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General Interest

Do Wine Aerators Work & Are They Worth the Money?

People like gadgets. I know I do. There’s always the hope for a better mousetrap; some way to make our lives easier, teeth whiter, recorded music sound like a live performance. There are plenty of wine gadgets on the market, many of which sell amazingly well. But do they work?

Read more: Do Wine Aerators Work & Are They Worth the Money?

Which California Counties Added the Most Vineyard Acreage in the Past Five Years?

California_Wines_logoIn honor of California Wine Month, I'll be providing a variety of details about the scope of the state's wine industry. Last week, I published California Wine by the Numbers. Today, We'll look at growth in vineyard acreage. Tomorrow, I'll highlight those wine grape varieties seeing the biggest growth.

California’s wine industry is growing not just in sales volume, but also acres under vine. In the past five years, California added 76,651 acres of wine grape vineyards, an increase of 17.5% from 2006. The expansion is broad-based. High-volume growing areas added vines, but so did the highest-quality regions. No county experienced a decrease. The biggest increases in acreage came in counties that already had substantial plantings.

The 12 California Counties which Added the Most Vineyard Acreage, 2007 - 2011

County

Acres Added

Total Acreage in 2011

San Joaquin

10,783

71,403

Fresno

9,651

41,808

Monterey

9,595

45,110

Sonoma

8,777

57,056

Napa

7,332

45,801

San Luis Obispo

5,193

30,720

Madera

3,418

35,334

Sacramento

3,192

19,486

Kern

2,934

21,093

Yolo

2,905

12,632

Santa Barbara

2,537

17,178

Mendocino

2,092

17,173

[Only one other county, Merced, added more than 1,000 acres.]

Fast Fact: San Luis Obispo County has nearly 31,000 acres of vineyards. That's almost as much as New York State (approximately 32,000 acres).


As you might expect, counties with the largest percentage growth in vineyard acreage over the past five years are relatively low in plantings overall. Marin County, which is emerging as a very good cool-climate growing region, boosted its vineyard land by nearly 66% but is still well under 200 acres overall. Other small, yet high-quality, growing areas with significant growth are El Dorado and Santa Cruz counties. Surprisingly, Fresno and Monterey counties, among California’s biggest growers of wine grapes, managed to increase their plantings by roughly 25%.

The 14 California Counties which Increased Vineyard Acreage by more than 20%, 2007 - 2011 

County

Percent Increase

Total Acreage in 2011

Marin

65.6

167

Colusa

39.1

1,577

Riverside

33.4

1,039

Shasta

33.3

98

San Benito

31.3

2,616

Glenn

29.3

1,046

Calaveras

28.2

675

Contra Costa

27.8

1,878

Yolo

25.5

12,632

Fresno

25.3

41,808

Monterey

24

45,110

El Dorado

22.4

1,847

Santa Cruz

22

445

Solano

21.4

3,560


The 6 Counties with Zero Growth in Vineyard Acreage

County

Acres Under Vine

Kings

1,541

Mariposa

57

Orange

1

Sutter

99

Tuolumne

30

Ventura

52

 

Source: The raw data was provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service

 

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

John Alban Traps Philippe Guigal in an Elevator and other Tales of HdR

This is the third installment of my conversation with John Alban regarding Hospice du Rhone and the advancement of Rhone variety wines globally over the past 20 years. Don’t miss part one and part two.

Highlights among Past Tasting Seminars at Hospice du Rhone

The first two articles in this series touched on the passion of both Hospice du Rhone organizers and its attendees. Hospice du Rhoners, and I include myself among them, really love Rhone variety wines. We like to learn about new ones, meet people who share our enthusiasm and discuss the wines we taste. But passion alone cannot sustain an event such as Hospice du Rhone.

“The success and the excitement and the sustainability of Hospice du Rhone ultimately comes down to one simple fact," says John Alban. 'And that is the quality of the wines poured. You could do all the things we do. You could try to introduce all the passion, enthusiasm, the celebration. But if the wines didn’t live up to all that hullabaloo, people wouldn’t come back.”

Perhaps the most dramatic example of the quality that keeps Hospice du Rhoners coming back, and attracts new ones, is the E. Guigal Tasting Seminar led by Philippe Guigal in 2008. It was a remarkable tasting of nine wines, including the famous "La La's."

