Friday, October 22, 2010

Weird Science Proves Harvest is Over

Well, here we are again - at that time during harvest when you have to make the decision whether to pick or let 'em hang. This year is a repeat of last year. The storm door is open, rain is moving in, and temperatures are going to get no hotter than they are now - which is hovering around 70 on a good day. Luckily, we've picked most everything and from what I've tasted, we're going to produce some fantastic Cabernet this year. The flavors were there long before the sugars and we somehow managed to pick Cab at its usual time, although I can't say the same for Chardonnay and some other varietals.

But here's what I can't seem to get through to some winemakers: we're at the point the fruit will get no riper than it is now. Why? Because once the ground gets wet and cold, the vines shut down and go night-night. They think its winter. Some winemakers don't. But the vines know better. The vines know that here in California:

warm and sunny = summer
cold and wet = winter

I know you're all in love with the romance of the wine business, so here's your chance to experience what I'm talking about, first-hand, in the comfort of your own home. Let's do together what I'll call an "Xtreme Vine Geek" experiment to illustrate my point.

WARNING: Only responsible adults or ones who didn't kill too many brain cells during the '70s should participate in this experiment to avoid potential injury. If you just drank a Zinfandel over 16%, stay on the couch. You'll be unable to complete Step 1.

Step 1. Walk into any one of the 2.5 bathrooms in your home.
Step 2. Turn off the heat if you have it on.
Step 3. Go over to the bathtub. Turn on the water and dial the temperature to the coldest setting. Fill up the bathtub.
Step 4. Shuck your clothes off, down to your skivvies. Stand in the bathtub.

WARNING: Resist the urge to bring your laptop into the bathtub with you so you can continue reading to see what comes next. Otherwise, what WILL come next is a large jolt, followed by a funeral that your relatives will make me pay for.

Step 5. Are ya cold yet? Good. Now you know what it's like to be a grapevine in Napa Valley. Do you feel like you're warm enough to ripen some fruit? Of course not. You want a Snuggie in that hideous blue color and a hip flask filled with whiskey.

See? You guys get it. But no matter how much nagging I do, I can't get some winemakers to believe me when I tell them - THE SEASON IS DONE!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Twits who Tweet and Thoughts on Harvest

In my last blog, I promised to let you know when harvest was in full swing so you could plan your trip to Napa to witness it first-hand (actually I think I said "to clog up the roads" which wasn't very nice, but whatever). It's here. Enough said.

Today's beef: I have to admit I don't get this whole 'tweet on the status of harvest' thing. First, don't get me started on how stupid the word "tweet" is - it reminds me of that cartoon, and honestly, I was always rooting for Sylvester to take Tweety out. Anyway, last year, I was asked to comment about harvest on the Napa Vintners blog - which I was happy to do. It seemed like no one was really into it, and they needed someone so I was happy to be the nice guy for once. This year, I can't get over how many wine people seem to feel the need to post or tweet about harvest stuff, and I have to say it's really not all that exciting.

Here's an example - a recent tweet by a vineyard owner - "temp 82 today and mostly sunny". Ok, raise your hand if you think this is interesting.

{loudspeaker announcement}
"Attention Mr. Twit Who Tweets: NO ONE is interested in our weather except us farmers and we're obsessed".

Instead, weather is one of those safe subjects people talk about at the Thanksgiving table when they have nothing else to say to their mother-in-law who's latest plastic surgery went badly and now is unable to close her lips while eating.

So, I'm wondering... what could be said about harvest that's so interesting it should be blasted to the world in a 140-character message? "We're picking today"??? Big deal. You know who gets all excited about tweets? A 16 year old who can't wait to find out what Lindsay Lohan has to say about her latest body cavity search. Get it? Harvest tweets need to be a lot more juicy (no pun intended).

Here's one I think would work.....

"Faithful see image of Virgin Mary in Rutherford cabernet cluster. Thousands flock to Napa Valley only to complain its sacramental wine is high in alcohol and lacks balance."

