Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Degree Days for 2016 or a Nice Warm Year

I decided to give a broader picture this year of the various AVAs that produce the majority of the wines in the state. I included various sites within the AVAs because they are not entirely homogenous.
degree days
rainfall at harvest
Red Mountain (Old)
Rattlesnake Hills (West)
Horse Heaven Hills (South)
Red Mountain (New)
Horse Heaven Hills (West)
Walla Walla
Rattlesnake Hills (Centeral)
Horse Heaven Hills (North)
Rattlesnake Hills (South)
Yakima Valley

Red Mountain was the warmest AVA in the state this year, beating out the old champ Wahluke by a large margin. New to our list at number 2, Rattlesnake Hills (West) was not significantly cooler than Red Mountain. Owen Roe Vineyards are located in the Rattlesnake Hills (West). No Virginia, the Rattlesnake Hills AVA does not get cooler the further west you go. Owen Roe had already picked these vines as Red Mountain was just getting started.
Alder Ridge represents Horse Heaven Hills (South) and things were quite toasty there along with the new Red Mountain station.
I can't explain why Wahluke was so much cooler than normal. It was still plenty warm to ripen grapes.
Horse Heaven Hills (West) is represented by McKinley Springs at 1081 feet elevation, was still in lower region III as were Walla Walla, Rattlesnake Hills (Central), and Horse Heaven Hills (North).
The Rattlesnake Hills AVA gets cooler as you go south along the Sunnyside Canal on the Warden Silt loam soils. The Rattlesnake Hills (Central) is the portion of the AVA that is on the Ellensburg Formation aka the ancient cobbles and is slightly warmer at higher elevation.
As usual, the Yakima Valley (Sagebrush Ridge), home to over 11,000 acres of wine grapes, was the coolest of the regions. Harvest there is still going two weeks after everyone else is done.
Rainfall during harvest is important - especially for rot-prone varieties like Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay. Horse Heaven Hills (north) and Walla Walla share the record rainfall during September and October.
It might be noted that since the soils are cooler in Washington than California the region classification does not translate directly. Red Mountain grape quality does not compare directly with Lodi or Lake County. 3500 GDD more closely translates to high Region II on the cool soils found in Washington.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

You Can't Ship Your Wine Home or How Fucked Up is This?

The names and places in this blog have been changed to protect the guilty.
Recently, two customers travelling together came to a winery. One couple was from Bumfuck, Egypt and the other was from Nofuck, Vagina. They liked the wine and wondered if the winery could ship it home for them. So happens, the winery was not licensed to ship to either Egypt or Vagina, but the customers were told that they could check the wine as luggage on the plane - which is cheaper and faster than shipping anyway.
They purchased six bottles each and two twelve-pack shippers and went merrily on their way to other wineries where they filled up their twelve-pack shippers.
One of the couples, I think it was the rocket scientist, not the CIA intelligence officer, figured it would be easier to travel if they just dropped the wine off at the Office Despot and had it shipped home - regardless of cost. They informed the Despot that it was art (liquid art, get it) and $123 later they are at the airport, through security, and on their way home when they get a phone call from the Despot.
Seems the UPS driver from Yakima recognized the UPS-approved wine shipping boxes and refused to pick them up. Due to the number of wineries in the Yakima area, drivers are quite familiar with these boxes. Now what to do.
They called up the winery where they bought the shipper for help. Yes, the winery would claim the wine from the Office Despot and they in turn would authorize the Despot to refund the $123 shipping to the winery which would somehow decide what to do with it in the name of customer service. (Pull out concealed weapon and shoot yourself at this point!)
Now we get into the crazy part of US law. Wineries are required to have a federal basic permit and without it, you are shit out of luck. Thanks to Moron Hatch (R-Utah and member of the Moron Church which not only believes in talking snakes, but also believes that an Indian named Moroni buried some tablets in upstate New York and an alcoholic named Joseph Smith dug them up and translated them into King James English) you can lose your basic permit if you violate any law in any city, county, or state in the US.
Retailers, on the other hand, are not required to have a federal permit and therefore are not subject to the US law, only state law. It also seems easier (cheaper) for retailers to get individual state shipping permits than wineries.
Problem solved. Find a friendly retailer who is licensed to ship to Egypt and Vagina and have the retailer ship the wine for you. After all, you do have the refunded shipping from the Office Despot to pay for it.
Let's now examine the idiocy of this scenario. You can take wine on an airplane to any state if it is properly packaged even if you legally can't take wine into that state. (Believe it or not, there are states where it is against the law to take your case of wine from the Napa Valley home with you in your car.) You can't ship that wine to yourself via UPS or FedEx or God forbid, USPS. Most wineries in this area don't bother with expensive state permits and monthly reporting. It's a real pain in the ass. (See Why We Don't Ship to Texas) But a retailer can ship your wine to you. It's the same wine for God's sake. How stupid is that. So the wine is on its way.
Some day we will live in a country where you can legally smoke weed and ship wine to yourself. Grumpy will not live to see that day.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The 1988 Wine Crisis or We Have Too Damn Many Wineries

