Friday, February 26, 2010

EPA Makes SO2 a RUP!

The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) just sent every winery in the state a letter stating that the EPA has classified SO2 as a restricted use pesticide. This means that the product must have a registered label with the EPA and a registered label with the state of Washington listing which uses are permissible in Washington State. (No SO2 label is currently approved in Washington.) It also means that to purchase SO2 you must possess a pesticide applicators license. To sell it you must have a sellers license. This is going to make a lot more Grumpy Winemakers in the state. Welcome to the club!

First of all, to get an applicators license you must take a very hard test with questions like "the bandwidth of your spray nozzle is 18", your flow rate is .05 gallons per minute, your application speed is 4mph, and your formulation is 50WP. How much of the formulated pesticide will you add to 50 gallons of water to apply 4oz per acre active ingredient?" This is something farmers do all the time in their heads, but not winemakers.

The second problem is compressed gas is sold by OxArc or other welding supply stores. Farm pesticides are sold by Bleyhl Farm Service or other Ag Chemical dealers. Would it be important enough for a welding supply store to hire an ag chemical specialist just to sell an occasional cylinder of SO2 to a winery?

I would expect you to think that the Grumpy Winemaker would be even grumpier over this. Well, that isn't the case. The first reason, I am a farmer, a grape grower to be specific, and have a Private Pesticide Applicators License. I can buy this crap legally today, but I'll bet a lot of urban, strip mall, warehouse, truck stop, or airport wineries do not have a pesticide applicators license. Study hard, dudes, the test is not easy and you have to score 70% or above.

The second reason I am not grumpier is that at Bonair Winery, we do not use compressed SO2 gas. Only wineries with ozonators use this method to preserve barrels. We use the old-fashioned method of burning a sulfur wick in the barrel. Not only does this method add SO2 gas to the barrel, it consumes the oxygen to produce it, giving you an oxygen-free barrel filled with SO2.

To add SO2 to wine, we use Potassium Metabisulfite. So far the Obama EPA hasn't made it a restricted use pesticide. If they do, that will be a real problem for restaurants, since they sprinkle this stuff freely on the salad bars to make them last a month.

I suspect one manufacturer is behind this. Only one product is registered with the EPA and they convinced the EPA to make the listing so they could make a killing. That is how government 'helps' business.

I wonder how this will affect California wineries? Restricted use pesticides are pretty much verboten in the Golden State.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Bad Bloggers

If you think wine writers make me grumpy, some bloggers are worse. At least wine writers have copy editors to keep their facts straight. None of this is required for bloggers. In fact, most blogger lack rudimentary writing skills.

But wait, I can live with poor writing, but poor knowledge of wine is unforgivable - if you are writing about wine.

For example, this blog appeared on Cellar Tracker. "Tasted by pnwsun on 1/17/2010: was looking for a buttery chard; this wasn't it. the description mentioned a buttery taste but we didn't notice it. nice wine but tasted more like a sauvignon blanc. a mineral aspect with slight fruit at the finish. (62 views)"

Anyone that would confuse this wine with a Sauvignon Blanc does not know much about Sauvignon Blanc. Since the wine in question is oak aged and 100% malolactic, it would even be hard to confuse it with a Fume Blanc. The bottle screams chardonnay. Yes, Chardonnay can have a minerality, but not this one. What I really suspect is that this bottle was corked and this blogger does not recognize TCA. A corked wine will have diminished fruit. This wine is bottled with a technical cork (Twin Top) which has less incidence of TCA than natural cork, but we still get about 1 in 500 with TCA.

Then there is the picture of the label. It shows Bonair's old 'Reserve' label which hasn't been used since 2005. The wine in question is the Yakima Valley label, not the 'Reserve', and retails for $9.99.

The 'Reserve' label was replaced in 2006 by the Rattlesnake Hills Estate Bottled label. The wine commented on is not the replacement for the old 'Reserve' Chardonnay. The Rattlesnake Hills Estate Bottled Chardonnay retails for $20. This wine is barrel-fermented in Burgundian (Bill Gates' spell-check thinks these should be Burundian Barrels, but I think Microsoft is wrong. Bill Gates can drink Burundian wine, I'll stick to Burgundian.) barrels imported for Burgundy each year made from the forests of Vosges. This wine most nearly resembles the great Meursaults of any non-French wine.

