Time for a drink? Dry winter has grape growers watching the sky

January 15, 2018 Comments off
011718 FD wine art vines

This winter has been neither extremely cold nor extremely wet, and only the first pleases grape growers. Grape vines are being freeze-dried as they lose moisture during the winter months.

If you’ve taken a stroll across your lawn recently, you know how parched things are.

January normally is a dry month for Colorado but until this past week’s smatter of moisture this winter has been especially dry. Certainly not normal, even for the high desert, and home owners in western Colorado have been urged to water trees and landscaping to prevent future damage.

But what do you do when your “landscaping” involves acres of grape vines?

The Grand Valley is no stranger to dealing with cold damage to grape vines. Hard winters (including the devastating winter of 2002/03 and most-recently in 2014) are among the challenges facing grape growers.

But this year, with daytime temperatures still climbing into the high 30s to mid- 40s (at this writing it is 48 degrees in Grand Junction) with nary a lick of snow on the ground, brings a new set of challenges.

Grape vines store a sort of anti-freeze in the form of stored sugars from last year’s photosynthesis but deep cold still can damage or kill buds, trunks and canes.

Also, a long, dry winter can desiccate older plants and kill young ones.

“We’re basically freeze-drying the vine tissue,” explained Horst Caspari, state

011718 FD Wine dry vines 2

Except for the ground surface being dry, there’s nothing wrong with this vine a good snowstorm won’t fix.

viticulturist at Colorado State University’s Orchard Mesa Research Center. “Over the last three months we’ve had virtually no significant moisture, so it’s definitely a concern.”

While night-time temperatures aren’t far the long-term average, daytime temperature are averaging about 12 degrees above normal. Caspari said.

As any fruit grower can attest, winter damage often doesn’t show itself until spring, when warmer temperatures start the regrowth process.

“It concerns me, that’s for sure,” said grape grower Kaibab Sauvage, owner of Colorado Vineyard Specialists LLC in Palisade. “Vines can be damaged if they’re dry and they damage more easily at higher temperatures if they’re dry.”

A brochure from the University of California-Davis tells grape growers to maintain some ground moisture during dry winters in order to supply needed moisture for even bud break and flowering once vines break their winter dormancy.

Most vineyards in western Colorado get a heavy watering just prior to the irrigation canals being shut off, which usually is adequate for surviving the winter and getting a head-start for the following spring.

“We try to get the soil profile really full of water in the last week before we lose the (irrigation) water,” said Nancy Janes of Whitewater Hill Vineyards and Winery. “Around the last week of October, after we get things hardened off for the winter, we’ll blast it with water and hope it makes it pretty well through the year.”

The soil moisture also acts as insulation by filling the gaps that occur in dry soil.

“Most vines send their roots really deep, so they find water even when it’s not obvious,” Sauvage noted. “But young plants and shallow-rooted plants may be struggling right now.”

Snow also helps insulate the ground, particularly the upper few inches.

“Right now, at 6 inches down,  the soil isn’t frozen and it rarely does in our part of the state,” Caspari said. “In wet soil, water is a good insulator but when you’ve had a dry period the frost penetrates much deeper and roots get damaged much easier than do buds.”

“If there was no rain or snow in the forecast, I’d rush out and water today,” he said.

Grower Galen Wallace, who has weathered some 30 winters providing grapes to Colorado’s wine industry, recently said he will be more concerned if the present conditions continue into March.

“So far, I’m not too worried,” he said. “Now, if it stays dry like this and we get some cold weather early in March, even something that’s not unusual, say lower 20s or even in the teens, it could impact our crops.”

Nancy Janes shared that sentiment, saying the mild winter so far has been pretty worry free.

“Most of our challenges seem to come from cold temperatures,” she said. “We may another month of this and then by mid-February or later is when everything starts to change.”

The damage starts to show when the vines break dormancy, Wallace said. “Growers could see a reduction in vigor, so they have to be aware of what’s happening in their vineyards.”

He advised growers to begin irrigating as soon as water is available.

“If the canals are filled on Wednesday, growers should have water running on Friday,” he said. “What worries me more right now is the lack of snow and what it might mean for late-season water.”

Sauvage and other growers in the valley have very few options when it to getting water to his vines.

“We can only hope there are some storms heading our way,” he said.

 

The gift of learning to be a glass artist

December 24, 2017 Comments off
122417 Wine friends

When serious wine drinkers get together to taste wines, there are sure to be many glasses on the table. The range of styles and shapes are selected to match the selection of wines.

