Monday, February 21, 2011

Relinquishing The Lodi Wine Guy

Today I announced my retirement from writing as “The Lodi Wine Guy” with the Lodi News-Sentinel.

Knowing there will be some of you curious for more behind-the-scenes info, and without any column-space limitations, I’ll offer more detail…

With the risk of unintentionally sounding “woe is me,” consistently writing a blog is hard work, and writing for a fixed column size of 615 words in a printed daily newspaper is even more challenging.

Over the years I’ve amassed oodles of wine Web site links and subscriptions via email, snail mail newsletters, and Google Reader. All this barrage of info is managed by Outlook rules and bookmarks. In some ways I’m thankful I didn’t get bombarded with tens of daily UPS shipments of wine samples.

Cobbling together the final weekly collection of words meant going as far as visiting the owner of a new tasting room, typing up my chicken scratch, retouching and uploading photos, then making up to six passes to boil down fun tidbits in perhaps 1,500 rough words to a highly-concentrated story with almost all adjectives removed.

That process took up more than 20% of my time, competing with the quality of service I was offering my clients through my winery consulting business. And, quite frankly, the pay for this form of wine art is paltry.

What led to the final decision to stop writing as The Lodi Wine Guy was a kindly proposition to collaborate with my publisher, Marty Weybret, on a new wine-related project through additional blogging.

I had to seriously ask myself if I wanted to be a wine writer or a wine producer. With all my background in the manufacture of consumer goods – along with the fact that I enjoy production – the choice became obvious.

I never thought of myself as much of a writer anyway. I had a talent for writing scripts for the stage, but would purposely avoid courses at U.C. Berkeley that stated a term paper as a requirement. Those I did have to write were often started and completed within 18 hours of deadline with the help of all-night coffee.

Following my passion means helping a select group of Lodi wineries to legally produce the best and most profitable wine possible, making and building our own brand, Panthos, along the way.

Looking back, I have only the most pleasant of thoughts toward Marty and the team at Lodi News-Sentinel, and will gladly work together with them on a more infrequent basis going forward. They have given me an invaluable experience to learn much about the craft of journalism.

And so it’s back into the trenches of making the news.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bud Break, Yes & No

I was talking to Ron Silva on my way to his vineyards, which are about 20 miles northeast of Lodi, and his crew had just finished disking every other row. As he puts it, "We're about two weeks behind Lodi Proper" with not only bud break but most every other benchmark during the grape growing year through harvest. I could tell from looking at the Mourvedre vineyard, still no real sign of bud break, though just feet away, the Grenache was showing some great color. Like many environmentally frienly and sustainable growers, Ron uses cover crop that, when disked under, serves as a natural fertilizer, not to mention the cool flowers.
Look at last week's blog. Belle Colline didn't show bud break. Now, one week later, most of this Petite Sirah is still sleeping, but I did find some early birds. This example is just one of every 10-15 vines stretching its early Spring arms. Remember, Belle Colline is about 20 miles south of Ron's vineyard, and on a 250 foot hill.
Now to Al Bechthold's 125'ish year old Cinsault. We're now about 20 miles west of Belle Colline on a dry farmed vineyard (never watered). Bud break is definitely happening here. I brought my nephew, Joey Baumgardner with me today. Before we got to our third stop of the morning, he was ready for a Jamba Juice run, but instead I told him not until I showed him another Lodi gem. Between the amazement over the age of this vineyard, the trunk's twists & turns, holes in their trunks I could stick my fist through caused by unknown generations of incredible growing seasons, then a grand owl soaring by our heads and landing next to where we stood...I had to remind him when it was Jamba time.
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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Bud Break Yet?

I decided to sneak up on the vines to see if they had come out of their deep sleep. It was a unique feeling walking around the vines on the hilltop this morning. Except for a few curious birds, it was as quiet as any spring morning.
As we move through February and March, the vine pruning kicked into high gear. If you look closely, you can still see the cuttings lying in the rows. Markus Bokisch's crews were working hard, pruning last year's growth carefully to create the perfect balance for our 2009 harvest.
I looked at the vineyard pictures taken at this time last year and other than a little more maturity in the wood, and the rain that happened to be falling that day, it's hard to tell the difference. Bud break is happening in most vineyards around the appellation. The forecast over the next seven days is mid-70's, so I'm going to come out again next week to see the difference...I bet there's green in them thar hills. I'll post those pictures too so you can see.
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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Last Pick

With mixed feelings, I watched the last two bins of Silvaspoons Vineyards Kerry Lane Block Mourvèdre drive off to the winery, signaling the end of our harvest.

