18
Sep
2019
0

Too smart for my own good: Revelations at Sonoma-Cutrer

Today’s lesson, at least for me: Just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s not good. In this case, really good.

I had been working under the assumption (a practice fraught with figurative potholes) that because Sonoma-Cutrer was the most popular by-the-glass chardonnay at U.S. restaurants, it must be the kind of oaky, buttery chard that i do not favor.

Wrong.

It’s actually a pretty zesty rendition, undergirding its bright California fruit with a brisk foundation. I checked to make sure that the setting – between two verdant croquet layouts backed by rolling vineyards – wasn’t seducing my taste buds. Nope. This wine was the real deal.

And that wasn’t all. My way better half and I dined with head winemaker Mick Schroeter, as delightful an Aussie (is that redundant?) as one would want to meet. (Have I mentioned that I love my job?). He made it clear that the mega-popular wine’s style emanated from great grapes and an ardor for harmony in the finished product.

Later, winery manager Mark Elcombe was waxing poetically about a new sparkling offering at the winery. So we asked Mick about it, and he obliged us by motioning to the empty tasting room. And this 60-40 blend of pinot noir and chardonnay was as advertised, an exciting, uplifting, delicious concoction.

As we were preparing to leave, I mentioned to Mark that while the wines at the dinner – two chards and a pinot – were quite the treat, I had hoped to taste their sauvignon blanc. Voila, back to the tasting room and another tantalizing delight, with citrus and spice notes and a marvelously bracing finish.

It capped one of my favorite winery dinners ever – and served as a fitting reminder that assumptions are made to be impugned.

3
Sep
2019
0

Linkin’ logs 9-3-19

Been ramblin’, then scrollin’, where I stumbled across these:

• My kind of fountain: dispensing rosé and shiraz.

• The good people of Florence (and the not-so-good ones) have always known how to live cleverly, as this portal shows.

• “Old Vines” can be a misleading label lure, but not with wine from this baby.

• I had a gut feeling (sorry!) that this potentially positive news would get some pushback.

• I have yet to meet a winemaker or grape-grower who doesn’t believ in climate change. They’re certainly dealing with it in Burgundy.

• Finally, hope you don’t have a spouse like this one (h/t to my friend Mark):

11
Aug
2019
0

Linkin’ logs: 8-11-19

Lot of catching up to do, but here’s a start:

• As a longtime Megan Rapinhoe fan, I’m not surprised that she celebrated with a stellar bottle of bubbles.

• As an even longer-time Patrick Stewart fan, I’m delighted that wine is being made in the name of his most indelible character.

• This was inevitable, and kinda cool: Marijuana growers talk about terroir.

• One of my favorite winery visits ever was with Boots Brounstein at Diamond Creek. She was spry and spritely 18 months ago but moved to another realm last week.

• When it comes to native grapes, Cincinnati has a great claim to being the nexus.

• On the other hand – isn’t there invariably an “other hand”? – the rise of legal cannabis might not be a good thing for wine and spirits.

• Finally, this sign speaks for us all:

1
Jul
2019
0

Linkin’ logs: 7-1-19

The World Wine Web continues to enrich our lives, at least with these nuggets:

• The Big Apple is not about to become the Big Grape, but it does have a cool vineyard of sorts.

• Another link from the endlessly fascinating Atlas Obscura site: the local wines that inspired Karl Marx.

• My friend Mark passed along this interesting take on how we might not be drinking much better, or different, wine than folks a millennium or two ago.

• I’ve always thought the Celts had their act together in sundry ways, and appreciating Greek wines (and food) apparently was one of them.

• OK by me, except for the raison d’être: Red Châteauneuf-du-Papes will have more white grapes in the future, thanks to global warming.

• Finally, me want this vessel:

5
Jun
2019
0

Linkin’ logs: 6-5-19

The good, the not-so-good and the weird as we scroll about:

• Growing up, one of my very favorite TV shows was “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.” More than half a century later, I have no desire to buy wine from the bottom of the sea, especially at these prices.

• One of the benefits of living in Tundraland is that we have fewer frightful animals great and small than in my native South. It’s thus unlikely that an alligator would get into my wine collection.

• Seriously great news: Our favorite Sonoma restaurant, Willi’s Wine Bar, is reopening less than two years after being squarely in the way of devastating fires.

• Tablas Creek is a great winery, and Jason Haas’ stewardship is a big reason why. He’s also a stellar writer, and here makes the case for the lamentably neglected half-bottle (375 ml).

• Finally, canine training doesn’t get any better than this:

23
May
2019
0

Linkin’ logs: 5-23-19

Wending our way through the World Wine Web:

• A lovely scene: torched-up vineyards in Italy.

• Why doesn’t this ever happen to me? Diners in Manchester, England were served a crazy-expensive wine by mistake.

• I have ruled myself out of participating, but it would be fun to watch this marathon.

Bottomless wine at the cinema? Sign me up!

• Finally, a couple of shopping situations. First one could be dubbed “Making the right call”; second one “Honesty in labelling”:

 

 

 

7
May
2019
0

Linkin’ logs: 5-7-19

Spanning the Web to bring you the constant variety of noteworthy news:

• There’s more than one way to open a bottle of wine without a corkscrew. In fact, there are at least seven.

• A grand idea, beautifully executed: Amy Winedub, the rolling Kiwi wine emporium.

• And another swell idea (I think): wine popsicles at Costco.

• But wait, there’s more on the cool-notion front: “flat” wine bottles.

• My friend Tom Wark thinks this is yet another good idea — Amazon being more aggressive selling wine — but I’m not so sure.