What is more ubiquitous this holiday season than countless electronic versions of your favorite Christmas carols? How about the equally untold recommendations for your “perfect” Christmas wine?

In case it’s of interest, a recent Google search for “selecting Christmas wines” yielded 9.03 million results in .61 seconds.

I found everything from wines deals to wine clubs to assurances I will pick my “holiday wines like a pro.”

A pro what? A pro wrestler?

As in, trust me, where can you go wrong? Maybe it’s best we don’t tell you all that you might find if you dare to look.

How about a set of “Ugly Christmas Sweater” wine bottle covers complete with Santa Hat bottle toppers, or a Wacky Legs Mrs. Claus bottle topper, or 12 ways to re-use wine bottles for Christmas decorations?

And who can resist the DYI handbook of making Christmas crafts (“beyond easy”) with used wine corks? Well, I can, for one.

There are some sensible gifts for Christmas. The first that comes to mind, given the crowd with which I occasionally tip a glass or two, is better wine glasses, or stemware, as they are known.

Riedel Veritas Champagne Wine Glass_White Fill

The new Riedel Champagne wine glass is shaped less like a traditional flute shape and designers say this allows the wine’s flavors and aromas to open.

“Better,” of course means you can run the gamut, from functional and affordable (Libbey, $20 for four) to super-premium and super-cool (Zalto and Riedel, from around $55 and up).

What’s the difference? Well, for your typical Christmas and Thanksgiving crowd (“I drink wine only on the holidays when it’s served at someone else’s house”), a set of basic (i.e., inexpensive) wine glasses/containers will do.

Millions of gallons of wine have been drunk from all sorts of containers and the only negative might be a hangover or two.

A friend is adamant about drinking her wine from a jelly jar (this is reflective of her choices of wine) and hasn’t yet succumbed to any mysterious diseases. She also doesn’t hold much for the disingenuous “swirl, sniff, sip” canard that sometimes overwhelms the very reason the bottle was opened.

But improving your wine glass can make a difference if your interest in wine is greater than it being simply an alcohol transport system.

So why the many options in wine glasses? So many shapes and sizes but you’ll notice all wine glasses share several traits: A stem to hold it, a bowl that’s wider at the bottom and a small (or nonexistent) rim.

The stem keeps your hands off the bowl, since hands tend to change the serving temperature of the wine and leave fingerprints on the clear glass.

The bigger the bowl the easier you can swirl, letting the wine’s aromas circulate and become evident. You’ll notice glasses for red wines generally have larger bowls than glasses for white wines. Partly this is because red wines need more time and more contact with the air to open and release their aromas.

201217 FD wine Drusian cropped

Francesco Drusian makes world-class Prosecco in Valdobbiadene, Italy, and his choice of glass is not the traditional narrow flute but rather a glass with a wider mouth and rounder bowl. A crystal glass, of course.

Bowl shape and size is a personal choice, and some well-known wine critics use the same style of glass (in many cases a white-wine glass) for all their wine tasting.

Hand-blown (or, more correctly, mouth-blown) glasses tend not to have a rim because of the manufacturing process. No rim means less likely to dribble and it allows the wine to spread evenly onto your tongue.

Today’s highly skilled and innovative glass makers have developed wine-specific glasses with the rim and bowl shaped to direct the liquid onto certain parts of the tongue and palate. (Geek alert:) Related theories hold certain wines reveal their nuances better in specific sections of the mouth.

Regular glass or crystal? The difference between crystal and glass is that crystal may contain a certain amount of lead, which strengthens the glass.

Regular glass is lead-free but is thicker, doesn’t have crystal’s clarity or delicate chime when struck and survives your dishwasher, kids and cats better than crystal.

Lead is used in glass-making because it has a low melting point and thus keeps the glass liquid longer and easier to work with. It also makes the glass stronger, a key component when seeking out the thinnest glass possible.

Some stemware makers (such as Schott Zweisel), aware of concerns about the lead in glassware, now use zinc oxide, barium oxide, or potassium oxide in place of lead.

Crystal stemware is known for its sparkle and feel, having a certain microscopic roughness because of the crystalline structure not found in polished glass.

Crystal wine glasses also are more expensive than regular glass, another reason to handwash.

