Roethlisberger did even though Wallace wasn’t his #1 receiver or maybe Wallace just tops out around 73 catches per year.

  • Is Ryan Tannehill the franchise quarterback the Dolphins have wanted since Dan Marino?

His numbers so far have been just on the edge of what you expect for a franchise quarterback.  He is just under 60% in completions (59.4%).  His passer rating is 79.1 & that is too low to succeed long term.  I think he has the tools, but if he doesn’t perform this year, he may be looking for a job next year.

  • The offensive line has to be better right?

Just bringing in Brandon Albert at left tackle should make a huge difference & the team was historically bad last year.  On the other hand, their starting center will miss half of the season & that hurts.  It is hard for Tannehill to be the best that he can be & Wallace to be the best he can be, if the offensive line doesn’t improve dramatically.

Minnesota Vikings

  • Is there any chance Matt Cassel can play during the regular season the way that he did in the preseason?

A recent Onion article claimed that his real skill was his “growing ability to get the F*ck out of running back Adrian Peterson’s way.”   There is something to that for any Viking quarterback, but it isn’t enough.  After decent play last year, Cassel has looked sharp in the preseason.  He completed 26 of 39 passes (66.6 percent) for 367 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.  If he can play like that, he might keep Teddy Bridgewater on the bench & they might surprise some people this year.

  • Can Peterson continue to carry the load?

Peterson will turn 29 this year & he has a ton of carries.  The Vikings let his back-up walk in free agency this year.  Will he be able to carry the team again?

  • Will the change to an outdoor stadium help them or hurt them?

The Vikings will play home games at least the next 2 years at the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium I think that the outdoor setting could really benefit the team.  Teams with a great running game can be dangerous in snowy weather.  The Vikings haven’t really been a team that has taken advantage of the fast turf of an indoor stadium the way the Saints have, so I on’t think they will lose much there.

New England Patriots

  • Can Gronkowski stay healthy?

With Rob Gronkowsky healthy at tight end, the Patriots are a legitimate contender for the Super Bowl.  Without him, they have questions in the red zone & at the tight end position.  You don’t want to make one player more important than the rest, but his various health issues over the last few years have made a huge difference.  I think that if he had been 100% healthy during Super Bowl XLVI  that the Patriots would have won.  Basically, he was worth more than the 4 point difference in that game.

  • Can most of the other key players stay healthy?

Injuries are always a worry for every team.  The Patriots this year are counting on a number of recently injured people to be key contributors.  Vince Wilfork, Danny Amendola, Sebastian Vollmer, Aaron Dobson, Alfonzo Dennard, Dominique Easley and others are all expected to play an important roll this year & I don’t know if any of them will be able to perform as advertised this year.

  • Will the offensive line hold up? This year marks the first time since 1999 that there will be a new offensive line coach.  Dante Scarnecchia retired at the end of the season last year after working for the Patriots for 30 years (with a 2 year hiatus).  Tom Brady has benefited from a comfort level with the offensive line for his entire career.   Dave DeGuglielmo replaces him.  There is a camp battle to determine the starting center & Sebastian Vollmer hasn’t been able to practice.  That being said, the starting offensive line has looked good in pre-season.  The backup quarterbacks have been running for their lives though!  The line still needs work.

I originally wrote this before they traded Logan Mankins to the Bucs.  Now it is a huge question.

New Orleans Saints

  • Will they miss Darren Sproles?

Sproles was especially good at the screen game.  Will Pierre Thomas make up the difference?

  • Will the defense be better than last year?

Rob Ryan worked miracles with the defense last year & they added Jairus Byrd at safety & should be better.  Of course now the other teams in the division will have a year of tape & may make adjustments.

  • Can they win on the road?

The Saints have been almost unbeatable over the last few years at home.  On the road they have been very beatable.  If they can win a couple of extra road games during the regular season, they might be able to play at home in the playoffs.

New York Giants

  • Will fans be nostalgic for Kevin Gilbride?

I know the fan base loved to hate former offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride.  When things went well, Eli Manning got the credit.  When they didn’t Gilbride got the blame.  This year Manning may have to stand on his own.  He hasn’t looked good.  Even after 4 preseason games, Manning has only looked good in 1 2 minute drill.

  • Will the offensive line be better?

Last year’s line didn’t do a good job of protecting Manning.  Because of that, 2 free agents were brought in to be starters.  Now one of them, Geoff Schwartz, is already injured.

  • Will Jason Pierre-Paul play to his potential?

A few years back, he was considered a breakout star & one of the best defensive players in the game.  Recently, he really looks like just another guy.  If he can get close to his old form, the defense will be improved.

New York Jets

  • Will Chris Johnson have a great season?

Chris Johnson was deemed expendable by the Titans mainly because of his huge contract, but also because of his declining yards per carry (3.9 last year).  One thing I think people forget is that Johnson’s best years came when he had a mobile quarterback.  The defense had to account for Vince Young on every play.  That tiny bit of extra time helped Johnson break some extraordinarily long runs. I don’t think he would have hit 2,000 yards without Young & his yards per carry have dropped without a running quarterback threat.  That could change this year with either Geno Smith or Michael Vick at quarterback.

  • Will it be Smith or Vick handing off to Johnson by midseason?

Rex Ryan may be coaching for his job this year and he may not be able to give Geno Smith as much time to develop as he gave Mark Sanchez.  The Jets don’t have their bye week until the 11th week, which may help Geno.  If they had a 4th or 5th week bye, I think there would be pressure to make a change if things weren’t going well.  Either way, Smith has to throw fewer interceptions to keep his starting position.

  • Rex Ryan always manages to field a tough defense.  He will do it again this year right?

He has done some amazing jobs in the past, but if he can turn his current defensive backfield into some semblance of NFL quality, I will be impressed.  I think he is going to rely on pressuring the quarterback & hoping that they don’t have time to find the open man.  That will be tough with the Murderers Row of quarterbacks they will face this year including Brady (twice), Rivers, Rodgers, Cutler, Stafford, & Peyton Manning.  That would be a tough assignment for any defensive backfield, much less what the Jets will field this year.

Oakland Raiders

  • Can Matt Schaub get his mojo back? (The Raiders don’t think so.  They are going with Carr)

I was expecting Matt Schaub to bounce back to something like his previous years’ performance.  That isn’t what we have seen so far this preseason.  He hasn’t looked good & the Raider’s receiving corps has looked worse.  I’m still holding out hope though.

  • Will all of the new parts jell in time to save jobs in the front office?

On paper, this year’s team is much improved from last year’s.  The combination of veteran players & highly touted rookies is actually pretty impressive (even if some of the players are on the back slope of their careers).  The biggest problem to me though is that it is hard to get that many new players to work together quickly.  It may take a half dozen games to get everyone on the same page & by that point, Schaub may be benched & the coach could be on even more of a hot seat.

  • Where will the team play next year?

It is amazing that with the lease expiring this year, so little is getting done on the stadium front for the Raiders.  I generally am annoyed when NFL clubs want to upgrade or replace their stadium every few years in a constant pursuit of more money.  It is certainly frustrating to see public money used to support billionaire owners.  On the other hand, I don’t think it is too much to ask the toilets to work.  Last year during baseball season it rained & the sewers backed up.  In fact it happened at least 3 times.  Ryan Cook, the Oakland A’s reliever, described the scene to reporters as “a sewage volcano.”   Additionally, because the A’s & Raiders share a stadium with a grass field, there is a baseball diamond shaped patch of dirt in the field for much of the season.  It really is a mess.  Mark Davis has visited San Antonio as a possible spot to move the team.  I don’t believe that this will happen, but a move back to Los Angeles might make sense.  I think the only thing standing in the way might be that the NFL owners like using the threat of moving a team to L.A. more than they actually like the idea of having a team there.  For some reason they also keep talking about putting two teams there instead of one, which seems like a stupid idea.

