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.

Jun 032013
 

VESTAThe Viticulture and Enology Science and Technology Alliance (VESTA) curriculum retreat on June 1 in Niagara Falls brought together more than 40 top academics and administrators to work together to develop and refine the world’s best practices on subjectslike courses in viticulture, enology, and wine marketing.

It was a great group of people, all working hard to get us to the next level.  And it was great to see some old friends there, and enjoy what they brought to the meeting:  Ray Johnson of Sonoma State University, Patty Held from Missouri, Pat Howe from ETS Laboratories and Cornell University, John Giannini from Fresno State, Paul Gospodarczyk from Chicago…

And Michelle Norgren from VESTA itself…

Bright people.  And a great program.

May 212013
 

PrioratI just got back from Priorat last week. What I was not prepared for was the beauty of the region.  I knew it made great wines, but I didn’t know about the stunningly steep vineyards (some terraced, some not) and the explosion of wildflowers that covered the hills.

Poppies in PrioratOf course, this has been the wettest spring in recent memory, and as one of my hosts put it: “anything that grows is going to blossom this year.” But, the result is glorious:  poppies, lavender, thistles, sage, rosemary — the full Mediterranean spice rack.

You could almost hear Julie Andrews singing…

Jun 042012
 

As most guys will tell you (or at least those less well endowed), bigger isn’t always better. This is true. Take, for example, Danish potatoes. These pint-sized spuds are much more flavorful than their super-sized Idaho cousins. But, the converse shouldn’t be that big is necessarily evil. In coordinating wine selections for a New Zealand-themed event, my client wanted to shy away from the Villa Maria option I proposed feeling that it, “…seems like a large operation that gets grapes from wherever available.” I quickly assured him that, while yes, Villa Maria is a large company; it is at the forefront of pushing sustainable viticulture in the region.

In fact, having spent more than three hours with their head viticulturist driving from vineyard to vineyard to vineyard, many of which they do own, but also many they don’t, the message was loud and clear. They are getting the growers with whom they contract to implement better, more sustainable, practices in the vineyard.  And, closer to home, they are implementing organic practices in nearly a third of their owned sites.

Even before this visit, I have always liked Villa Maria. I’m not sure what first drew me to the brand, but (aside from the obvious observation that I liked the wines), they won my heart with their reliability, providing wines that are consistently good value and both varietally and regionally correct. If you’re looking for a Sancerre look-alike you’re out of luck, but if you want a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc – they deliver. This latter point is especially important to a wine educator often sourcing class wines sight unseen (or rather, more worrisome, untasted). Consequently, I often feature the aforementioned wine in my Savvy about Sauvignon Blanc class.

With this favorable brand experience, I was thrilled to be introduced to Villa Maria’s owner, George Fistonich, at a trade tasting in September 2010. Meeting Sir George (he was knighted in 2009) for the first time, he was full of grace and warmth. Not only did he seem equally pleased to meet me, but, upon learning that we would be visiting his home country a few months later, invited us to come stay at his place (admittedly he knew that I was a wine educator and not just a general wine consumer, but still, I was both touched and impressed).

In this circumstance, his “place” was the company’s Marlborough-based winery, which includes a lovely guest apartment located atop the tasting room, complete with a combination washer-dryer (which we somehow managed to overflow our first night) and a cook’s kitchen outfitted with nearly everything we might want. Arriving on a Sunday night as the only guests in the multi-roomed unit, we chose the largest room for ourselves and enjoyed having space in which to spread out. (Sometimes, bigger actually can be better.)

I haven’t asked George Fistonich his opinion on whether size matters, but I can tell you that he probably never expected his venture to grow to such proportions when he first leased two hectares back in 1961. Now, with vineyards located throughout New Zealand’s numerous regions and three wineries (the two others are in Auckland and Hawkes Bay) one might say he is at the head of a full-fledged empire.