While lead-free wine glasses, such as those by Riedel and Zalto, are surprisingly durable, they still need special care when being washed and hand-washing is recommended for these and all your better stemware. You can use a machine (I am NOT suggesting this, although some restaurants do it), but make sure the glasses are secure and won’t bounce around.

Stemless wine glasses (or tumblers) are popular today for their casual, unsophisticated manner and functionality. Similar to the discussions between cork and twist-cap closures, there are drinkers who like the tumbler-style glasses and those who prefer the elegance and tradition of stemmed glasses. The stem, as many a server has learned the hard way, is the most-fragile part of a wine glass and where breakage tends most often to happen.

Plastic stemless wine glasses? Save them for camping.

 

 

 

 

It’s a wrap: Colorado (mostly) finishes 2017 harvest and it’s a big one

November 5, 2017 Comments off
2017 late harvest grapes 1

Hanging around after harvest. Some grapes from the 2017 harvest went unpicked, either due to lack of demand or when winemakers ran out of storage space. Photo & story by Dave Buchanan.

Talking earlier this summer to winemakers and grape growers across Western Colorado left two impressions: One, All signs earlier this summer pointed to an early harvest and, two, that there was going to be a lot of grapes to harvest. In most cases that has proven true.

“I think everyone is finished except for some late stuff that didn’t get harvested and was left hanging,” state viticulturist Horst Caspari of the CSU research station on Orchard Mesa said last week. “One reason some grapes weren’t harvested is because the wineries’ tanks are full and no one is buying anymore.”

Most winemakers are reporting this year’s harvest took advantage of excellent mid-summer growing conditions and ran about two weeks early across the valley.

Kaibab Sauvage of Colorado Vineyard Specialists LLC in Palisade said he forecast an early harvest last spring after seeing an early bud break (flowering) on his vines.

“We were about 20 days ahead of normal,” said Sauvage, who owns and manages vineyards and sells grapes on contract to winemakers. “This was an excellent harvest, especially because it’s done. We came up with a little unsold fruit but for the most part we got everything sold.”

Sauvage repeated what many grape growers were saying, that the size of the 2015 and 2016 harvests, among the largest in the valley’s history, haven’t left much room for the 2017 crop.

The two previous years allowed wineries to fill their tanks and build some back-stock after disappointing harvests in 2013 and 2014.

But wineries still have much of that back-stock, which means they don’t have extra tanks or storage places open.

“We have a history of feast or famine, and (winemakers) definitely feasted in 2015 and 2016,” Caspari said. “We still have plenty of inventory from last year and sales aren’t increasing by 20 percent every year. Most wineries have bought all they can take or want or both.”

Jenne Baldwin-Eaton, who teaches the viticulture and winemaking courses at Western Colorado Community College, said she had grape growers cautioning her in September about an early harvest.

“The students weren’t quite ready for the grapes when they got delivered,” she said. “I told them, ‘Welcome to the world of winemaking.’”

However, Nancy Janes at Whitewater Hill Vineyards and Winery said her crop, which is west and a bit higher in elevation than most other grape areas in the Grand Valley, finished right on schedule.

“I’d say at this point we’re pretty much right back on track,” Janes said. “So sometime during the course of it we fell back into a more normal schedule.”

She said her harvest, which she expects to be around 90 tons, is up a bit from last year. Some of that, she said, is the growing conditions this year as well as continuing recovery of vines damaged during the hard winters of 2013 and 2014.

Sauvage agreed that 2017 has been excellent for quality.

“Both quality and quantity,” he emphasized. “We were down about five percent from 2016 but that was the biggest year I’ve seen in Colorado for the last 17 years.”

Caspari said early estimates put the 2017 harvest at just over 2,000 tons. When all the numbers come one, this year could eclipse the 2,100 tons harvested in the 2012, the largest yet on record.

 

 

We all started somewhere: Colorado’s amateur winemakers show up every year

November 5, 2017 Comments off
2017 amateur judge 1

Assessing wine, especially from amateur winemakers who often lack the equipment, time and experience of commercial winemakers, is time to reflect. Photo & story by Dave Buchanan.

Traditions take over during the middle months of fall. Homecoming, hunting season, Halloween, Thanksgiving. And one more, the annual Colorado Amateur Winemaking Competition.

You might have missed the last one, but it’s been happening every fall for 15 years or more.

