Support for Ukraine From the Wine Industry
Education # 53
The brutal Russian onslaught on neighboring Ukraine has been swift and sudden – not as swift as the reaction of retailers around the world, who have dropped Russian products like hot rocks since the tanks swept in.
Offer data for Russian products show that numbers have fallen off a cliff since Putin's troops swept into Ukraine, with the number of products being offered by retailers falling by 28 percent since this time last year and by 33 percent since last month.
Among the major markets, the US is leading the charge. Offer numbers in the US have declined by almost 55 percent since the invasion and by 41 percent year-on-year. That follows a healthy period of growth for Russian products; the number of offers had grown by 15 percent over the previous 12 months.
Figures for offers in the UK are similarly grim for Russian producers. Although there were relatively few UK offers for Russian products (641 in February, out of a total of 723,000 offers), the number has dropped by 30 percent in the past few weeks. Compared to the same time last year, offer numbers are down by 20 percent.
It's interesting to look at offers in the NATO countries, too.
Of the 30 countries that are part of NATO, we have figures for 24 of them and the level of disapproval over the invasion is pretty clear. The number of offers available in each country has dropped in all but five of the NATO members. Estonia tops the chart, with a decline in offers of a massive 73 percent year-on-year, followed by Iceland (down 57 percent), Canada (down 52 percent), and then Croatia, Luxembourg and Denmark, where offers have halved since the invasion.
Reported by Wine Searcher 4/1/22
Fighting to Save the American White Oak Trees
Education # 52
American white oak's health has been threatened by a now depressingly familiar cocktail that includes incompetent land management, climate change and invasive species. Other trees, notably maples and beech trees, are choking out younger American white oaks.
Of the forests recently surveyed by the White Oak Initiative, 60 percent of American white oak acreage had no white oak seedlings, and 87 percent had no white oak saplings.
On its current trajectory, the White Oak Initiative study found that the multi-billions in annual economic activity generated by the trees will not be sustainable in a decade, with more significant declines ahead.
The American white oak not only provides shelter and sustenance to a network of animals, birds, insects, plants, fungi and microorganisms, it is an essential component in the furniture, flooring and cabinetry of homes, and the flavor of wines and spirits around the world.
But in a refreshing change of pace, a coalition of private, public and corporate citizens have become alarmed enough about the pending crisis to take action together, in a bid to save the tree (and their own hides).
In winemaking, the vessels used for aging truly abound. There's American white oak, but there’s also French oak, English oak, Hungarian oak, Italian chestnut to name a few – and that's just the wood options. There's also concrete, amphora, steel….
American white oak barrels are cheaper than their European counterparts, partially due to the fact that the wood tends to be more dense and less porous, allowing more of the harvested trees to be used for the barrel. Chemically, American white oak is higher in lactones and vanillin, which translates to sweeter flavors of vanilla and coconut in the glass. French oak also has more tannins.
Invests in Champagne With a Cause
DiCaprio recently joined majority shareholder Rémy Cointreau group with his investment in Telmont Champagne, a house with some of the most ambitious goals for greater sustainability in the region.
Telmont’s path to sustainability began four years ago, when it earned its first Agriculture Biologique France Certification for organic agriculture for a portion of its 60 acres of estate-owned vineyards in 2017. As part of a larger, multi-pronged project the house refers to as “In the Name of Mother Nature,” they pledged to convert all estate-owned vineyards to organic agriculture by 2025 and all cultivated areas—including vineyards from which they purchase grapes—by 2031.
“Champagne Telmont, together with its partner winegrowers, has set its sights on producing 100 percent organic Champagne, ensuring a completely sustainable production lifecycle in the coming years,” said DiCaprio in a press release announcing his investment. “From protecting biodiversity on its land to using 100 percent renewable electricity, Champagne Telmont is determined to radically lower its environmental footprint, making me proud to join as an investor.”
