Thursday, December 30, 2010

Birds I'm Watching: Sonoma Valley Christmas Bird Count (2010)

I participated in the 2010 Sonoma Valley Christmas Bird Count today. This was the 111th year of Christmas bird counts in the United States. I helped count in seven different locales in the Sonoma Valley, most in the hills above Hwy. 12 in the Glen Ellen area, many of them ordinarily closed to the public (private preserves and ranches) but including three places open to the public--Quarryhill Botanical Garden, the grounds of Imagery Estate winery, and Cavedale Rd. In total, we saw over a thousand birds of 55 species: Canada goose, Bufflehead, Hooded merganser, Common merganser, Pied-billed grebe, Double-crested cormorant, Great blue heron, Great egret, Turkey vulture, White-tailed kite, Cooper's hawk, Red-shouldered hawk, Red-tailed hawk, Kestrel, Merlin, Killdeer (pictured), Wilson's snipe, Mourning dove, Anna's hummingbird, Belted kingfisher, Acorn woodpecker, Red-breasted sapsucker, Hairy woodpecker, Northern flicker, Black phoebe, Steller's jay, Scrub jay, Crow, Raven, Chestnut-backed chickadee, Oak titmouse, Bushtit, White-breasted nuthatch, Bewick's wren, Ruby-crowned kinglet, Western bluebird, Hermit thrush, Robin, Wrentit, Mockingbird, Starling, Cedar waxwing, Yellow-rumped warbler, Townsend's warbler, Spotted towhee, California towhee, Song sparrow, White-crowned sparrow, Golden-crowned sparrow, Dark-eyed junco, Red-winged blackbird, Purple finch, House finch, Lesser goldfinch, and American goldfinch. A very cold but entertaining day.

For more information about bird watching in Sonoma County, see my Website Sonoma County Birding Spots

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wines I'm Drinking: 2007 Wellington Vineyards Sonoma Valley Petit Verdot

I opened a bottle of the 2007 Wellington Vineyards Petit Verdot a few nights ago, not expecting too much from it. That is not intended as a reflection on the producer. On the contrary, Wellington is one of my favorite Sonoma County wineries. I say it simply because Petit Verdot  has always seemed to me a grape best used in blends. Most single-variety bottlings I've tasted have been fairly uninteresting. The grape was traditionally planted in Bordeaux for qualities similar to Cabernet Sauvignon, but it appears to have fallen out of favor there because it tends to ripen very late--even later than Cabernet. According to Jancis Robinson, Petit Verdot is at its best only when it's able to fully ripen, and that frequently doesn't happen in Bordeaux. It would seem then to have greater promise in California, and it has increasingly been planted here in the past 20 years or so. If this wine from Wellington is any indication, it deserves more attention than I've been willing to give it in the past.

The wine was an inky, deep, purple-red. Besides red fruit, it had interesting hints of citrus and cinnamon on the nose and even something a little suggestive of curry, along with floral undertones. The nose was complex and it continued to evolve as my evening with the wine progressed. Later, the wine suggested gingerbread. There was something spicy about the flavors as well. The wine was nicely balanced between a solid core of subtle fruit; bright, fine-grained tannins; and good acidity. The tannins suggest this wine will benefit from another two or three years in bottle--although it's certainly drinking well now. With a little air and time in the glass, the wine softened to reveal some chocolatey flavors and it developed a silky, almost creamy mouthfeel. Delicious wine. Highly recommended. Purchased directly from the winery.

I tasted an excellent 2006 Merlot from Wellington Vineyards as well not long ago. Otherwise, I recommend this winery for its white wines made from Rhône grapes such as Rousanne and Marsanne, for its single-vineyard Cabernet wines, and for its Victory bottling--a Bordeaux-style blend made only in superior years. Wellington has also made some truly excellent Grenache. The tasting room is one of the friendliest in the Sonoma Valley, and the wines are very reasonably priced--which is a welcome change from the usual pattern in California--expensive wines that don't deliver. I also like the fact that Wellington Vineyards is a completely solar-powered winery.

[Update: I was in the winery today (April 20, 2010). Jannis behind the counter reminded me that this was a very small single-variety bottling of extra grapes leftover from a batch that went into the Victory--which is to say, there is no more of this wine....]

Wines I'm Drinking: 2009 Girard Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc

I recently tasted the 2009 Girard Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc.  The wine was an attractive pale gold. The nose was fairly closed, but offered hints of toasted grain, and limes. There was little of the typical Sauvignon Blanc gooseberry scent at first, although, with a little time in the glass, the wine began to suggest its origins a little more distinctly. Crisp but with a rush of fruity sweetness on the mid-palate. Good length. Decent acid. The wine seemed fresh and clean, but I wouldn't have objected to a bit more raciness. Not exciting, but decent everyday wine. Not too outrageously priced at $11.89 at Costco.

Found Art: Berkeley Sidewalk (December 29, 2010)

More found art found in Berkeley on a recent visit. Look down. There is art under your feet almost everywhere you go--but especially on city streets.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Found Art: Mannequins, Berkeley (December 28, 2010)

On a recent trip to Berkeley, I snapped a few photos of interesting things I saw. I liked these mannequins in a shop window. I liked the light on them. They seemed like sculptures, or like figures painted by De Chirico.

A few minutes after photographing them and moving on, I walked back down the street, passing the window again. The figures had been dressed and the lights had been moved. Found art of a few minutes' duration.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Miscellaneous: Rain (Christmas Week, 2010)

It's rained off and on the entire past week or so. Today we got something of a respite, but more rain is predicted for tomorrow. We've had another 1.45 inches since last reporting (on the 21st). That brings our total for the 2010-2011 rainy season to 16.85 inches. The historical average accumulated rainfall for this date in Santa Rosa is 11.52 inches, so we remain well ahead of normal.

Found Art: Drying Peppers (December 27, 2010)

Drying bell peppers in the sun for a while seems to intensify their flavors. They're also very pretty to look at when cut up and arrayed in the sun--even if it's feeble late-afternoon sun, in the winter, between showers.... Found art. Beautiful.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Wines I'm Making: 2010 Sangiovee Rosé bottled

On the morning of Christmas Eve, I bottled the 2010 Sangiovese rosé, a simpler process than it often is because I had already racked the wine a couple of weeks earlier and there was no sediment to deal with. We got thirty bottles of rather pale wine--disappointing compared with the lovely 2009 I made. The weather in the past year was some of the worst in memory. A very wet spring, a cold summer, and late rains were all a problem. Some vineyards made no wine at all. We survived the sudden hot spell in late August (I think it was) that ruined many vines (growers pulled leaves earlier in the year to try to prevent mold and encourage ripening, but that left the grapes exposed to the blistering heat and sun, causing many to shrivel). In the end, our Sangiovese grapes never really ripened, and the wine is an expression of the year we had. Quite drinkable, but thin and not very satisfying. One can only hope for better weather next year....

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