Oct 272015
 

Hungary - Furmint

I spent the last week traveling through time. It’s not something that you get to do every day. And as you might imagine, it was pretty darn memorable.

My companions were an amazing group: Master Sommeliers Peter Granoff and Scott Harper, blogger Joe Roberts, and Debbie Zachareas of the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant. Experts all, and veterans of many a visit to a famous wine region of the world. And yet this trip was different.

Part of it was the landscape and culture. We were in Tokaji; that legendary region of Hungary where even the language is from a different world—where last names come first, where every word changes depending on its use in the sentence, and where navigating a menu (Étlap, in Magyar) is as mysterious as the cabinet of Dr. Kaligari.

And then there were the wines. We began, as things always do, with dry wines made from the local grapes: furmint, to be sure, but also hárszlevelű, muscat, kabar, zéta, and kövérszőlő. Had many of those recently? The wines were fresh, lively, with great acidity and balance. We were charmed and impressed. In fact, cases, even pallets of wine were ordered for the shops and restaurants back home. They were delicious.

Then they pulled out the big guns: Tokaji Aszú wines made by adding buckets and buckets of botrytis affected grapes to the dry furmint wines. Suddenly the lightness and charm of the wines got wonderfully deeper and richer. Intense flavors, soaring aromatics, and finishes that I can still taste today, if I give myself a chance. We started with current vintages, and then worked backwards into wines that were twenty years old. The seemed fresh and full of vigor.

And five times we were invited to sample a wine historically reserve for the Emperor himself: Esszencia—the pure free-run juice of those Aszú grapes. Beyond nectar. Scott Harper said it best, when he noted that the wine in the glass seemed to be affected by a different level of gravity. Almost no alcohol, because no yeast could prosper in that soup of intense flavors and sugar levels approaching the ionosphere.

Quite an amazing journey. And I look forward to drinking some of these wines thanks to Peter, Scott and Debbie, who are making them available to us. No translation required.

Oct 122015
 

Michigan Wine - Chateau Chantal

This summer, my family and I took a trip to Traverse City, Michigan to spend some R&R and check out Michigan wine country. Not many folks outside of the state ever consider Michigan wine, but they should. The mitten state has some very dedicated and talented winemakers, and it shows in the quality of the wines they craft.

There are several winegrowing AVAs within the state. The best, in my opinion, are the Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas, which is where we spent our time on this trip. I’ve been to the area before, but before I could legally drink. So, needless to say, it had been a while. As we drove from winery to winery, I was struck by the beauty of the area. I’ve been wine tasting in a lot of regions, including California (all over), Oregon, Washington, Virginia, Texas, New York, Maryland, Missouri, Colorado, Ohio, Spain, Italy, and France. Hands down, the most beautiful region has to be the Old Mission Peninsula. It was absolutely stunning! I highly recommend a visit.

Not only are the views tremendous, but the people are friendly, helpful, and hospitable. It reminded me a bit of Napa Valley in the old days. There was an obvious love of the area and its wine in everyone we met.

Michigan is known for producing great Rieslings. And they are. While I don’t pretend to know all the nuances of the growing conditions, I’d wager it’s a combination of latitude, lake effect, and soil type. In addition to Riesling, however, the area produces a number of other Vitus Vinifera and hybrid varietals. We tasted some great Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Franc, and Gewurztraminer. I think the region has some room for improvement with their Pinot Noir.

In addition to grape wines, the state is the country’s leader in the production of fruit wine such as cherry wine. We tried a few of these, and they were quite good.

During our time, we visited Chateau Chantal, 2 Lads Winery, Bowers Harbor Vineyards, and Black Star Farms, and had a wonderful experience at each. I also recommend wines from Left Foot Charley, L. Mawby, and Chateau Grand Traverse.

Oct 022015
 
TEXSOM International Wine Awards

Photo Credit: Texas Monthly

Last week, I received an invitation to judge at the TEXSOM International Wine Awards in 2016. This is one of the best in the country, for so many reasons. The judges really draw on the connections of James Tidwell MS, and Drew Hendricks MS, with a strong backbone of legacy from Becky Murphy. Those are three of our favorite people in the wine business, and their friends, quite often, turn out to be our friends, too—with enough MS (Master Sommelier) and MW (Master of Wine) post-nomials to fill a couple of large wine glasses.

And the organization, again based on Becky’s initial framework, is smooth and efficient. That makes being a judge a lot easier, and a lot more fun.

And then there’s the scene in Dallas, with great food in all kinds of different locations and styles.

For those of you who think Texas and wine don’t go together, you don’t know what you’re missing.

Sep 302015
 
Grapevine skeletonizer

Photo Credit: University of California

There’s good news from the Napa AG Commissioner’s office this week. That grapeleaf skeletonizer that they found in one of their traps may have been an isolated find, rather than a precursor to a larger infestation. Since we’ve worked for years with Greg Clark and the Ag Commission in Napa to keep the Glassy-winger Sharpshooter out of the county, and we were part of a successful campaign to get rid of a small population of European Grapvine Moths, this is really good news.

This excerpt from the Napa Valley Register:

Vineyard pest find may have been fluke

A leaf-consuming grapevine pest with a Halloween-like name apparently ended up being only a brief visitor to Napa Valley this summer.

A single western grapeleaf skeletonizer moth showed up in a vineyard sticky trap along Tubbs Lane near Calistoga in June. But further trapping has yielded no more of this invasive species.

