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what's up & what's happening?

by Monty and Sara Preiser

A few months ago in our column about Petit Verdot we misidentified the appellation for the Trahan entry. It is actually from the Suisun Valley, an area just southeast of Napa where growers are producing increasingly impressive fruit.

Difficult Harvest is in Full Swing:
After a wild summer and fall, harvest is going full blast as we write this. 2010 may be one of the most challenging ever for winemakers in both Napa and Sonoma due to extreme weather. For most of the growing season it was much cooler than normal, and while longer hang time might well have allowed for proper ripening and acid balance, the grape skins did not receive enough sun and heat to prepare them for blistering temperatures in early September. The effect was exacerbated as many vineyard managers, growers, and winemakers had thinned the canopies so more sun could reach the fruit. Few thought the weather could get so hot so late in the year.
Just like a human who steps into the sun without preparation, the numbers of grapes that were sunburned and thus rendered useless is staggering. We know of entire vineyards that were virtually destroyed and caused the wineries that own them to hunt for grapes in order to even have wine to put in the bottle. But the quantity of usable grapes in almost every vineyard is affected.
On the other hand, the word is that the surviving grapes might well be on a par with some of the best. Right now, we don’t think anyone would judge the quality or quantity of the harvest. That may have to wait a few months until all the fruit is picked, fermented, and settles down.

Alcohol Levels on Wine Labels:
Due to some pretty loose governmental standards, the alcohol levels set out on wine labels are not particularly instructive. If the wine contains under 14% alcohol, the winery has wiggle room of 1.5 on either side of the actual number. Still, care has to be taken since wines of over 14% command that higher taxes be paid and it would be illegal to use the 1.5 allowance to claim a wine was under 14% if it is not. If a wine has greater than 14% alcohol, there is a 1% number wiggle room on either side (with the same caveat that a winery cannot use it to falsely claim a wine is under 14%).
One reasonable explanation for the government allowance in this area, however, is so that a winery that is relatively consistent in their annual alcohol levels does not have to re-design a label each year.
Fun Fact: Many smaller wineries use an ebulliometer to measure the alcohol content of their dry wines. More specifically, it measures the boiling point of liquids by measuring the temperature of the vapor-liquid equilibrium either isobarically or isothermally. However, since altitudes affect the boiling points of alcohol and water, who really knows how accurate this instrument is?

Direct Shipping of Wines:
There is no secret that we support the direct shipping of wines from winery to consumer, as do most of the legal decisions that have analyzed the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution.
And it is further well known among our friends that we respect people and companies who do business in an honorable manner.
For some reason probably buried in history, a distributor/wholesaler system grew up in this country. This means that producers of alcohol cannot sell to people in other states unless there is a middleman, so to speak, who is licensed by the state to buy the alcohol at deeply discounted prices and then sell to consumers, stores, or restaurants at a profit. This might work or even be necessary when one sells at volume, but it is an un-needed intrusion on free enterprise between producer and consumer on a smaller level. Nevertheless, legislators in most states, backed by distribution company money, are attempting to prohibit this free enterprise under the guise that shipping may allow minors to obtain wine. It just ain’t so. The bills being introduced are simply pieces of legislation designed to maintain the old system and, by extension, keep prices higher than they need to be.

We have many friends in the distribution business, and if they ask us we would advise them to forget the legislation and concentrate on sales. Direct shipping of alcohol is such a small part of the industry that it hardly affects their bottom line. By engaging in this political arena behind this banner they are risking their entire livelihoods because the public will ultimately seek the elimination of the required wholesaler. There was no clamor for such an action until the distributors began to seek the overturning of the judicial decisions by legislation. A major error on their part, and one that is not too late to redress if they receive proper counseling.

Someone sent us the following, which is apropos to the above:

In Deuteronomy 14:26, the Bible says: ‘And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the Lord thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household.’ [It does not mention wholesalers!]

Welcome Green News:
Hall Winery’s 460 planted acres are Certified Organic. Natural products are used, habitats are created for natural predators, plant erosion-controlling cover crops are used, and they practice fish-friendly farming. Doing all they can to protect the natural terroir, Hall’s St. Helena winery is the first Gold LEED Certified winery in Napa.

A Grape from the Past:
Yannick Rousseau is producing an excellent old vines Colombard under the name Y. Rousseau. Colombard has been grown in the south west of France for over a thousand years. This one is grown in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma and is hand harvested from a 30 year old dry farmed vineyard.

Fair is Fair:
Over almost 20 years we have written about, or at least mentioned, a vast majority of the wineries in the Napa Valley. Most that have never seen the light of day in our columns are wineries we really don’t care for. Thank goodness things change, and different techniques and/or vintages can lead to better wines.

We have never been fans of Milat, but sometimes it takes a while to find one’s stride. The Milat family has owned 20 highly respected acres since 1949, but only began making their own wine rather than selling off the fruit in 1986. By 1999 all the grapes grown on the 20 acres were going into the Milat label.

We stopped into their charming little tasting room, perfectly situated just south of St. Helena on Rt. 29, a few weeks ago and were surprised at the quality of the following varietals:

-2009 Chenin Blanc ($20): This 100% varietal shows off some pear and melon and would be a good choice for spicy cuisine.
-2008 Chardonnay ($28): At this price a nicely balanced wine that allows one to actually identify oak, green apple, and tropical fruits in good proportion.
-2007 Zinfandel ($25): Spicy with dark fruit throughout, it should go beautifully with BBQ sauces on ribs or sandwiches, as well as a pepperoni pizza.

Way to go, Milat family.

www.milat.com 707-963-0168

Wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser divide their time between Palm Beach County, Florida and the Napa Valley in California. They publish the world's most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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