I was just getting used to my routine of waking up in the dark at five o’clock, wolfing down a pot of oatmeal and putting on the grubbiest, most hole-filled clothes I could find.

On my way to the vineyards, if I was lucky, I had enough time to hit Starbuck’s on East Kettleman Lane for a venti non-fat, no-foam latte with three packs of Sugar-in-the-Raw to jump-start the brain.

The main job for Nick and I has been to jump onto the bins on the back of a narrow tractor and frantically pull out leaves from the gathered grapes while moving, trying not to fall off. We just don’t want those undesirable “green,” herbal flavors.

At the same time, we would try and snap some photos or video for our Web site, knowing that nowadays marketing is almost as important as high-quality winemaking.

We got into a rhythm of taking a few pictures just before the whole crew began dumping yellow lug bin after bin into our half-ton bin. Seemed that each member of the crew filled their bin about the same time, so they all came back at once like a big dump truck.

No matter than the cameras became sticky with grape sugars, such that the zoom on one camera is jammed. I didn’t mind getting whipped in the face by long vines as the tractor drove through the rows, or having my glasses glaze over like a doughnut, making it hard to see.

I already miss the popping sounds made by hands yanking off grape clusters aching to be made into wine.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Panthos, The Next Generation

I was telling Jon, working with the wines every day is what it's all about. I can't get enough.

Then my son, Jonathon wakes up one morning two weeks ago and asks where I'm going. It's 7:00 in the morning which is pretty early for most 12-year olds. I explain my daily ritual of punch downs, brix readings, etc. and his eyes light up as he jumps from his bed asking, "Can I go? I want to do it too!" I haven't stopped grinning since.
Jonathon really likes to get into his work.

Today we have different lots at every end of the spectrum. Al Bechthold's Cinsault and our two Syrah's are almost dry, reading from 0.4 to -1.5 brix on the hydrometer. On the other end of the spectrum, we have one of Markus Bokisch's Petite Sirah's from Belle Colline that I just removed from a cold chill (52 degrees and 26.5 brix) that will begin its natural fermentation under the watchful eye (or should I say "eye's" now) over the next two days; and with our last crush of 2008, we're planning on harvesting Ron Silva's Mourvedre this Tuesday.

We're thankful the rains last night were light and any moisture is drying from today's breezes. But I'm really thankful for days like these, up to our arms, side-by-side in a beautiful Petite Sirah.
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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Our Bin Runneth Over

Every year we learn something new.

This year one of the tweaks we were getting ready to be proud of was the determination of exactly how much you could fill a one-Ton Macro T-Bin with crushed grapes such that they wouldn’t overflow during fermentation.

We filled a number of bins up to a line five inches from the top, and double-checked to make sure we had clearance.
Once fermentation hit its stride in a couple of days after warming from cold soak, copious amounts of very purple Petite Sirah juice began cascading down the sides of one of our bins.
This created enough of a mess that the cellar master repeated at least six times that he had to clean up everything and, “You are going to remove some of those grapes.”
Nick – who has been kindly doing all the punchdowns this year – went over the records to determine that the most obnoxious bin of Petite hadn’t even received its first helping of yeast nutrient yet.

So we have reset our maximum fill protocol to what should be an ample seven inches from the top. (Let’s hope that works or we're going to be wearing out the mop!)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

We're Legal!

For weeks now we’ve been wondering what was going to potentially hold up shipments next month.

In our minds it’s been a neck and neck race between the California State Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) in granting us a permit to sell wine at wholesale and a special ribbon we are having made.

I figured I’d just give our new mailbox a check at the UPS Store on Kettleman Lane in Lodi as I was dropping off a sample for ETS Labs today.

We rarely get anything in the box, since only a couple of government agencies and random junk mail businesses know about it.

I turned the key, peered inside, and noticed one white envelope leaning along the side of the small PO box. I could barely make out “Department of Alc…” on the return address and became immediately excited.

I reached in, saw the familiar pink paper – the color of a final permit – and began hopping around the UPS Store. The owner, Dan, asked how I was doing, and I said, “I’m just happy happy! We just got our ABC permit and now we’re legal!”

So if we can get that ribbon in soon, we’ll be ready to hand-assemble our 1,200 bottles!