Philadelphia Eagles

  • Will the team miss DeSean Jackson this year or will Darren Sproles make Eagles fans forget him?

DeSean Jackson caught 82 passes last year for 1,332 yards but the Eagles let him go apparently due to a personality conflict.  They didn’t add a dynamic wide receiver to replace him, but they did add a running back who caught 71 pases for 604 yards last year from Drew Brees.  Darren Sproles rushed for 220 yards last year, but he was most dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield.  He didn’t average as much per catch, but he was a nice change of pace.  How coach Chip Kelly will use him with LeSean McCoy also in the backfield is a question, but Kelly is nothing if not inventive.

  • Can the secondary keep up?

One advantage of the Eagles offense is that it can wear out a defense.  One disadvantage is that when things don’t work, it can put the Eagles defense back on the field quickly.  Their secondary doesn’t scare anyone.  I’m not sure if division quarterbacks like Tony Romo, Robert Griffin III, & Eli Manning will be at their best, but each of them has shown they can terrorize a good secondary & I don’t know if the Eagles have even that.

  • Nick Foles can’t be that consistent again can he?

Last year he had an insane 27/2 touchdown to interception ratio.  I don’t think anyone expects him to duplicate that this year.  In pre-season, for what that’s worth (not much), he has 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.  Now that opposing defenses have a season of film watching him in Kelly’s offense, will he be able to adjust?

Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Have the Steelers fixed their depth problem?

Last year Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola wrote that Pittsburgh’s depth was so thin that the team was doing the NFL equivalent of walking a tightrope with no net. That blew up on them.  They have made moves this off season, but sometimes it is hard to tell if depth has improved until we get a few games into the season.

  • Mike Tomlin’s job is safe right?

The Steelers do not change coaches like the Browns.  Heck, they don’t change coaches as often as the rest of the division put together.   Of course they also don’t go 3 years without a winning record.  If things don’t improve this year, will they make a change?

  • Is this Troy Polamalu’s last year?

There were a lot of people who thought that maybe last year would be his last in Pittsburgh because of age & salary issues.  Instead he is back, & is a team captain for the first time in his career.  He has definitely lost some speed, but he has a great feel for the game in crucial situations & that is hard to teach.

Saint Louis Rams

  • Can they win with Shaun Hill? He is a 12 year veteran & that is a good thing in a backup.  I don’t know how well he will perform as a starter.  He has never started more than 11 games.  In 2010 when he started 11 games filling in for Matthew Stafford, the team went 6-10.
  • Will the receiving corps be strength? The Rams have been drafting receivers for years.  They have 5 receivers on the roster that have been drafted in the first 4 rounds since 2011.  They also picked up Kenny Britt this off season.  Shouldn’t the receiving corps be pretty good this year?
  • Are the Rams just doomed because of the strength of their division? That might be too on the nose, but I think it is really the biggest worry.  The Rams should have a strong defense.  They will probably have a competent offense.  There are divisions where that would make you a contender.  Unfortunately for the Rams, the NFC West is not one of those divisions.

San Diego Chargers

  • Can Dwight Freeney help the defense? After spending his entire career with the Colts, they decided that he was done in 2013.  He signed with the Chargers, but was hurt early in the season.  If he can be 80% of what he was, he should help the defense.  You know he would love to sack Peyton Manning a time or two.
  • Can the defense stop the run? In 2012, the Chargers defense was ranked #13 in run defense.  That isn’t great, but it is much better than their 31st place ranking last year.  They have three rookies & a couple of second year players that will need to step up.
  • How critical will the loss of Jeromey Clarey be for the offensive line? Clarey had hip surgery last week and could miss the entire season. Right guard may not be the crucial line spot, but Clarey is the longest tenured player on the line & his leadership will be missed.

San Francisco 49ers

  • Can they team get its players to act like responsible citizens?

I know that the vast majority of their players are probably good guys, but they do seem to have a problem.   There have been 10 arrests of 49er players since 2012, which means they lead the league in something, but not something that you want to brag about.

  • Is this Jim Harbaugh’s last year as coach?

I expect that they will reach an agreement on a new contract for the head coach, but there have been growing signs of tension between the G.M. & the coach.  It is unusual for a coach who has won as often as Harbaugh to go into a lame duck year without an extension.  If he were to become a free agent next year, I have to feel that someone (Jerry Jones/whoever buys the Bills) would throw crazy money at him to bring him to town.

  • Will Colin Kaepernick play better than he has in the preseason?

On paper, this is the best receiving corps for San Francisco since Jerry Rice & Terrell Owens were on the team.  In three preseason games, he completed 12 of 22 passes (54.5%) for 115 yards & no touchdowns.  He looked like the 1 read & tuck the ball guy that we saw at times last year when the receiving corps was depleted by injury.  I expect he will get better, but it will need to be a lot better & it will need to happen quickly if they want to keep pace in their division.

Seattle Seahawks

  • Can they repeat?

Seattle is in an enviable position compared to other teams.  Their biggest question is whether they can be the first team to win back to back Super Bowls since New England in 2003/2004.  It is hard to repeat.

  • Will the offensive line be a weakness?

They don’t have many areas of concern, but offensive line could be one early.  Their left tackle missed most of the pre-season & their right tackle is a rookie.

  • Will Marshawn Lynch wear down?

Lynch is 28 & the wheels tend to come off for running backs at 30 or so.  That should mean he has a couple more good years left at least.  On the other hand, he has averaged over 325 touches over the last three years & that is a lot for anyone.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • How much improvement can fans expect this year? There is real hope in Tampa Bay this year after several years of constantly lowering expectations.  Over the last few years a team has managed to move from worst to first in their division.  That would be extremely difficult in the NFC South.  I expect the team to be much better this year.
  • Can Josh McCown excel as a starter? He was very good last year subbing for Jay Cutler in Chicago, but can he really make it as a full time starter?  There is a reason that his career has included stops at Arizona, Detroit, Oakland, Miami, Charlotte, Hartford (The Colonials in the UFL), San Francisco, & finally Chicago.
  • How much will the defense improve? Lovie Smith has been known as a defensive guru & the Bears leaned on defense (sometimes to the detriment of the offense).  The talent seems to be there & you know the coaching will be there.  The question is how much improvement we can expect in one year.

Tennessee Titans

  • Will Bishop Sankey or Shonn Greene be an improvement on Chris Johnson at running back?

Sankey looks like he may develop into a feature back.  Greene has had success in the past.  They are definitely cheaper than Johnson, but will they deliver as many yards?

  • Is Jake Locker the quarterback of the future?

Locker has shown some real ability…when he has been on the field.  The problem has been that he has been injured frequently.  If he can’t put it tgether this year, the Titans may have to move on.

  • Ken Whisenhunt was terrible at evaluating quarterbacks in Arizona. Will he do a better job in Tennessee?

Whisenhunt resisted staring Kurt Warner in Arizona, but eventually benefitted from the decision.  Other than that, the Cardinals quarterback position was a hot mess during his tenure.  Will he do better this time?

Washington Redskins

  • How good will Robert Griffin III be this year?

If he can perform closer to his rookie season than to last year, Washington has an outside shot at the playoffs.  If he plays closer to his level last year at least next year they will get to actually use the high draft pick they earn.