From The Wine Spectator
Coppola Does It Again
120 Tanks Underground
Education # 50
Coppola is a filmmaker first, of course, but the business of making wine has taken up more and more of his time over the years. There are, he told me, 120 distinct growing areas of grapes on his property at Inglenook. On most vineyards, the fruit from these unique parcels of grapes go into far fewer fermenters, where they mix. But what if, Coppola wondered, you could build 120 fermenters, one for each growing area, and in doing so, learn which ones are truly great, which are average, and so on? The only limit was space and the neighbors, who probably would not take kindly to a giant fermenter plant being built anywhere they could see it. So, Coppola decided: We'll build it underground.
“I'm so proud of this because I think the biggest thrill in life is to have a dream or imagine something and then get to see it be real,” Coppola said. “There's nothing like that.”
Pruning in the
Education # 49
The vines above are a great example of 'need to be pruned soon'. For a myriad of reasons, vines just get neglected and are not pruned in time. In time means as soon as the ground is not soaking wet from the rains. The ideal time to prune in California and the West Coast is January and February. That allows the vines to start to 'push' or send out its flowers by March and April. That timing also relates to the harvest time. With potential fires in the Fall, the sooner we can harvest -the better. Ideal time to harvest is August 15 to September 15. If you prune too late, you run the risk of a late harvest and more problems that farmers do not need. As they say "timing is everything".
Leslie Has a New Discovery For You
This fabulous new winery - Ektimo is a rare gem. Tucked away in the Russian River "Green Valley" appellation, this family owned boutique winery offers very limited production specialties to tickle your fancy.
For a special introductory offer, they would like to share their magnificent wines and motivate you to try them. Choose your favorites and then choose your deal. For an introductory 4 bottle sampler use code GOURMET15% at checkout and get 15% off the purchase price. For the curious connoisseur order 6 bottles or more and use code GOURMET20% at checkout to get 20% off on your purchase.
Leslie Hennessy tasting notes:
2018 Ektimo Russian River Chardonnay
A light golden color leads to a big apple bouquet. A voluptuous wine with a full intro, harmony, crescendo cascade that creates a dynamic palate pleasing composition that is satisfying start to finish
2017 Ektimo Russian River Estate Pinot Noir,
A blueberry and strawberry bouquet leads to a very soft and silky finish. Our inaugural Estate wine from our Green Valley Vineyard and quite a charmer. Bright, elegant and delicate, all things Pinot Noir.
to get a virtual view of our modest winery
Glass of Wine
New York 1939
Just had some fun going through our family’s history and came across this wine menu from Childs Restaurant in New York City in 1939. My fabulous Mother Dolly Hennessy was sent to New York in 1939 to work as an in-house maid for a wealthy family. At the golden age of twenty-one it was a way to leave home and make money for the family back in St. Cloud Minnesota. Being very adventurous she went out as much as possible. Collecting memorabilia such as this Childs Restaurant menu was part of her life style. Notice the only two wines on the menu were the Claret and Rhine wine for twenty cents a glass! A nice bit of history.
Debating the Health Benefits of Wine
As Reported in The Prince of Pinot
Dr. Stockley’s review of key cohort studies found a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure by about 30%, reduced risk of ischemic stroke by about 20% and a decrease in high and unbalanced cholesterol by about 10%, with the consumption of 1-2 drinks per day of alcohol compared with lifelong abstainers.
Do we live longer if we enjoy a glass of an alcoholic beverage on a near-daily basis? The answer, for healthy post-menopausal women and men over forty is still very much, ‘yes.’
Current scientific data indicate that adults who consume alcohol regularly, with food, and without binge drinking, have a lower risk of most of the diseases of aging and tend to live longer than if they consumed no alcohol.
From : Rusty Gaffney MD | Contact the Prince: [email protected]
Is Inflation Coming for Your Cabernet?
Education # 45
Unlike prices for gas and meat, wine prices have not been skyrocketing—but that may change very soon. Here is how much sticker shock wine drinkers can expect in 2022. Wine has been largely absent from the raging debate over inflation in recent months. While the wholesale price of beef is up by 20 percent and gas costs are at their highest level in seven years, a bottle of wine has been one of the few products consumers could count on to stay stable.
