California 2020: A Lawyer’s Vintage

The 2020 vintage was, quite simply, a disaster for California wine. But until recently, quantifying just how badly the fires affected harvest has been difficult. The wine industry is understandably touchy when it comes to communicating what is perceived to be bad news about a vintage.

Most organisations such as the Napa Valley Vintners association or Sonoma County Winegrowers association quite deliberately seem to avoid using the words ‘smoke taint’, preferring to speak about ‘smoke exposure’ or merely offer bromides such as ‘every one of our members made some wine in 2020’, which after a vintage like 2020 seems the equivalent of, ‘it’s just a flesh wound’.

Some wine producers, though, don’t feel the need to pull any punches.

‘I’m not making a single drop of red wine in 2020’, said Chris Carpenter, winemaker for the Cardinale, Lokoya, La Jota, Mount Brave, and Caledon wine labels, all of which are owned by Jackson Family Wines. ‘I started picking and got maybe two-thirds of the way through, and I was thinking to myself we were just wasting money, and so we just stopped.’

Carpenter oversees nearly 400 acres (160 ha) of estate vineyards for Jackson Family Wines in addition to buying an additional 10–20% of his total tonnage every year from outside growers.

‘I’m making wines that sell for $100 to $450 per bottle’, explained Carpenter. ‘There’s just no way I’m going to put out a wine that a collector is going to buy, trusting that it is good, and then have issues four or five years down the line when bound-up smoke compounds have released and it tastes like an ashtray. They’d lose their trust for me, for our wines, and they would never buy again.’

Continue reading this article on JancisRobinson.Com

This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is usually available only to subscribers of her website. If you’re not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It’s only £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($11/mo or $111 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and maps from the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.

Image of Dale Harvey’s Pigasus Vineyard wreathed in fog, courtesy of Pigasus Vineyards. Harvey suffered significant losses in 2020 due to smoke.

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The Soul of Refinement: Recent & Upcoming Releases from Corison Winery, Napa

There most definitely was a time, not so long ago, when you couldn’t begin an article about one of Napa’s greatest winemakers with the phrase “Cathy Corison needs no introduction.” But now, I wonder. The combination of interest in women winemakers, an increasing emphasis on balance in California wine, and the decline of the ParkTator hegemony have resulted in Cathy Corison finally getting the attention she so rightly deserves, both in terms of media mentions and increasingly high scores for her wines.

Regular readers will know I’ve been a fan of Corison and her wines for a long time, and since I’ve written extensively about her (most recently after a 25-year retrospective of her wines) I’m not going to tell her full story today. Instead, I’m going to share my thoughts on some of her recently released wines, specifically the 2016, 2017, and 2018 vintages.

Three Excellent Vintages

The 2016 growing season started early in Napa, with a very warm April and after some typical heat in June, the season almost seemed to get cooler as time went on, with no serious heat spikes. And then, as is sometimes typical, things got warmer as harvest approached but without extremes. It’s something of a fleshy vintage for Napa in general, though with Corison picking earlier than most of her peers, it simply means a lovely vintage for her wines.

The winter preceding the 2017 growing season was quite wet, especially relative to the drought conditions that set in between 2012 and 2015. After a relatively uneventful Spring, the weather began to warm considerably as August transitioned to September, and then some serious heat settled in and made for a highly compressed harvest for Corison to avoid losing the acidity that she seeks to retain in her fruit.

Corison describes the 2018 vintage as perhaps the “darkest, inkiest” vintage she can remember, as moderate weather stretched from a perfectly undisturbed flowering in spring to a leisurely harvest, with cool nights all along retaining acidity and allowing a smooth and slow maturation of the fruit. Of course, when other people say “inky” you might start to imagine 15.5% alcohol, opaque wines that slip across the palate like olive oil. Corison’s 2018 wines clock in at 13.7% alcohol with fantastic acidity.

The Barn at Corison Winery

Patience is a Virtue

I tell most people that they should really drink Corison’s wines after a minimum of five years, but optimally after about 10 years. The old-school style of these wines deeply rewards time in the bottle. That’s not to say these wines aren’t delicious out of the gate. As you can see from the tasting notes below, they absolutely are. But the real magic with Corison Cabernet comes from the secondary and tertiary aromas and flavors that can only come with time in the cellar. I wouldn’t necessarily make the same recommendation for a lot of Napa Cabernets, many of which (especially the higher-alcohol wines) I find drink at their best within the 2-5 year timeframe when you can revel in their richness of fruit.

With Corison’s wines, though, it’s the refinement of fruit over time with dried flowers, pencil shavings, aromatic herbs, cedar, and cigar box flavors and aromas that truly demonstrates the potential of the vineyards that Cathy farms, and the style with which she crafts her wines.

So if you’re going to buy these wines, I recommend buying them in multiples of three. Drink one if you have to in the next 2 years, drink one between 5 and 7 years later, and save the last one for 10 years or more. You can thank me later.

If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of tasting Corison’s wine, you’re missing out on one of the most consistently excellent wines made in Napa.

Here’s a photo I took of Cathy amidst her oeuvre, so to speak.

The Soul of Refinement: Recent & Upcoming Releases from Corison Winery, Napa

Tasting Notes

2016 Corison Winery “Kronos Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dusty earth, dried herbs, and dried flowers. In the mouth, gorgeously refined notes of black cherry and cassis mix with dried flowers and road dust. The texture here is lovely, with delicate, fine-grained tannins that billow like gauze in the mouth, as the juicy berry flavors get a tinge of citrus peel brightness as they finish but also a savory, salinity that adds an umami kick to this wine. Fantastic acidity. Delicious now but in 5-10 years, watch out. 13.3% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $210. click to buy.

2016 Corison Winery “Sunbasket Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherries, blackcurrants, dried flowers, and dried fennel seeds. In the mouth, juicy blackcurrant and black cherry flavors have a tangy sour cherry note as hints of dried flowers and herbs creep into the mouthwatering finish. Fantastic acidity and the faintest of fleecy tannins. 13.4% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $200. click to buy.

2017 Corison Winery “Helios – Sunbasket Vineyard” Cabernet Franc, St. Helena, Napa, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of plum and plum skin with hints of dried green herbs. In the mouth, juicy plum skin, sour cherry, and dried flowers are bursting with bright acidity and shot through with dried green herbs. Lovely faint powdery tannins give some structure to the wine, but this is largely just mouthwatering juiciness. Very light on its feet and easy to drink. 13.9% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $115. click to buy.

