REX HILL
 
August 31, 2011 | REX HILL

Natural > Greenwashing > Nascar: How your wine made it to Daytona

He Said...
- Mike Willison

"Thus the young and pure would be taught to look at her, with the scarlet letter flaming on her breast, at her, the child of honorable parents, at her, the mother of a babe, that would hereafter be a woman, at her, who had once been innocent, as the figure, the body, the reality of sin."

Hawthorne recognized the importance of brand recognition all too well. The big "A" on Hester Prynne was quickly identifiable to anyone within eyeshot of her as a sinner that had earned their sideways glances and private mutterings. Of course the book reveals all manner of duplicitous behavior on the part of ministers and husbands pretending to be doctors and Prynne, too, and in the end she is not forgiven for her behavior. Rather, Prynne is buried with a headstone that simply has the letter "A" carved into it, forever immortalizing her in shame and sinful behavior.

An easy solution to the greenwashing of the wine industry would be to require that wines made using conventional farming and heaps of chemical yuck-yucks should be required to put something on their labels announcing their many sins. May I suggest a scarlet picture of a bottle of Round-Up? Maybe a skull and Crossbow (bad chemical pun here for you nerdy types)? As a consumer, I too am frustrated by the NASCAR-ing of wine labels, proudly announcing how many certifications they have to signify that they aren't killing the planet with a sticker here and a logo there. Well, bully for you. Good job not being a jerk.

It seems that too many people are quick to pat themselves on the back for doing the right thing. Maybe it is time we start getting a bit more dark and stormy on everyone and work on our campaign of fear. Chances are, the industry will respond pretty quickly and the Shangri-La we all imagine will become a reality.

 

She Said...
- Carrie Kalscheuer

The greenwashing of wine continues to be a thorn in my side. As "organic" turns into "sustainable" turns into "biodynamic," I wonder where it all will end. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for preserving the environment. I drive a hybrid, recycle and support local and organic farming. But I don’t need to tattoo these facts to my forehead. The blatant self-promotion of all things green is disheartening.  Instead of wanting to preserve Mother Earth for the sake of Mother Earth, becoming green is now trendy.

And the worst part is that this marketing has become necessary. Unless a wine bears some type of "organic" label, the average consumer thinks he is drinking pesticide-laden, environment-depleting swill. This type of advertising is often misleading. Wines made "organically" aren't necessarily better for the environment.  Pesticides are traded for natural fertilizers, which still produce a high amount of greenhouse gases.   Wines made "organically" are often unstable due to lack of preservative use, making for bad wine.  The list goes on.

It’s also largely an American problem. Traditional vineyards in the age-old wine regions in France don’t need this type of advertising. They’ve shunned it in most cases, in fact, although they largely farm much more organically than the restrictions of organic certifications would allow. This seems infinitely nobler to me. We should all be farming this way – both out of respect for the environment and for the simple desire to make good wine. In addition, with global warming looming on our collective horizon, it just makes good sense to farm with extreme care. The world’s wine regions are steadily becoming warmer.  A vintner who doesn’t wish to stave this eventuality off at all costs would be idiotic.

Green should just be done, not talked about.  It should be the norm, not the exception that requires those few who adhere to certain regulations to become "certified" to prove their commitment to the earth. In the same manner that I don’t find it necessary to advertise my commitment to sustainable practices by covering my vehicle in bumper stickers which scream "Buy Local!" and "Ban the Bag!," I don’t want the wine I drink to find it necessary to advertise their commitments to the environment on their bottles in order to compete for sales.

Time Posted: Aug 31, 2011 at 10:43 AM
Ryan Collins
 
August 19, 2011 | Ryan Collins

Columbia Gorge

Probably one of my favorite place in Oregon is the Columbia Gorge. The fast flowing rivers, the dramatic cliffs, water falls and the forever blue sky’s never cease to take my breath away. As you drive east from Portland the landscape changes from dense conifer to woodland forest then to semi arid scrubland. This change in landscape starts around Hood River and continues to become more dramatic as you drive east. The influence of the Cascade mountain range is more than just physical presence. When the frontal systems roll in from the Pacific Ocean the moisture laden air has to ascend the mountains to continue east. As it ascend the temperatures get colder until the water turns from vapor to rain. This type of rain is dubbed Orographic. One thing that is typical of Orographic rainfall is that one side of the mountain range is always wetter than the other. In this case Portland is on the wet side and Hood river is at the cusp of the dry side. 
Today I was visiting one of our growers in Mosier which is about 10 miles east of Hood River.  Thanks to the Cascade mountain range the climate out there is warmer, drier and sunnier than the Willamette valley. These factors; sunshine and temperature make it great for growing grapes of many origins. It has enough sunshine hours and heat units to ripen Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Syrah and Tempranillo just to name a few. 