  • Will DeSean Jackson ignite the Washington offense?

Jackson managed to work himself out of a job in Philadelphia apparently more because of his attitude than his ball skills.  If he can mesh with his new team, he should be a huge addition to the team.

  • How will Jay Gruden handle the transition as a first time head coach in the NFL?

I think that he is better prepared to be an NFL coach than most.  His time in the Arena League gave him experience as a head coach, general manager, & general promoter for the game.  He won more than one Arena League Championship during those years.  Working as an assistant coach for his brother Jon, he won a Super Bowl.  As offensive coordinator he was part of the team getting the Bengals to the playoffs three straight years for the first time in franchise history.  He should be prepared.  Of course he has never worked for someone like Dan Snyder, but I think he is ready for the football aspects of the job.

Hurry up offense & hurry up wine tasting

17 Jul

mw redI recently attended the first annual American Cabernet Sauvignon wine tasting put on by the Masters of Wine Institute.  There were 101 examples of Cabernets to try from California, Colorado, New York, Oregon, Virginia, & Washington State.  I talked to them about adding some Texas Cabernets next year & was told that they reached out for some this year & didn’t get a response.  I’m sure that will change next year.  We had roughly 4 hours to try the wines.  I didn’t get them all sampled, but managed to try 51 wines in under about 3 hours and 50 minutes.  That’s a new wine roughly every 4 ½ minutes.  I added up the prices on the wines I tried & if I had bought a bottle of each to try, it would have cost me $4,821.91.  That made the $100 entry price for the event quite the bargain.

The obvious football corollary for me was the hurry up offense.  The hurry up offense has been derided as a gimmick and has sometimes been considered somehow less credible than a traditional offense.  Over the years though, it has showed it can be an important part of the NFL experience.  One of the wines I tried was from Double Back Wines, which is owned by former NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe (New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills, and Dallas Cowboys).

Here are the wines that I tried in the Cabernet Sauvignon tasting.  Most of the wines were from 2011.  The request was that wineries provide their 2011 Cabernet or if that was not available, their most recent release.  You will see some obvious exceptions to the rule. These are in the order in which I tasted them.  These notes are pretty sparse, but that is a function of the event. If you see some deterioration in the notes as I progress, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.  I have added a few notes about the wines after the fact including some pricing information.   I was spitting more than I was drinking, but even spitting, some alcohol is absorbed by the lining of the mouth.  I should add that I was not driving anywhere that night!

One important thing that I should note is that most of these wines are years from their peak.  A lot of the tasting notes are similar because certain traits seem to show up more quickly.  The nuances that distinguish a great Cabernet can take several more years to develop.  It would be interesting to duplicate this tasting with the same 2011 Cabernets in 5 years.

Barboursville Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2010 Monticello Virginia $39.99
Dark purple almost black. Raspberry & blackberry on the nose & that follows through on the palate. Mild tannins. Long finish.

Paumanok Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Tuthills Lane Vineyard Long Island, New York State $100
This has a deep color moving from purple to black. It has strong blackberry notes on the nose.  It is a nicely rounded fruit forward wine without many tannins.  The main fruits are ripe blackberry & plum. It has a somewhat short finish.

Ridge 1997 Monte Bello  Santa Cruz Mountains $150
This is a traditional Bordeaux blend.  Cabernet predominates.  It is almost black with red rims. It has a delicate nose, or maybe it needs to open up.  Red fruit, with raspberry & some spice. Spice with some fairly hard tannins.  This wine has years still to go. As it softens up a bit, the softer spice & licorice comes out.

I tried this again almost an hour later & it has opened up quite a bit.  The nose still doesn’t show much, but the taste is amazing.  The tannins have mellowed out.  The spice & the raspberry have come together & this is a delightful wine.  This is the best I have tried tonight to this point, but of course it isn’t a fair comparison because of the difference in vintage.

Daou Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2011 Paso Robles  $57.99
79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 5% Merlot, 9% Petit Verdot.Big ripe fruit both on the nose & the palate. This is almost overpowering after the Ridge, which has more finesse.   It has big sweet fruit with low tannins.  I can see how this would be a fan favorite, but it is really kind of one note to me.

Canyon Wind Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 Grand Valley Colorado $29.95
Candy apple on the nose.  This is a sweet, low tannin wine with some herbal components.  This wine did not work for me.

Antica Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Napa $55
There are complex herbal notes on the nose. It tastes of dark fruit with a strong herbal component.  There is definitely some sage & fennel in this. Medium tannins, long finish.  Delicious wine! Parker gave it a 92.

Lokoya Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Napa Valley $350
This has fresh red fruit.  There are soft spices.  It has medium to low tannins.  I really noticed cranberry on the second sip.  This is a soft & easy to drink wine. I saw some reviews of this wine that touted its minerality, but I didn’t get that in this tasting.  I really enjoyed this wine, but I couldn’t spend $350 on it.

Hess Collection Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 2010 $55
The nose needs to open up.  There is some red fruit. I also taste plum with some black pepper.  This has solid tannins. I need to try this again later.  I wanted to try it again that night, but didn’t get back to it.

La Jota Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain Napa Valley 2011 $75
82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot and the rest Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot aged in 90% new French oak. There is raspberry & cherry on the nose.  It has soft, slightly sweet, fruit, but not in a bad way at all.  It has medium tannins.  I like this more on the second taste.  This is a nice example of Napa Cabernet.

Cakebread Cellars Dancing Bear Ranch 2010 $115
93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 1% Merlot.This has an earthy nose.  This almost reminds me of a South African Cabernet.  There are some herbs, some raspberry, some leather, medium tannins. This is a well-built Cabernet that I think will age extremely well for 20+ years. This would probably be delicious with wild game. One thing I like about this wine is the earthiness.  There have been so many wines that were all about bright fresh fruit that I was ready for something with a little more nuance. This got 96 points in the Wine Advocate.

Cade Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 2010 $79.99
Blackberry & black cherry on the nose.  Black & Bing cherry on the palate.  Mild tannins.  Nice long finish with cherry & spice.

Maybach 2010 Amoenus Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, Calistoga $150
This took a second to open up. Then it had blackberry on the nose with medium to high tannins.  It has sweet red fruit.  The fruit has almost an overripe quality to it.  I don’t mean that they picked it too late.  It tastes a bit like biting into a plum that has been sitting a little too long & concentrated sugars.  This is actually pretty tasty.  It doesn’t have a lot of nuance, but it is very good. This got 96 points in the Wine Advocate.

Krupp Brothers 2009 M5 Stagecoach Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon $119
90% Cabernet, 8% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc.  Very soft dark fruit.  If you were going to describe a wine as velvety, this would be a good one to use. The finish almost goes from lighter to darker fruit as you drink it. There is some mint and spice as well.  It is very easy to drink.  It has low tannins.

Black Bottle 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Diamond Mountains Magnum $800
The fruit on this thing just about explodes in your mouth.  It does have a nice balance of tannin as well, so I think it would be great with a steak.  There are also some pie spices here. I enjoyed this wine, but I’m having a little trouble understanding the price.

Pedroncelli Cabernet Sauvignon Dry Creek Block 007 Estate Vineyard 2012 $18
This sure is young!  There is candy fruit on the nose.  This wine tastes almost exactly like the Luden’s cherry throat drops that I bought the last time the girls were sick.  I guess that means it has some cherry & menthol.  It does have a ton of tannins, so this may develop into someone completely different.