2017 Corison Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and blackberries. In the mouth, juicy black cherry and blackberry fruit is shot through with lightly muscular tannins and fantastic acidity that leaves a sour cherry, mouthwatering quality to the wine. Young yet, and likely to improve for the next 10 years. 14.2% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $99. click to buy.      

2018 Corison Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of dried herbs, black cherry, blackcurrants, and lavender. In the mouth, intense blackcurrant and dried herb notes are juicy with fantastic acidity and savory with hints of dried flowers. A hint of salinity creeps into the finish along with a dusty earth note. Powdery tannins flex their muscles on the edges of the palate. While this is tasty right now, I’d leave it alone for 5 years to start getting the true magic here. 13.8% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $99. (this wine is due to be released on 9/1/21 – click to buy.      

2018 Corison Winery “Helios – Sunbasket Vineyard” Cabernet Franc, St. Helena, Napa, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dusty earth, black plum, and black cherry. In the mouth, incredibly juicy flavors of black plum, cherry, and citrus oil pucker the mouth with fantastic, mouthwatering acidity. Faint tannins and hints of dried herbs and flowers add texture and complexity to this wine. This is young and quite primary at the moment but will blossom even more with time. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $110. This wine is due to be released on 10/1/21 – click to buy.    

2018 Corison Winery “Sunbasket Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Dark purple in color, this wine smells of black plum and black cherry. In the mouth, muscular tannins wrap around a core of black cherry and blackcurrant with the tangy brightness of plum skin that makes the mouth water. Hints of dried flowers and licorice linger in the finish. This one definitely needs some time in the bottle, but I predict it will be fantastic in a few years. 13.7% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $200. This wine is due to be released on 11/1/21 – click to buy.      

Some images courtesy of Corison Wines.

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Vinography Unboxed: Week of 8/8/21

Hello and welcome to my weekly dig through the pile of wine samples that show up asking to be tasted. I’m pleased to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles that have crossed my doorstep recently.

This week included a couple of excellent value white wines. Peju Winery makes excellent Napa reds but also makes a crisp and reliable Sauvignon Blanc that ages relatively well, as I discovered this week after noticing a bottle that I should have probably reviewed 18 months ago. It was still fresh and bright and quite tasty, so go grab a few and put them on ice. Likewise, the Torrontes from Susana Balbo was also a refreshing mouthful, and at $13, how can you go wrong?

Oregon Chardonnay is having something of a moment, and tasting the Elton Vineyard Chardonnay from Lavinea, it’s not hard to understand why, as it’s crisp and tangy and lean, but with some nice complexity. You could use the same words to describe Stewart Johnson’s rendition of Viognier from Kendrick Vineyards, which focuses primarily on making wines grown in Marin County. Stewart’s latest rosé is also excellent.

While we’re in the pink zone, you should check out the OVR – Old Vine Rosé from Marietta Cellars, which will satisfy many a summer afternoon craving for $14.

I’ve got a couple of Pinots to share this week, including one from Lavinea that has a little age on it and is showing beautifully, along with the brash ripe cherry flavors of the Cuvee Number One from Cattleya Wines.

And we can finish the week out with some Napa Cabs, including the 2016 vintage of Unwritten, a relatively new producer in Napa that I wrote about earlier in the year as part of my coverage of producers in Napa that were new to me. Also worth remarking on was the Redmon Cabernet, which is from a tiny family-run vineyard that Lisa Redmond has shepherded for a couple of decades in St. Helena.

Notes on all these and more below.

Tasting Notes

2018 Peju Winery Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Pale straw in the glass, this wine smells of candied green apple, green grass, and a touch of honeysuckle. In the mouth, bright green apple and kiwi flavors have a faint sweetness to them and bright juicy acidity. Clean and crisp. 13.8% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2018 Susana Balbo “Crios” Torrontes, Argentina
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of candied grapefruit and a touch of melon. In the mouth, grapefruit, star fruit, and a hint of green melon mix with bright acidity and a nice citrus pith note in the finish. Crisp and tasty. 13.5% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $13. click to buy.

2018 Lavinea “Elton Vineyard” Chardonnay, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of lemon pith, vanilla, and lime juice. In the mouth, juicy lemon pith and pink grapefruit flavors have a hint of unripe apple to them, with a touch of sourness along with the mouthwatering bright citrus notes. Lean and crisp. 13.8% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $54. click to buy.

2020 Kendric Vineyards Viognier, Petaluma Gap, Marin, California
Pale yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of nectarines and orange peels. In the mouth, apricot, nectarine, and a nice citrus pith brightness are positively juicy with excellent acidity. Quite lean for a California Viognier, and much the better for it in my opinion. Very tasty. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $26.

2020 Kendric Vineyards Rosé of Pinot Noir, Petaluma Gap, Marin, California
Pale peachy-pink in color, this wine smells of strawberries and white flowers, and sweet cream. In the mouth, bright berry notes also have a faint smoky earth tone to them. Citrus peel and berry linger in the finish. Quite tasty. 12.3% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $16. click to buy.

2020 Marietta Cellars “OVR – Old Vine” Rosé, California
Light coppery gold in the glass, this wine smells of berries and watermelon. In the mouth, bright berry and watermelon flavors mix with citrus peel amidst a silky juicy mouthwatering package. Excellent acidity. A blend of Syrah, Grenache Noir, and Grenache Gris. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $14. click to buy.

2016 Lavinea “Tulatin Estate” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Light to medium garnet with orange highlights, this wine smells of smoked brisket and raspberries. In the mouth, bright raspberry flavors have a nice meaty, almost saline, umami kick to them, with excellent acidity and a hint of green herbs in the finish. Quite tasty. 13.1% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $65. click to buy.        

2019 Cattleya “Cuvee Number One” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of sweet cherry and cedar. In the mouth, sweetish cherry and raspberry jam flavors have a rich, ripe intensity, but are backed by pretty good acidity that has a citrus peel kick to it. Barely perceptible tannins. This is ripe California Pinot, for those looking for a more robust interpretation of the grape. 14.3% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.

