|“Well the Universe is shaped exactly like the Earth. If you go straight long enough you’ll end up where you were.” – Isaac BrockAugust is the month of pre-harvest rest and reflection in the cellar. With this in mind I headed out to the local movie theater last night to catch a film with a friend. This writing I guess is an attempt to explain why I loved Bill Cunningham New York, a documentary about the New York Times fashion photographer. The unadulterated passion for and mastery of subject, the honesty, the modesty, these are all the characteristics I can only hope to bring to my own work. I don’t think I’ve seen a more inspirational embodiment of my ideal in this funny little world we must work in. Sacrifices of life that must be made to keep to that ideal are too vast to follow myself, but I love to be reminded that there are so many paths to so many pinnacles.
It also reminds me of one of the underlying features of wine and wine making that I love so, the all encompassing nature of the craft. Try as I might, it would be extraordinarily difficult to apply lessons from the life of a Spartan fashion critic to my previous path of synthesizer of research pharmaceuticals. With wine though, whatever idea presents itself, there seems to be a relationship one can find to expound upon. One of the sub-currents of the film that fascinated me was that of the cyclical nature of the fashion world. How styles and designs come in and out of being the leading edge of the day. Along with that, one begins to see the cyclical nature of all those industries that are based upon aesthetics and taste. Styles of dress, art, writing, music, film, design, architecture and yes, wine all seem to be progressing in a self-referential way that by nature must look back upon itself as it moves forward.
Beyond the obvious agrarian cycle of wine production itself, there are other cycles in the wine industry we must confront. Varietals go in and out of vogue. What is considered balanced is a moving target because it has no true definition, being rather one of those Justice Potter Stewart subjects that you know when you taste it. Regional styles get acclaim, then become passé and fade. The techniques of the winemaker, from the treatment of the fruit to the materials of the containers are all in constant flux. From this we get the ideas, trends, and styles of wine that come, go, and then return.
This all flashed through my mind today when a taster asked me what “my goal was” when making the 2007 York Mountain Cab. I was stuck on the basic response of “just trying to make the best wine I possibly could.” (Sadly, in all honesty, this is still the best answer I can give without writing a long blog post about it!) But so much more was at play than just trying my best. The hundreds and hundreds of discussions and reactions I’ve been privy too involving our 2005 and 2006 Cabs obviously had some say. The lessons from the winemakers I learned from and the opinions of friends and peers all manifest themselves somehow. Even the monthly tracking of inventory depletions creates a most stark criticism which is difficult if not impossible to simply ignore. All these factors create the context from which my personal expression comes forth.
This frees me from worrying too much as we plan for the emmient harvest. The pre-season is done, it is time for the real games to begin. I’ve spent the last 9 months in reflection of all my previous harvests and in adding new life experience which are bound to bring new influence to what will come. Decisions about ripeness, acid, brix, stems, soaks, temperatures, extractions, pressing, oak, racking, oxygen, which beer to drink while hosing down the destemmer must all be made. All of which are choose your own adventure questions leading you to a mysterious outcome. The past is our only guide, thus in showing the way will make itself known. It cannot return in whole though, being more the candle casting light unto and creating shadows of the current vintage. Just like life itself, despite all the best plans and forethought, making wine is an act of constant improvisation.
This fact, along with the rarity and one time nature of the vintage create such a unique excitement. A new start, all possible outcomes are again out there to be reached. This explains the butterflies in the stomach feeling that walking in the vineyard invoked this morning. The arrival of veraison, like the firing of a starting gun has officially set harvest in motion. It is time again to create the best possible wine we can, and I can’t wait to try.
|For the remainder of summer and into fall, J. Lohr Viticulturist Anji Perry will be with us on Wine Lohr, documenting the progress of our Paso Robles vines as we prepare for harvest.
Anji in Snowden Vineyard, Paso Robles AVA
It’s the height of summer, and right now we’re focusing on our irrigation regime in our Paso Robles vineyards. 2010 was the coolest vintage in a decade here, and so far in 2011 it’s been even cooler. This is excellent news for color development and vine health, but can bring unwanted green and herbal notes to Bordeaux varieties if irrigation is not restricted to the necessary minimum. In controlling irrigation, our goals are to stop vine growth, to manage our watering to control berry size, and to burn off some basal leaves (the lowest leaves on the shoot) to get just the right amount of sunlight on the clusters.