I admit, maybe it's a little too Enquirer-esque. But I think you get the idea. Can't we make harvest tweets and posts a little more exciting.... or is it that too much information about anything is really just plain 'ol boring.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Montezuma and Lawnmowers

Don't you just hate it when friends come back from vacation and send you their stupid pictures and drone on and on about all the fun they had? So do I. So I won't bore you with any details about my vacation except to say you shouldn't believe anyone who says it's now safe to drink the water in Mexico.....

I just got a call from a client who wants me to send a crew to do some landscape work at their (very spacious) estate. God I hate that. I'm already a grump-ass (literally - see comment above regarding Montezuma) -- so go ahead, make it worse.

I don't get it. Don't people understand the difference between a vineyard worker and a gardener?? Do I need to paint a picture??

Oops, well ok. I can see where there might be some confusion. They're usually both young, brawny guys who seem to work miracles with plants. But that's where the similarities end. Gardeners prune roses. We prune grapevines. Gardners pick weeds. We pick grapes. Gardeners show up at your house with one of these

See??? That's called a "l-a-w-n-m-o-w-e-r". That, along with a leaf blower, gets you what's called a "mow and blow". We don't do that. Trust me, I'd be the last person I'd ask to do any gardening work. I'd pull up all your prized roses, rip out all those flowering bushes and plant some good 'ol Cabernet. Now that's what I call a great landscape!

Back to grape farming....

We've finally starting picking grapes - just Sauvignon Blanc - after having been at least two weeks behind all season. But there's still not alot of action going on in the Valley yet. So stay home - I'll let you know when all the grapes start coming in so you can jump in your car or hop on a flight to personally witness crush and clog up our highway.

But you'll be all happy to know that despite the cool weather and one 110 degree day, this year's crop looks good, and we will yet again put out another decent vintage. The only problem is I've got a bad feeling all this fruit is going to ripen at the same time and it's going to happen right when I've planned to head to British Columbia to hunt. Crap! (sorry, I don't mean to keep bringing up Montezuma)

Stay tuned next time when we debate whether Chlorox is really, truly effective in combating mildew in the vineyard.....

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Senator DoGood and Foreign Vegetables

First, thank you to everyone who sent email congratulating me on my first blog. And, I'm not sure what to say to the client who reminded me that, in fact, I AM being paid to be one of those "vineyard consultants" I slammed. (of course I know exactly what to say, but its not nice) Apparently, I'm a pain in the butt just like the rest of them. Oh, well.

On to today's rant.....

A piece of legislation drafted by a well-meaning politico was recently vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger (ok, rule #1 - all politicians should have a name that 3 out of 4 people can spell). The bill proposed farm labor be paid time-and-a-half for work over 8 hours. Sounds like the right thing to do, but because farming is seasonal and we don't employ labor all year round, laborers tend to grab all the hours we give them when we can, even if it makes for a long day. Like everyone else, they have bills to pay. They've figured out the math equation obvious to everyone except politicians:

Work = money

Now, I'm not dumb. I'm not going to take sides on this issue, especially here in my blog. I've seen how people (who have nothing else to do) spend all day commenting on blogs that are controversial. But it does make me wonder how (stupid) bills get created. Let's take, for example, the Senator who drafted this bill. I imagine Senator DoGood (name changed to protect his identity and keep his gigantic legal team away from my assets) sits around the breakfast table with his wife chatting, usually about ideas that spend my hard-earned money or increase taxes. In this case, Senator DoGood's parents and grandparents apparently picked roses and vegetables in the San Joaquin Valley so he felt it was his duty to change the state law exempting farm laborers from being paid overtime. I don't want to slam Senator DoGood for doing something he felt was right, but I do want to ask him a question....