2016 AXR Napa Valley “AXR – V Madrone Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, raisins, and cocoa powder. In the mouth, black cherry, and dried cherry flavors mix with raisins, roasted figs, and chocolate under a fleecy blanket of tannins. Rich and on the ripe side, there’s a hint of port quality to this wine, which some will undoubtedly like. A bit too ripe and rich for my taste. 15.4% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $160. click to buy.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 8/8/21

2016 Lost Cellars “Unwritten” Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of bright cherry and herbs. In the mouth, bright cherry fruit mixes with dried herbs and cedar, as excellent acidity keeps the mouth watering and fine, muscular tannins add texture to the whole package. There’s a faint hint of alcoholic heat in the finish. 14.8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $150. click to buy.

2016 Ballentine “Fig Tree Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis, and blackberry. In the mouth, notes of espresso and black cherry have a nice medium body and fairly gentle tannic structure. Good acidity and brightness. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $90.

2016 Redmon Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa, California
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and plum. In the mouth, juicy black cherry and plum flavors have a nice purity to them, and a sour cherry kick in the finish that accompanies bright acidity. Muscular, but fine-grained tannins round out this quite tasty package. Restrained oak. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $95.

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Tasting California’s Ancient Vines: Lodi’s Heritage Vineyards

“Pssssst. Hey, buddy.”

The sound came from just ahead me and to the left. At first I didn’t think it was meant for me, until a shape detached itself from the shadows of the dark alley, and stepped into the penumbra of the streetlight.

“Pssst. Hey buddy,” said the figure, its face still in darkness, “Wanna taste some old vines?”

I stopped short in alarm and quickly looked around me. We were alone.

No one had heard this offer, aimed squarely at a weakness whose existence I had taken pains to bury deep. I prided myself on being discrete, on the veneer of composure that I had constructed to surround my obsessions. But someone who knew me had clearly talked.

With another quick look around me, I stepped into the shadows for what I told myself was one last fix. But even as I did, a part of me knew, like all the times before, this was where I really belonged.

OK, so maybe it didn’t happen quite like that, but when someone from the Lodi Winegrape Commission called up and asked if I wanted to go stand around in some of America’s oldest vineyards and taste the wines they’d produced while the spring weather was still good enough to make it pleasant, what’s a weak-willed wine writer like me gonna do?

The answer, of course is: salivate like hell.

Big Vineyards, Old Vines

For most people, Lodi recalls little but an unfortunate Credence Clearwater Revival lyric. But for serious California wine lovers and those who understand the meaning of viticultural heritage, it’s something of holy ground.

In fact, the Lodi AVA, established in 1986, is America’s single largest wine growing area, covering more than half a million acres, with more than 110,000 of those acres planted to grapes.

Lodi’s ancient vines, like many such vineyards around the world, are an endangered species that will only survive through a combination of proactive conservation and public advocacy by those who understand what they mean to the world of wine.

Of course, size is not everything, especially in the world of wine. But hidden in plain sight within the vast swaths of vineyards are some of the greatest treasures of American viticulture.

Approximately 2000 acres of Lodi vineyards consist of pre-Prohibition, own-rooted vines, some with vines that have been growing in these sandy soils for more than 140 years. Low-yielding and commercially tenuous, this vineyard acreage has been shrinking for years, as old vines are ripped out and replaced by more productive youngsters, or more frequently, by acres of tract homes and shopping centers.

Lodi’s ancient vines, like many such vineyards around the world, are an endangered species that will only survive through a combination of proactive conservation and public advocacy by those who understand what they mean to the world of wine.

You can consider this little tour I’m about to offer you an example of the latter. These vineyards can produce wines unlike any other in the world. The difference in flavor between a 4-year-old, trellis-trained, irrigated Cinsault vine, and a 150-year-old, own-rooted, dry-farmed vine with roots plunging 90 feet down into 20 million years worth of eroded granite sands cannot be overstated.

If we want them to survive, we need to know, to buy, and to drink the wines they produce.

California Wine History Writ Large

It’s not hard to imagine how some of California’s earliest settlers, haggard and exhausted from the trials of crossing the Sierra Nevada Mountains, might arrive a the wide, fertile plains abutting the inner Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and decide they needed to go no further.

Indeed, starting in the late 1840s many pioneer immigrants did just that, staking claims to swaths of farmland, draining marshes, and planting all manner of crops, but especially wine grapes. In the years following 1848, when gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill (a mere 76 miles northwest) Lodi and many towns in California’s Central Valley were transformed almost overnight from small farmsteads to thriving Western townships.

All of a sudden, there were a lot of thirsty people nearby, some of them newly rich, many more wanting to drown their sorrows, and we all know there’s no better way to do that than with wine.

By the 1880s, Lodi was a thriving center for grape growing, even beginning to export grapes by rail to the East Coast. While perhaps a slight oversimplification of a complex agricultural history, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that when it was incorporated as a city in 1906, Lodi owed much of its fortune, not to mention its existence, to grapes.

Those rising fortunes between the mid-1880s and the inception of Prohibition in 1920 resulted in the planting of a number of vineyards that are miraculously still with us today.

These are the vineyards that I journeyed to touch, to see, and most of all, to taste. I did so in the company of Randy Caparoso, to whom I am indebted not only for being my tour guide, but for his incredible wealth of knowledge on the region, provided to me as we toured and sipped, as well as in the form of his forthcoming book, Lodi! The Definitive Guide and History of America’s Largest Winegrowing Region, which will be out later this fall.

The detailed history of each of the vineyards highlighted below is largely summarized from Randy’s admirable scholarship. I am providing only the barest facts about each vineyard below, but know that each has a rich and vibrant set of stories behind it that Randy has meticulously gathered and woven into a narrative to which my summaries do little justice.

Most, but not all, of Lodi’s oldest vines are to be found in its two most southerly sub-regions, the Mokelumne River AVA and the Clements Hills AVA, with the former being truly ground zero for the biggest, gnarliest, oldest vines that still make fantastic wine.

OK. Enough talk. Let’s taste.

Bechthold Vineyard

The Bechthold Vineyard

In 1886, Joseph Spenker planted 25 acres of a grape he knew as “Black Malvosier” but which would turn out to be Cinsault. Today, what remains of those 25 acres is known as the Bechtold Vineyard, and according to Caparoso, is likely the oldest living planting of Cinsault in the world, as well as definitively being the oldest vines in the Lodi appellation. Its fruit is largely purchased by small, artisan producers, who are interested in showcasing what one of the country’s oldest living vineyards can produce. Filled with 6-foot-tall, spur-pruned, gnarled vines like the one pictured above, the vineyard feels like a small forest of writhing monsters frozen in place, some leaning on wooden stakes for support in their old age. It is farmed organically, and boasts sandy loam soils that go down sixty feet or more.