  • 2006 E. Guigal Condrieu
  • 2006 E. Guigal “La Doriane”
  • 2006 E. Guigal St. Joseph Blanc
  • 2005 E. Guigal Hermitage Blanc “Ex Voto”
  • 2003 E. Guigal “Brune et Blonde”
  • 2005 E. Guigal “Vignes de l”Hospice”
  • 1998 E. Guigal Cote-Rotie Chateau d’Ampuis
  • 2004 E. Guigal Cote-Rotie “La Mouline”
  • 2006 E. Guigal Cote-Rotie “La Landonne”

Making this seminar happen was no small feat. John told me it took the most years and the most trips to France of any he's produced. In his opening comments at the seminar, Philippe Guigal spoke with amusement about how he reached his decision to put on a tasting at Hospice du Rhone.

He and John Alban were in an elevator in France, leaving a venue after yet more discussions. Alban reached over and pushed the emergency stop button. “We’re not leaving the elevator,” Alban told him, “until we come to an agreement on when you’re coming to Hospice du Rhone.” Smiling, Philippe said, “I think he may have been serious.”

Doing a tasting seminar at Hospice du Rhone is no small decision for a winery. Even the quantity of wine needed is daunting — these seminars seat 400 people. Alban both appreciates those who do it and marvels at what Hospice du Rhone has become.

“It’s almost unbelievable. How does Philippe Guigal wind up in Paso Robles pouring hundreds of bottles of wine that people are on a waiting list to purchase for huge amounts of money? And he’s there giving them away and talking about them at Hospice du Rhone. Just that phenomenon right there show’s there’s a certain lunacy to all this.”

Some Hospice du Rhone tasting seminars, such as that of E. Guigal, provide attendees a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to try highly exclusive wines. Others, like “Blinded by the Whites,” introduce people to new categories of wine. And some, including those scheduled for this year’s event, expose unique geographies or introduce individual winemakers and their passions.

The 2012 Hospice du Rhone Seminars

Each of this year’s seminars are connected somehow with the history of Hospice du Rhone. The first, 'Why Spain (Continues to) Rock,' focuses on Priorat with an ensemble of the region’s best Rhone variety specialists. It reprises a 2006 tasting that was among the most surprising ever for attendees. Once again, it will be led by Eric Solomon, proprietor of European Cellars, a prominent importer and specialist in Priorat wines.

John Alban explained the impact the first Priorat seminar had on Hospice du Rhoners and, ultimately, himself. “People went into this seminar with unpronounceable names, unpronounceable regions, unpronounceable soil types, everything was a just a garble of syllables that nobody had any experience with. In the end, people got fired up. You know, I was getting cards and emails from people a year later saying, “I’m in Priorat!” People who had never heard of Priorat before, now they were sending me cards and letters from there.” With emotion in his voice, Alban said, “It’s hard not to feel pretty pumped up about something like that.”

Christopher Baron of Cayuse Cellars in Walla Walla appeared at Hospice du Rhone in a 2004 seminar on Washington Rhones with Doug McCrea of McCrea Cellars. At the time, Walla Walla wasn’t on anyone’s radar. “It was so far ahead of the curve,” says Alban. “Many years later after he really came into prominence and notoriety, people would come to us all the time and ask, 'Have you ever thought about doing a seminar about Christophe.' I’d say, "Yeah, we did one.'” Fortunately for those people, he's back this year in 'The Return of the Bionic Frog.'

I am intrigued by his use of biodynamic farming and reputation for  minimal intervention winemaking. So, I’m looking forward to the tasting with Christophe Baron who John Alban described for me. “He’s hysterical. He’s engaging. He’s brilliant. He’s talented. He is this rare combination of a winemaking phenom and a showman — in all the best ways, not a contrived way, not a superficial way — and what greater treat than to be able to put someone in front of people who wows you with the wines and dazzles you with their personality and their perspective.”

Alban says that d’Arenberg’s Chester Osborne, who will lead “Research, Revelations and the Art of Being Different,” is very similar. “I would almost say that Chester and Christophe could be twin brothers from two different continents. Except they don’t look anything alike. They have wonderful senses of humor. They are great philosophers and winemakers, etc. etc. There some obvious differences. One makes a huge amount of wine, one makes a small amount of wine. But I think that’s part of that Australian-Walla Walla dichotomy. Australia really does things big. Walla Walla is small.”

Osborne’s seminar will detail studies he’s done on geology and sub-regionality in McClaren Vale. He’ll explain the corresponding changes he’s made in viticulture and winemaking. And, of course, it will feature some of the best wines of South Australia.