Senator DoGood - what's the chance you or your family shop for veggies at the grocery store? Pretty good, I'd say. California law requires grocery stores to post where fruit and vegetables come from, and as a (grumpy) farmer, I notice how much of what we eat comes from somewhere else. Eggplant? $4.49/lb at Safeway this week from Mexico. Hell, even Whole Foods - you know, that place where "eat local" is painted on the front entrance - has mandarin oranges from Australia. Get the idea? So, I'm just wondering if there might be a little hypocrisy going on here. It looks as though there's a damned good chance Senator DoGood regularly eats vegetables grown in countries where farm laborers are paid even less and work conditions are worse. Bad boy, Senator DoGood!

So, it also makes me wonder - if Senator DoGood wants to increase the cost of farming, does that mean he wants the price of U.S. grown vegetables to be so high we can only afford to eat food from China? Or maybe he actually likes the flavor of melon picked unripe, packed in a crate, and shipped on a large boat. Does his logic go something like this.... "Oh well, if we can't afford to grow our own food, at least we can still afford to buy vegetables from Mexico. It would save money on that huge healthcare bill we just passed - I hear the water there is an effective laxative".

All kidding aside, I'm happy to see the bill got vetoed. It was more likely to hurt the people it intended to help. Farmers would have hired more workers rather than pay overtime because no one can afford to raise the price of their products these days. Last time I checked email (which I don't do often because its full of messages offering to enhance my body parts), none of my clients said, "Geez, Jim. Can you charge us more to farm our vineyard this year?"

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Andy Rooney, Vineyard Consultants, and Other Musings....

If you asked me 6 months ago whether I'd ever consider writing a blog, I would have said, "the dumbest word ever invented is the word 'blog', whatever that means". But a friend suggested it not too long ago and said I could be the Andy Rooney of the wine blogging world. Andy Rooney is wrinkled and almost dead so I'm still not sure it was a compliment but after considering it, decided it wouldn't be such a bad idea. In fact, it might be therapeutic in a weird way. Instead of grumbling to myself under my breath, I can share it with the world.

For those of you who want to follow my blog, a word of warning: I won't be doing this all the time because I have stuff to do. If you wake up to check my blog every morning, I have some advice - get a job. But if you want to know what its like to grow grapes in one of the world's greatest wine growing regions, check in with me every once in awhile.

One of the most thankless jobs, next to garbage man (or should I say "trash collector") is a farmer. Even Rodney Dangerfield got more respect and no doubt made a hell of a lot more money being disrespected. I'm a grape farmer, have been for over 30 years, and am damned proud to say it. As far as wine production goes, I'm an important cog in the wheel, but of course, not the most important cog - just ask any winemaker.

Sure, I've been doing it a long time and I've seen lots of crazes come and go: trellising systems no one ever uses anymore, plant material no one uses any more - all designed to supposedly revolutionize grape growing. Hell, row orientations are now precisely 35 degrees East of North or should I just follow the Yellow Brick Road? But the fad I don't get now is the need to hire a vineyard consultant - someone to hold hands with and sing "Kumbaya" as you walk through the vineyard.

Before I rant, let me say not all are bad. I even have some I use on a regular basis. But why do some winemakers feel the need to hire one? Consultants are a pain in the butt and they get in the way - no let me change that - they get in MY way. They come armed with reams of paper loaded with scientific studies crammed with thousands of statistics. One will tell you to water less. Another tells you to water more. Yet another says if you pick off a certain leaf, its guaranteed the grapes won't have any green flavor (huh?). Few of them seem to have spent even one day farming. How does that work??? I complain to my winemaker buddies about this all the time, but it seems they want proof that consultants do, in fact, get in the way. So I discovered the diagram below on the Internet (well, ok I made it up on my laptop) that shows scientifically how the "getting in the way" thing happens:

I also found a correlation (that's a science word) between my number of meetings with vineyard consultants, my blood pressure, and how many glasses of wine I have at night. I offer it as further evidence:

What ever happened to good, old-fashioned farming? Learn the land, learn the vines, love the results. Its worked for me for over 30 years.

Stay tuned - someone just told me tomorrow is a "flower day" on the biodynamic calendar and I feel a rant coming on.