I have many things to be thankful for. Not the least of which is to live & work in such a beautiful environment. Many people think this is the most beautiful time of year in the Napa Valley... and I'm one of them.
You may recall an earlier post (actually a short auto-biography) written by Ross Workman. As a result of that post, I asked Ross if he would consider writing some future posts. Here is the first of what may become an ongoing feature to this blog. Ladies and Gentlemen, Ross Workman: Ross Workman -- Thinking About Wine
Does vintage really matter?
Probably not in California. Wine critics’ practice of rating the quality of one vintage compared to another is an artifact of English wine writing. English importers of French wine were the first wine writers. And, because the summer weather varies considerably from one year to the next in European winegrowing areas, there was often considerable variation in the quality of different vintages. So, for some people, it was important to know whether a particular year was thought to produce better or worse wine. Hence the experts got in the habit of telling us what years were better than others. And drinkers got in the habit of believing them. The practice continues today.
But many winegrowing areas have weather that is not nearly as variable as Europe’s. California’s weather is almost boringly predictable. We have very little serious rain between May and sometime in October. The Napa Valley latitude is about the same as Sicily, while Bordeaux is about the same as Vancouver. Being father south, and largely rain-free in the growing season, it is much easier for us consistently to achieve the desired level of ripeness winemakers seek. Moreover, the ocean temperature from Santa Barbara north is quite cool -- mostly in the 50’s. That results in a significant diurnal (daily) temperature variation in coastal grape growing areas. The 30 – 40 degree swing from high to low and back again preserves the acidity allowing the extended hangtime now common to achieve full physiological maturity and full development of desirable fruit flavors.
Since this happens pretty much every year, we don’t have many years where the quality of the grapes is materially better or worse than other years. But, obviously, the weather is not quite exactly the same from year to year. Bud break, for example, when the vines come out of winter dormancy can occur in March or April. Heat spikes, when temperatures rise above 100 degrees for several days straight, can occur in June, July, August or September and the grapes are in different states of maturation in different months so the effect on the grapes can be different. Unseasonable rains do occur and are unwelcome, but they are rarely significant. The relatively minor year-to-year variations in the weather do result in differences in the grapes. But, for me the differences are pretty insignificant.
When I drink wine from the same winemaker and the same vineyard for successive years, I can tell them apart. And I might like one better than the other. But I have a hard time convincing myself that one vintage is significantly better or worse than the other. They more often strike me that while they may be a bit different; both are about the same level of overall quality. A little variation in the flavor year-to-year is welcome and interesting. But a marked jump up or down in quality just doesn’t happen for me. And, since the whole experience is subjective anyway, I find vintage a pretty useless concept for California wines.
Where the notion of rating vintages really gets hard to believe though, is when the critic opines on the quality of the year, not for a particular wine, but for a single varietal and for a broad region. I’m generally more amused than impressed by the 100 point scale of rating wines, but its application to whole vintages for large areas seems to me to have no credibility at all. Reading that a particular year of, say, California (or even Sonoma) Pinot Noir rates 88 – 90 points is just downright funny. How many growers, farming how many acres of Pinot Noir vineyards, making how many myriad farming choices, were there that year in California or Sonoma? Am I supposed to believe that that year’s weather affected them all the same and that none of them did anything different that year and that the thousands of winemakers who vinified their grapes slavishly failed to adjust for any differences in weather that did occur? Gimme a break! The critic tastes a lot of wines, but not all of them. And he’s delivering his own subjective judgments anyway.
So is the critic telling me that I will be wise to avoid buying Pinot Noir from that year because he rated the following year much better at 94 -96 points? Maybe I have a misplaced or exaggerated faith in my own ability to decide what I like and don’t like, but I’m not going to let somebody else tell me that a whole year in a whole region is better or worse -- and by how many points on a 100 point scale it is better or worse.
Besides. I don’t even like Pinot Noir very much. But that’s another story.
below are both the work of my brother - John C. Piña
Why grow a pumpkin? I guess everyone has their own reason, but I think many do it for the same reason. To see how big a pumpkin they can grow. Personally, I have always enjoyed seeing the pictures and stories about those people that grow those Atlantic Giant Pumpkins that always win the contests. How is it possible that a plant that starts from a seed can grow a fruit that large in only seven or eight months? It doesn’t happen without a lot of hard work and some luck. The plant does its part by setting, expanding and ripening the fruit. The grower does everything possible to give the plant ideal growing conditions, including monitoring water requirements, fertilizer needs, aiding in pollination and even monitoring and mitigating sunlight. Have you ever seen a pampered pumpkin with its own parasol? I have. Thought I began growing a pumpkin to compete in a local contest (I even won, 185#, small potatoes); I realized that first year, it was for the kids. Kids do enjoy carving pumpkins, but you should see them light up when you pull up with the truck and unload their own personalized pumpkin. So, for the past 10 years I have grown them for my Grandkids, other kids and myself.
On this site, I intend to tell a few stories, share some family and Napa Valley history and maybe even educate a bit.
As a partner in Pina Cellars, I will write about wine and winery topics. As an employee of Pina Vineyard Management, I will write about vineyard topics. And occasionally, I will write about something unrelated to anything mentioned above.