“Good news,” county Agricultural Commissioner Greg Clark said.

The skeletonizer has caterpillars that devour leaves, leaving behind the veins and creating a kind of leaf skeleton. Less leaves let in more sun that can sunburn the fruit. The caterpillars can also feed on grape clusters and cause bunch rot.

Caterpillars have been known to defoliate entire vineyards in other parts of the state.

“This is a very serious pest,” Jennifer Putnam of Napa Valley Grapegrowers said after the discovery.

Napa County responded to the Tubbs Lane find by putting out 25 additional traps within a 1-mile radius.

Perhaps the lone moth hitchhiked to the area on farm equipment, Clark said. There doesn’t appear to be an infestation because the traps likely would have picked up additional moths.

Still, the county will continue to monitor the area for three years.

“We want to be vigilant,” Clark said. “We never know when a pest is going to be introduced, one that is significant and harmful to the environment, wine grapes and our economy.”

In 2007, the county discovered a grapeleaf skeletonizer moth in the Mount Veeder area west of the city of Napa. That appeared to be a fluke, too, with no other moth turning up.

The grapeleaf skeletonizer is a native of Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico and was discovered in California in 1941. It is established in parts of the Central Valley. Unlike the glassy-winged sharpshooter or European grapevine moth, an infestation of grapeleaf skeletonizers doesn’t trigger a state quarantine.

Nor does the skeletonizer have the grape industry doomsday reputation of the glassy-winged sharpshooter, which spreads vine-killing Pierce’s disease.

“It is a destructive pest,” Clark said. “It is relatively easy to control using a variety of materials.”

But that costs grapegrowers more money. Napa County has the grapeleaf skeletonizer on its list of unwelcomed insects.

“For those of us who don’t have it and don’t want it, if we trap and find it early, the ability to eradicate is certainly a viable option,” Clark said.

Sep 292015
 

One Good Day

I met Peter Nowack at the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference. I instantly found him witty and sarcastic. Needless to say, I liked him immediately. Not long after our meeting, Peter received a rather dire prognosis–Stage 4 prostate cancer. Most of us (probably me included) would crawl up in a corner and wait for the inevitable. Not Peter. He began a crusade to help others in similar situations. He launched an initiative called One Good Day and a website (OneGoodDay.org), which led to a non-profit to help those with incurable cancer to enjoy “one good day”. Over the past couple of months, I’ve worked with Peter to help him with his communications about the organization. Below is a press release from today:

Bay Area Cancer Survivor Starts Non-Profit to Benefit Others with Incurable Cancer

OneGoodDay.org empowers lower-income adults with incurable cancer to have “one good day”

September 29, 2015 (San Francisco/Oakland, CA) – What would you do should Life hand you a death sentence? Diagnosed with incurable cancer, long-time Bay Area resident, Peter Nowack, has launched OneGoodDay.org, a charity committed to improving quality of life for lower-income adults with incurable cancer by offering micro-grants so that these deserving individuals might enjoy “one good day” with loved ones when they need it most.

“As someone with incurable cancer, I’ve learned that the best gift I can ever receive is one good day with family and friends,” says Bay Area resident Peter Nowack, Founder and Executive Director of OneGoodDay.org. “I started OneGoodDay so that lower-income adults with incurable cancer would be able to realize their own “one good day” – a day that has profound, personal meaning.”

“One good day is different for every adult facing incurable cancer,” says Nowack. “It might be a reunion with a distant relative. A special meal with one’s all-grown-up daughter or son. A walk on the beach with your life partner. Or one last adventure with a friend you’ve known for a lifetime.” Nowack notes that OneGoodDay is not about bucket lists, getting the keys to the city, or meeting the President. “It’s about small stuff. Human-scale stuff. Stuff that touches the senses,” Nowack says. “The kind of stuff that makes a real difference on a deeply personal level.”

Diagnosed in October, 2014 with very aggressive, incurable Stage 4 prostate cancer, Nowack wants to commit the measure of his days to making a difference for others in similar situations. “Terminal cancer is not limited to the wealthy, well-connected, or well-insured. Lower-income individuals often lack the resources to provide for basic needs, let alone things that will boost their quality of life.”

“People with incurable cancer deal with physical and emotional challenges every day,” says Dr. Ashok Pai, an oncologist in the San Francisco Bay Area. “We clinicians do our best to slow down the advance of the cancer, and can help patients deal with their symptoms. OneGoodDay.org has the real potential to improve quality of life for lower-income adults with incurable cancer every day.”

Media outlets interested in interviewing Mr. Nowack, hearing his story, and learning more about OneGoodDay.org may reach him directly at pnowack@onegoodday.org.

OneGoodDay.org is seeking financial support to grow its outreach to lower-income adults and their caregivers in the oncology community, and to issue more micro-grants to deserving patients with incurable cancer. With sufficient funding, OneGoodDay.org can touch the lives of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lower-income adults with incurable cancer. Individuals interested in making donations may do so by visiting http://OneGoodDay.org. Companies interested in supporting OneGoodDay.org should contact pnowack@onegoodday.org.

About OneGoodDay.org

Founded in 2015 by long-time Oakland resident Peter Nowack, OneGoodDay.org is a 501(c)(3) charity committed to improving quality of life for lower-income adults with incurable cancer. OneGoodDay issues micro-grants so that these deserving individuals might have the means to enjoy “one good day” that will make a real difference, at a deeply personal level.