Several times during our conversation, John Alban referred to this 20th anniversary Hospice du Rhone as a family reunion. He did so particularly with respect to the seminars. And the hosts of “A Collective Quest” are almost as inseparable from HdR as they are from each other. Yves Cuillion, Francois Gaillard and Pierre Gaillard are the founders of Les Vins de Vienne. [For more about Les Vins de Vienne, I recommend this article by Blake W. Gray at Palate Press.] With Yves Gangloff who is not involved with that particular project, they have become known to Hospice du Rhoners as “The Four Amigos.”

The involvement of these winemakers with Hospice du Rhone goes back to the early days when John Alban and Mat Garretson were making regular trips to the Northern Rhone trying to get participation. Yves Cuilleron was so receptive to us,” Alban explained. “He wanted to know more and more about it and started laughing and giggling. We’d say, ‘Who wouldn’t want to go to Paso Robles?’ We played off of that and off of what we were, which was goofy and passionate. He got it and wanted us to meet some of his friends. They told anyone and everyone in the Northern Rhone and helped open a lot of doors for us. They’re like four angels that picked us up and continue to flap their wings and elevate us.”

Acceptance of Hospice du Rhone in the Rhone Valley

The participation of Cuilleron, Villard, Gaillard and Gangloff helped legitimize and expand HdR’s status as a truly international celebration of Rhone wines. Their enthusiasm and the dedication of Hospice du Rhone staff ultimately led to complete acceptance of the event by producers of the Northern Rhone.

One symbol of this acceptance was emulation. According to Alban, “France took on putting together an event which they now have up and down the Rhone Valley. They have it every other year and it was inspired by Hospice du Rhone. They’re very candid about that. It’s a much bigger thing and government funded. It involves all the producers of the Rhone Valley. We’d like to see Hospice du Rhone’s of sorts pop up all over the world because that’s our mission.”

Another symbol of appreciation for Hospice du Rhone among producers of the Northern Rhone came as a complete surprise to the HdR staff. “There was a very persistent request that the Hospice du Rhone gang be in Cote-Rotie for a big tasting,” John told me. There were a number of dear friends who did a great job of putting a lot of positive pressure on us to be at this thing. They wanted us to know how important it was. So we were completely unsuspecting. We just knew they were organizing a tasting and were trying to build more interest in the Northern Rhone for Hospice du Rhone.”

”What we didn’t know was that they have this society — and you know the French are big on their ancient and long-lived fraternities — The Decurion of Cote-Rotie, the organization of Cote Rotie producers. And they made me a member of this group. I didn’t see it coming. I guess they admit like four people each two years. They called me up and put the medal around me and kissed me on both cheeks and did all these things the French people do. It really was pretty overwhelming.”

"Up on the mezzanine above me were all these families, fathers and sons. The fathers had all rejected the idea of a Hospice du Rhone. Well... many had, it’s not so black and white. But I could look at so many of the fathers who had rejected this idea thinking, ‘We’re French, you’re American. How can we work together? This makes no sense.”

”But their sons [were accepting]. And now the sons were kissing us on both cheeks and the fathers were smiling. They’d gotten it by now. There were only warm feelings. That’s a moment I’ll remember my whole life. And it wasn’t about me. That’s important. They just picked someone to put the medal on and kiss. It was about Hospice du Rhone — all the people that had come, all the interest and enthusiasm, the sales that it sparked, and also about all the new relationships.”

”Throughout Hospice du Rhone, there’ve been all these collaborative wines that have emerged where French and American producers have teamed up and started making wines, started labels together. They all met at Hospice du Rhone. It’s really an unbelievable story in that sense and not one that can be attributed to any one person. It’s not my story. It’s not Vicki’s story or Mat’s story. It is purely the story of Hospice du Rhone.”

If you’d like to be part of the continuing story that is Hospice du Rhone, there’s still time to get tickets. The 2012 celebration takes place in Paso Robles, April 27 - 28. For more information and to get tickets visit www.hospicedurhone.org.

If you’d like to read even more about Hospice du Rhone, here are some additional articles:
Looking Forward to Hospice du Rhone 2012
10 Big Wine Events to Look Forward to in Early 2012

Recap of Hospice du Rhone 2011 - Day One
Recap of Hospice du Rhone 2011 - Day Two 

There’s more coming from my conversation with John Alban. Look for that next week, before the big event. For the remainder of this week, I’ll be posting brief articles on a range of subjects at NorCalWine. The majority of my time, however, will be spent doing in-depth research on the vineyards and wineries of the Lodi AVA for future articles.

 

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

6 Ways to Re-Use Empty Wine Bottles

Unless the wine you drink comes out of a box, you probably empty a least a few bottles every month. And you probably drop the empties into a recycling bin. That’s a responsible thing to do, though just 28% of glass bottles get that treatment in the U.S. Apparently, most people just throw them away. [The link is to an EPA PDF.]

