Cold, Cold Summer

This growing season has been exceptionally wet and cool by Washington standards. We had some rains in the last week, which means constant controls in the vineyards to prevent downy mildew (Oidium Tuckeri). Once the spores are in the vines (which they were, since it was also a problem last year), any sort of moisture will trigger growth, making active vineyard management essential.

The black spotting along that shoot is where the mildew had started previous to the anti-mildew spray. It’s now dead. Yay!

So now, if the aliens come and ask you to identify vineyards infected with Oidium Tuckeri or they’ll suck your brains out, you’re all set.

We also have Petite Verdot at 24.5 brix with a pH of 3 and a TA of 1.1. I’m exited.

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Serge Hochar 2/17/11

“Once somebody knows something, they realize they know nothing”

“Life is based on the philosophy of slowness.”

“Wine has lost the dimension of a product. It has become a companion. It is linked to memory.”

“I don’t care about fruit! If I wanted fruit, I would have eaten it! It’s about combination.”

“My aim is to be happy.”

“When I make wine, there are so many details. It is incredibly puzzling. I love puzzles.”

“I have no preferences. You are asking me to choose between my children.”

“I try to striptease my wine.”

“If it’s not a lady, why would I answer?”

“My first red wine is my white wine.”

“With 50 years of tasting, I taste different that I used to.”

“I hope that feeling of happiness will be in you.”

Serge Hochar of Chateau Musar, Hearth Restaurant, New York, New York, February 17th, 2011

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It’s fucking huge, dog.

I don’t have huge hands, but still, it probably came from another planet compared to Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon

From Wikipedia: Its name is the diminutive of the Spanish temprano (“early”),[1] a reference to the fact that it ripens several weeks earlier than most Spanish red grapes.

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The 99% in Wine

Much like this inoculum, we’ve got to get this party started so that we can all drink better.

I’m going to take a break from boring all six of you who read this with my harvest updates and talk about an epiphany of sorts that I’ve had while out here. Part of coming out here was giving myself the luxury of hours in a car to think about life, love, and the pursuit of happiness. Many trips out to vineyards and a few back to Seattle have definitely fit the bill.

You, me, anyone who might read this are already probably wine people, lovers of wine, certainly. We’ve been indoctrinated into the cult. We love wine. We respect it. We’re constantly seeking to know more, for the most part. We’re part of an (incredibly insular, inward-looking) expert community, or aspiring to be part of an expert community. We’re all into wine to differing degrees, but for the most part, it’s considerably more than the average bear.

Many of you who have known me for a while have heard me bemoan the fact that there are not many places in my quarter of Brooklyn where I can drink a decent selection of wine, whether by the glass or the bottle. I’ve had more than a few discussions with general managers at some of the most happening joints in North Brooklyn and they say they simply can’t sell wine over $50 a bottle, unless it’s champagne. Even then, it’s got to be an entry-level, multi-vintage Grande Marque.

What’s the problem here? It’s certainly not disposable income. The amount of drinking and frivolous money spending that occurs in North Brooklyn is certifiably ridiculous: the Trustafarians abide. Now, I’m not saying there’s nowhere to find a serious wine list in North Brooklyn, just few comparably to adjunct neighborhoods like the East Village. So, what’s the problem here? Chicken or the egg? Push or pull marketing?

The ultimate answer is that if there’s no demand for a product or service, the market won’t create it. I’m sure 10 years from now, things will be different in North Brooklyn, but then what about further outlying neighborhoods? Who’s going to agitate for this change and how are they going to do it?

Wine is intimidating, but what if we (those of us who work in and love wine) could change that? Shouldn’t everyone be able to drink better wine? A rising tide lifts all boats, and so I think that if we, as a community of wine workers and lovers could spread our fever and enthusiasm, we would all drink better, not to mention supporting the humble winemakers who make delicious, quaffable wine across the world. The ones who make serious, expensive wine have already covered their bases!

The problem is that people don’t perceive the value of wine. It’s not that they’re incapable of it – this is the worst sort of religion, the crime that’s been perpetrated on the would-be wine-drinking public – it’s just that no one has bothered to empower them, and that, unlike us, they haven’t had their own personal come-to-Jesus moment with wine. They demean themselves. “Oh, I can’t tell any difference between them.”