Anakota 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Helena Dakota Vineyards Knight’s Valley $69.99
Complex nose with some fruit and some herbal notes.  It is kind of hard to pick anything out in particular. There is fennel and dried herb.  There are medium tannins. To me this wine tastes a little hollow.  The finish is nice.  The immediate taste is nice, but the mid palate is lacking to me.  All of the critics seem to love it though.  Wine Advocate gave it 95 points and Wine Enthusiast gave it 92.

Benziger 2010 Signaterra Sunny Slope Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County, Sonoma Mountain $49
This has a very spicy nose.  Its color is almost black.  It needs to open up.  I really don’t get anything from it.14.5% alcohol, but it tastes hotter.  This is a biodynamic wine.  It has medium plus tannins.  I definitely want to try this another time when I can decant it.

Laurel Glen 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County, Sonoma Mountain $65
Super tight wine.  All I got was that it was sweet & soft.  I’ll see if I can try it again later. (I didn’t get the chance)

Arrowood Reserve, 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Speciale  Sonoma County  $90                                                                                                                                                                       Black fruit and chocolate.  It has high tannins.  It is soft on the mid palate.  I liked this wine.

Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cepages 2010 $75
78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot, 2%Malbec.  There is licorice on the nose. It is full of black fruit.  It s nicely balanced.  I taste blackberry & plum with cinnamon & spice.   As it develops I get more red fruit as well.  This is a very solid wine.

Alexander Valley Vineyards 2010 Alexander School Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon $40
Inky black wine with a smell that is somehow inky black as well.  I actually get some soy sauce on the nose with the red fruit.  I like this wine, but it is light at the front & heavy at the back.  That is odd.  It is good though. I think that the herbal component is stronger than the fruit.  Tons of tannin again, so it may change later.

Jordan 2010 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon $56
76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec.  There isn’t much on the nose.  There is sweet fresh red fruit. I wish I could write more about this wine because it is so popular, but at this stage of its development, it is just a sweet fruit forward wine.  While I was tasting, some other people tried it  & the general verdict was sweet & tight.

Simi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 Sonoma $75
The really light nose contrasts with the heavily spiced taste on this wine.  This has big fruit, but it is really all about the spice.  You could almost heat this wine up & serve it as wassail. Cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, allspice, brown sugar, it’s all there.  There is some nice plum here as well.  This would be a nice wine to sip by the fireside or on Christmas Eve.

Trione Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 Sonoma $67
I don’t usually comment on this sort of thing, but his is a seriously heavy bottle.  I don’t know how much they spent on the bottles, but they weren’t cheap.  The wine is very dark, almost black.  It has good mouth feel. There is a ton of tannin!  It has sweet dark fruit.  I think this might be a fantastic wine in about 3 years.  It really needs some time.

Amavi Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla 2011 $32
Dark red fruit in a dark red wine.  It has moderate tannins.  This is a well-integrated & tasty wine, but I am having trouble pulling out individual characteristics.  I would say raspberry & spice are elements of the flavor.

Double Back Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla 2010 $89
90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec.  Tight nose.  This is a beautifully balanced wine.  It has medium to high tannins.  The alcohol is 14.4% & you can tell it, but it isn’t out of balance. Light cinnamon spice mixed with tarragon & other spices, melds well with the bramble fruit. I liked this and wouldn’t mind setting a few bottles aside to see how it ages.  I expect it to get a lot better over the next few years.

Leonetti Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Walla Walla $109
76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot, 4% Carmenere. This is a complex and interesting wine.  I taste fennel & licorice, earth & leather.  This is a really solid wine & I may find it more interesting at the moment because it is different & stands out.  97 points in Wine Advocate. (So it may  not have just been how I felt at the time).

Pepper Bridge 2010 Walla Walla $60
83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec, 2% Petit Verdot. This is almost black again.  This may be a trend in Washington.  This wine was all right.  Realistically I think it would be better with a few more years or hours opened, but it is just ok.  I wouldn’t normally review this wine because I am not getting it. It is a soft wine with high tannins.  How does that happen? I tried it a second time & still don’t get it. Everyone else loves it. It has huge tannins!  It has some cherry & plum.

Va Piano Columbia Valley 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon $35
Here is a soft easy drinking wine.  This is an elegant wine.  It has dark fruit with some olive characteristics.  It has chocolate & beaucoup tannins.  There is a long finish.  I really liked this wine.  This is perhaps the second best wine so far.  This one is definitely a good wine for the price.

Woodward Canyon 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Washington State $59
Super black wine.  There is licorice on the nose.  This is a very light smooth wine.  There are some earthy textures at the finish.  This is not a bad wine, but not comparable to the previous Washington wines.

Efeste Big Papa 2010 Big Block Cabernet Sauvignon Washington $54
Black dark red fruit with herbs on the nose.  This is a super smooth wine. It has high tannins.  There is dark fruit with a brambly, almost thorny quality.  The tannins are literally mouth puckering. Very nice finish.

DeLille cellars Four Flags Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 Washington $65
Soft, dark fruit (mostly blackberry) on the nose. Almost black again.  Some earth, but more of a dusty smell.  14.2%  & you can feel it.  It is in balance, but you can tell that it has higher alcohol.  Root beer & licorice on the palate.   You also get a lot of fresh plum.  It took me a minute to get into the wine, but once I did, I really enjoyed it.

Cadence 2010 Camerata. Red Mountain Cara Mia Vineyard $60
85% Cabernet Sauvignon with 5% each Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot.  Not as black as the other Washington wines.  This is more of a dark red wine.  I would usually have called this a really dark red wine if I hadn’t just gone through all of those other Washington State Cabs.  This has a beautiful Bordeaux style nose.  There is spice & red fruit on the palate. This is a very solid wine.  The red fruit & the spice mingle together in a particularly nice way. Soft tannins & some sweetness.  I probably wouldn’t have like this wine very much without the spice, but with it, I think it is very tasty.

Boudreaux 2008 Champoux & Loess Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon  Washington $100
This has a perfumed finish.  Boysenberry is the main fruit that I get.  This is a wine that shows fruit at first, but finishes with an herbal brambly note.  This may have a weird name, but it is a solid wine.

Tamarack Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon  Columbia Valley 2011 $36
86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot.  Light sweet nose.  Not in the ballpark of the good wines.  I have really enjoyed some of their wines, but this doesn’t measure up today.

Columbia Crest Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2011 $50
This smells a little like a Thanksgiving cranberry salad.  I get cranberry & nut on the nose. Nice wine, but it is nothing special.

Col Solare 2010 Columbia Valley. $55 14.5%
90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Malbec) Nice nose.  Some herb some red fruit.  Pretty nice.,  really tasty wine.  Well balanced & well integrated.  Maybe some olive, some herb.  Very easy drinking wine.  Solid tannins.  Just a good red wine.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Cold Creek Vineyard 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon $35
This smells like a tapenade.  It has low tannins & big dark fruit.  This is a big dark wine with a long lasting finish.  I was trying to think of a good pairing & I really couldn’t.  It is a good wine & good to sip, but I would drink this by itself. On my last taste I got a really strong meaty taste.

Betz Family Vineyards Pere de Famille 2011 Magnum $150 (for the magnum)
This is a Cabernet dominated blend, but I don’t know the blend.  It has a distinctively earthy nose.
It has a taste of menthol and earth.  It is distinctive & delicious.  In some ways this is a weird & cool wine.

Snowden Vineyards 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley $70                                                                                                                                                                           The nose smells like alcohol & fig, but the wine is actually really soft, with sweet fig & a hint of herbs.  The alcohol is 15.5%, but despite smelling hot, it doesn’t taste hot at all.

Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2009 $110
84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot This is such a smooth wine.  The main impression is smooth & sweet.  Once again I know this is a popular wine, but it tastes sweet & smooth & generic. I talked to a few other people & it was a common refrain.  It is interesting to me that people like this wine so much. Perhaps I am not tasting it at the right time.  Perhaps I am just weird.

Robert Foley 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley $86
This has a dusty nose. This is a fruit forward & smooth wine, but it has nuance that the Silver Oak lacked.  It tends toward the same sweet red fruit of the silver oak, but it is just more interesting.  The finish is full of plum.

Pine Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012 $54
Dirt & licorice on the nose.  It has a sweet finish.  Lots of cherry candy.  Not a wine for me.

Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Napa Valley $28
Menthol & mint on the nose.  I tasted bitter cherry with some herb.  It has very high tannins.  This wine is well balanced & would be good with red meat.  .

Gallica Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Napa Valley $139
This is as black as a Washington Cabernet.  It has a nice nose, with licorice & herbs.  The flavor accents the dark fruit, licorice, & some herbs.  This is a very nice wine.  It also throws a lot of sediment.  It was the only wine of the night where I noticed sediment, although that could have been happenstance.

Joseph Phelps Insignia 2005 Napa Valley $175
92% Cabernet Sauvignon; 7% Petit Verdot; 1% Merlot.This wine has such a pretty nose.  There is some chocolate on the nose, but it isn’t close to the chocolate on the palate. This wine tastes more like hot chocolate than anything I have had.  This wine is soft & easy to drink & if you like cocoa, you should try it.  It sounds like I am selling this wine short, but I’m not.  There are some cherries & some herbs in the mix, but the key to the wine is the mix of mocha and bitter chocolate on the palate.

Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 Napa Valley?  The official handout says Napa, but I can’t find a 2011 Napa Cab from them.  There is a Sonoma one & a Napa one in 2010. $34
This may be the archetype of California Cabernet. I think it is what people expect at a restaurant when they order a Napa Cabernet. To me, it is solid, but not interesting.  It has blackberry as the primary fruit & has a sweet finish.

Merryvale 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley $65
78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot. This is another soft, easy drinking slightly sweet red.  Vanilla and blackberry are the primary components for me.

Swanson 2010 Alexis Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, Oakville $75
This has soft sweet tannins.  At this point of the tasting, this is generic.  That probably has more to do with it being the 49th wine I tried than its own failings.  It wasn’t a bad wine, I just didn’t have anything t say about it.

Spring Mountain Vineyards 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, Spring Mountain  $75
The first thing I typed about this wine was prune.  There are definitely other elements to the wine.  I tasted spice, earth, and leather, but they were all wrapped up in prune.  The nose also has a distinct prune note to it.

Grgich Hills 2010 Yountville Selection Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, Yountville $140
This shows very ripe fruit with some plum, blackberry and cocoa.  It has low tannins & ripe fruit, but it doesn’t come off as sweet.  It is a nicely integrated wine & a good place to stop for the night.

 

The hurry up offense by any other name is a lot of fun

I think my first exposure to a hurry up offense was watching Roger Staubach run around like a crazy man at the end of a Sunday game, hoping to pull a rabbit out of a hat & often doing so.  I know that there were times when I wondered why they didn’t have the same urgency at the beginning of the game that they had in the last few minutes. I didn’t know it, but there were already people out there working to make that a reality.  In fact, the seeds were sown as far back as 1933 when throwing the football was considered somewhat shady.

Mouse DavisDarrel “Mouse” Davis is often referred to as the godfather of the Run & Shoot.  There is even a new documentary, The Mouse that Roars by J. David Miller & Spencer Lee that argues that modern NFL & NCAA offenses are primarily proliferations of concepts that Davis introduced.  Davis definitely deserves credit for popularizing the concepts, but he didn’t invent them.

ellison

Tiger Ellison

In 1933 Glenn “Tiger” Ellison started to coach the Middletown Ohio High School football team. He also taught English.  I don’t know how well his English students did, but his quarterbacks did very well.  He produced 8 All-State quarterbacks and was named coach of the year in 1961, mainly due to his innovative offensive scheme.  In 1965 Parker Publishing released his book Run & Shoot Football: Offense of the Future (which you can find on Amazon for about $45).  One of the people who turned to Ellison was Mouse Davis.  He then installed the offense to great effect at Oregon & Portland State.

In 1975, June Jones was playing quarterback for his third different college football team.  That usually isn’t a recipe for success.  Things worked out a bit differently for him.  Although Portland State had not had much success passing in the past, Jones was a nice match for the Run & Shoot offense that offensive coordinator Mouse Davis had installed.  In two years, Jones ended up passing for 5,798 yards with 50 TD against 20 interceptions.  That was enough to launch him in to a 6 year career as a professional quarterback.  He spent 5 years with the Atlanta Falcons & a year in the CFL with Toronto.

After his playing career wound down, Jones got into coaching.  In 1984 he became the wide receiver coach for the Houston Gamblers in the new United States Football League (USFL).  The man who brought him onboard was offensive coordinator Mouse Davis.

They installed the Run & Shoot offense & with Gambler’s quarterback Jim Kelly, they rewrote the professional football record books.  In their first season, Kelly passed for 5,793 yards and 45 touchdowns.  They were the first team in professional football to have 2 receivers with over 100 receptions.  Richard Johnson had 115 & Ricky Sanders pulled in 101 catches.  The team finished 13-3.

The Run & Shoot starts with motion from the receivers with adjustments to their routes on the fly based on defensive reactions.  It generally uses 1 running back and up to 4 wide receivers.  It depends on the quarterback being smart enough to read & react to the defensive coverage, especially how the defense shifts after the wide receivers go in motion.  Some concepts are really basic.  If the defense puts fewer than 5 men in the box, you should run the football.  You will have a numbers advantage.  If they keep men in the box, you should have a mismatch with at least one receiver.  There is a lot more to it, but that gives you an idea.  Another crucial point is that you can run every play from your base offense.  That means that you can line up quickly without huddling and pressure the defense.  If they bring in two lighter players on the line to spread out & cover receivers, you can repeatedly run the ball at the lighter line without giving them time to bring in the big boys.  Conversely, if they have the lanes clogged with 300+ pound defensive lineman, you run lots of quick passes & wear them down.  You control the pace.  You don’t go fast all of the time, but the defense never knows when you will put down the accelerator.

The USFL may not have stayed around for too long, but the concept of the Run & Shoot was here to stay.

In 1988, Sam Wyche adapted the offense & emphasized the no huddle aspect for the Cincinnati Bengals.  They called the system the “Attack Offense.”  With quarterback Boomer Esiason they managed to make it to the Super Bowl although they lost to another innovative coach & quarterback (Bill Walsh & Joe Montana).  Walsh had even written a book which said the offense of the future wouldn’t huddle and the quarterback would call the plays with just 1 word at the line.

The team the Bengals defeated to advance to the Super Bowl was the Buffalo Bills.  As the USFL imploded, the Bills acquired a franchise quarterback who knew a little something about a no huddle offense.  Quarterback Jim Kelly teamed with head coach Marv Levy & offensive coordinator Ted Marchibroda to install their “K-Gun” offense.  Their fantastic use of the no huddle & aspects of the Run & Shoot enabled them to become the only team to advance to 4 straight Super Bowls.  Although the lost all 4 (Wide Right), they were an amazing offensive team.  Kelly finished his pro career with over 45,000 yards passing and was named to the Hall of Fame.