Summer may be warmer and sunnier than the Willamette valley but winter is much colder. The vines come out of dormancy about a week later. Spring conditions help the vines overtake the WV so fast that flowering in Pinot Noir was a week ahead! Right now they are about 2 weeks ahead and I was seeing the first signs of veraison. The berries are softening, accumulating sugar and changing color.  Last year veraison started around the same time 8.18.2011. If it takes approximately 40 days from 50% veraison to harvest we should be picking in the first week of October.

Time Posted: Aug 19, 2011 at 9:31 AM
Bill Hatcher
 
August 18, 2011 | Bill Hatcher

Cult and Culture

Every year, The Wall Street Journal features a contest called Winning Workplaces to highlight outstanding small companies.  When one reads profiles of the winners, the criteria for selection focus on such things as training, a hands-on work ethic, wellness programs, open book policies and sustainability.  Rarely, if ever, is the overall culture addressed.

I suppose the reason is that company culture is hard to define, harder than say that of a sports team or an orchestra where the narrowness of objective tends to attract similar personalities and correspondingly creates cultural constraints.  In a company, the diversity of disciplines, from engineering to finance to HR to marketing, attracts a corresponding diversity of personalities.  To have a fulfilling environment for this breadth of individuality, the company culture itself must be broadly defined.

We have all heard ad nauseum of companies where “We are family here.”  More often than not, that becomes euphemistic for “Your first devotion is to us.”  This is not culture but rather, cult, where only those who adhere to the tribal ethic will thrive and prosper.  Cult most often orbits about a patriarchal star—less matriarchal as women tend to subsume ego better—or a military work ethic.

Organizations that revolve around cult are more susceptible to ethical breaches as blind loyalty becomes a surrogate for a charter of principles as a foundation.   There is also usually a revolving door of employment as whatever might be defined as culture most resembles junior high where one is either in or not and, if not, relegated to insignificance in the company.

Culture, on the other hand, a priori must be inclusive.  While hierarchy is necessary to the management of an organization, that verticality must be complemented by the horizontality of culture.  While perhaps not as whimsical as a cult-driven organization, one that defaults to chain of command is equally stultifying.  An effective culture is, in many ways, independent of a management hierarchy.  It is a set of tacitly understood principles—strategic, ethical, social, philosophical—that define the scope of the organization’s activities.

If these principles—different than policies—supersede individual arbitration, the culture not only creates a fulfilling environment for a wide range of people and skills but also instills a climate of self-management where the participants feel committed to uphold the cultural values in exchange for the autonomy conveyed.  In a culture that values autonomy, a job description is a skeleton outline of goals and functions but allows creative latitude in how those goals are achieved and functions performed.  Autonomous organizations generate far more creativity than those that rely on policy and protocol as people are willing to take initiative and risks in developing new ideas, trying new approaches to old problems or building better mousetraps.

In the largest sense, autonomy fosters a sense of ownership in the overall success of the organization as one feels that her contribution makes a distinguishable difference.  More so, if hierarchal management is confined to necessity, the organization is empowered horizontally which cultivates the cross-fertilization of ideas.  Finally, if the culture rather than the hierarchy becomes the implicit raison d’être of the organization, ego tends to give way to collaboration.

Just as culture is hard to define, it is elusive to create.  Cult and hierarchy are comparatively primitive organisms where culture is the result of evolution—it can’t be created in a day.  One thing is clear, however; the seedbed of culture is trust—trust that begins with senior management to empower the whole of the organization.  That trust will then grow across the organization and synergies will bloom from there.

Time Posted: Aug 18, 2011 at 2:32 PM
REX HILL
 
August 17, 2011 | REX HILL

But ours goes to eleven- The tenuous role of alcohol in wine

He Said...
- Mike Willison

LADY BRACKNELL- "The chin a little higher, dear. Style largely depends on the way the chin is worn. They are worn very high, at present."

So it is that alcohol in wine is the fashionable thing to be wearing either very high, or just somewhat lower than it is currently. Fashionable wine takes a few seasons to come and go and, just like fashion, can benefit a man to stick with what he knows, provided that what he knows is not parachute pants and Thriller zipper coats. Backlash only happens when someone gets wildly successful doing something that everyone else wishes they had thought of first, or people get genuinely sick of one thing or another. In this case, I believe it to be a combination of both.

Some sommeliers and wine merchants believe that high alcohol wines signify the end of an age of thought provoking, terroir driven wines that were profoundly better matches with food, made only by the most eccentric and affable wine mystics, and consumed in secret dining societies where only the very deserving would be allowed to consume even a drop of the goods. Other sommeliers have no problem lugging a $150, 16.6% alcohol Pinot Noir to the table to be served with your cowboy rib-eye charged ignobly to the corporate card.