“I remember judging wines in the little building at Palisade Town Park, while the (Colorado Mountain) Winefest was going on outside in the park,” recalled Monte Haltiner during Saturday’s latest competition. “We were judging in this tiny room and all the winemakers were sitting on the opposite side of the table, watching us all the time. It was nerve wracking.”

That was before Winefest outgrew the Town Park and moved to its present location at Riverbend Park.

Haltiner now is the head judge/coordinator for the amateur competition, which is run under the auspices of CAVE (Colorado Association for Viticulture and Enology), the folks who bring us Colorado Mountain Winefest.

No judging for Haltiner, except in case of a tie or question about protocol, but he’s busy keeping the actual judges on task.

After the state Legislature this year okayed a change that effectively allows amateur wines (unlicensed, unbonded) to be opened and served at state-licensed establishments, Saturday’s judging was held in a conference room at Wine Country Inn.

In past years, the amateur competition has been held in awkward off-site places such as outbuildings, cottages and the like. This venue change not only makes the judging more comfortable and efficient, it opens the door to Palisade hosting some large-scale amateur competition.

“The international competition attracts several thousand winemakers and usually is held in California or Back East,” Haltiner said. “We’d love to have that event here in Colorado.”

This year’s International Amateur Winemaking competition was held in West Dover, Vt., and attracted 2,497 different wines.

Saturday’s Colorado competition had six judges (disclaimer: I was one of the judges) sipping and spitting their way through 94 wines, 20 flights in all, ranging in size from three wines to seven. Or was it eight, nine maybe?

One forgets to count after 80-some wines.

The results will be announced in January at the annual VinCo conference and trade show  Jan. 15-18 at Two Rivers Convention Center.

Wines to think about (and maybe give thanks)…

November 3, 2017 Comments off

Seasonal (and Thanksgiving) wine notes…

Here are few notes from samples and purchased wines tasted in October.  Don’t worry, this isn’t more of the plethora of advice you’re inundated with about which wines to serve for Thanksgiving. Maybe.

Les Dauphins 2016 Cotes du Rhone Villages $15 – If you went out and found a natural turkey and organic  potatoes, why not an organic wine? Les Dauphins’ 2016 rouge is a pleasing blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre and Carignon. Pleasantly fruity with notes of cherries and red plums. Good slightly chilled.

Saved 2014 Red Blend $21 – The hot summer of 2014 turned out this impressive, deep-flavored red which carries tones of black plums, herbal and cocoa. A mouth-pleasing blend of mostly Malbec and Syrah, offering dark berries, white pepper, herbal notes and hints of cocoa and vanilla. Subtle tannins round off the palate. Saved is among the many Constellation brands.

Blindfold 2015 California White Wine $27 –The Prison Wine Company’s winemaker Jen Beloz continues her winning streak with this vintage, a delicious blend of primarily Chardonnay (35 percent) with Rhone and other white varietals. The result is a zesty wine offering notes of pear, melon and peach softened with vanilla and baked apple.

Notable 2016 Australia Chardonnay $15 – One of a duo of new wines from Constellation-owned Notable, both of which would be great for your Thanksgiving table. The Notable Chardonnays uses labels embossed with musical notes and a flavor scale to ease the wine buyer’s decision. The “Fruity and Crisp” Australia Chardonnay is fermented in stainless steel, offering fans of lean, crisp flavors of peach, melon and citrus.

Notable 2015 California Chardonnay ($15) – The other half of the latest twin Chardonnay offering from Notable. This full-bodied California Chardonnay, aged in French oak, falls on the “Oaky & Buttery” end of Notable’s Chardonnay flavor scale. The label touts prominent “Butter, Oak, Vanilla” flavors, making it ideal for the many lovers of affordable buttery, oak-heavy styles. The wine undergoes undergoes malolactic fermentation to soften its acidity and enhance the smooth mouthfeel before spending nine months in French oak.

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized

Early estimates put losses near $8 billion in California wildfires

November 2, 2017 Comments off
fire fighter.

Downed power lines owned by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. are being investigated for starting the fires that ravaged northern California’s wine country. Photo AP

Those watching the cataclysmic fires raging through the vinelands of California earlier this month could see the destruction taking place in real time.

Now, there are some actual dollar amounts being put on that destruction.

According to an article in the Intelligent Insurer, the most-recent estimates of economic losses by catastrophe modeling firm RMS (Risk Management Solutions) put the losses between $6 billion and $8 billion.