To “burn off” basal leaves, we impose a level of water stress that causes
For the most part, we’re still awaiting the onset of ripening, which is a few weeks later this year. But this week, in our Snowden Vineyard, Red Winemaker Steve Peck noticed the very first signs of veraison on our Cabernet Sauvignon vines. He snapped a photo so we could give you a close up view.
The first signs of ripening (veraison) in Paso
Stay tuned through the rest of summer for weekly J. Lohr vineyard snapshots!
|On Saturday, at the 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville, VA, the winners of the 2011 Wine Blog Awardswere announced. One of them was us! Thank you to everyone who voted; the award was 50% determined by votes from the public. The other 50% was determined by the votes of the panel of expert judges who culled the list of nominees down to the five-ish finalists in each category.The world of wine blogs is rich and diverse, and growing all the time. The fact that speakers at the Wine Blog Awards included traditional media figures (and wine writer titans) Eric Asimov and Jancis Robinson shows just how far blogging has penetrated into the mainstream of wine discussion, and how blurry — some at the conference would say irrelevant — the boundary between wine writer and wine blogger has become. As always, I learned a lot and developed some new favorites reading through the blogs of the other finalists. And it’s only fitting that Tom Wark’s Fermentation won both “Best Overall Wine Blog” and “Best Industry Blog”. After all, Tom created the Wine Blog Awards back in 2007 and this was his first year eligible after handing the awards off to a nonprofit consortium two years ago. Congratulations to all the winners. The complete list:
Best Overall Wine Blog – Fermentation
I am proud that this was the fourth year in a row that the Tablas Creek blog was a finalist. I’m also proud that the last year of the Tablas Creek blog has been more of a communal effort than ever before, including several great posts by my dad and contributions from two new authors: Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Magnusson, writing Notes from the Cellar, and Tasting Room Manager John Morris, writing View from the Tasting Room. Each brings a different perspective to our effort to share our experiences as we make, sell, plan and reflect on Tablas Creek.
Thank you to all of you take the time, whether regularly or occasionally, to read our thoughts.
Noon to 3:00
Burger Sunday, come on by and listen to the music of “Those Guys”. Eat Burgers, Drink wine (or Cider!) and be merry with us.
|One of the side jobs that comes with becoming a winemaker is the position of chief of all family wine questions and situations. As someone who just plain loves wine, I’m not always the best suited for this job. When a family member does a bit of research and tells me, “Oh, let’s hold off on the Chardonnay right now because I heard that you can’t drink it with the salad dressing I used.” I can tell that they really don’t care, that they are just worried that I will look at them scornfully as they serve me the evil mixture of wine and vinegar. As if people expect me to fly off the handle yelling, “How dare you ruin the sanctity of my wine that I perfectly crafted. This meal is RUINED!” Instead, I usually reply with something like, “You know, that might be technically true, but who cares. Never hold off on drinking wine, bad pairings can be just as fun as a good one. You can see what difference the food makes in the way the wine tastes.” This is a great way to truly understand food pairing.Wine’s relationship to our palates fascinates me endlessly, so I’m not one to dogmatically follow the rules of food and wine. Like most trained scientists, I feel there is just as much to learn in failure as there is in success. Sadly, my offhand dismissal of hard and fast rules just makes everything more confusing for my family.These situations always get me thinking about why wine can be so confounding to those first exploring it. I think people are scared that they will demonstrate some form of wine ignorance by flubbing a basic rule. Well, rules like these are meant to be broken indeed. The world of food and wine is so complex, simple rules should only be the roughest of guidelines. As an example wines are often described as being “food friendly”. I guess this is said implying that some other un-named wine is unfriendly or just plain rude. Since wine is so completely intertwined into the culinary experience, this has to be one of the harshest critiques possible of a wine. The problem that immediately comes to my mind is this: What does the critic in this case mean by “food”?
When I lived in San Francisco, a typical 8pm question was, “What should we eat tonight?” I know this is a common problem in homes throughout the world, but the seemingly endless choices made available in my neighborhood invoked that same feeling of hopeless confusion as when choosing a toothpaste.
Seriously, what’s the answer here?
