Showing posts with label grapes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label grapes. Show all posts

Monday, December 30, 2019

New Wine Grapes Resistant To Pierce's Disease

The world of wine now has five more grape varieties from which to choose.  Researchers at the University of California Davis have released three red and two white grape varieties.  Besides tasting great, reportedly, the vines are highly resistant to Pierce's disease.  That's a grapevine malady spread by the dreaded glassy-winged sharpshooter, which is said to cost California grape growers more than $100-million a year.  The new patent-pending grapes were traditionally bred over a span of about 20 years. 

UC Davis geneticists crossed a grapevine species from the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico back to Vitis vinifera over four to five generations.  Vitis arizonica carries a single dominant gene for resistance to Pierce's disease. 

Ojai Winemaker Adam Tolmach planted four of the new varieties on an acre, the same plot of land where Pierce's disease wiped out his grapes in 1995.  He just had his first harvest and he says he's impressed.

The UC Davis researchers say interest in new varieties has been lukewarm so far, but they expect the new options to be examined more closely due to climate change.

The three new red varieties are Camminare Noir, Paseante Noir and Errante Noir.

UC Davis reports that Camminare Noir has characteristics of both Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah, the two vinifera grapes used in making the strain.

Paseante Noir is reportedly similar to Zinfandel.  That grape, along with Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon were used in the cross breeding.

Errante Noir is said to be most similar to Cabernet Sauvignon and has great blending potential. The variety was created from the Sylvaner grape, along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignane and Chardonnay.

The two new white grape varieties are Ambulo Blanc and Caminante Blanc.

Ambulo Blanc is similar to Sauvignon Blanc.  The variety is a cross of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignane and Chardonnay.

Caminante Blanc has characteristics of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.  It's a cross of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Carignane.

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Friday, February 22, 2019

It's A Wine - It's A Beer - It's Both!

The Paso Robles mainstay, Firestone Walker Brewery, was born a couple of decades ago on the Firestone family vineyard.  Adam Firestone and his brother-in-law David Walker craft a host of beers in the city that's made a name for itself as one of California's wine capitals.

Their first brews were fermented in old wine barrels, and it took two for their leadoff bottling, Double Barrel Ale.  Brewmaster Matt Brynildson now oversees the making of the suds.

They call Rosalie "the rose lover's beer."  It's part of their Terroir Project, an experiment into a marriage between beer and wine.  They say Rosalie blurs the line between beer and wine.  To make it, 100 tons of Chardonnay grapes were harvested by Castoro Winery specifically for Rosalie, with smaller amounts of Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Muscat used as well.  They used souring techniques on the beer to give it an acidity not usually found in those made with yeasts and malts.  Hibiscus flowers were thrown in during the whirlpool phase, when hops are usually poured in.  After both the beer and the wine juice were made, they were co-fermented using Pilsner malt and judicious hops.  They proudly say it's a true beer-wine hybrid.  Alcohol hits a low, low 5% abv.

I approached Rosalie with trepidation, because I'm not a fan of flavored beer.  I generally feel you can keep your pumpkin-raspberry-hibiscus beers and give me some hops, lots of ‘em.  This beverage surprised me.   It has a rich orange color, more electric than in either beer or wine.  The nose comes on with plenty of floral notes and a sour edge.  The palate shows the malt and hops as well as the hibiscus.  There's a nice acidity, a lighter feel than beer and a little more weight than wine.  I like it, hibiscus and all.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011


wine news

News reports show up from time to time about people stealing grapes.  Lots of grapes, like a vineyard full of grapes.  An AP story recently appeared, telling the tale of thieves in Germany harvesting grapes that weren't theirs.

They came in the dead of night to Germany's Pfalz wine region and hand picked rows upon rows of Riesling, Trollinger and Grauburgunder grapes.  This would be a huge financial loss any time, for any winery, but a late frost in May 2011 killed many grapes, so the ones that survived are the last hope for these winemakers.  Add in the fact that the remaining grapes are thought to be of extremely high quality, and it's a double whammy.  Also, most of these family-run wineries have no insurance that covers theft of grapes.

It's not unusual for harvesting to occur at night, so there would nothing overtly suspicious about seeing people with flashlights working the vines in overnight hours.  Some witnesses claimed later they did see people in the vineyards, but simply thought it was the usual harvest.

Some winemakers in the region are now clinging to ice wine as their last chance to salvage something from this vintage.  Grapes for ice wine are harvested when frozen, and the winemakers are keeping close watch on their vineyards until it's time to harvest them.  They know, however, that the criminals are watching closely, too.

Monday, December 5, 2011


Night harvest

Grapes being harvested to make wine once conjured images of a tired crew of grape pickers laboring under the sweltering afternoon sun.  While that was the correct image once upon a wine, it's not anymore.  An article in USA Today described how grapes are picked these days.