That includes loss (most of which reportedly occurred in Sonoma County) due to property damage, contents and business interruption caused by the fires to residential, commercial, and industrial lines of business. Lost vineyards are not included.

California Wildfires

A frie truck rumbles past a small part of the destruction caused by the wildfires in California. Photo AP.

According to the San Jose (Cal.) Mercury News, as of Oct. 28, more than 150,000 acres had burned across Sonoma, Napa and Solano Counties. No one is trying to estimate how long it will take for the region’s $74 billion viticulture and wine-related tourism industry to rebound.

One way we can help that rebound is to visit the Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino areas later this fall or next summer. The entire area wasn’t scorched; in fact, many wineries saw a bit of an uptick in visits as soon as they reopened after the fire, even while repairs were underway..

“From a tourist perspective, the valley’s still pretty intact,” said Scott Goldie, a partner with the Napa Valley Wine Train, in an article in the Napa Valley Register.

Europe seeing short harvest: Three of the world’s top wine-producing countries – Spain, France and Italy – are dealing with weather-related, lower-than-expected harvests. The three countries account for 50 percent of the world’s annual wine production.

France says it expects its smallest harvest since 1945 while Italy reports the harvest is expected to drop by at least two billion bottles, according to the online website imbibe.com. The United Kingdom-based site reported recently that early reports have Italy’s 2017 crop at 38.9m hectoliters, 28-percent less than 2016 and the smallest since 1947.

According to imbibe.com, “Regions from Piemonte to Sicily were affected by the same spring frosts that hit much of Europe. The remaining crop was then reduced further by the ‘Lucifer’ heatwave, whose scorching summer temperatures caused drought in many regions and reduced berry sizes dramatically.”

It’s not clear how much of the impact will be felt by consumers except at the bulk wine level.

Brand owners “will be reluctant to pass on the full impact, as drastic price increases will lead to loss of markets that are extremely difficult to recover,” said an article from The Drinks Business.

 

Categories: Uncategorized

Extend your summer with chilled red wines

October 2, 2017 Comments off
Grapes_growing_in_Valpolicella

Grapes hanging in the Valpolicella region of Italy. The 2016 harvest appears ahead of schedule after stable weather conditions through July and August. Photo courtesy Ilares Riolfi on Flickr.

September is showing its well-known frenetic side as a month of extremes, starting with typical late-summer heat and by month’s end showing a distinct turn toward winter.

This weekend may be a hint of the season to come with an early snowfall blanketing the Colorado high country with more than 10 inches of snow.

The latter is great news for skiers and boarders but sure throws my wine drinking into a spin. During the heat of early September chilled wines (like those still in my fridge) took top spot, especially lightly chilled (no more than 30 minutes in the fridge) reds which offer more body and structure than most whites, which make the reds perfect for those late-summer barbecues.

Many wine drinkers shy away from chilled reds and opt for “room temperature” wines but what exactly is room temperature?

The custom of serving wine at room temperature began back when everyone sat around those drafty castles, which may never have been as warm as today’s centrally heated houses.

Wines served too warm or too cold can be unpleasant but when the thermometer rises a properly chilled red wine can be a blessing. The caveat of  over-chilling or over-warming a wine, whether it’s a red or your favorite white, is the affect cold has on a wine and how it changes our perception of alcohol, acid and flavor (fruit).

A colder wine seems flat and astringent, has less perceptible (key word) alcohol as well as less fruit and more perceived acidity.

A room-temperature (not over 65 degrees) red wine may seem fat, showing show more fruit and the alcohol may be more evident. A suggestion is to trend toward lighter style wines, such as Valpolicella, Chianti and Beaujolais.

2014 Rafaèl Valpolicella Classico Superiore – $16. This medium-bodied red is one of the best examples of the wines coming from the region north of Verona and east of Lake Garda. Rich with dark cherries and plums, the fruit and acidity stay in delicate balance when served chilled.

2013 Frescobaldi Nipozzano Chianti Rufina  Riserva – $20-$24. Sangiovese, especially a Sangiovese Riserva, might not be the obvious choice for drinking chilled but this well-made Chianti Riserva from one of Italy’s oldest wineries has plenty of fruit (Montmorency cherry, currant and raspberry) and structure to hold its place at the table when served chilled.

Other suggestions for red wines that retain their flavors and balance when chilled include Pinot Noirs from France and Chile, Grenache from the Côtes du Rhone, Tempranillo from Spain and Colorado and the Gamay-based Beaujolais.