Not for long. Because grapes are harvested just once a year and wine reaches the market through a multitier distribution network, price pressures have simply not caught up to consumers yet. When they do, the perfect storm of inflation (up 6.2 percent in the United States in the past year, the highest rate in decades),supply chain bottlenecks, a small global grape harvest, and a surge in demand will mean consumers should brace themselves for spikes in wine prices.
But, what about everyday wines? Domestic wines may not be spared price hikes either, nor will wines in the value end of the spectrum, which will be forced to take bigger percentage step-ups. We ask ourselves how long will higher prices stick around? The U.S. Federal Reserve and many market analysts advise that inflation won’t last, as it’s merely the result of “transitory factors,” including shutdowns and restarts in multiple economies. Some in the industry take a similar view. In our humble opinion, there is still an ocean of bulk wine in California for sale. However, this is not true for Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. Hey. Maybe Merlot will make a comeback? We will see. (Portions of this article are from the Wine Spectator)
Wow! 1973 Inglenook
Education # 44
It is not very often when you can taste your own rare wines out of your cellar. But my friend Jonathan visits me every so often and I pull out the venison and some of my rare wines. And he brings goodies like this 1973 Inglenook. The fun is that he brings these rare beauties in a brown bag, and I get to guess what they are. This was a WOW wine. It was very drinkable with a wonderful bouquet of rich black mold. Most walls of the old cellars, that I have visited in Burgundy, Bordeaux, and Champagne are covered with this black mold.
The middle body of this Cabernet was all about licorice and brown sugar. And the finish was a delicious blend of the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc that this Cask C-1 embodies. I had to call my old friend George Linton’s son Luke to ask if he had the exact composition of this Cask C-1. George had the composition of every Inglenook Cask percentage of the grapes blended in for each vintage. Some people memorize football statistics. George memorized Cask blends. A nice piece of history. Thanks Jonathan. Leslie Hennessy
Education # 43
With the Thanksgiving holiday just upon us, it reminds us that as the first Europeans introduced themselves to the American Indians on the East coast, grape vines were already there. Their scientific name is Vitis Labrusca. The vines are native to eastern North America and are the source of many grape varieties including Catawba and Concord.
There were also grapes cultivated by the American Indians here in California at the same time. They were named Vitis Californica. However, they were budded over to the European Vitis category of grape vines in the middle 1800’s. What we do not know is how and where the many native Californian tribes propagated these vines. This whole category of grape vines is a PHD science named Viticulture. Viticulture is the Latin word for vine. Taught at the esteemed University of Davis, in California, it has been evolving into a very necessary part of our wine industry. Now, as we are discovering more information about our native ancestors, let us hope that we unearth more information about this fascinating subject of Californian Indians grape cultivation
A 3.5 Return on Investment
Education # 42
We definitely know that wine is a worthwhile investment. Every year the Bordeaux houses release their “En Premier.” Or their futures. This is a chance for any of us to pre-buy a case or cases of any Bordeaux wine. At this two-year juncture, the wine is still in barrel. We prepay for it and receive delivery of it in the third year after harvest.
In the Bordeaux futures release of the 2015 the Chateau Lafleur was listed at $120.00 per case. It is now trading at $455.00 per case. That is a 3.5 return on investment, making it one of the ten best investments for that year. With a 30% expected decline in production for French wine producers in 2021 as devastating frost swept through the region, the reduced yields could lead to upward pressure on prices in the coming months. In the case of this Chateau Lafleur example we had to have been incredibly lucky to see this unprecedented increase.