About two-thirds of California's wine grape harvest is plucked from the grapevines in the dark of night, lit up like daytime by an array of 1,000-watt lights towed through the vineyard by a tractor.

There are quite a few benefits for harvesting grapes in overnight hours.  For one, winemakers like to take the grapes when it's cool, so the daytime heat won't have a chance to change the sugar level and affect the end product.

It's also greener to pick at night.  Grapes picked under the hot sun have to be refrigerated after picking, or put through some other process to bring their temperature back down.  When picked at night, that energy - and money - can be saved.

The people who pick the grapes don't mind getting out of bed in the middle of the night to go to work - it beats working in what might be temperatures of 100 degrees or more during the afternoon.

The lights which are moved along the rows of grapes are similar to the ones construction crews on the highways use for night work.  Some vineyards are now moving past that, giving the pickers head lamps to wear so they can illuminate their own workspace.

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Sunday, October 10, 2010


Grape Capers

Several news items from the wide world of wine caught my eye recently.  You may have heard about these incidents involving the theft of grapes, right off the vines.

In Kirkland, WA, an estimated one and a quarter tons of Bushvine Mourvèdre grapes were taken from the Grand Reve Vineyard.  The crooks apparently left the outer row untouched in an effort to hide the fact that the fruit from the inner rows of bushes was gone.  Other grape varieties nearby were not taken.

Then, a few days later, the BBC reported that Villeneuve-les-Beziers was hit by grape thieves.  According to the report, illegal harvesters used the light of a full moon and a harvesting machine to strip the French vineyard of its 30-ton crop of Cabernet Sauvignon.  A farmer in the area said he had heard of similar crimes being committed in the Languedoc-Roussillon region.  Using a harvesting machine, the farmer said, would have meant the grape caper could have been pulled off by only two people.  The vineyard was reportedly quite isolated, so the robbers probably worked unmolested.

A German vineyard near Hamburg was stripped of nearly its whole crop of grapes intended  to be a premium wine used primarily as a VIP gift.  The Telegraph states that only a basket of those grapes remained.

In at least the French and U.S. cases, the vineyard owners registered some surprise at the lack of solidarity among grape growers that the crimes represent.  To say the least.

These thefts indicate a professional level of expertise, not only to pull of the heist but also to know what to do with the grapes once they are stolen - or at least to know who would be interested in buying the illegally obtained fruit.  One would imagine that it's rare for a truck to pull up unannounced at a winery and offer to sell a ton - or thirty - of grapes.  These criminals had to know what they were doing.  A French detective is quoted in the Telegraph that he believes a “wine mafia gang” is to blame for that theft.

I asked a few wine people for their feelings on these events.  I was curious about how common grape thefts like these are, and whether there were any personal stories that mirrored these actions.

Dave Potter, of Municipal Winemakers, told me these are the first crimes of this nature he's heard of in the U.S.  However, when Potter worked in Australia for a Bulgarian winemaker, he heard stories about how it was not uncommon for roving thieves to do their worst in the dark of night in the winemaker’s homeland.  "He said they'd come and take the crops at night before the winemakers were ready to pick.  It ended up being a bit of a race, and the wineries always struggled to get the fruit ripe."  Potter added that because of this, "that winemaker was always surprised at how the Aussies were able to get the fruit so ripe."

Amanda Cramer, winemaker for Niner Wine Estate in Paso Robles, took a break from a busy harvest to say she had never heard of grapes being stolen from a vineyard.  “It’s quite a bold crime, to pick all that fruit without being seen.”  Cramer wondered about the possibility of an insurance scam.  However, at least in the French case, the vineyard was insured but not the grapes themselves.

Richard Maier, proprietor of St. Helena Road Vineyards and Winery in Napa Valley was also unaware of these events, or any others like them.  Maier says, “We have never had a problem here, a little out of the way and hard to find.”

Peggy Evans, Executive Director of the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association, echoed the previous sentiments.  She was familiar with these recent events, but had never heard of them happening in California.

Tyler Coleman, under his guise of “Dr. Vino,” asked in his blog, “Will this outburst lead to the rise of Chateau Razorwire, a fenced vineyard with a panopticon in the center?  Of course, back in the day, some of the best vineyards in Burgundy were 'clos,' or walled vineyards.  Chateau Razorwire would have a tad less charm.”

While searching the internet to see if any other incidents of this type appeared, I came across an article from the California Farm Bureau Federation website from harvest time 2007.  In it, accounts of metal theft from California vineyards in Kern and San Joaquin counties were discussed.  It was pointed out the money made by selling the metal equipment for scrap was a pittance compared to what the thief could have earned had he simply asked the grower for a job.

There was also an account of a half ton of grapes stripped from a vineyard, but the van the thieves were using to carry away the loot got stuck in the mud and was abandoned.  Another 700 pounds of grapes were dumped on the ground behind the vehicle.  Vineyard thieves have apparently upgraded their skills in the few years since then.