• Finally, when I grow up, I wanna be like this guy:

5
May
2019
0

Coltiobuono, and its owner, are molto buona

I have a fabulous job. Part of the joy of being a wine writer is getting not only to visit great wineries, but to get some face time with amazing vintners.

People like Roberto Stucchi.

Roberto is co-owner of an incredible property called Badia a Coltibuono. Nestled in the heart of the Chianti Classico region, Coltibuono boasts formidable historic edifices, stunning gardens, one of Italy’s foremost cooking schools, seriously cool old cellars and superb vineyards.

Roberto, a seventh-generation steward of the property, was the consummate host. And, being a hail fellow well met, he has answered some questions about the operation via email (because the idiot wine writer forgot to bring his notebook on that visit):

Could you briefly talk about coming to America and crossing the country to go to Cal-Davis?
My first trip to the USA wasn’t to go to Davis, but in 1978 (the year of the three popes) I flew to NYC and from there together with two friends we got a Driveaway car and drove a huge Cadillac Sedan de Ville to San Francisco in five days. Traveling in style for a 20-year-old, and a very inexpensive way to move around given the price of gas back then.
In January 1982 I did go to Davis to complete my undergraduate degree in Fermentation Science, but that time I travelled by plane.

How much of your vineyards are organic, and how did you decide which ones to do first?
All of our vineyards are organic, certified since 2000. We started the certification in 1994 with the 20 hectares of olive groves, and followed with all the vineyards. I started the conversion in 1985 with the elimination of herbicides and insecticides, then started experimenting with alternatives to fungicides.  By the mid-1990s we were able to use only copper- and sulfur-based products that are allowed in organic certification.
Now we have been reducing both copper and sulfur and using seaweed and plant extracts to improve the nutritional status of the vines. This paired with better soil management, regular use of self-produced compost from prunings, pomace, stems and lees, and mixed cover crop in the rows allow us to further reduce the spraying and achieve healthier grapes even in difficult vintages.

Why did you plant some of the hills vertically and some horizontally?
Most of our vineyards are planted vertically because it’s easier, less expensive and sustainable as long as the soil is cover-cropped most of the year. But still the ideal situation is a terraced one. We did a first terraced vineyard in 1999, and a second one we are planting now. The latest one is quite innovative for Chianti, with small terraces with one row each.

What other “experiments” have you done on the growing side?
One of the ongoing experiments has to do with adapting to the extreme climate disruption: in the 30+ years here we went from being a cool area with late maturation and low sugar/alcohol levels to a much hotter zone. We used to harvest our Sangiovese late in October, and natural alcohol levels were rarely above 12,5%. Now we harvest mostly in September, never after October 15, and our alcohol levels are between 13 and 15%.
One of the main adaptations has been the change in canopy management: no more green harvest —
leaf removal hedging — to make sure grapes are fully exposed to sunlight.  Now we leave the grapes protected; we like to have more grapes to delay the maturation and maintain acidity and freshness. Another ongoing experimentation is with the use of cover crops; we are gradually increasing the complexity of the mixes of seeds to achieve better results.

Currently we are using a mix of 14 species that include legumes, cereals, crucifers and rucola (at left), a good tap root. We also allow at least part of the cover crop to flower and go to seed: this helps to attract pollinating insects, including wasps that are good predators for many of the vineyard pests. Some species also reseed themselves, which is positive over time.

How did you decide what you wanted to do with blending grapes, and how as that gone?
Blending different varieties is in our DNA in Chianti, given the extreme variety of field-blends that were typical  in the old days. We start by using a very diverse massal selection that was selected in 1986-1987 with 600 mother vines to maintain the genetic diversity of our Sangiovese. Replanting at higher density from 1988, we also replanted Canaiolo (at left), Ciliegiolo and Colorino (in separate rows now) as well as Trebbiano and Malvasia for Vin Santo.
Lately we increased the palette by introducing Mammolo, Fogliatonda, Malvasia Nera, Pugnitello and Sanforte. The use of these is to complement Sangiovese, enhancing the wine without overpowering the character of our Sangiovese. I remain a strong believer in the value of blending different varieties and plan to continue to pursue this direction.  It’s part of what makes Chianti special and our Chianti Classico unique.
Then with Montebello we introduced the idea of an equitable blend of all nine red varietals, where each one contributes without standing out: a truly cooperative endeavor and what I consider an evolution for the future. I am tempted to reintroduce field blends again to move further away from the varietal model that has dominated in the last decades, and to introduce even more variables in the process.

You talked about not mechanizing, largely (I recall) because it gives people jobs they wouldn’t have with automation. Could you elaborate on that?
We limited the amount of automation to maintain our workers employed year-round. We hand-harvest and do some more manual operations also so that we can employ people.  We think it’s the right thing to do, and better for the quality because it helps to have qualified workers. 

What effects has climate change had, and what do you expect in the regard in the coming years?
Climate change in Chianti has helped to achieve better maturation so in a way it has helped. However, we are seeing the extreme effects of climate disruption with very intense rainfall (the term “Bomba d’acqua,” water bomb, has become colloquial to describe the high-intensity phenomena that are becoming more frequent), and wind damage from unprecedented wind speed. Longer and more extreme and frequent drought also pose a challenge since all of our vineyards and olive groves are dry-farmed.
Not sure what to expect, but I sure hope that we will all acknowledge the issue and work to counteract the progression. Organic and regenerative agriculture will be more and more essential to reduce carbon emissions and to sequester carbon dioxide as organic matter.