June Jones spent time in the NFL as a head coach & has been extremely successful with his offense in the college ranks.  Mouse Davis also coached college offenses to record heights.  In the meantime, a number of NFL teams adopted portions of the system.  More teams put 3 or 4 receivers on the line & receivers in motion became somewhat standard.  There was still a feeling that portions of the hurry up offense were just a college gimmick. In fact the next big hurry up offense coach was in the college ranks.

Chip Kelly used perhaps the fastest no huddle offense ever to lead Oregon into national prominence.  Kelly moved from the defensive side of the ball (at Johns Hopkins) to line coach & then to offensive coordinator at New Hampshire.  In 7 of his 8 seasons at New Hampshire his “Blur” offense averaged over 400 yards per game.  In his final 4 seasons there, the team averaged more than 30 points per game.  That got him the offensive coordinator job and soon the head coaching job at Oregon.

At Oregon, he took an also ran team to an unprecedented 4 straight BCS berths.  That made him the coaching candidate du jour for the NFL. He was contacted by NFL coaches like Pete Carroll & Bill Belichick to discuss the offense.  The Tampa Bay Buccaneers wanted him to become their head coach in 20012.  He turned that opportunity down, but the next year he accepted the head coaching job with the Philadelphia Eagles.  In the meantime his use of the spread offensive concepts frustrated other college coaches.  My favorite interview on the subject is with South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson in an interview at footballscoop.com.  In that interview he sounds like my kids when they lose to someone & whine that it wasn’t fair.  He said “One thing that has gotten into it that I’ve been pretty outspoken, that I really think is starting to deteriorate some of college football is the hurry up offenses.”  “What it’s about now is who can snap the football before the other team lines up.  You can’t hardly get your players on and off the field.  You can’t get your signals in and out.  It’s become who has the best signal system or verbiage system”

There were definitely doubters of Kelly’s transition to the pros.  The message boards were full of people saying that he would be back coaching a college team by the next year.  Instead, he coached the Eagles to a division championship.  The team averaged 417 yards per game & almost 28 points, which was a marked increase from the previous year.

In the meantime, other NFL teams have incorporated more of the hurry up offense into their systems.  The New England Patriots use a 1 or 2 word system to call plays that greatly speeds the process.  Tom Brady will step to the line & say something like “Bama right” & that will tell the team what the play is & what the formation will be.  It can move lightning fast when they want it to. In 2011 they left a serious impression on Tampa Bay defender Gerald McCoy in a preseason game  Afterwards he said “Man, I’m telling you man, they came out, they’d turn around huddle, snap, oh, ‘There’s the Mike, Go!’ I was like, ‘Dang! Um, Mr. Brady, can we line up?’ He didn’t care. He was like, ‘You’re not going to line up.”’ McCoy said. “When we turned around one time I checked back around and my hand was going to the grass and they were like, ‘Hut!’ And I said, ‘Noooooooooooo!’”  That’s a reaction that will keep offenses moving quickly& defensive players hurrying to catch up.  I would have loved to see that when I was a kid & I’m happy I get to see it now.  I wonder what Staubach would have done in that kind of offense.

Roger Staubach

 

 

European structure versus New World freedom (passing off a class assignment as a blog post)

1 May

I am taking the Diploma class from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust.  I just passed Unit 2 and am now taking Unit 1 online.  I know that taking Unit 2 before Unit 1 makes no sense.  That’s the system though.  Anyway, I just took a practice test for Unit 1, but I managed to be late with it, so I can’t get a test grade.  It doesn’t matter to my final score, but the input would have been helpful.  I figured I would post this here & see if I can get any input.  It also helps me get a post out here without writing anything else.

This is an essay question.  I wasn’t allowed to use any notes and I had 75 minutes to answer it.  I’m sure I could have written something better with reference to notes, but this is what I could knock out in 75 minutes with no notes.

Here was the question

  1. Why was Europe’s quality wine system created, and what aspects of wine production does it regulate? (25% weighting)
  2. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the quality wine system from the point of view of the producer and consumer? (25% weighting)
  3. Why has the new world had success with the varietal approach? (25% weighting)
  4. What can tomorrow’s wine industry learn from these contrasting new and old world approaches, and use going forward? (25% weighting)

Here’s my answer

European structure versus New World freedom

Although it oversimplifies a more complex issue, it is generally fair to say that European wine making is determined by quality wine regulations while New World wine making is not.  There are strengths and weaknesses to each approach.

In many wine producing areas of Europe, the location of the vineyard determines the grape varietal or varietals.  It may also control the percentages of those varietals in the bottle.  Beyond that, the classification systems in certain areas such as Burgundy and Bordeaux ultimately dictate the final price of the wine.  In most of the New World, the grower is free to plant whatever grape that they feel will grow well and will be saleable either as a direct producer of wine or as a crop to be sold to a winery.  The winery itself has the freedom to make whatever wine they feel will taste and sell the best.  They are also able to age the wine the amount of time that they desire, rather than depending on iron clad rules such as those governing the release of reserve wines such as Brunello.

Although we tend to look at the current European quality wine system as something scientifically created and based on empirical data, that is not really the case.  Despite some real work to match the best grape to the site, (especially the work done by the Cistercian monks) the current system is a hodgepodge of quirks masquerading as wine truths.  In 1395 Philip the Bold dictated that the Gamay grape should no longer be planted in Burgundy and the Pinot Noir grape should be the red grape planted.  He said that the Gamay was a “disloyal” grape.  This is probably the first step towards the European quality system. The most famous classification system of course is the 1855 Bordeaux classification.  In this case, Napoleon wanted a classification of the best Bordeaux wines.  The list that was submitted was pretty good for its time, especially in the Medoc.  Unfortunately there were a number of wineries left off the classification.  Even worse was that the 1855 classification ossified and has only been slightly updated over the last 159 years.  Wineries like Chateau Petrus were not part of the classification and wineries which have changed hands and expanded their vineyards have the same rating as they did 159 years ago.  This would be somewhat analogous to picking the best automobile manufacturers in the 1920’s and then basing everything about producing and selling automobiles on how those cars were produced.  There are certainly some things about an old Packard that I admire more than my Toyota Prius, but it would be absurd to argue that since Toyota didn’t exist in 1929 that you should run out and buy a Packard today. Over the years the various wine regions adopted their own systems of Crus or other quality control system.  The various local regulations have generally been adopted with few changes into the European Union wine regulations.  Key changes in that system occurred in 1978, 1999, and most recently in 2008.  Much of the thrust of those laws has been to reduce the “wine lake” in Europe.

The current European system regulates where you can plant vineyards.  In many regions it dictates what grapes can be used (Bordeaux and Burgundy for instance).  The division of the EU into growing regions dictates whether sugar or acid can be added to the must.   Alcohol percentages are also regulated based on those growing regions.  Percentages of various substances like iron, copper, sulfur dioxide, and total acidity are regulated.   In some areas, harvest times are still regulated and in a few areas mechanization of harvest is forbidden.  Irrigation can be allowed or not allowed depending on the regulations.  The maturation and handling of the wines can be dictated as well.  This is not true in all regions.  The Languedoc has much more freedom than Bordeaux for example.  Labeling is also regulated.  The most important aspect of labeling is the Cru or Classified Growth system.  A Grand Cru wine is always a Grand Cru wine and a Premier Cru wine is always a Premier Cru no matter which wine is actually the best in a given year.