What I know is this: delicate varieties become cloying and indistinct when produced in a high alcohol style. Pinot Noir is getting its hand slapped by Syrah for being on its side of the back seat of the car and mom is too busy talking on her mobile to notice so they bicker back and forth until they are all tangled up together and Mom is forced to turn down the radio and pull over. Peppery, inky Pinot Noir? Further, the winemaker that vinifies to high alcohols needs to figure out how to balance the resultant wine now that one of the calipers is in the red. Usually, one will look to longer maceration times, deeper extraction, longer and more aggressive new oak aging and, possibly having to acidify, chaptalize and re-acidify to sort out the mess. Imagine Audrey Hepburn in one of Cyndi Lauper's outfits from the 80's. You’d have to dye her hair, pierce her nose and feed her helium balloons for an hour before she could pull the outfit off. Some varieties just cannot handle the fashion.

 

She Said...
- Carrie Kalscheuer

Simply because something has always been a certain way doesn't mean that it should be that way. Philosophers call it the "is/ought distinction," and it is one that trips people up regularly. As the success of California Pinot Noir has shown, big, alcoholic, extracted, peppery, inky Pinot Noir is hot.  (Please excuse the pun.)   So what if Pinot Noir has always been delicate?  That’s not necessarily how it always will be – or should be.

Personally, I agree with you about style. I prefer cool climate (and cool vintage) Pinot Noir. I like the tension, the promise. I like to hold on to my Pinot and feel a sense of accomplishment when I open a great, older bottle and am rewarded with a delicate, earthy, balanced wine. Because I want this, I don’t want a high level of alcohol. However, I am not the norm.

95% of all wine is consumed within 4 months of purchase. In this sense, who cares that the alcohol level will be out of balance in 10 years? It’s in balance now and that is what matters to most… now. If right now I’m craving a bone-in rib-eye, a 16.5% abv, peppery, inky Pinot sounds pretty darn good.

Time Posted: Aug 17, 2011 at 10:45 AM
Ryan Collins
 
August 16, 2011 | Ryan Collins

Grape berry development

I’m going to give you a brief update on berry development to date here in Oregon.

Currently the North Willamette is coming toward the end of  phase 1 in berry development: flowering to lag phase. In the first stage of berry development (phase 1) the berries are growing from cell division. Canopy size, water and nutrient availability influence the amount of carbohydrates available for cell division. Vines with big canopies, lots of water and nutrients will produce large berries with high cell numbers. conversely small canopies and stressed vines will produce small berries with low cell numbers. Equally influential on berry size is seed number.  Seeds make auxin and gibberellins (plant hormones) making the berry a stronger sink for assimilates. Lower seed numbers per berry result in less cell division. High numbers of seeds produce greater amounts of hormones stimulating cell division. The final size of the berry is limited by the number of cells in the berry and the extent of expansion and or the degree of shrinkage (from dehydration) in phase 3.

At lag phase, phase 2 of berry development, the size of the cluster is said to be half that at harvest. Growers use this metric to estimate the potential yield of their vineyards and how they are going to crop thin. The problem with this metric is that its very hard to determine exactly when lag phase is without continually measuring berry volume and waiting for it to plateau.  Some models suggest lag phase is 55 days after first bloom, other models say its at 1200 GDD (this is measurement of heat units for a growing season) and finally some people go by seed hardening. What am i going to do this year? Seeing that we’ve had seed hardening for over a week and we’re only 45 days post bloom im going to wait until next Monday. Currently we’re at 1140 GDD for the North Willamette and i think we should be right on 1200GDD when i start sampling.

http://www.winebusiness.com/weather/index.cfm?weatherLocationId=22

Now the Rouge Valley is ahead of the North Willamette by 2-3 weeks and some of the vineyards are starting to go through veraison (phase 3).  Veraison is when the grapes change from being hard, green and acidic to soft, getting color and accumulating sugar.

For more on berry development.
http://www.extension.org/pages/31096/stages-of-grape-berry-development

Time Posted: Aug 16, 2011 at 9:43 AM
REX HILL
 
August 10, 2011 | REX HILL

California Pinot Noir is like…

He Said...
- Mike Willison

Largely becoming irrelevant. Don't get me wrong, there are some ground breaking, supremely talented Pinot producers in California that have done a world of good for the grape the world over, but I believe it is overwhelmingly going to their heads.

Most importantly, California has become the home of a style of Pinot Noir that is becoming harder and harder to distinguish from varieties usually grown in the Rhone valley of France, a harsh and unforgiving climate reserved for heartier grapes. While I am all for wines to express a certain personality indicative of their provenance, winemaking style, regional enological methods or whatever, I find the dark, syrupy morass of monolithic, garish and flamboyant Pinots oozing from California to be a sure sign of the total flatlining of distinctiveness in wine.