A lot of this has to do with careless treatment of wine in many establishments which leaves them drinking wine that’s been open for too long, served at the wrong temperature, in inappropriate glassware by staff who, for the same reasons, couldn’t give a shit either way. These people view wine indifferently because it’s treated as undifferentiated.

At the same time, it’s ridiculous to think that they average person (who has a job, kids, a mortgage, numerous other logistical concerns) should have to learn about single vineyard sites in the Mosel, oak regimens in Rioja, or Champagne dosage in order to drink good wine. What if we could give everyone a book that could be read in an hour or two which would immediately improve the way they looked at wine, a sort of Tim Ferris 4-hour wine book.

Is this dumbing things down? I don’t think so. It’s merely recognizing that we all start at zero and that most people don’t care as much about wine as we do, but would still like them to drink better on the regular. How do we convince them not to pick up some weasel piss beer, vodka, or an alcoholic energy drink when they want to get a buzz on? Hell, if I could even get people drinking more Yellow Tail and Charles Shaw, that would be better in my book. It’s a direction. It’s a movement towards a society that considers wine as something for everyone, not just bougey sons-of-bitches like you and me.

That’s an important mission for me, and I think I’m aiming to do something about it. What do you think?

Posted in New York, Service, Wine Community, Wine History | 1 Comment

The Enharvesting

Found this (blurry) guy in Alder Ridge, in Horse Heaven Hills. Volcanic Pumice (I think), pretty neat, right? Lots of it lying around.

We’re into it, for sure.

We had about 5000 pounds of Malbec on Wednesday; 4000 of Viogner and 7000 of Roussanne on Thursday. We’ve got 10,000 pounds of Merlot today.

The work is super physical (unsurprisingly). We’ve definitely had some struggle bus incidents, including two flat trailer tires (with 10,000 pounds of fruit on the trailer at the time) and breaking the garage door (that you get bins into and out of) into the production room.

More this weekend if I have time to write.


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Danger’s my middle name….

SO2: Not a new band.

As it turns out, I’ve discovered several ways to kill yourself in a winery and I haven’t even gotten to actual harvest yet.

The first and definitely the nastiest is sulfur dioxide, which we use in its compressed liquid/gas form (it comes in a propane-ish tank) to sanitize various different parts of the winery, usually barrels before storage. I had been warned about how nasty it was, to make sure that I always treated barrels in a well-ventilated area, but nothing could really prepare me for the accidental mouthful (well, whiff, at least) of the stuff that I got when treating some corks.

My bronchea immediately slammed shut, like a bad asthma attack. My mouth was full of this taste of stale branflakes and dried blood. Coughing, I had to step away from the area I was treating for a minute or two. Yow, you do not want to screw with that stuff. To be clear, we don’t use it for our wine making, just to sanitize stuff that, you know, has to be to be sanitized.

The infernal steamer in action. No world on whether or not it’s from Cleveland.

Other than that, I was doing a lot of steam cleaning of barrels earlier this week and I had one of them implode on me in fairly spectacular fashion. The process is thus: you insert the wand from an industrial grade steam machine into the barrel, steam, then bung the barrel. Besides the fact that many unwanted (well, depending on what sort of winemaker you are) microfauna are killed via heat alone, as the steam cools it creates a negative pressure in the barrel, since the pressure is generally decreasing due to the steam cooling. This is great, because it sucks junk out of the wood grain. The pressure is pretty fierce. I just didn’t know how fierce.

Morgan Harris, Barrel Slayer

I left a bung in one of the barrels a little too long and it simply ripped the whole head of the barrel inward. Now, to be fair, the barrel was 4 years old and had been drying somewhat in the cellar, but it was still pretty impressive. The sound of it was incredible, and it reduced the head to a pile of kindling. Luckily for me, the laws of physics dictate implosion instead of explosion in this case or else I’d be digging pieces of barrel head out of my legs.

I’m also absolutely sure there are some pretty easy ways to kill yourself with the crusher-destemmer, the press, and definitely with the forklift. I’m not trying to find out.

Oh, and Gramercy started making rose on Friday! Any day now I’ll be a real assistant to an assistant winemaker!



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Thank You, Joe Dressner

I don’t think Joe Dressner would have liked me very much, at least as a wine professional. As Eric Asimov put it in his obituary, “…he thought nothing of skewering those who sympathized with him, especially if they were overly earnest and lacked humor.” Now, humor I have, but I am definitely over-earnest, almost to a fault. I am incredibly gullible. Enthusiasm drives almost everything I do. I can usually only muster cynicism for very few parts of my life. I think Joe probably would have found issue that aspect of my personality.