Not only does recycling keep the bottles out of landfills where they last eons — about one million years in fact — it saves energy. Recycling just ten bottles saves enough energy to run a laptop computer for an hour. [The link is to an EPA Excel spreadsheet that calculates the energy value of recycling various materials.] And for every ton of glass recycled, 1.2 tons of raw materials are conserved.

Of course, recycling consumes energy too. Recycling a bottle requires two-thirds the energy it would take to make a new one. If we can re-purpose a few wine bottles here and there, we can save energy and reduce carbon emissions. We might be able to save a few dollars too. Here are six ways you can re-use your empty wine bottles.

“Tiki” Torches
Add mood lighting to your outdoor parties, and shoo the insects, by turning some wine bottles into oil lamps with industrial chic. The photo below comes from Gerardot & Co. which also has complete instructions for the project. [If you like the blue bottles, you might drink some La Sirena Moscato d’Azul.]

tiki-torch

 

Rolling Pin
The super smooth, non-stick surface of glass is ideal for use as a rolling pin. It works especially well when chilled.

1. Remove the label from an empty Cabernet-style wine bottle by soaking it in water. Make sure to get all of the glue off too.

2. Wash the outside of the bottle thoroughly.

3. Fill the bottle with water.

4. Reseal the bottle with a cork.

5. Put the wine bottle in the refrigerator.

Now you have a smooth, heavy, cold rolling pin, just the thing for rolling out pastry dough. The bottle full of water will help keep the temperature inside your refrigerator stable too, saving a little bit of electricity.

Candelabra
When we were taking a tour of Chateau Lafite Rothschild, we noticed they were using wine bottles as candle holders everywhere. But, the Chateau wasn’t doing it by shoving a candle into the neck of the bottle like some neighborhood spaghetti restaurant might  (though that’s charming in its own way). Things are a bit more formal in Bordeaux. They used inserts to turn empty bottles into full-on candelabras.

Chateau-Lafite-Rothschild-candelabra

When we got back from our trip, one of the first things we did was track down those inserts. You can find nice ones for $20 or less. Just do an online search for “wine bottle candelabra insert.”

Tip: Make sure you fill the wine bottle with water, sand, marbles or something else heavy. If you don’t weigh it down, the bottle will be top heavy which is dangerous when flaming candles are involved. Using a Pinot Noir or Syrah bottle with a wide base will give you a more stable candelabra too.

Water Pitcher
This one is pretty obvious, but charming nonetheless. Just clean a bottle thoroughly, remove the label if you like, and fill with fresh water. I think colorless bottles look the nicest in this application.

A bottle takes up less room on the dinner table than a pitcher, looks nice and gives you a bit of bistro ambience. In fact, we had a very nice dinner at Bistro M in Windsor recently and they were using wine bottles in exactly this way.

Wine Storage
People spend a lot of money trying to preserve left over wine. You can use a vacuum pump, or spray a bunch of nitrogen into the bottle, before you seal it. Or you can insert one of those funny looking “wine condoms” into the bottle. They lay on top of the surface of the wine, theoretically reducing exposure to oxygen.

I don’t do any of that these days. The vacuums can pull delicate aromatics out of the wine, the gas sprays aren’t cheap and those inserts are just weird. Instead, I pour leftover wine into small, clean wine bottles.

We keep a number of bottles on hand for this purpose. Half-bottles get the most use at our house. Once you’ve drunk about half of your regular-size bottle of wine, pour the rest into a half bottle and seal it with a cork or whatever cheap or fancy stopper you prefer. Then, pop the bottle into the fridge. It’ll be good for at least a couple of days — even longer with some wines.

There will be very little oxygen in the bottle and very little surface area exposed to it. The cold refrigerator will also help keep the wine fresh, but the half bottle won’t take up much room. Take red wine out of the fridge about one-hour before you want to drink it. Whites are generally served colder so they take even less time to warm up.

We also keep a couple of empty 750ml bottles around to deal with the remaining wine from magnums. And, if you have a Piccolo, a 0.1875ml Champagne bottle, you’ll never have to abuse your liver finishing a bottle because “there’s not enough to save.”

wine-bottle-sizes
Philippe Dambrine of Chateau Cantemerle shows off his assortment of bottle sizes.

If the wine ends up sitting in the fridge a little too long to be perfect for drinking, you can always use it as cooking wine. And if cooking is to be the wine’s sole use, you can even blend different wines in one bottle. If you do this, try to stick to one color of wine per bottle though.