This is usually not the norm. But this author has seen many, many price increases in the last 50 years. As a final example, I was selling the Chateau Lafite 1961 for $20.00 per bottle in 1970. It is now $3227.00 per bottle. And very drinkable. Leslie Hennessy
Picked by Machines
Education # 41
About 90% of wine grapes in California are picked by machines. That is mainly occurring in the San Joaquin Valley, where all of the bulk wine such as Gallo table wine is grown. However, where the high-quality grapes are grown in Sonoma County, that machine picked number is 30%. But that is changing. “ The harvesters are such high quality, some wineries actually asked for a mechanized harvest.” ( A quote from Taylor Rodrigue a grape grower manager in Mendocino ). There are basically two types of automatic harvesters. The first one on the market was a large machine that grabbed a hold of the grape trunks and shook the grapes onto a conveyor belt and back into an open hopper. The most recent type of automatic harvester employs unique foot long extenders that tap the grapes bunches onto the conveyor belt. Most of the harvesting is done at night as the grapes are delivered to the wineries at a very cool temperature. This prohibits oxidation of the just-slightly-bruised grape berries.
A Living Wage For Vineyard Workers
Education # 40
The 2021 grape harvest is officially finished. As reported in the Press Democrat newspaper the estimated 6,000 full time vineyard workers in Sonoma County received more than $30 per hour during some picks. More workers in the county, by an estimated 800 part time employees, are supplemented by the H-2A federal program. This allows for employers to hire foreign guest workers for jobs lasting up to 10 months. Those farms also must provide housing for the foreign workers.
This 2021 crop is followed by the 20 year low of 2020 for Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, and Lake counties that yielded only 342,000 tons of wine grapes. That was a 20 year low for the four counties. The average price per ton for the four counties was $2771. Stay tuned for the updated 2021 harvest reports.
Soil Is Very Important
Education # 39
Found throughout much of the Russian River Valley and Green Valley American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in Sonoma County, California, Goldridge soils stretch as far north as Annapolis and as far south as the Sebastopol Hills.
Discovered in 1915, Goldridge was initially valued for its ability to grow apples and timber.
Its moniker is a geographic callback: The area now known as Sebastopol was once referred to as the Gold Ridge District. The name first came into national prominence via famed plant breeder Luther Burbank, who bought 18 acres of land in Sebastopol in 1885 to experiment on plants. He called his outpost Gold Ridge Farm and cultivated all manner of fruits, vegetables, grains and flowers, including thornless blackberries and plumcots.
Some believe the light texture of the soil seems to contribute fine tannins, though there hasn’t been a proven correlation between soil texture and tannin structure. A rare, fine-grained sandy loam, known for its excellent drainage, Goldridge soils are light and fluffy.
The soils are defined by the USDA as being “formed in material weathered from weakly consolidated sandstone” on “rolling uplands with slopes of 2 to 50%” where the average rainfall hovers around 45 inches and average temperatures at 56°F.
Elevations run between 200 and 2,000 feet. In some instances, such as at Platt Vineyard above the town of Bodega, Goldridge soils cover an ancient seabed. Finding fossils there is not unusual. The climate above which much of the soil thrives is marked by warm, dry summers and cool, moist winters.
Some Grape Growers Win
in a Drought
Education # 38
Last year, after the 2020 grape harvest in California, I reported that 330,000 tons of grapes were not picked. The reasons varied from smoke taint, drought, to oversupply. Our wine industry had just planted too many grapes for the demand. And they were the wrong grapes. The sad story was that it was mostly premium grapes. Grapes like Pinot Noir, just did not sell. They were left on the vine only to be part of the pruning in the winter and thrown to the ground. Most growers suffered some pretty bad losses. Or they broke even. With vineyard management costs at $700 per ton, you loose money if you sell at the picking cost of $300 per ton. The average premium grape vineyard produces 3-4 tons per acre. You do the math.
This year of 2021 is quite different. With the drought firmly in place as early as July, the production started to wane. This harvest seems to be at a 20% loss across the board. Then guess what? We Americans stayed home and drank more than the previous year. This year the wineries are feeling that increase and are scrambling for grapes. What was once an average price per ton for Sonoma/Napa Pinot Noir at $2500 per ton, the growers have wineries waiting in line for premium Pinot Noir at $3700 per ton. With the 20% loss in grape volume, wineries just don’t have the grapes they need to fill the pipeline. The grape grower wins! Most growers are sold out as of today. Does that make up for the break-even year of 2020? You bet! Droughts can be beneficial to some.
Finally, Delivery of Wine Electrically
What is a VNR electric truck?