For some consumers the quality system makes wine buying easier.  If they want to buy a Southern Rhone wine, they feel comfortable believing that a Cotes du Rhone Villages will be better than a standard Cotes du Rhone.  They would be willing to spend more money on a Cotes du Rhone Villages Laudun than on a Villages without an AOC name.  They would also expect that a Châteauneuf du Pape would be a superior wine to the others I have mentioned.  These consumers can navigate the system so that even if it is a producer with which they are not familiar, they should have a sense of the quality and even the style of the wine.

For producers, the system can be good because it reduces the number of decisions that a grower or a winery must navigate.  It also helps to regulate income.  Wineries with a certain designation can generally count on steady income.  That allows for planning over generations rather than over seasons.

The first problem with that system is that it is too complex for the average wine drinker to memorize.  A relatively new wine drinker might know that they enjoy a slightly sweet Riesling, but they probably have no idea how to read a German wine label.  They might buy an American or Australian wine labeled as a “Sweet Riesling” rather than trying to figure out if you were supposed to store a Kabinett Riesling in a cabinet.  Wine drinkers who are willing to spend a lot of money on a wine might know that they like Syrah and know that it is also called Shiraz.  That doesn’t mean that they know that a Northern Rhone red is made from the grape they love.  They might buy a Penfold’s Grange without batting an eye, but be unwilling to try a Chave Hermitage because it is a high priced wine of unknown type to them.

The larger problem to me is that the systems can stifle innovation.  The original Super Tuscan wines like Tignanello had to be labeled as IGT wines because they did not qualify for any higher status under Italian law.  It took a lot of confidence (and money in the bank) to produce a superior wine that couldn’t be labeled as on par with the worst DOC Chianti of its time.  Most producers in Europe cannot make that leap of faith either because of lack of funds or regulatory prohibition.  There are times when the laws are treated with a wink and a nod.  There are certainly vineyards that use drip irrigation when they are not legally allowed to.  I have known Italian wine makers who added water to reduce alcohol content on highly ripe grapes.  Those types of things happen because they are hard to enforce.  However, many choices that New World wine makers make are simply not allowed to European wine makers.

There are other issues with the European system, but the final one I will mention is the static nature of the Classified Growth system and similar systems.  Obviously none of the wineries in the 1855 classification have the same wine maker today.  The French response to that is that the terroir is the same.   In most cases that is not true.  When a 2nd Growth purchases adjacent land that belongs to a 3rd Growth, that vineyard is now part of a 2nd Growth.  Its terroir has not changed.  The grapes it produces are not now automatically better.  Nevertheless, fruit from that vineyard is now worth more and wine produced from it can now be labeled as a 2nd Growth.   Only the most Bordeaux obsessed consumer might be capable of keeping up with these changes.   The terroir has also changed over the years due to changes in climate patterns.  As the Earth warms, the region that was designated as a Premier Cru vineyard for the production of Pinot Noir may become too hot to produce the best Pinot Noir.  In 50 years, should the consumer still be expected to pay more for a Grand Cru Burgundy than an English Chardonnay?  Probably, but you never know.  Perhaps the climate in England will be perfect & it will just be too hot in Burgundy.

The New World has generally taken what we think of as a newer approach to vine planting and labeling.  In truth, the experimentation that is going on in planting a variety of grapes in a single region to see what happens is ancient.  Pliny the Elder wrote about different vines being planted in different places.  The Cistercian monks kept careful records of what was planted where and how well it grew.  This process took hundreds of years.  It just seems like things have been the way that they are now forever.

Early American wines tended to take their names from successful European names, regardless of what was actually in the bottle.  We can still see that marketing in Gallo’s Hearty Burgundy, which may be hearty, but certainly isn’t from Burgundy and definitely isn’t made with Pinot Noir.  Over the years, wine marketers found that labeling by varietal increased sales.  The consumer was willing to try a new brand or a new label as long as they recognized the grape.  It was easier to learn that you liked Chardonnay and didn’t like Sauvignon Blanc than it was to learn that you liked white Burgundy and didn’t like white Bordeaux.  It also made it easier for merchants to rack the wines.  Now you could push your shopping cart through the grocery store’s wine section and easily find what you wanted without learning to speak German or memorize regional wine styles.  There are a variety of reasons why the New World consumer is more comfortable with this approach.  I think that the biggest reason in the United States is because the U.S. does not have the several century long continuity of wine experience that Europeans possess.  In England it was customary for years to buy a pipe of Port for a new born male.  That was generally enough to last him for his life.  French children grew up drinking wine with dinner, and wine and grape growing was not a distant concept to them.  In the early United States, wine was difficult to produce due to climate issues.  Americans drank more beer and spirits than wine.  Even worse for a culture of wine knowledge, Prohibition snapped what little wine history the country had built.  It wasn’t until the 1970’s that wine really began its climb to prominence in America.

While the American experience is not the only New World experience, it was formative.  The U.S, market has helped to shape the markets of New World producers such as Argentina, Chile, and New Zealand.

As the New World industry has matured and as the customers have matured with it, there has been a willingness to try more blends.  Building that base with varietal labeling was an essential part of preparing the consumer.  Many of the successful blends still state the varietals on the label.  That gives the consumer a comfort level.  If they know that they like Shiraz and they know that they like Cabernet Sauvignon, why not try that Australian Shiraz/Cabernet blend?  The varietals are the base of the pyramid of their wine knowledge.  As they learn what they like, they are able to be a little more adventurous without getting too far from their comfort zone.

In the future I believe that we will see some swapping of systems.  I doubt that the United States will ever adopt rigid controls on what grapes can be produced in what appellation.  I do think that certain grapes are becoming strongly associated with certain areas.  Casual consumers know that Napa makes great Cabernet Sauvignon and that Oregon makes fantastic Pinot Noir.  Those with more knowledge might expect to enjoy a Lodi Zinfandel or a Texas High Plains Roussanne.  Those associations will probably grow stronger as wine makers duplicate the Cistercian’s process of discovering the best grape for the area and as consumers demand more of a particular grape from a particular area.  There will be good and bad to that process.  Some less known areas will produce better, more appropriate wines and will make more money doing so.  Unfortunately there will be some grapes squeezed out of areas.  If everyone wants to buy Carneros Chardonnay, why would you grow Chenin Blanc there, even if you produced a nice Chenin Blanc?  I do believe that New World regions are still in a long process of understanding the terroir of their vineyards and I believe that there is much to learn from the European experience.

On the European side, I believe that more wineries will experiment with new production techniques and new production equipment as it is proven in the New World.  As New World wineries prove the effectiveness of newer techniques, it would be interesting to see how those techniques work in Europe.  I’m not advocating that all wine should be produced the same.  I think that there are ways in which Europe changed its wines too much in certain regions over the last 20 years.  There are some cases in Bordeaux where grapes were allowed to ripen probably too much because they wanted to make New World style wines and get higher points from Robert Parker.  There are also areas like Spain where wine makers have adopted New World practices like smaller barrels with less aging and occasionally using stainless steel.  That has meant that there are more clean and tasty Spanish wines than you would have found 20 years ago.  I expect that trend to continue.

New World wineries are beginning to adopt some Old World blending into their portfolios.  The success of the various Rhone Ranger wines shows how blending can be both financially and esthetically beneficial.  In American wine shops we are seeing more European wines labeled with varietal information.  There are white Burgundies that say that they are Chardonnay on the front label.  I have seen Rhone wines with varietal breakdowns on the back of the label…a label surely created exclusively for export.  There are a number of German wines that are produced with labels that could be from California.  I think those trends will continue on both sides of the Atlantic.