Although George was not present at his Marlborough estate during our sojourn, our paths crossed again the following year. This time I had the pleasure of sitting next to him during a lunch held in celebration of his 50th vintage. We talked about a lot of things, including wine, of course, but, he was not as one-dimensional as that. And, we obviously discussed my trip to New Zealand and my impressions of his country.

About half-way through lunch, George made a few remarks. Among other statements, George was keen to announce to all assembled that the flight to New Zealand was quite easy – suggesting that one board a plane on the west coast, have dinner, and then go to sleep, awakening in time for breakfast and an early arrival in the capital city of Auckland. [I think he may have also suggested the use of sleeping pills, but having just had an extremely negative experience in that regard —inclusive of fainting onto a fellow passenger while attempting to access the loo— I’ll suggest that you simply rely on a glass of New Zealand wine (presuming you’re flying Air New Zealand) and a pair of eyeshades.]

Returning to my side, George resumed our conversation, which now turned to travel. Adding to his aerial advice, George admitted that flying first class was relatively new to him and that he had previously helped to ease the discomfort of sitting in coach by using the meditative techniques he had studied years ago. Of course, he didn’t seem to have any complaints about the much roomier seats he now enjoys, proving once again that bigger may not always be better, but it certainly isn’t bad.

Apr 132012
 

Bernard DeLilleAmerica’s most visited winery isn’t in Napa. It isn’t even in California. Rather, with 600,000 guests annually, the imposing Biltmore Estate can be found in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Asheville, NC. With a driveway measured in miles (glad I don’t have to shovel it), the 1895 mansion was ahead of its time with electric lighting and an elevator and continues to be forward-thinking in its emphasis on being a self-sustaining estate. In this regard, the on-premise dairy was replaced with a winery in 1985.

Growing grapes in North Carolina is not an easy task. The humid climate wreaks havoc in the vineyard, encouraging the growth of mildew. Accordingly, healthy grapes at harvest are not a given. Despite these less than favorable conditions, Bernard DeLille has made wine at the Biltmore Estate for over 25 years.

The Burgundy-trained winemaker responded to an advertisement in 1986, intrigued by the opportunity to make wine in the U.S. Although he was working in Madiran and Jurançon (both in southwest France) at the time, DeLille welcomed the opportunity to produce wines without the rigid constraints of France’s appellation system. Accordingly, he packed up his wife, two children and their belongings and headed to North Carolina to begin his new position. Joining the staff under the direction of Philippe Jourdain, by 1991, he was promoted to the position of winemaker.

Given the challenges that North Carolina presents, along with the need to increase production, Biltmore Estate now sources grapes from California for many of its wines. In order to comply with U.S. regulations, wine production for these wines takes place in California. However, the estate vineyards have not been abandoned; DeLille will continue to make wines at home as well. In this regard, consumers can choose from two Blanc de blanc sparklers – one from North Carolina and the other from Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley. Two still Chardonnays are also similarly produced (Sonoma County and North Carolina). Not surprisingly, their red wine production centers on California.

A recent luncheon at New York’s Lincoln Restaurant provided members of the wine media to become acquainted with a selection of the Biltmore’s wines, including side by side tastings of the two sparklers and the two Chardonnays.

This new approach to winemaking has provided DeLille with many rewards. Yet, he admits that it can be complicated to keep up with the need to make wine in two different facilities, separated by an entire continent. But, on the whole, DeLille seems to have taken well to the balancing act required.

I wish I could say the same of the restaurant’s servers. In clearing the flutes and white wine stemware, both DeLille  and I were the recipients of a Chardonnay shower. Luckily, as a veteran journalist, I was wearing black and was consequently, soggy, but not visably stained.

All in all, it was a nice introduction to these wines, or rather, re-introduction, as I had visited the Biltmore Estate back in 1997 as a belated honeymoon. Thus, the winery has a special place in my heart and I appreciated the changes being made in expanding the Biltmore Estate’s range of wines.