How to Enjoy the Holidays from the Point of View of Wine

madrona-solsticeOK, here’s a real question. How many of us stress out with the upcoming holidays as we try to shop, entertain, write Christmas cards, put in a seasonal movie or two, cook, be with family and still breath? I’m thinking maybe 99.2% of us.

And then we harken back to the days of being kids where running the electric train around the tree or finding a new pair of slippers by the side of the bed was the pentacle of our stress.

What is the secret of enjoying the month of December? In my book, it’s slowing down and smelling the holly and mistletoe!!!

As adults, we do need to balance the fact that we have responsibilities this time of the year. Marking off these responsibilities early in the season is one way to reduce the stress later in the season. “How?” you may ask!

So, here is the secret.  Wine!

Bear with me as I endeavor to explain.

Situation #1!  Uncle Bethusela and Aunt Kim in North Southern Nebraska are your favorite relatives. They deserve the best, most thoughtful, gift out there. You think of giving a cheese grater or maybe a raccoon, but neither gift really says what you want to say (and what if they already had a cheese grater!). And here’s where wine fits in perfectly. Everybody loves wine!

Knowing that Aunt Kim loves special wines, I’d do the “no-brainer” gift of The Cabernet Collection. This is a trio of our 2007, 2010 and 2014 Signature Cabernet Sauvignons. We put this exquisite collection together precisely for the intense oenophile (wine lover), and they don’t need to know that you only paid $100 for it ($95 for Wine Club Members)!

Now they’re happy because they have an amazing set of wines to enjoy over time, and you’ve already found them the perfect gift (and it’s not even December yet!).

Situation #2!  Like the 12 days of Christmas, you know that you have at least 12 holiday parties to attend this year because you’re that awesome! But with this awesomeness has come a packed schedule that leaves little time to find the perfect gift for the hosts.

So, here’s the question. Knowing that you are already late for the party, and you look around your house for something to bring, which of these items would be most appreciated by the hosts?

  1. A pound of hamburger from your refrigerator
  2. Two rolls of toilet paper
  3. A bottle of Madroña’s 2014 Hillside Collection Zinfandel

The answer is #3! And that is why you, as a clever person wanting to simplify your life, had already purchased Madroña’s Holiday Stock-up! For just $130 ($123 for our Wine Club Members), you get 4 bottles of our 2014 Hillside Zinfandel, 4 bottles of our 2014 Hillside Merlot, and 4 bottles of our El Tinto Lot 37.  Normally, this would cost $200, but your quick thinking and reactions by getting up to the winery for this special now means every perfect host gift is a mere pick out of the selection of Madroña wines right there next to the door.

Situation #3!  Your daughters have chosen to watch “The Mistletones” (their favorite holiday movie) for the seventh time this season. It’s true that you now can sing all the songs even when the volume is down, but it might just take a bit more patience this time. Luckily you had been up to the winery to pick up The Californian. This is a two bottle selection of “California’s” Variety, Zinfandel* with a bottle each of our 2014 and 2015 Hillside Collection Zinfandel ($32, and $27 for Wine Club Members).

Ah, with a glass of our spectacular Zinfandel, the meaning of “The Mistletones” becomes clearer, you relax, and life is better!

Situation #4! You’re hosting a party at your house. There’s a hint of stress in the house as the turkey went in the oven an hour late, the green beans with the mushroom soup and fried onions were done an hour ago, Aunt Freta is bringing her new politically opposite boyfriend, Frank, and Sparky (your dog) has made friends with a skunk.

This situation warrants screaming and crying, but you calmly remember the The Santa Special ($28) you picked up at the tasting room. With a half-bottle of our 2008 Signature Cabernet Sauvignon and a full bottle of our Non-Vintage Port—Lot 21, you have everything covered. The split of the ’08 Cabernet Sauvignon is aging perfectly, with smooth sultry palate just perfect for taking the edge off the beginning of the evening.

It turns out that Frank (who can’t smell anything since the operation) loves dogs and volunteered to wash Sparky with tomato juice. Aunt Freta had her deep-fryer in the car, and the turkey was done in 25 minutes.

And just after everyone had left the house, you relaxed into your leather chair in front of the fireplace with a glass of Non-Vintage Port while waiting for Santa to come after this perfect evening.

Situation #5The Stocking Stuffer is exactly that. Do you want to surprise your spouse with something wonderful? The above-mentioned ’08 Signature Cabernet Sauvignon is tasting spectacularly right now with rounded fruit and rounded tannins. And a half-bottle fits beautifully into a stocking hung (well) by the chimney with care. With only 10 cases left of this wine, this will go very quickly at the special $18 per bottle holiday price.