2019 McCay Cellars Rosé of Cinsault, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Pale peach in color, this wine smells of citrus and berries. In the mouth, bright citrus and berry flavors are silky and slightly crunchy with good acidity. A touch of bright rhubarb and savory river mud linger in the finish. While the Bechthold Vineyard doesn’t appear on the label, that is, indeed, where this fruit comes from. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $35 click to buy.  

2016 McCay Cellars “Bechthold Vineyard” Cinsault, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of spices and earth. In the mouth, juicy flavors of strawberries, exotic woods, and spices have a light texture from faint tannins. Herbal notes linger in the finish with notes of sour rhubarb and dusty roads. Fermented with native yeast after a 1-week cold soak, aged in neutral wood. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $40 click to buy.

2019 Fields Family Wines “Bechthold Vineyard” Cinsault, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of green herbs and spices. In the mouth, primary grape flavors mix with mulberry, herbs, and strawberry rhubarb pie. Fermented with native yeasts and aged in neutral wood. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $26. click to buy.

Tasting California’s Ancient Vines: Lodi’s Heritage Vineyards
The Royal Tee Vineyard

Jessie’s Grove – Royal Tee

Many of Spenker’s original plantings and his original homestead can be found within the borders of a relatively intact 320-acre estate referred to as Jessie’s Grove, named for a stand of trees that became eponymous after Jessie Spenker took up the mantle of grape farming following her father’s death in 1916, while steadfastly refusing to rip out the 32-acre grove of oaks that she adored.

In 1889, three years after planting the Bechthold plot, Spenker planted another 5-acre block with mostly Zinfandel (84.5%), Carignan, Flame Tokay, Mission, and Black Prince. This vineyard hosting Lodi’s oldest planting of Zinfandel is now called Royal Tee Vineyard. It features low-slung, head-trained vines and showcases a mix of grapes that would become known as “mixed blacks,” often harvested together and fermented together in what today is more commonly known as a “field blend.”

2017 Alquimista Cellars “Ancient Vines – Jessie’s Grove” Zinfandel, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Light to medium ruby in color, this wine smells of cherry and strawberry fruits with floral overtones. In the mouth, gorgeous bright strawberry and unripe blackberry fruit flavors mix with black pepper and a touch of dried herbs. Lithe and quite lean for Zinfandel. Excellent. This wine is sourced from a section of the vineyard known as the Royal T. Score: around 9. Cost: $45 click to buy.

2018 Alquimista Cellars “Ancient Vines – Jessie’s Grove” Zinfandel, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of strawberry and blackberry fruit. In the mouth, excellent acidity makes flavors of strawberry, blackberry, and sour cherry boisterous on the palate. Hints of pepper and dusty earthy linger in the finish with faint tannins. Wonderful. This wine is sourced from a section of the vineyard known as the Royal T. Score: around 9. Cost: $45 click to buy.

Tasting California’s Ancient Vines: Lodi’s Heritage Vineyards
1900 Block – Block 4 – Spenker Ranch

Jessie’s Grove – Spenker Ranch “1900 Block 4”

In 1900, Spenker planted another 8-acre vineyard block, this time with Carignan on its own roots. The White Zinfandel boom of the 60s and 70s is largely responsible for the continued existence of so many old-vine Zinfandel vineyards. Other varieties, such as Cinsault or Carignane had no such “protections,” making blocks such as this 1900 all the more precious. The sandy soils here host scraggly grasses underneath the thick trunks of these Carignan vines built like wrestlers.

2018 Precedent Wine “Spenker Ranch” Carignane, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of mulberries and floral cherries. In the mouth, juicy bright acidity is fantastically bright as a gorgeous stony earthy quality suffuses cherry and red berry notes. Light powdery tannins accompany notes of black pepper and pink peppercorns in the finish. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $22.

Tasting California’s Ancient Vines: Lodi’s Heritage Vineyards
The Wegat Vineyard

Wegat Vineyard

Somewhat “young” by Lodi’s old-vines standards, the Wegat Vineyard was planted in 1958 primarily to Zindfandel. It is part of a homestead that has been farmed by the ancestors of its current owners since 1869. Its spur-pruned, layered vertical cordon vines have a regal reach, casting big patches of shadow on its sandy soils. The rootstock here is St. George, to which were grafted cuttings from the Acampo vineyard, which was the source material for what some consider to be among the best Zinfandel vines in Lodi. Consequently, the Wegat has become one of Lodi’s most distinctive sources for single-vineyard Zinfandel.

2017 Maley Brothers Vineyards “Lodi Native – Wegat Vineyard” Zinfandel, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of gorgeous blackberry and blueberry aromas with hints of floral overtones. In the mouth, juicy blackberry and black cherry fruits mix with floral notes and a hint of bright citrus acidity. Faint tannins and a long finish round out a mouthwatering, juicy package. Score: between 9 and 9.5. $35

Tasting California’s Ancient Vines: Lodi’s Heritage Vineyards
The Soucie Vineyard

Soucie Vineyard

The oldest block of the Soucie Vineyard, shown above, dates back to 1916. Own-rooted and 100% dry-farmed, it has been worked by three generations of the Soucie family. Kevin Soucie meticulously cultivates the 105-year-old, head-trained vines, and continues to be amazed at how healthy the vines remain at this age. “There are a lot of newer vineyards planted in the 90s that are petering out now, and need replanting,” he says. “They were just pushed too hard when they were young.” Soucie says he’d never plant a vineyard this way if he was putting in a new one now, but as long as his old vines are still kicking, he’s going to keep giving them the love they need to do their thing in the deep, powdery soils that mark this prized source of Zinfandel. The soils here are soft and velvety as talcum powder, and the archetypally shaped old vines cast striking shadows on the spotlessly turned bare earth.

2018 m2 Wines “Soucie Vineyard” Zinfandel, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Medium garnet in the glass this wine smells of black and blue fruits. In the mouth, notes of blackberry and ginger mix with black pepper and juicy bright acidity. There’s a touch of heat on the finish of this wine, but also some lovely rumbling earth. Aged in 25% new American oak. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $32 click to buy.