Anyway, here is just a sample of the choice of restraunt styles that were within a 4-minute bike ride of my front door:
American, New American, Southern, BBQ, Californian, Cajun, Seafood, French, Italian, Vietnemese, French-Vietnemese, German, East German, Hipster German, Pizza, Southern Indian, Northen Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, Nepalese, Cambodian, Thai, Ethiopian, Senegalese, Moroccan, Spanish/Tapas, Peruvian, Nicaraguan, Mexican, New Mexican, Tacos, Burritos, Vegan/Raw, Cuban, Japanese, Mediterranean….(Man, now I need to spend a week eating in the Mission)
The idea that there is some formula out there that x and y features of wine make it good with “food” seems totaly absurd. I don’t care what the pH, TA, tannin, alcohol, balance, ten-cent wine descriptor, you can find a food that works for you with pretty much any wine. I’ve met people who swear by sushi and whiskey! Not my ideal pairing, but if you love it, anyone who tells you otherwise can take a walk. When one combines the entire spectrum of sustenance with all the styles and characteristics of wine, then throws in the full range of human taste and experience, I think you’d have to be a Numberwang champion to figure out all the possibilities.
So take this as a challenge to disregard much of what you’ve read or heard and just go exploring. Eat at places that are passionate about what they serve and express a unique point of view. That passion will lead them, and in turn you, to all sorts of interesting and unexpected places that simply following “the rules” would steer you away from. The role of the experts should not be to confuse you and limit your choices, but instead be a role of expanding and leading you to try something you might otherwise avoid. Any sommelier will tell you the greatest triumph in pairing is the success of the unexpected. Don’t be afraid of failure or of some snobby upturned nose at a bad pairing. Try anything and everything with the full confidence that failure and success are both wonderful outcomes when it comes to wine and food. This more than any book, video, magazine, or blog will lead you down the path of understanding your unique palate.
|J. Lohr employee Megan Carder shares her food and wine adventures while camping on the Northern Coast of California last weekend.It’s officially the middle of summer, and all this mild weather we’ve been having in California is beckoning us to the great outdoors. Without the normal amenities of a kitchen, camping is a great opportunity to get creative. Long gone are the days when camping meant drinking filtered creek water and eating freeze-dried beans. With the right tools and a flexible attitude, even the most particular gourmets can now get their food on at the beach or in the middle of the woods. And don’t forget that wine! This weekend, we brought some J. Lohr Estates South Ridge Syrah to pair with our dinner.Red wine – for camping? Absolutely. For starters, it doesn’t have to be chilled, and therefore will not take up valuable space in your cooler. This is a definite plus, especially if you’ll be camping for more than a couple days. And while most people recommend screw caps for camping convenience, natural cork closures protect the wine from raccoons, who have not yet (to our knowledge) learned how to use corkscrews. But perhaps most importantly, red wine goes great with barbecued meats, grilled veggies, and other standby camping favorites like hamburgers and hotdogs.
For this camp dinner, we prepared a Greek salad with yellow and orange bell pepper, red heirloom tomatoes, cucumber, onion and feta, and tossed it with salt and pepper, fresh garlic, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Then we grilled some gourmet sausage from a local meat company over the fire, and paired it with J. Lohr Estates South Ridge Syrah. (Yum.)
This was easy and quick camping meal! If you decide to try it, keep in mind that the salad can be prepped after breakfast before you head out on a hike or other adventure. This will give the flavors enough time to meld together. Just make sure you have a cool place, away from any critters, to store it for the day.
If you do prefer white wine (we recommend J. Lohr Estates Riverstone Chardonnay), pair it with chicken or fresh-caught trout, which you can easily cook in foil packets right on your campfire. Just throw in some seasonings, veggies and whatever else you choose.
|Neil chats with Matt Brynildson Part V:“the influence of materials in beer & wine
oak and other wooden options
a regional beer for Paso?”
Here’s part 5 of Neil and Matt’s conversation. In this edition of Conversations of a Winemaker, Neil chats with friend and local Brewmaster of the Firestone Brewery, Matt Brynildson. Tune in as they discuss aspects of wine and beer, both local and abroad. To view parts 1 – 4 of their conversation, click here.
To watch past episodes of Conversations of a Winemaker, click here or go to “Videos” on the main menu.