Vinegar and Oil
We make our own vinegar at home from leftover wine. It’s better tasting than most of the stuff we could buy in stores and it’s free from artificial additives. Empty wine bottles are a great way to store the vinegar. We don’t pasteurize our vinegar, so we seal it tightly and refrigerate it. Pasteurized vinegar you can just keep in the cupboard.

On a similar note, some of our favorite high-quality olive oil comes in large metal containers. Those aren’t practical to use on a daily basis. We pour it into 375ml wine bottles which are just the right size for easy pouring. They don’t take up much space in the cupboard or on the counter either. Olive oil doesn’t like sunlight, so green or brown bottles are the best ones to use.

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Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on Facebook. Also check outour comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved. Banner from photo by Wolfgang Sauber.

California Cabernet Aging Potential - It’s Not About the Years, it’s the Character

People, especially Americans, put undo focus on some numbers. Every week news outlets tell us which movies had the biggest box office revenue. They don’t tell us what the films are about or if they’re any good. Morning shows tell us who is celebrating a 100th birthday. We don't learn what those people are like, what they accomplished or who loves them.

Contemporary California wines, Cabernet Sauvignon blends in particular, are often dismissed as wines that won’t age well. They are too high in alcohol, have too much sweet fruit, not enough acidity, etc. The complaint is frequently dismissive. “Sure, people like them, but they won’t age.” The subtext being that the wines are therefore inferior and so, perhaps, are the palates of those who drink them.

I was thinking about this as I sipped my way through the Taste of Oakville yesterday. 47 wineries from one of this country’s premier AVA’s were pouring their current releases. More than a few of them get that “won’t age” label. But some producers popped library wines, giving me the opportunity to see exactly how those wines have aged. Obviously, nobody was going to offer a wine that hadn’t held up, but the wines still gave a glimpse at the longevity of their general styles.

Before I get into how the wines were doing though, lets ask two questions, 1) What do we mean by “won’t age?” and 2) Who cares? The last question is at least half serious.

To me, saying a wine won’t age means one of two things. The first is that the wine simply won’t get any better than it is during the first three years or so after release. It won’t develop interesting tertiary flavors, the fruit will go away, etc. This may seem like a damning indictment but in reality the vast majority of wines made are not intended to improve with bottle age. Beyond that, most wine drinkers—including those buying expensive, genuinely age-worthy bottles—drink their wines fairly young. So the answer to the second question in this case is that most people don’t care most of the time, but people who love a good well-aged wine may care a lot.

The second meaning of “won’t age” is more a matter of degree. The wine will age, it just won’t last as long as a reference Bordeaux or Burgundy, or an iconic California wine from 30+ years ago. Here, the answer to the second question is that virtually nobody should care and one could argue it’s actually a good thing. A good thing? Yes.

As much as we love numbers, history and the cool factor of drinking something bottled before Paul McCartney met John Lennon, it should be the wine’s character that matters. Enjoy the complex aromas, developed flavors and elegant mouthfeel of the aged wine. Don’t dwell on how long it took them to appear. And, if you’re on the far side of 50, you may appreciate not having to wait another 40 years for your new purchases to reach their peak.

All that said, how were the Oakville Cabs aging? Nicely, by and large. They are indeed developing tertiary flavors faster than wines from days gone by. However, these contemporary wines had the virtue of having been drinkable upon release. Many long-lasting wines from days of yore were not. In addition, the best of today’s library wines look like they’ll last a good while longer.

Here were my favorite library wines from the 2013 Taste of Oakville (by vintage):

RMW Reserve CabSauv Lg2006 Far Niente Estate Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon - Drying leaves, black currant and vanilla. Full-body, moderate acidity and medium-plus chalky tannins. A very good wine today from a vintage that may lack aging potential overall. Drink soon. Highly Recommended+.

2001 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve - Slightly raisined black currant, drying leaves, spice and chocolate. Nearly full-bodied with moderate acidity and a good measure of fine, powdery tannins plus some chalk. Quite long. Drink now through 2020. Very Highly Recommended.

1995 Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon - Intensely flavorful with lightly raisined black currant, forest floor, spice and graphite. Nearly full-bodied and juicy, very fine grained tannins. A gorgeous wine. One of my two or three favorite wines of the day, young or old. Drink now through 2023. Very Highly Recommended

1986 Johnson Turnbull “Selection 67” Cabernet Sauvignon (6L) - Drying leaves, dried currant and spice. Medium-plus body, acidity and tannins (fine powder). Just 13.2% alcohol. Holding up well but smaller format bottles would likely be past peak. Drink now. Highly Recommended.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2013 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.