With the internet, everyone can be an expert. But that doesn't make them right.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Rating the Raters (cont.)

The Wine Advocates (Robert Parker, et al) 80/0. I subscribed to this newsletter for a year, but didn't find much, well, news. It was the same old stuff everyone else was rating and a lot of stuff not even available in this area. (Wine country is, how can I say it, in the country, the boonies, where we grow grapes. We are like hick farmers. People in Walla and Woodinville make fine wine. Grow your own grapes and make wine? Nonsense.)

Maybe I should invite Jay Miller to our finest hotel in Zillah Zillah, the Comfort Inn, and wine him and dine him. It seemed to work for Argentina.

It is hard to believe Robert Parker can be so influential in the wine industry to the absurd point that you can submit samples of your wine to a lab and they will tell you how to 'parkerize' it. I don't think it is a big secret - lots of new French oak (up to 200%), overripe fruit, low (soft?) tannins, and high alcohol. Varietal character? What's that? Aren't' all wines supposed to taste alike?

This newsletter is for collectors, like my friend Jake who collects steaks. He has steaks from all over the world. Steaks from Kobe beef from Japan, Chianina beef from Italy, grass-fed beef from Montana, and grain-fed beef from Kansas. (No beef from the Harris Ranch in California.) He doesn't collect any ordinary steaks like sirloin or round, mostly filet mignon and rib eye. He does have one New York steak. I think it is from the Finger Lakes. He even has a rare 1961 Limousine steak from France.. He keeps his steaks in a climate-controlled cabinet. It looks a lot like a freezer to me. I asked him what his favorite steak was and he told me he is a vegetarian and doesn't eat meat He just collects steaks and uses them to impress his friends. Just like a wine collector, you say.

So, there isn't much here for wine drinkers. Jay Miller, who rates Washington wines, didn't even find my last submission worthy of his palate. Just so many wines and so little time. Eew yuck, an estate-bottled wine. How provincial.

So, we finally have our first 0 (yes, Virginia, that is a zero.)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Rating the Raters (cont.)

Wine Spectator 82/2. The content of this rag is somewhat more interesting than the Wine Enthusiast, but I am not rating content, I am rating the raters. I find reading about restaurant awards for nonexistent restaurants quite entertaining.

The recent flap over naming the 2005 Columbia Crest Merlot, the wine of the year, makes one wonder about the quality of their ratings of wines. Don't get me wrong. Columbia Crest makes fine wines and I am happy that our largest producer is a quality producer, not one known for its "Hardly Burgundy." I am pleased a Washington winery won the award. I am not familiar with the wine in question, so I can only go with those who keep copious notes on such things. Paul Gregutt, for one, questioned the choice of wine - not the winery.

I just glanced at the February issue looking for the big Columbia Crest full-page ad. Didn't see it, but I did notice that the "Wine of the Year" 2006 version dropped to a 90. A full-color inside back cover might have helped that score.

What also makes me wonder, and a little Grumpy, is that in 25 years they have never reviewed a wine from Bonair Winery. We have a whole page of awards from everywhere else. Why has Bonair not been reviewed? I know we have submitted wines for review. Perhaps they have a preconceived notion of what's good and what's not. Only wines that someone else thinks are good get reviewed.

But wait, on their website they state "Our goal is to review wines that are important and available to our readers. In most cases, we review only wines that are distributed in major markets in the United States." I get it, only major schlock is reviewed. Most Northwest wines do not have distribution in major markets. To meet this goal, the winery must be 100,000 cases or larger. Also note, that the "Wine of the Year" was sold out at time of publication and not " available to our readers".

They say they use a committee for judging wines and it is a blind judging. Japanese cars used to be designed by committee. The result is something no one likes or can predict.

This magazine basically rates grocery store wines with a few boutique wines (read: wines you'll never find) thrown in for glitz.

So, I can only give the Wine Spectator a 2/20. Not very good for a major wine rater. Maybe wine bloggers aren't all bad. They certainly fill in a void for Northwest wines. The ratings for Northwest wines in the February issue was pretty sad, considering there are over 600 wineries in the state.

The Grumpy Winemaker won't be submitting any more wines to this rag.

Note to self: don't renew subscription.