The zero-tailpipe emission Volvo VNR Electric, currently in production and available for order, is designed for specific customer applications and driving cycles with local and regional distribution ranges, including food and beverage and pick-up and delivery routes. The battery- electric Class 8 truck is equipped with a driveline rated at 455 horsepower, generating up to 4,051 lb.-ft. of torque. With a 264-kWh battery capacity, the Volvo VNR Electric can support an operating range of up to 150 miles based on the truck’s configuration, with the capability to re-charge to an 80% level of battery energy within 70 minutes.
Worst Harvest Ever In France
France's wine output this year will go on record as one of the worst in history, if not the worst, after severe spring frosts devastated vines, the agriculture ministry said on Friday.
French producers are likely to see production drop between 24 and 30 percent in 2021, taking it to a "historically low" level, the ministry said. It is already sure to fall below output seen in 1991 and 2017, the two most recent years of disastrous harvests – which were, like this year, damaged by bouts of late frost.
"For now, it looks like the yield will be comparable to that of 1977, a year when the vine harvest was reduced by both destructive frost and summer downpours," the ministry said.
Several nights of frost in early April caused some of the most damage in decades to crops and vines across the country, from Bordeaux to Burgundy and the Rhône Valley to Champagne. Heavy summer rain and high temperatures also combined to promote the spread of mildew, further hampering growers' efforts.
What Are Lees?
Education # 35
Lees are predominantly dead yeast cells left over from the fermentation process, but there are two kind. ‘Gross lees’ refers to the general sediment that forms in the wine after fermentation. Gross lees tend to naturally fall to the bottom of the winemaking vessel and are generally separated from the liquid quite quickly, although not always. Fine lees are smaller particles that settle more slowly in the wine. They can also be filtered out, but some winemakers choose to leave them in for differing lengths of time in an effort to enhance the complexity of the wine. Some winemakers might stir the lees to encourage the development of extra texture and aromas in their wines – a method also known as batonnage. Chris Merce From Decanter Magazine July 2021
Education # 34
The 2021 harvest in Northern California is shaping up to be a market changer. With 330,000 tons of grapes left on the ground in 2020, this harvest will be an equalizer. Add to these grapes left on the vine, there was so much extra bulk juice available, the market was flooded at the beginning of this year. However, the Cabernet Sauvignon bulk wine market has almost doubled. Bulk Cabernet Sauvignon was $12 per gallon at the start of the year. (Bulk wine is wine that has been crushed and is in tank ready for bottling). It is now $20. And the 2021 of the same grapes is now $5000 per ton in Napa and Sonoma – up from $3000 per ton last year. The Pinot Noir grape 2021 market looks to be as flooded as it was in 2020.
With this 2021 crop 20 – 25 % lower than last year, the market will hopefully level off. Now, all we have to do is hope for no fires.
How Heat Affects the Grapes
Education # 33
As well as the acidity levels, excessive sun and heat can burn the grapes, said Alex Sokol Blosser, winemaker at Sokol Blosser, in Oregon.
‘We could drop sunburned fruit, or spray on a sun block,’ said Sokol Blosser.
‘We make sure leaf plucking is restrained on western sides of vines especially to prevent sunburn,’ said Harry Peterson-Nedry, speaking to Decanter.com when he was winemaker at Chehalem Winery in the Willamette Valley.
In hot regions like Barossa Valley, vines are bush-trained to deliberately create shade for the grapes.
Dubbo winemaker Ken Borchardt says the city's hot climate is perfect for growing certain grapes. When you remember 70% of our wine in Australia comes from hot climates like the Riverina, Sunraysia and the Riverland areas, Dubbo is perfect for some varietals." He says the keys for growing successful vines in the harsh climate are adequate water, canopy cover and to avoid stressing the plants.
Which California Crop Uses the Most Water?
Education # 32
The analysis ranked pasture first among California's top 10 most water-intensive crops, in some cases grouped by categories (in average acre feet of water applied per acre in one growing season). We noted that grapes use very little water in comparison to most other crops.