2017 m2 Wines “Cemetery Vineyard” Zinfandel, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and strawberry fruit. In the mouth, the wine is rather high-toned, with excellent acidity. Notes of flowers and pepper linger through the finish. Missing some substance in the middle of the palate. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $28 click to buy.

Tasting California’s Ancient Vines: Lodi’s Heritage Vineyards
The Mohr-Fry Ranch’s Marian’s Vineyard

Marian’s Vineyard

Planted in 1901 by the Mettler Family (the descendants of whom still make wine in the region), Marian’s is one of Lodi’s most prized sources of Zinfandel. This 8.3-acre plot features a rare set of limestone “lenses” that have kept these 120-year-old vines spry and healthy in their old age, still yielding sometimes up to 4 tons per acre. Widely regarded as having its own unique clone of Zinfandel, the vineyard’s vines and the fruit they produce are distinctly different than other nearby sites, or indeed, even adjoining vineyard blocks.

2019 St. Amant “Mohr-Fry Ranch Old Vine” Zinfandel, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Medium garnet in the glass with hints of ruby, this wine smells of blackberries and spice. In the mouth, spicy black pepper, blackberry, and boysenberry flavors are juicy with excellent acidity. Barely perceptible tannins, and a long finish. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $13. click to buy.

2019 St. Amant “Lodi Native – Marian’s Vineyard” Zinfandel, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry and boysenberry. In the mouth, gorgeous silky, fine tannins give structure to flavors of juicy blackberry and black cherry, with a hint of blueberries. A touch of white pepper and dried flowers and herbs lingers in the finish. Great acidity. Good length. Score: around 9. Cost: $35 click to buy.

Tasting California’s Ancient Vines: Lodi’s Heritage Vineyards
The Fathom Vineyard

Fathom Vineyard

The oldest segments of this own-rooted Zinfandel vineyard date to the mid-1920s. Some of the trunks of these vines are huge, much thicker than my torso, and the classic, head-trained shape of the vines make for a remarkable variety of beautiful silhouettes. The soils are quite sandy, with something of a packed appearance at the surface between the vines, with the remains of the cover crops scraggly between the rows.

2018 Neyers Vineyards “Vista Notre – Fathom Vineyard” Zinfandel, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry and boysenberry fruit. In the mouth, boysenberry fruit is shot through with fine-grained tannins that have a tight muscular quality suggesting a little time in the bottle to relax. Notes of cherry, raspberry and black pepper linger in the finish. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $22. click to buy.

Tasting California’s Ancient Vines: Lodi’s Heritage Vineyards
The Noma Ranch

Noma Ranch

Once a full 15 acres of Zinfandel planted sometime between 1900 and 1910, Noma Ranch is now less than half of its original size, having been parceled off and sold to real estate developers. The site, farmed by Leland Noma, is marked by its unusually stunted vines, some of which almost lay directly on the sandy loam soils. It has been dry-farmed for possibly its entire existence, and its unique clonal selection yields the smallest clusters of berries that many Zinfandel producers have ever seen, rarely topping 1 ton per acre of yield. Painstaking to work, vineyards like this demonstrate what a true labor of love old vines have to be.

2018 Macchia Wines “Outrageous – Noma Ranch” Zinfandel, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine offers heady aromas of blackberry pie. In the mouth, sweetish blackberry fruit has a nice bright acidity which keeps the wine juicy, but there’s a bit too much oak flavor on the palate for my taste. Comes across as somewhat high octane (15.5% alcohol). Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost: $26. click to buy.

Tasting California’s Ancient Vines: Lodi’s Heritage Vineyards
The Rous Vineyard

Rous Vineyard

Planted on St. George rootstock in 1909, this is the second oldest St. George-based vineyard in the region (planted in 1907, the Stacie Vineyard is the oldest such planting). Sitting almost in the center of the deepest, most homogenous alluvial sands in the region, what locals refer to as the “Victor Triangle,” this 10-acre vineyard takes its name from its current owner, Craig Rous. Rous helped Mondavi build the Woodbridge brand back in the 80s and ended up buying the vineyard in 1990 from a fellow coworker at Woodbridge. The vineyard is now Rous’ “retirement project” and justifiably a source of pride and passion, since according to him, farming vineyards like this “barely make any financial sense.” The vineyard’s soils are extremely fine, though perhaps not as powdery as those found farther to the west side of the AVA, and the vines have a mix of silhouettes, some more traditionally head-pruned, others resembling a vertical, spur-pruned approach.

2018 Ironstone Vineyards “109 Reserve Ancient Vines – Rous Vineyard” Zinfandel, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blueberry and blackberry with a touch of cedar. Dried flowers, faint tannins, and a sort of nutty character merge with the dark fruit. Good acidity keeps things relatively energetic on the palate. Ages for a year in older oak barrels. Score: around 9. Cost: $30 click to buy.

Tasting California’s Ancient Vines: Lodi’s Heritage Vineyards
The Charles Lewis Vineyard

Charles Lewis Vineyard

The squat, muscular vines of the Lewis Vineyard have a distinct presence. These own-rooted, head-trained vines were planted in 1903 in the fine, sandy soils and are sustainably dry-farmed to yield a distinctively red-fruited rendition of Zinfandel made by the LangeTwins Family, who purchases the fruit from the Lewis Family every year.

2014 LangeTwins Family Vineyards & Winery “Centennial – Lewis Vineyard” Zinfandel, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of blackberry and raspberry with a hint of soy sauce. In the mouth, wonderfully bright acidity keeps flavors of raspberry and blackberry bright and juicy while muscular tannins exert a somewhat firm grip on the palate. There’s that umami note again on the palate. Comes across as slightly hot with alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $56. click to buy.

Tasting California’s Ancient Vines: Lodi’s Heritage Vineyards
The Lizzie James Vineyard

Lizzie James Vineyard

Planted in 1904 the oldest sections (which make up about 40%) of the Lizzie James Vineyard are Zinfandel grafted onto Black Prince rootstock, which was a vitis vinifera cultivar popular at the end of the 19th Century. A mix of head-trained and vertical spur-pruned vines, these vines dig deep into soils that resemble beach sand, which at one point were dug and measured down to a depth of 95 feet. Some of the older vines were replaced in the 70s but the core of the vineyard remains the 117-year-old vines.