Ok, so I know that this blog is pretty much a blast of shameless promotion. But the original thought is still valid and important. The holidays are a time to enjoy, celebrate, and smile. And to do this with our busy American lives takes some real effort to relax.

So, treat yourself and your friends to the best gift of all, and that is time! (Wine actually comes in second!)

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas!

 

*Zinfandel is actually from Croatia, not California. But we’d like to claim it if we could!

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The Fires of October, 2017

As I sit here trying to write this blog about the devastation in the coastal wine country, I’m finding it hard to even start. It all still seems so unbelievable.

Although we here in the Sierra Foothills seem to have more “experience” with wildfires, the speed, heat and sheer destructive force with the fires in Napa and Sonoma is not something we’ve seen here. And with this series of fires since Monday, we have so far been spared any impact.

I suppose I really need to start by saying that we at Madroña are far removed (80 miles or more) from these October fires. The major fires are concentrated in the counties of Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino, or what we think of as the coastal range of mountains. We are located across California in the Sierra Nevada range of mountains.

But that doesn’t mean that we don’t look every morning at the weather conditions and fire maps trying to discern where the fires are burning. We have friends who have lost houses and others who have been evacuated. And with the wine industry being as closely connected as it is, we know many of the wineries damaged or destroyed.

The fires are the topic of our conversations, even as we continue to harvest, and also the topic from consumers in the tasting room.

In the tasting room, I’ve tried to answer questions from purely an agricultural point of view (not trying to include the loss of homes, schools and businesses, as I personally can’t even absorb this myself). The challenges farmers and wineries face are huge. To be honest, harvest is probably the worst time for such fires to occur.

Please put yourself into the shoes of the farmer. We work all year long, investing our time and money into a crop, counting on the pay-out at harvest. What that means is that there can literally be one day of picking grapes that pays for the entire year and our subsistence. Luckily we’ve heard that the majority (up to 3/4) of the crop had already been picked. But for the other farmers in the burned areas, it could mean losing the crop.

Now losing the crop this year doesn’t necessarily mean losing the vineyard. Had you asked me last week how easily vineyards burn, I would have laughed since it’s hard to get even dead vines to burn. In fact, vineyards are often considered firebreaks, low density of vegetation with hydrated (green) plants.

However, these fires in Napa and Sonoma were so hot that even some vineyards sustained damage. Which then brings about the question of insurance. A farmer might consider getting crop insurance with rainy/cold weather in mind, and I imagine this covers all damage to grapes. Personally, even though we run the risk of frost in spring damaging our crop, we have never gotten crop insurance.  But would a farmer have fire insurance for the vineyard (with replanting costs being $10K-$15K+ per acre)? That would be akin to getting flood insurance up here in the foothills. That’s now something that we are looking at!

This is new situation, and we will see how resilient the vines are.

From the winery side, harvest is also the worst time to have these fires. For one thing, the grapes still out on the vine can absorb some of the smoke into the leaves and berries. Called “smoky taint”, this was an issue with the Mendocino fires of 2008. Since then, many other regions have experienced the impact including a small amount here in 2013 with the smoke from Rim Fire near Yosemite. (Ironically, the King Fire in 2015 was a mere 3 miles away, but was no impact for us due to favorable wind conditions.) Essentially, smoky taint can give wines a character that ranges from a hint of smokiness to old campfire to dirty ashtray. There are ways to lessen the impact with winemaking, and it can even be filtered out, but the challenge exists in areas layered by smoke.

The other main issue that some wineries are facing is electricity. There are still sections of the region that are without electricity, and it’s almost impossible to do winery work without it. And remember that during crush, the wines are fermenting. Our job as winemakers is to take care of them by regulating temperatures, pumping the wines over (to keep the skins wet), and pressing when the wine has the perfect balance (to get the wine away from the skins and control the tannins). Without electricity, this is all a challenge, and that’s assuming you’re not picking.

Lastly, working (such as picking and crushing) in smoky conditions is difficult. Work days should be shorter if at all. This has the personal impact as well as the crews picking are counting on this payday of work just as much as the farmer growing the fruit.

Having said all this, there are a couple of points that need mentioning. Although the fires are some of the worst California has seen, not all vineyards and wineries in Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino are impacted. Most continue to harvest and work with only a few wineries having been damaged. And the regions are rallying together finding generators for electricity, sharing harvesting equipment and helping each other out with processing at different wineries. These difficult conditions bring out the best in people, and be sure that the wines of 2017 will reward their efforts.

These are just a few of my thoughts, being a winery far removed from the fires but close in concern for those in the thick of it.