The purveyors of doom were at it full bore in 1988 - long before most of today's winemakers were even born or at least, were still wet behind the ears. There were a whopping 70 wineries in the state - up from 11 in 1977. How are we going to deal with so many wineries?
Washington was still number 3 in production behind California and New York. Production was up 68% over the previous year, but consumption was only up 11%. Out-of-state wine sales were flat and national consumption was down 3%. Man, that sucks.
Simon Siegl, president of the Washington Wine Institute, was optimistic. In-state sales were up 17%, but out-of-state sales were up only 4%. He stated that we are undermarketed. We probably still are today with over 800 wineries in our tiny state.
F. W. Langguth, one of the larger wineries, was on the ropes with Chapter 11 due to oversupply of grapes and under supply of sales. They also had problems with trying to make German-style Riesling in Washington State. They actually found grapes at the end of October that were still just 18 brix (just like Germany) due to severe overcropping. Unfortunately, they had enough acid to rejuvenate a car battery. The wine was undrinkable.
At that time, there was no mention of Woodinville, only real wine country; Yakima, Tri-Cities, and Walla Walla.
Premium wine was that which cost more than $4.00 per bottle. It didn't hurt that our largest, and best distributed brand was in that premium category and available in a "couple dozen" states. No Hardly Burgundy or Chabless here.
So, perhaps my glum outlook on the industry is premature after all. 28 years later, the industry is just fine and still growing. Most of the wineries going out of business are doing so because there is no market for used wineries and the owners are tired of being rich winery owners.
So, I guess all we need is a little more out-of-state marketing.
You can read the whole article here complete with quotes from Stan Clarke.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Wine Tasting in New Zealand - Continued

Hawke's Bay is New Zealand's warmest growing region with 2646 average growing degree days. It is there that the Bordeaux reds do best, Merlot in particular. The Cabernets are more Bordeaux in style than the big American Cabs. Since they are low region II, they complain about quality in cool years. The region is divided by highway 2 - a main north-south truck route. East of the highway the vineyards reach to the ocean. West they climb into the hills. The wineries are beautiful. We had a wonderful lunch at Mission Winery. (Most have restaurants.) Particularly pretty is the Esk Valley. This is the closest region to Auckland, so gets many visitors.
Napier is my favorite city in New Zealand. If offers lots of tourist facilities and great restaurants. It is truly spectacular.
Heading south you come to the Wairapa wine district which only produces 1% of the NZ wine from 3% of the acreage. Martinborough is a place whose time has not yet come. Most of the vineyards - if not all - are organic or biodynamic and it shows. Weeds grow under the trellises, vines are diseased and scrawny. It is the only place in the whole country where we were served a defective wine. They pride themselves in using wild yeast. Well folks, there is a reason for using cultured wine yeast. Cultured wine yeast was at one time someone's wild yeast, but it produced outstanding wines, so it became cultured. Most wild yeast make dull, insipid, vinous wines lacking in varietal character. They may be hot, but they are not good.
The town of Martinborough reminds me of Zillah with the exception of a really good Thai restaurant. Other than that, there is not much happening.
After crossing Cook Strait, you enter Marlborough, New Zealand's most famous and prolific area. It is home to Sauvignon Blanc. This is NZ's Napa Valley with the exception of the climate. The wineries are mostly huge tank farms. With 2151 GDD, (low region I) it explains why we can't produce great Sauvignon Blanc in the Rattlesnake Hills. Most of the wineries have restaurants or tapas bars.
Blenheim is the St. Helena of Marlborough. It is a very touristy city with a fancy visitors center which has lots of information about the wine industry. It is also hard to get a room, so we stayed in Picton.
Heading south you enter the Waipara Valley. It is not well know. There are only 12 cellar doors (tasting rooms) in the area. The main grapes produced are Pinot Noir and Riesling. It was here we met our only snarky tasting room person. It doesn't matter how beautiful the winery, the staff make the experience. By the way, we prefer beautiful wineries as opposed to 'hippie' wineries surrounded by junk.
We stayed in Amberly which has one nice restaurant, not much else.
The southernmost wine region in the world is Central Otago and it is well worth the extra time. Glaciers come down to the lake on one side and on the other Pinot Noir grows. It only produces 2.4% of NZ wine. It has a truly continental climate and reminds me a lot of eastern Washington - only cooler with less than 2000 GDD.
Wanaka is the place to stay, but it was full with tourists. We spent the night in Cromwell, a typical farming town. In March (September in the northern hemisphere) is was cold - almost frosty.
NZ makes the Grumpy Winemaker happy. The Kiwis seem to have their act together on tourism and wine tasting. The Washington Wine Commission could take note