2018 Harney Lane Winery “Lizzy James Vineyard” Zinfandel, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blueberry and blackberry fruit. In the mouth, powerful blueberry and raspberry fruit mix with cherry and cedar notes. Hints of floral aromas emerge on the finish. Broad-shouldered and powerful. Sees around 25% new oak. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $36. click to buy.

Tasting California’s Ancient Vines: Lodi’s Heritage Vineyards

Scottsdale Vineyard

This 2.5 acre block of own-rooted, head-trained, dry-farmed Zinfandel features some of the fluffiest sandy loam soils I saw while in Lodi. Planted in the first decade of the 20th century, the vineyard also includes some replanting from the 1970s. Some of the oldest trunks are thicker than my thigh, and sit squatly close to the ground above the wonderfully voluminous soils. For the last 15 years, the vineyard has been farmed by Harney Lane Winery, whose owner Kyle Lerner refers to the site as the “Blueberry Block” thanks to the blue and red fruit character that its small bunches typically produce.

2018 Harney Lane Winery “Scottsdale Vineyard” Zinfandel, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of strawberries and blueberries. In the mouth, the wine is floral and bright, with red fruit flavors and excellent acidity. Nice lift and energy. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $40. click to buy.

Tasting California’s Ancient Vines: Lodi’s Heritage Vineyards
The Kirschenmann Vineyard

Kirschenmann Vineyard (and Neighboring Blocks)

This 19-acre block of own-rooted, (mostly) head-trained (mostly) Zinfandel was planted in 1915 and farmed by Alan Kirschenmann until his death in 2004. It was briefly named the Baumbach Vineyard until it was purchased by Tegan Passalacqua in 2012 and renamed after its longtime caretaker. Sitting in an old oxbow of the Mokelumne river, the vineyard has striations of limestone and grainy quartz that run through its deep, loamy sands and it tends to stay a degree or two cooler than surrounding areas because of the channel of the river. The vineyard features smatterings of Alicante Bouschet, Carignan, Mondeuse Noire and Grand Noir de la Calmett along with the Zinfandel.

Two other historic vineyards sit adjoining Kirschenmann and share its soil profile and aspect. Across a narrow dirt road, lies the Rauser Vineyard, and just behind Kirschenmann, towards the river, lies the Faith Lot 13 Vineyard.

Of the three, the Rauser was planted first, in 1909, and consists primarily of Carignan, interplanted with Alicante Bouschet and a little Zinfandel. The 10-acre Faith Lot 13 Vineyard was originally part of the Kirschenmann vineyard (but was sold separately in 2013) and features own-rooted, head trained, spur-pruned Zinfandel.

2018 Precedent Wine “Kirschenmann Vineyard” Zinfandel, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of exotic spices, red berries, and citrus. In the mouth, gorgeously bright cherry, raspberry, and strawberry mix with black tea and a touch of licorice root. Fabulous, fine tannins and amazing acidity, which lends a bright citrus note to the finish. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $36. click to buy.

2017 Klinker Brick Winery “Rauser Vineyard” Carignan, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of bright cherry and boysenberry fruit. In the mouth, cedar and oak flavors demonstrate a good amount of wood influence on cherry, cola, green herbs, and dusty earth. Powdery tannins. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2017 McCay Cellars “Faith Lot 13 Vineyard” Zinfandel, Mokelumne River, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine has a gorgeously floral nose of sweet cherry and nutmeg. In the mouth, fantastically bright fruit has a nice cherry and herbal quality with gorgeous acidity. Hints of licorice root and jalapeño spice linger in the finish. Positively electrifying, with remarkably low, 13.8% alcohol. Bravo! Score: around 9.5. Cost: $32. click to buy.

Tasting California’s Ancient Vines: Lodi’s Heritage Vineyards
The Süss Vineyard

Süss Vineyard

Planted by C.H. Süss in approximately 1928, this 15-acre vineyard features own-rooted, head trained Zinfandel planted in very powdery soils. The vines here are sturdy and somewhat squat, dwarfed by the metal support stakes that were added here and there over the years. Farming has been done by the Bokisch Family for many years.

2016 Tizona by Bokisch “Süss Vineyard” Zinfandel, Clements Hills, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Light to medium ruby in color, this wine smells of strawberry jam and herbs. In the mouth, juicy strawberry, cherry, and mulberry flavors have a bit of heat to them, with notes of candied orange lingering in the finish. Great acidity. 15.2% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $32.

Tasting California’s Ancient Vines: Lodi’s Heritage Vineyards

Stampede Vineyard

Also the handiwork of C.H. Süss (and partner J.J. Zechmeister), the Stampede Vineyard (so named due to its proximity to the rodeo grounds) was planted between the 1920s and 1940s. It consists of mostly head-trained, own-rooted Zinfandel, but with some Mission, and Mourvedre vines mixed in. Somewhat unusually for the time, the vines were planted in an offset diamond pattern, which you can possibly see in the photograph above, while still maintaining a 10 foot by 10 foot spacing between plants.

2020 Maître de Chai “Buckaroo’s – Stampede Vineyard” Rosé of Zinfandel, Clements Hills, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Pale peachy pink in the glass, this wine smells of watermelon and citrus rind. In the mouth, juicy bright watermelon and watermelon rind flavors mix with guava and berry. Excellent acidity adds a nice citrusy brightness. Quite juicy and delicious. 13.2% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $28 click to buy.

2016 Fields Family Wines “Stampede Vineyard” Zinfandel, Clements Hills, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Medium ruby in color, this wine smells of cloves and cherries, and cedar. In the mouth, incredibly juicy and bright and spicy flavors of cherry and strawberry and raspberry mix with nutmeg and mulling spices with a touch of heat on the finish but fantastic acidity and length. Aged in neutral Oak. 14.6% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $28. click to buy.

2018 Maître de Chai “Stampede Vineyard” Zinfandel, Clements Hills, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Medium ruby in color, this wine smells of cherry and strawberry and wonderful floral aromas. In the mouth, the wine is floral and bright with a stony tightness. Flavors of cherry and herbs, strawberry and dried flowers are clasped in the firm, muscular grip of a fairly serious fist of tannins. There’s some whole cluster fermentation here which no doubt adds to the tannic structure. 12.8% alcohol, lean, and mean. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $32. click to buy.