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Early Pick Riesling by Tim Wright

Tim RieslingIn the summer of 2013, I attended the Riesling Rendezvous in Seattle, Washington. The Riesling Rendezvous is an international event co-hosted every three years by Chateau St. Michelle and Dr. Loosen (of Germany) that brings together producers, wine and food experts, and Riesling aficionados, for tastings and seminars. (You can find my gonzo reporting of the event here.)

Tasting Rieslings from bone dry to sweet, from months to decades old, from Australia to Zealand (New, of course), paired with the widest imaginable range of foods, I learned a lot about the potential of Riesling. One of the revelations was about how fresh, bright and texturally rich a dry, or very nearly dry, Riesling could be. Many of these Rieslings were also relatively low alcohol, having been picked at a much lower brix level than what I assumed was necessary to achieve fruit character of mature ripeness, yet did not sacrifice complexity of fruit or spice. This was my inspiration for attempting an early-pick Riesling.

The goal was to achieve the balance and intensity of fruit character we expect from our Dry Riesling, while perhaps accentuating the minerally aspects of the texture by having slightly lower alcohol than our traditional Dry Riesling. This was not really a risky proposition; we do frequent sampling of the vineyards in the run-up to harvest, so that we can hit exactly the ripeness, brix and characters that Paul wants for each variety. If the profile of the samples didn’t meet our standards at the early-pick brix level, we could always just let it continue to ripen to the normal levels. But, we decided that the characters in the sample at 20 brix was worth picking and doing the experiment…you be the judge of the result.

2015 Riesling – Single Vineyard Fact Sheet

 

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What Does All This Rain Mean?

Sprocket in the Rain croppedI’d have to say that the number one question I’m getting right now in the tasting room is, “So what does all this rain mean for the vineyards?” With over 80 inches of the stuff this last winter, I wish I really knew what it all means.

I can certainly give you things I have noticed from empirical data. The first would be that the weeds (excuse me, I “meant” cover crop) just keep growing and growing and growing. And every time we finish mowing, it rains again for another generation of these guys!

I’ve also noticed that although our vines budded out normally (in mid-April), the post cooler cloudier weather has actually put them behind a bit. We’re in the latter part of May, and some vines still only have a few inches of growth. (Still, it’s amazing how a few warm days it takes for a vine to catch up!)  We’ll see when we flower, and then we’ll know more.

If, however, I were asked to prognosticate as to what all this rain will mean for the grapes this year, this is what I would say.  “It’s going to be a good crop!”

Now, first remember that wineries, no matter what they are talking about, are always thinking about marketing. Accentuate the positive and glaze over the challenges.

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Daring with Pairing – Passport 2017

Madrona Vineyards welcomes you to Passport 2017, where we have designed a food and wine pairing adventure for your enjoyment!

Wine and Food – the ultimate and decidedly rewarding puzzle.

So….are you willing to exceed conventional wisdom, question pairing taboos, and explore beyond your food and wine comfort zone? We have devised a progression of courses paired with a range of wines, designed to astonish and delight. Let us guide you on this culinary journey!

(Further down, we have also provided information on the ART OF THE BLEND, featuring our El Tinto and our Quintet).

Pairing #1 – Naan Bread Pizza and 2011 Syrah, Signature Collection

 The Recipe -A staff created recipe of chimchurri sauce with minced olive, fontina cheese and topped with a kale salad)

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2017 Portopia Recipes

2016-portopia-3You asked….and here they are!  The recipes from our Portopia event.

New-World Port 2005 – Beet Goat Cheese Arugula Salad

New-World Port 2010 – Serious Mac and Cheese

New-World Port 2016 Futures – Garlic Arugula Spinach Walnut Pesto Pizza

Non-Vintage Port Lot 21 – Garlic Sauteed Mushrooms

Rucksack Cellars 2013 Seco – Chorizo Sausage Skewer

Enjoy!

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The Art of Pruning – Part 2

The art of pruning back a vine or a tree is all about finding the right balance for improving fruit quality and quantity.

The first thing to understand is that only buds from last year will produce fruit this year. So imagine a grapevine that has one cane from last year, and this cane has 12 buds. Each of those buds will produce a new cane this year (with two or three clusters of grapes). But the next year (without pruning) the vine may have 144 buds (12 canes with say 12 buds each) and following year (without pruning) might have 1728 buds (144 canes with 12 buds each).

The image is a vine out of control, trying to sustain all that growth with essentially the same root system. What ends up happening is that the canes get spindly and the grapes clusters (if there at all) are smaller and smaller. Thus the wild grapevine near a creek we’ve all seen.

For many, the beauty of vineyards is how the vines all line up perfectly with such spectacular precision and elegance. Screw those people! All this “perfection” takes time and effort on our part, both in the choice/implementation of the trellising system and the continual training of the vine.

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