- Pasture (clover, rye, bermuda and other grasses), 4.92 acre feet per acre
- Almonds and pistachios, 4.49 acre feet per acre
- Alfalfa, 4.48 acre feet per acre
- Citrus and subtropical fruits (grapefruit, lemons, oranges, dates, avocados, olives, jojoba), 4.23 acre feet per acre
- Sugar beets, 3.89 acre feet per acre
- Other deciduous fruits (applies, apricots, walnuts, cherries, peaches, nectarines, pears, plums, prunes, figs, kiwis), 3.7 acre feet per acre
- Cotton, 3.67 acre feet per acre
- Onions and garlic, 2.96 acre feet per acre
- Potatoes, 2.9 acre feet per acre
- Vineyards (table, raisin and wine grapes), 2.85 acre feet per acre
How We Predict the Harvest
How do we predict what quantity of grapes mother nature is going to bestow on us from vineyard to vineyard? The answer is simple. We go out into the vineyard in this month of July or August, when the grape bunches are green and partially developed, and count the bunches per vine. We take a cross sample of about 20 vines and take an average. Then we multiply that average times the number of vines per plot. Most of the new vineyards planted in the last ten years have the root stock, the bud wood, and the number of vines per acre or plot registered with the owners. With this information we then forecast the tonnage per vineyard and get ready for the harvest.
Grape Canopy Management
Education # 30
At a certain point, the vigorous shoot growth that has occurred during the spring must be managed to ensure optimal grape production and ripening. A complex process, canopy management refers to a variety of decisions and actions related to leaf removal, vigor management, shoot thinning and shoot positioning. The goal is to achieve the perfect balance of shade, sunlight and air circulation around each grape bunch, which will promote optimal ripening. In Napa Valley vineyard workers often make more than 20 passes through a single row of vines each year, part of our artisan approach to agriculture.
These Are the Ten Most Sought After Wines
on Wine Searcher
Education # 29
Château Mouton Rothschild $737
Château Lafite Rothschild $1017
Dom Pérignon Brut $222
Château Margaux $785
Château Latour $877
Château Haut-Brion $668
Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia $316
Opus One $417
Château Pontet-Canet $150
On the most used web site for rare wines- winesearcher.com lists their ten most
sought after and their average retail price are listed above. Wine collecting can be very profitable.
No 25% Tax
Education # 29
Good news at long last: All relevant media outlets are reporting the 25% tariff on wine has been suspended for the next five years. The Biden administration announced this week that the U.S. and EU will suspend the tariffs related to the Boeing-Airbus trade dispute - including those on certain European wine. It started in 2004, when the US filed a case at the WTO against the EU, arguing that the bloc was illegally subsidizing the European Large Civil Aircraft (LCA) manufacturer Airbus. The EU also filed a complaint against the US in May 2005, for its unlawful support to Boeing. This was a ridiculous tariff levied on our wine industry that hurt most wineries in France that were exporting to the US. We should now see French wines come down in price.
New Climate Change -Good News
Education # 28
“With warmer temperatures, the vine cycle has been shorter and we’ve been harvesting earlier, on average,” Dom Perignon Champagne maker Daniel Carvajal Perez told the CNA news network. He added that the warmer climate had actually brought higher quality to his grapes. Germany’s Riesling growers also like the new climate reality. Twelfth-generation family winery Weingut Peter Jakob Kuhn says it no longer has to suffer seasons when the grapes don’t achieve enough sweetness. Earthweek.com
Crop Loss in 2021- Good and Bad
With this draught, we face another blessing in disguise. (Sort of) With the lack of water to irrigate the vineyards in Northern California, the vines will suffer. The grapes will just not pump up to full capacity. In talking to grape grower and winery owner Everardo Robledo, he feels that the crop will be 20-30 percent down in quantity. That is the bad news. The good news is that for the last 2 harvests approximately 330,000 tons of grapes were left on the vine. There simply were no buyers. So, factor in the approximate loss of 25%, and we may have a really balanced harvest. It will be good because the more grape vines have to search for water, the further they will dive down into their sub soil. That intern brings new nutrients to the grapes that they have not had for two years. Leslie Hennessy
Early Harvest 2021?