I get that the mentality of "bigger is better" has its supporters and wine shops all around the US are littered with the platinum cards of score-seeking customers looking to "say they were there." I also know that getting a cab hungry nation to try something largely considered to be "feminine," "delicate," or "elegant" can be a bit challenging. I further know that being the kid in school who played by his own rules either made you a hero or an outcast depending on what all the cool kids thought. So, how is any of that different now? It isn't, except no one is really sure who the cool kids are so we all just continue to play our Huey Lewis cds and dance in the bedroom with a hairbrush instead of taking a risk for fear of having your pants pulled down at the big pep rally. A cool pair of underwear can make all the difference and right now most California Pinot producers are wearing something their mom's picked out for them.

It would be refreshing to see more than the few maverick Pinot producers in California step out and express themselves so that the needle skips off the record when they enter the room.

 

She Said...
- Carrie Kalscheuer

Unfortunately, that just isn't the case. On the global scale California Pinot Noir is as relevant today as it has always been. The reasons are simple: marketing, celebrity, and the American palate.

When the average Joe goes to the store and is confronted with 5 shelves of Pinot Noir, he's likely going to choose a wine based on things he knows rather than take a chance on something new. First, he'll choose based on name recognition. Has he heard of Dundee? Not likely. But Napa? Sure thing.

Things like price, bottle placement and even label design play a role, but I'd say the other most influential wine marketing tool is the ubiquitous score you mentioned. The wine world is intimidating. We all want to be experts, but really, how much do I have to study just to get a good bottle of wine to go with the spaghetti I'm making tonight? If someone else has taken the time to become an expert, and subsequently rates the wines for me, then heck, I'm off the hook. And no one considers who is churning out these scores. In reality, the taster has likely tasted upwards of 100 different wines in that day, so which stands out? The huge, fruity, alcoholic ones.  So, really, bigger is better, and until Americans start caring about 1-2 percentage points of alcohol (extremely unlikely), California Pinot Noir's corner on the market is here to stay.

Time Posted: Aug 10, 2011 at 10:46 AM
REX HILL
 
August 3, 2011 | REX HILL

Opening the book on closures in wine: turning the screw

He Said...
- Mike Willison

Society is crumbing to pieces. Our collective attention spans are extremely short and shrinking into 140-character sputterings about the daily stuff of life. Things that do not require ceremony (like the halftime show at a Wild Card playoff) are long on celebrity appearances and million dollar pyrotechnic flamboyance with tearful homage to retired off-tackles while we complain of long wedding ceremonies made intolerable by earnest vows and loving testimonials. Romance is dying. If I asked my wife to marry me on Facebook she would have lit me on fire and paraded me through the streets of town. Unwed women would throw first generation iPods at me in disgust.

While I am not one that believes that every moment requires pensive reflection, nor do I believe that the past was a better time that we should strive to recapture, I do feel that there are certain things that demand a moment of repose, and that speak to our notions of what it means to consume and live and be a contributing member of society. Wine is one of them. To the people that toil in the vineyards, to the people that act out a frenzied ballet at each crush, to the lab rats that crunch numbers, titrate and inhale noxious CO2 emissions and worse, to the barrel coopers and their legion of forest shepherds, to the thankless bottling line crew and to the countless generations of Portuguese families harvesting in the oak forests to create corks, we owe this reflection and ritual. Not only to give them thanks, but to recognize their considerable efforts in capturing time, space, and lightning in a bottle so deftly, so beautifully, and so very magically.

So allow yourself the indulgence of doing something with ceremony and purpose. Cut the foil, remove the cork, wipe clean the bottle opening, pour, admire, breathe of the aromas, sip, splash, savor and relish in the delights of a job well done.

 

She Said...
- Carrie Kalscheuer

So many people these days are asking me what I think about screwcaps. The perception has long been that screwcaps equal bad wine, and although there are certainly some cheap wines under screwtop, there are also most certainly some cheap wines bottled under cork. So why use them? One main reason: quality.

With a cork enclosure, you really never know what you’re going to get when you open the bottle. Cork taint (a pesky, impossible to detect bacteria also known as trichloroanisole – or TCA) is prevalent – up to 15% of the wine industry is lost yearly just to this one potential downfall.

The argument is often made that wines age better with a cork enclosure. Maybe, but let’s face it – most people age their wine only as long as it takes to drive home from the grocery store. Taste the wine, people. Is it good? If so, drink it. Don’t worry about whether or not you need a fancy doohickey to open it.

Time Posted: Aug 3, 2011 at 10:50 AM