Saturday, October 15, 2011

Wines I'm Making: Waiting to Harvest 2011 Grapes

I did a proper test of a representative sample of grapes in our small backyard vineyard today. It seems we still need to wait. I'm nervous only because I'm afraid whatever has been stealing grapes will steal too many before I get a chance to pick. Yesterday I checked the nets carefully again and closed a few small holes. I don't know if they were new holes or holes I'd missed before.

The Cabernet grapes tested at 22 brix and a pH of 3.13. The Sangiovese, from which we will make a rosé, as usual, tested at 20 brix and a pH of 3.10. One school of thought says grapes for red wine should be picked when the square of the pH times the brix reading is around 260 and that whites grapes (or red grapes for rosé) are optimally ready when that formula yields 200. Using this method, the Cabernet grapes are at 215.5, the Sangiovese at  192. If the grapes were at the targets I usually use (the Cabernet at 24.5 brix, the Sangiovese at 22 brix), the Cabernet would be about right if by that time the pH had risen a little--say, to around 3.3. The Sangiovese grapes are closer. In any case, I think waiting is the right decision for both. So far, there is no sign of mold or other damage to the grapes, although I did notice a yellow jacket in a grape with a broken skin. Vigilance is in order. What we really need is a few days of temperatures in the upper 80s (which may be wishful thinking--the 10-day outlook is for cloudy skies and temperatures mostly in the mid-70s). The past four days of dry warmth have done little to raise sugar levels. The waiting game continues.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Places I'm Visiting: Napa and Sonoma Winery Visits (October 2011)

Last weekend I accompanied a visitor from Japan on visits to a number of wineries in Napa County (on Saturday) and in Sonoma County (on Sunday). I rarely visit the Napa wineries on my own because the tasting rooms are generally expensive tourist traps, but it's interesting to see what's going on from time to time (the Sonoma-side tasting rooms tend to be smaller, more personal, and friendlier--not to mention much cheaper, often free). In Napa, we visited Rubicon Estate in the morning (the historical Inglenook winery, until recently the Niebaum-Coppola winery; not long ago the high-end Rubicon Estate wines were brought together at the Inglenook property, while the mass-produced Coppola wines were transferred to a new location in Geyserville). We moved on to Opus One (pictured above), where we tasted the 2006 and 2008 wines before an excellent lunch at Domaine Chandon, in Yountville, that began with raw oysters with a yuzu, cucumber, and fennel garnish. I generally like raw oysters with nothing more than freshly-squeezed lemon, but yuzu, cucumber, and fennel was tasty and subtle enough that it didn't detract from the delicate flavors of the oysters. I had a duck confit main dish with a fig-based sauce that was delicious, washed down with a glass of the Étoile Brut. After lunch we stopped at Étude, in the Carneros region, which is one of my favorite Carneros producers of Pinot Noir. We tasted Pinot Noir but also a delicious Pinot Blanc in the very friendly tasting room.

On Sunday, we began the day at Wellington, where we tasted the entire range of available wines, which included some interesting port-style dessert wines. A newly released 2009 Chardonnay was a standout along with the current vintage of the Morhardt Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon. I like this winery for its high-quality wines, reasonable prices, and unpretentious tasting room staffed by genuinely friendly people. The 1920s Carignane vines in front of the tasting room were heavy with fruit and beginning to show autumn color in the leaves. We tasted next at Enkidu before having lunch at Café Citti. After lunch we tasted at Chateau St. Jean. On the way back to the airport, we detoured to do some quick shopping at Dean and Deluca (a small part of the cheese selection is shown below) and then stopped briefly at Gloria Ferrer just to take in the view (bottom photo). The deck was packed with visitors taking in the same view along with some sparkling wine. It's always a pleasure to show visitors our beautiful wine country.

Wines I'm Making: Still Waiting to Harvest 2011 Grapes

It's sunny and warm today. It was sunny yesterday. If this weather holds, we may make some decent wine after all. In 2010, we harvested grapes on the 12th (Cabernet) and the 16th (Sangiovese) of October at rather low sugar levels (only 17 brix in the case of the Sangiovese, at a better 23.5 brix in the case of the Cabernet; ideally, I like to pick the former at about 22, the latter at about 24.5). The rosé in 2010 was light and without the rich flavors that made the 2009 so good. Happily, sugar levels are already higher than they were last year (the Sangiovese is at about 20 brix, the ripest Cabernet berries today tested as high as 24 brix). Now that I seem to have foiled the critters for the time being, I'm content to wait and let the grapes fully ripen. If it rains and turns cold again this weekend, I may have to think again, but early next week may be the right time to harvest anyway.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Birds I'm Watching: Sharp-tailed Sandpiper at Shollenberger Park, Petaluma, (October 12, 2011)

A Sharp-tailed Sandpiper has been out at Shollenberger Park for the last few days--a rare bird for Sonoma County. I finally got out there when the tides were right to find it. I not only saw the bird today but also got some good photographs of it. Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (Calidris acuminata) is an Old-World species closely related to our Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanatos). It breeds in the Russian Far East and winters in Australasia. It's considered a fairly common fall migrant in Western Alaska and a rare fall migrant all along the Pacific Coast. It's only once in a long while that one shows up in northern California. These coastal strays are almost always juvenile birds, like the one pictured above. This bird was first reported on October 4. It's stayed more than a week now. Another new bird for my life list, and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper brings my Sonoma County list to 210 species.

 For more information about bird watching in Sonoma County, see my Website Sonoma County Bird Watching Spots.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Found Art: Smeared Paint (October 11, 2011)

I photograph all kinds of things that interest me visually. Occasionally, I forget where. I'm not sure where I saw this paint-smeared surface, but I was attracted to its unintended rhythms and its subtle colors. Found art.

For more found art, see my blog Serendipitous Art.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Rain: Unexpected Rain Adds 0.6 inches to Our Total

I hadn't been expecting rain again today, but it was raining when I got up and it's been drizzling on and off all day. Not good for the grapes, but it's supposed to be warm and sunny for the rest of the week. We'll see. An additional 0.6 inches fell, bringing our 2011-2102 rainy season total now to 2.3 inches, which is well ahead of the historical average for October 10 in Santa Rosa, which is 0.69 inches. So, we're off to a wet start.
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