Tasting California’s Ancient Vines: Lodi’s Heritage Vineyards
The Dogtown Vineyard

Dogtown Vineyard

It’s somewhat hard to believe that the diminutive little vines in Dogtown Vineyard are so old, but they were planted in 1944, and have been managed since 1997 by Turley Vineyards, who have made the Dogtown name famous through their popular single-vineyard bottlings. The tiny vines yield the least fruit per vine of any of Turley’s vineyards, but what they lack in volume they often make up for in acidity. The vineyard is actually on an ancient embankment of the Mokelumne River, and contains a mix of finer, reddish sandy clay loam with volcanic influences as well as the granite sands found in the neighboring Mokelumne River Ava. In a region where many of the vineyards are typically flat, the minor slope of Dogtown and some of the other vineyards in the Clements Hills AVA set it apart from other Lodi sites.

2018 Turley Vineyards “Dogtown Vineyard” Zinfandel, Clements Hills, Lodi, Central Valley, California
Medium ruby in color, this wine smells of berries and cedar, and flowers. In the mouth, exceptionally juicy strawberry and blackberry, and cherry flavors have a brightness and juiciness, with some salty-sweet flavor that is wrapped in light muscular tannins. Excellent length and brightness. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $70. click to buy.

*   *   *   

Well, there you have it, a flavorful tour of the ancients. Go buy some and help keep these treasures alive.

Tasting California’s Ancient Vines: Lodi’s Heritage Vineyards
A particularly characterful old trunk in the Royal Tee Vineyard.

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California Runs Dry

Over the last year or two, the ubiquitous two-word phrase ‘climate change’ has, with increasing frequency, been replaced with the phrase ‘climate emergency’. Spring has not quite yet transitioned to summer in California wine country, but there are plenty of alarm bells ringing that make it clear the state is firmly in the grip of the latter.

On Wednesday 21 April, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a drought emergency for Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. As the site for his announcement he chose the dry bed of Lake Mendocino where, he said, under normal circumstances he should have been standing ‘40 feet underwater’. Last Monday, 10 May, he expanded that emergency declaration to add 39 other counties to the list, including Napa. 

Rainfall in the state is at 42% of normal levels according the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with parts of Sonoma County at just 33% of historical averages. At a time when parts of the state would normally be seeing the last of their spring showers, more than 1,788 fires have already started, including some flare-ups from ‘holdover fires’ – smouldering embers from 2020 that did not receive enough rain to be fully extinguished over the winter. The wildfire risk for much of the west, as shown above in a map from Channel 7 News, is already extreme.

Continue reading this story on JancisRobinson.Com.

This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is usually available only to subscribers of her website. If you’re not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It’s only £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($11/mo or $111 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and maps from the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.

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Wine News: What I’m Reading the Week of 2/14/21

Welcome to my weekly roundup of the wine stories that I find of interest on the web. I post them to my magazine on Flipboard, but for those of you who aren’t Flipboard inclined, here’s everything I’ve strained out of the wine-related muck for the week.

Defining Wine Culture – Sarah Heller on why young Chinese consumers are in charge
Sarah Heller has been stewing in it.

Wild Yeast and Native Grapes in Lebanon
Rebecca Holland checks in on Bekkaa.

Building a Retail Wine Empire: A Live Chat with Costco’s Annette Alvarez-Peters
At one point one of the most powerful people in wine.

Evidence Mounts That Eco-Friendly Wine Tastes Better
Eventually we’ll know the truth.

Wine investment: Burgundy bubble shows no signs of bursting
Too dear for most, now.

Vineyard planted on Easter Island
Frontier winemgrowing.

Meet the SF sommelier making wine more inclusive with funny Instagram videos
Keeping it real.

Austrian Winemakers at the Forefront of a Biodynamic Farming Revolution
Three of the very best.

Saskia de Rothschild On Building a Winemaking Empire
269 sausages to feed the harvest workers.

The Brexit effect: will fine-wine prices rise?
No matter what, it sounds a nightmare.

Reid – a most unusual wine merchant
Bet his phone is ringing off the hook now.

Breaking Up With The Restaurant Industry Is Hard To Do
So many people got/getting screwed.

Wine tariffs are crushing US importers
Ouch.

Josko Gravner: The Sprudge Wine Interview
A very in-depth conversation.

The Drink Black Movement Must Tap the Source
If you wanna Buy Black, here’s the deal.

California’s Wine Grape Crush Report
Smoke to blame?

Wildfires clobbered California wine grape crop in 2020. Here’s how much was lost
Clobbered is the right word.

Value of North Coast’s 2020 grape harvest cut in half by wildfires, pandemic
Another perspective.

Champagne’s Uncertain Future
20 percent value drop.

Test Tube Vino
The new way to taste.

The man wine experts trust to sell their collections
He has tales to tell.

Mobster John Gotti’s fabled wine collection is now for sale in Queens
Well, 36 bottles anyway.

For Me, Wine is Best Experienced Among Gay Women
More perspectives!

Tariffs, Pandemic Hit U.S. Imported Wine Shipments In 2020
Them’s some pretty dire numbers.

Long-time wine writer and wine competition founder Robert Whitley dies in San Diego
Widely admired and definitely to be missed.

Prices and Tonnage Drop like a Rock
For numbers geeks only.

The post Wine News: What I’m Reading the Week of 2/14/21 appeared first on Vinography.

Wine News: What I’m Reading the Week of 1/31/21

Welcome to my weekly roundup of the wine stories that I find of interest on the web. I post them to my magazine on Flipboard, but for those of you who aren’t Flipboard inclined, here’s everything I’ve strained out of the wine-related muck for the week.

‘Know Your Worth’: Nine Women Winemakers on Mentorship and More
Great voices to hear from.

Which red wines are ready to drink now?
2013 Bordeaux, apparently.

Cheers! French wines — and vines — are headed home after a year in space
Wines… in… spaaaaaaaace!

Your wine delivery’s delayed — Amazon has all the cardboard boxes
Globalization, no?

Bad Year Turns Good for California
The industry reflects.

Introducing phylloxera, the aphid that changed the face of wine
A lousey primer. Wait for it….

An Etna Renaissance
A review of Benjamin North Spencer’s book.

Cabernet on the Decline in the US?
I predict this to be a short-term effect of the pandemic.

20 Wines Under $20: Postcards From Around the World
Eric Asimov wants you to climb on board his magic carpet. Er… bottle.

I Tried to Get Napa Legend Philippe Melka to Reveal His Winemaking Secrets
Jonathan Cristaldi spends a day with Melka.