Education # 26
Having just walked the vineyards of the Vezer Winery in Suisun Valley and a Russian River Pinot Noir vineyard planted by Dutton, I predict that if this weather holds, the harvest will be very early. With very little rain and 80 degree temps every day, the vines are pushing. When I touched the small berry bunches, the leaf hulls came rolling off of the berry bunches. This usually happens later than May. Toss in near draught conditions and early fire predictions, the sooner we get this harvest over, the better. I predict four weeks earlier than normal. Maybe as early as the end of July? Leslie Hennessy May 28, 2021.
Bordeaux Harvest 2020 Report
Education # 25
To put some numbers on this, Bordeaux makes the equivalent of 666 million bottles of wine a year – that’s the average per annum from 2010 to 2019. Official estimates on 1 October from Agreste, the French Ministry of Agriculture, put Bordeaux production at 1% lower than 2019. My guess is that there will be less wine than that, as yields will be lower. Of course the famous châteaux, whose wines sell en primeur, make up a small fraction of these figures. Thanks to Jancis Robinson for this article
Education # 25
After a month or so of vegetative growth, a vine will develop tight bunches of tiny flowers. Each flower has the potential to form a single grape berry. Frost and wind are concerns at this stage of development. When there is danger of frost, vintners and growers take steps to protect the tender young shoots, including the use of large fans to circulate the cold air; sprinkling the vines with water to coat them in a blanket of protective ice; and use of heaters to warm the air temperature in the vineyard. In the Napa Valley, grapes grow at elevations ranging from sea level to 2,600 feet. The variance in temperature from the cooler, southern Carneros region, with its San Pablo Bay influence, to the northern Calistoga sub appellation, can be ten degrees Fahrenheit or more. As a result, the period of flowering can stretch over two-months, depending upon the particular microclimate of the vineyard location.
Because the grape flower is a-sexual, it does not need insects to propagate the tender grape buds. While each grape varietal is different, the basic grape bunches grow very normally. The variables of grape bunch growth are the type of bud wood chosen, the total heat summation days during flowering, and the vigor of the vine. In Pinot Noir, for instance, there are 200 different clones of the same Pinot Noir grape. With experience, and consultation, each grape vintner learns the tendencies of their chosen bud wood during this precious time. As we see the tiny buds turn into berry’s, we then apply the canopy management. To be covered in our next Education blog.
Education Issue # 24
Biochar is a charcoal-like substance that is made by burning organic material from biomass — agricultural and forestry wastes — in a controlled process called pyrolysis. What benefits does this have for the wine industry? Centuries of precedent, dating back to human prehistory, support the soil benefits of biochar. But it is the last two years that have really sold Doug Beck on the agricultural perks of terra preta, or the “dark earth.” Beck, a Ph.D. soil scientist with experience across four continents, has spent the last four growing seasons in California monitoring a Salinas Valley-based trial to evaluate the impact of biochar and compost as soil amendments for wine grapes. Several factors are being assessed in an 8-acre block of newly planted ‘Pinot Noir’ vines, including vine growth, water use, yield, and fruit quality.
The four treatments, applied at depth down each planting row, were: biochar 10 (10 tons per acre biochar); compost 15 (15 tons per acre compost); compost plus biochar (15 tons per acre compost, 10 tons per acre biochar), and a control. Each was replicated four times.
The biochar-only treatment increased fruit yield on the fourth leaf in 2020, as it had in 2019, by a little over 1 ton per acre, while the compost-only treatment increased yields by 1.8 tons per acre. The compost-plus-biochar treatment increased yields even more, by 2 tons per acre.
The total biochar cost was $200 per ton or $2,000 per acre, Beck says. The yield increase in the third leaf, the first year of production, was 1.3 tons per acre. At a grape price of $2,000 per ton, that’s additional revenue of $2,600 per acre.