Finally, I hope that European governments will be open to changing the rules as wine regions experience climate change.  The worst case scenarios may never happen, but if current trends continue, mesoclimates that are marginal for a particular grape (which is often where the best wine is produced) may no longer be suitable for that grape and might be better suited for something else.  I know that New World producers will be able to make the adjustments.  I sincerely hope that European producers will be able to as well.

Differences in political structure and in history have shaped the approaches of Old and New World wine producers.  No one system has proven to be the best and there is something that each can learn from the other.

 

If you have read this whole thing, I sure would appreciate your thoughts.  To stick with my general theme, I have some football thoughts below.

The main thing that I am thinking about football right now is that moving the draft to May is annoying!  It means that the teams don’t get a better feel for their team until May.  It means that many of the free agents remaining on the market may have to wait until June to find their new home.  The biggest thing is that I am just sick of listening to the commentators talk about who is rising & who is falling & what might happen on draft day.  It is bad every year, but this year it is a month longer and a month worse.

My other thought about draft day is that if I were a player invited to the draft, I wouldn’t go unless I was certain to be in the first 5 draft picks.   There are around 31 players tentatively set to show up in New York to sit in the green room and come out to get a hug from Roger Goodell.  Some of those guys won’t be drafted the first day and the cameras will be focused on them squirming in their chairs.  Watching Brady Quinn or Aaron Rodgers, or Geno Smith fall in the draft was uncomfortable at home and I have to think it was much worse for them in New York.   Why not stay home & hang out with your friends and family?  After the draft you will have to go to work and won’t be able to spend time with them for a while.  If you want to go to New York later, you will be able to afford to do it in style.  If you just want to be on TV, remember that you will be on TV for 16 games or so a year if you do your job.  The potential downside is worse than the upside to me.

 

Blind tasting is fun. Having a blind General Manager isn’t.

7 Mar

 

Jerry Jones looks sad  I had to do a blind tasting recently for a wine class.  I was able to identify the grape varietal, but only because I had the context of knowing that all three wines were made with the same grape.  That let me taste three very different wines & then see what the similarities were and what types of grapes could make these three diverse wines.  This was a case where if I had focused on only one aspect and not thought about the group as a whole, I would have failed.

Focusing on only one thing at a time and not thinking about the group as a whole seems to be a serious problem for Jerry Jones.  I had expected the Dallas Cowboys to be in much better salary cap shape in 2014.  This was the year where they no longer would suffer from the blatantly biased and punitive salary cap penalties that they and Washington faced because NY Giants owner John Mara was able to get his divisional rivals penalized for treating the uncapped year as an uncapped year.

I knew that there would be some contracts that had been back loaded to get them through the penalty years.  I just didn’t expect it to be this bad.  They were penalized $10 million for not being part of collusion in 2010.  This penalty was broken into 2 years at $5 million each.  This year the salary cap has been raised to $133 million, which is an increase of $10 million over last year.  Surely having an additional $15 million to spend would have the Cowboys sitting pretty right?  Unfortunately when the new year started, the Cowboys had $37 million (or almost 28%) of their cap space tied up in 2 players.  Tony Romo & DeMarcus Ware.  Projections showed them being somewhere between $20-$30 million over the cap.

On February 28th, the team cut 4 players, but that only saved $1 million in cap space. According to Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Cowboys reduced their cap problem a bit more on March 3 when Orlando Scandrick and Sean Lee agreed to restructure their contracts. The move will save the team roughly $7 million. Finally, they restructured Tony Romo’s huge deal so that 12.5 million of his 2014 base salary of 13.5 million will be converted into a bonus.  That lets them spread that amount out over the remaining years of his contract.  That gets them to just about 1 million over the cap.  Of course it means that Romo’s cap hit will be way too high by the end of the contract.  At some point that bill has to come due.

There are doubtless more moves to come.  Miles Austin may be cut, which will save almost $5.5 million if he is designated as a June 1st cut.  DeMarcus Ware may have to take a pay cut.  Eventually they will get below the cap.  The problem is that they will have just barely cleared enough room to sign their draft picks & maybe a mid-tier free agent.  At the same time, they will have put themselves into the same position next year unless the cap dramatically increases (which it may).

The bottom line is that the Cowboys will have worked hard to meet the salary cap & preserve the core of a team that has gone 8-8 for the last 3 years.  Meanwhile, the Super Bowl champion Seahawks have almost $12 million in cap space.  At least a truly bad team like the Raiders has managed to get to a point where they have over $66 million in cap space & can try and fix their team over the next couple of years.  I think Jones needs to look at the entire roster.  Nothing suggests that will be the case though.  If Jerry Jones employed a General Manager who had put him in this position repeatedly, that GM would be fired. He should at least hold himself accountable.  At best for Cowboys fans, he should bring in some help.

Here are the wines we tried blind.

Domaine Sylvain Gaudron “La Butte du Trésor” Sec 2011 Loire Valley, Vouvray AC $14.99 12.5% alcohol

The wine was clear & bright with a pale straw color.  The nose had a crisp acidity and smelled of kiwi, green fruit, & green apple.  It was clean & intense.

Those green fruit flavors followed through on the palate.  I tasted kiwi, green apple, lime, & a bit of grapefruit.  It was dry, with a long finish.  The body was light, but the intensity was high.

Truthfully, I might have guessed that this was a Sauvignon Blanc if I hadn’t tried the other wines & known that they were all the same.  It reminded me more of a new world, Southern Hemisphere wine than of a Loire Valley Vouvray.

Botanica Chenin Blanc 2010$19.99 13.5% alcohol

After smelling this wine, I knew that we weren’t dealing with Sauvignon Blanc.  I narrowed it down to Chenin Blanc or Chardonnay immediately.  This wine was straw colored, but turning yellow.  The nose had obvious French oak with some cream, a little nuttiness, & lemon.  On the palate those same flavors came through, with the oak being the primary flavor.  It had a full body & the lingering lemon cream & nut made it an enjoyable wine.  It could have been a light Chardonnay or a medium bodied Chenin Blanc.

This wine is from the Western Cape of South Africa.  They make some fantastic Chenin Blancs over there.

Chateau Pierre Bise Coteaux du Layon AC 2001 $31.99 (500ML) 12% alcohol

The final wine sealed it for me as Chenin Blanc.  It was a golden or deep amber color.  The smell of burnt sugar and caramel told me it was a sweet wine.  In fact, it was a nice sweet wine with acid that was nicely integrated, a long lasting finish with flavors of brown sugar and that tell-tale taste of botrytis.

The wine is from the Loire Valley.  It is hand-picked in several passes so that the grapes are picked at their ripest.  Most of them were infected with botrytis, which in this case is a beneficial fungus that sucks most of the water from the grape & concentrates the sugars.

Because the grapes are so ripe, there is more fructose than glucose in them.  That means that the wine will taste sweeter.  During fermentation, the glucose is converted into ethanol faster than the fructose.  Since there is residual sugar in this wine, it is primarily fructose, which tastes sweeter to us in wine.  That’s kind of getting into the geek side of things, but I think it is kind of neat.  Sometime I’ll get really geeky & explain why no wine is ever 100% dry since only the 6 carbon ring sugars change to ethanol.  The upshot is that this is a delicious dessert wine that is not fortified.

Once I had tasted all three & thought about them as a set, it was obvious to me that the wines were all Chenin Blanc.  While it isn’t the most prestigious grape out there, it is one of the more versatile.  There aren’t many grapes that can make a fruit forward crisp & acidic wine, a soft creamy wine, & a botrytis dessert wine.  It is all about keeping the big picture in mind.  Jerry Jones should try it.  I’ll probably just drink extra wine while I watch the Cowboys play.