How a Super Bowl champion is rewriting the wine concierge playbook for a younger, more diverse consumer
Dave McIntyre introduces us to the “Wine MVP.”

‘Generation Treaters’ lead changing wine category behavior in the US- Wine Intelligence
A new wine-drinking segment is born.

As California returns to reopening, some in Wine Country wonder if it’s too soon in pandemic
A double-edged sword to be sure.

South Africa’s wine industry heads to court to fight alcohol ban
Good. But the damage is done.

Despite Bulk Buying Flurry, Acreage in California Still Needs to Be Pulled to Stay in Balance
20,000 acres left to remove, say experts.

Smoke Taint’s known knowns and unknown unknowns
But also a sh*tload of known unknowns.

Ten years of The Morning Claret
A moving personal account of a writer finding his way.

INAO approves six new grapes in Bordeaux
You won’t find them in your Margaux anytime soon, but this is a big deal.

WSET halts all operations in China
Not just Australian wine that’s having problems

Europe Eyes Up Ingredient Labeling for Wine
And the neo-prohibitionists raise their ugly heads.

The Final Insult for South African Wine
Buy South African Wine!

Opinion: Wine industry should respect tribal language, culture
Good progress.

Wine and the Good Dirt
A treatise on clay.

The post Wine News: What I’m Reading the Week of 1/31/21 appeared first on Vinography.

Smoke Taint Looms Large in CA

It has now been six weeks since the successful containment of the Glass Fire, a 67,484-acre (27,310-ha) blaze that burned in both Napa and Sonoma Counties. Despite the first winter rain having fallen in California a week or two after containment, an official end to the fire season has not yet been declared. Nonetheless, wine producers across northern California are moving on with the vintage, though that means many different things to many different people.

Official information about the full impact of the fires, beyond acres burned and structures destroyed, remains difficult to come by, especially when it comes to the wine industry. In fact, such information may only ever be truly available via retrospective analysis, when various governmental and trade organisations obliged to report on grape and wine production tell us how many acres were harvested and how much wine was actually produced.

Only when the US Department of Agriculture releases its annual Grape Crush Report on 10 February will we have a sense of the full extent to which this year’s fire season has impacted the vintage. Until then, and up to the point that a new vintage is in the barrel, many individuals and most organisations are trying their best to avoid the topic, and indeed even the words themselves: smoke taint. This is for fear of creating an impression with consumers that might in any way reduce their propensity to buy wines from the 2020 vintage.

Continue reading this story on JancisRobinson.Com.

This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is usually available only to subscribers of her web site. If you’re not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It’s only £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($11/mo or $111 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and maps from the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.

Image of discarded Zinfandel grapes courtesy of Steve Moazed and Bar None’s Canyon Vineyard.

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Vinography Images: Zig Zag Zang

Zig Zag Zang
SANTA YNEZ, CA : The Vogelzang Vineyards along Happy Canyon Road, green with the new growth of spring, are cut by a sinuous road that catches the morning light near Santa Ynez, California. Vogelzang has been producing grapes in the Happy Canyon AVA of Santa Barbara since 1998. In 2005 they began making their own wines under the Vogelzang label from their 77 acres of vineyards.

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BUY THE BOOK:
This image is from a series of photographs by George Rose captured in the process of shooting his most recent work WINE COUNTRY: Santa Barbara County, a visual celebration of one of California’s most beautiful wine regions. The book can be ordered on George’s web site.

PRINTS:
Fine art prints of this image and others are available at George Rose’s web site: www.georgerose.com.

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To purchase copies of George’s photos for editorial, web, or advertising use, please contact Getty Images.

ABOUT VINOGRAPHY IMAGES:
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Wine News: What I’m Reading the Week of 9/20/20

Welcome to my weekly roundup of the wine stories that I find of interest on the web. I post them to my magazine on Flipboard, but for those of you who aren’t Flipboard inclined, here’s everything I’ve strained out of the wine-related muck for the week.

The Birth of ‘Wine Country’ Is a Story of Bugs, Taxes and War
A brief history of California wine.

Meet the maker: the Portuguese vintners taking natural wine back to its roots
NatGeo does wine.

‘I Have To Work’: Agricultural Workers In The West Harvest Crops Through Fire Smoke
When that’s the only way to put food on the table, you work.

Everything You Wanted to Know About Orange Wine—But Were Too Afraid to Ask
The Robb Report skims the surface, but does get some ket things right.

Smoke, wildfires challenge West Coast wine industry
Stories from Oregon.

Napa Winemakers Are Pledging Over $1 Million to Make the Wine Industry More Inclusive
Excellent news.

Uncertainty Reigns in Spain’s Strange Vintage
Rough times.

Canada’s Napa Valley Seeks Elusive Audience: Canadian Wine Drinkers
Not just America that has f*cked up wine shipping laws.

Sicilian Wine Pioneer Diego Planeta Dies
He helped put Sicily back on the map.

Harvest Finally Brings Good News for Champagne
Quality looks very high.

Smoke and Mirrors: Fixing a Fiery Vintage
Blake Gray learns some of the options.

Recalling Justice Ginsburg as a Champion of the Wine Industry
Tom Wark reminds us she was on our side for wine, too.

Mozel Watson: Harlem’s wine god
Great story!

The seemingly impossible: an artisanal bottle of California wine for $10
It’s hard to imagine they can keep this up.

Wine Sales Up, Winery Profits Down
A new survey shows a double-edged sword.

Champagne Growers Help Cultivate The Grape Varieties Of The Future
Climate change requires change.

Around the World, the 2020 Wine Harvest May Be Most Troubled Ever
Elin McCoy goes ‘round the world for a harvest rundown.

After hazy weeks, threat of smoke taint lingers over Napa Valley grape crop
There will be more stories like this coming out soon.

Iron Age wine press yields clues to Phoenician building techniques
Excellent winemaking process.

The Vanishing Point
A lovely piece of writing.

The grands crus of Bordeaux in the summer of ’69
A wonderful reverie.

Women, Wine and the Uncomfortable Conversation We Need To Have
A worthy long read.

Fires Leave 2020 Vintage in the Balance
A rundown of the troubles.

How Will Weeks of Wildfire Smoke on the West Coast Impact the 2020 Vintage?
Badly, is the answer.

California farmworkers say they didn’t get masks during wildfires
Awfulness.

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