Jean-Paul Brun’s method ancestral sparkling Gamay, quaffed on a brilliant summer morning in August following brunch with a close friend.

The last time I saw Joe, he was tasting at Domaine Montbourgeau’s table at the annual New York spring Jura tasting, which must have been around April 20th of this year. The first time I had ever seen him in person was at his same event the previous year. I always felt too intimidated by him to introduce myself, even though we’re both members of the same internet wine enclave, as well as having mutual acquaintances. This is all to say nothing of how much I loved the wines he imported. Through his blog, as well as his e-feuds with prominent members of the wine writer and sommelier communities, I had been painted a picture of an exacting, inexorable critic who would plunge his knife up to hilt into whoever had pissed him off that day. Being targeted by Joe’s ire is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone, no matter how well-resolved, at least from what I saw. As someone said on twitter, “He did not suffer fools lightly,” and I am often a fool.

As the equivalent of snot-nosed kindergartner in the wine world, I never crossed the playground to try to hang out with this older cool kid. I was worried he’d find me too much of a pencil-necked egghead. I do regret never introducing myself, shaking his hand. At some level, I’m also okay that I didn’t. Not because he really would have disliked me particularly. Because I know his precious time was probably better spent with other people. I know I have a window into who he was with every great natural bottle of wine I drink. I think he simply wanted everyone to to enjoy great wine.

My first bottle Overnoy Chardonnay, enjoyed at La Verre Volé in Paris, along with my best friend, a brilliant boudin noir, and goose neck barnacles, which I accidentally ordered but totally loved.

The fact is that for sommeliers, retailers, sales people, and everyone in the wine industry of my generation, we live in a Post-Dressner era. America is the greatest wine-drinking country in the world, because of the simple diversity of what we’re able to enjoy on a regular basis. We have wines from all over the world. You simply don’t get that in France, Germany, Argentina, Croatia. I know this because I’ve traveled all those places, and they simply don’t hold a candle to the diversity of the American wine market.  Even though Joe dealt almost exclusively with old world wines, he had one Chilean wine, Clos Ouvert, made from 90-year-old, dry-farmed Pais. Holy fuck. That is a singular, delicious wine.

The amount of times Dressner wines have physically stunned me are uncountable. Cazin, De La Souche, Cascina Degli Ullivi, Brun, Clos Ouvert, Clos Rougeard, Clos Roche Blanche, Overnoy, Texier, Causse Marines, Roagna, Occhipinti (Arianna, be still my beating heart, hah, who am I kidding, she will never read this) and the list goes on. Thanks to Joe, as well as importers like Lynch, Rosenthal, Theise, and Soares, I’ve never known a world where “fine wine” had to mean high point scores. He revolutionized and demonstrably shifted the status quo of the wine world. I don’t know what it’s like to walk into a restaurant and the only thing I can order is cult Shiraz or spoofy California chardonnay. My wine world began after 20 years of his agitation for unmanipulated wine began. Of all the people in the business my age (25) plus or minus five years, I know maybe one person who’s legitimately more excited about wine from university-trained, new world producers than the sort of winemakers that Joe championed. He helped start a paradigm shift in the way we, both within the wine professional community and the nation at large, think about wine.

Arianna Occhipinti’s Frappato from Sicily, which was one of the most enjoyable portions of a date earlier this year, especially considering the girl ended up having zero interest in me and I really liked her.

And so, this is what I mean by a Post-Dressner world, not one in which Joe is gone, but one in which his voice has been heard and has become a reality for wine professionals and drinkers everywhere. My parents, who are in their late 50s, dedicated K-J Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon drinkers for my entire youth, are slowly growing a cellar of grower Champagne, Chablis (I forgot the de Moors!) and Beaujolais. My best friend, not at all a part of the wine world, but an avid foodie, texted me a picture of Massa Vecchia no sulfur Malvasia he ordered (unprompted!) at a San Francisco restaurant. I ordered a bottle of Cazin Cour-Cheverny at a restaurant in Walla Walla, Washington. This simply would have never happened before Joe Dressner began working in the wine world.

So, thank you, Joe. You changed my life for the better.


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