“That’s a $600 profit above the biochar costs, so you paid for the biochar with year-one yield,” Beck says. “At harvest in 2020, biochar again yielded about a ton more per acre than the control, giving an additional income for the two years of about $2,600 per acre. If you assume only 0.5 tons per acre increase per season from a single biochar application over future years, then the extra income becomes quite attractive.
European Vintners on a Buying Spree
Education Issue # 23
What do you plan next after you are on top of the winery ladder? Famous and very successful wineries such as Chateau Latour and Roederer Champagne have done a fabulous job in securing their position in the top tier of the wine world. Then what ? You have to use that extra cash on something. The answer is to buy wineries in California and Oregon. It seems to be a frenzy as Bollinger, the famous Champagne house just announced the acquisition of Ponzi Winery in Oregon. With Roederer Champagne purchasing the famed Cabernet house of Diamond Creek in Napa, one wonders if they will become sparkling houses? Not so true. With Chateau Pichon Lalande purchasing Merry Edwards in Sonoma, it seems that the smart wine money is justifiably buying wineries here that have a great upside potential. Add to the fact, is that some of the children of our native wineries are just not interested in the daily running of a winery. Such an example was the purchase of Flora Spring by the iconic Bordeaux house of Chateau Smith Haut Lafite. Succession has a lot to do with the direction of our great wineries. Also, cheap lending money may have something to do with the flurry. However, if you look at the purchase of Araujo by Chateau Latour, we do not think money was the motive. The move that made the most sense was the purchase of William Selyem by the burgundy house of Faiveley. Why not continue the experimentation of French Pinot Noir clones at an already successful California Pinot house? Also, look for more acquisitions as the new Duckhorn IPO just pumped a ton of cash into that great California winery.
French Frost Report
Education Issue # 22
Winemakers across France are counting the cost of several nights of frost this week that threaten to decimate grape harvests in some of the country’s best-known and prestigious wine-producing regions.
The government is readying an emergency rescue package after rare freezing temperatures that could cause some of the worst damage in decades to crops and vines.
From Bordeaux to Burgundy and the Rhône Valley to Champagne, winemakers were out in their fields on Friday inspecting the destruction.
“It breaks like glass because there’s no water inside,” said Dominique Guignard, a winemaker in the Graves area near Bordeaux, as he rubbed the first shoots on his vines.
“It’s completely dried out, there’s no life inside,” said Guignard, who heads a group of producers in Graves, which is known for its robust red wine.
Many industry experts say the damage from temperatures of up to -6C may be the worst in decades, partly because the frost followed unseasonably warm weather last week.
“It’s a national phenomenon,” said Jérôme Despey, the secretary general of the FNSEA farming union and a winemaker in the Hérault region. “You can go back in history, there have been [freezing] episodes in 1991, 1997, 2003 but in my opinion it is beyond all of them.”
In the Rhône Valley, the head of the local wine producers’ body, Philippe Pellaton, said it would be “the smallest harvest of the last 40 years”, with losses of 80-90% compared with normal. Winemakers are “shattered, desperate”, he said, with the Côte-Rôtie area particularly badly hit.
Unseasonal frosts have hurt French growers.
Education Issue # 21
Caroline Henry reports from Champagne.
As much as one-third of the potential French grape harvest has been destroyed by an unusual cold snap, which could cost the industry as much as $2.4 billion.
Winter made its comeback last week, and negative night temperatures were observed all over the country. The agricultural consequences are dire, so much so that the government agreed earlier this week to exceptional financial support to counter nature's calamities. So far, just about every wine region in France has registered frost damage, and further cold nights are still being forecasted.
Part of the reason for the widespread destruction has been the balmy weather stimulating budburst at the end of March.
In Bordeaux, where temperatures had hovered around the mid-20s (mid-to-high 70s in Fahrenheit) for more than a week before the cold hit, many vines had already developed multiple leaves. When temperatures dipped to minus 5C last week, the results were disastrous.
The Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB) released a statement saying the 2021 volumes would be severely impacted by the frost damage suffered so far. Initial estimates of the damage talk about a 40-50 percent volume drop. Jonathan Ducourt, sales and marketing manage