Napa: Press On!

I am a native Californian and have grown up with earthquakes. I learned how to seek shelter under a table or stand in the doorway, because doorways are the last to fall. I am sure this sounds strange to many of my friends across the states. We have learned, as natives of the state, to take it in stride – no different than folks who live in areas of other natural disasters. Even so, it is a tragedy to see cracks in roadways, fallen bricks, and damage to homes and businesses as a measure of the magnitude of force that exists in nature.

Many people were injured this past Sunday when the 6.1 earthquake hit in American Canyon, which is the city just south of the city of Napa. I am sure that all saw the pictures of fallen buildings, damaged facades of old structures, and some fires as a result of gas leaks. The pictures of broken bottles and fallen barrels filled the TV screens. What we are fortunate for is that, for all the energy that was unleashed with the movement of earth, there were no fatalities. I know that is not the only measure of the extent of damage from an event, yet it is very lucky. Sympathies are extended to those who were hurt, and we all know that if the quake had hit in the daytime, the loss of life and the number of injured would have been much greater. That it did take place in the middle of the night is a blessing. Still many people have been injured and suffered. The loss of a home is a horrible experience. Again, sympathies to each for your loss and the challenges you must bear on the road back.

Many of the buildings that were hardest hit were historic and vintage structures. One of my favorite tasting rooms in downtown Napa, the Vintner’s Collective, suffered extensive damage. The brick facade came down, yet the sign in front of the building says “We’re down but not out!” That is the tone and tenor of the valley. People are helping each other where and when it is needed. It is a small valley, and people know each other and are there to lend a hand.

Many wineries experienced little to no damage from Sunday’s quake. I have read that even wine storage facilities in American Canyon, where the epicenter was, have no damage and lost no wine. The impact is variable. Remember that the valley is 30 miles long and the earthquake struck at the southernmost end. I have received many emails from wineries – some in the Stags Leap District and some further up valley — that are fine. They’re shaken, but fine. They are open for business, and that is important to know. There is a holiday weekend coming up, and the Napa Valley is open for business. You are welcome to come and enjoy the long Labor Day weekend in the valley!



Time to Check the Temperature at Home

The ideal temperature for wine storage has always been touted as between 55 and 57 degrees. This is the best temperature for reds to age gracefully over the long term. Well, now we have a scientific study to document what happens when we keep wine in warmer temperatures, such as would be normal for a home. Now scientists have done a study showing that wine stored in a typical home can age four times as fast as wine kept under ideal conditions.

The experiment was conducted with 400 bottles of Sangiovese. 200 of the bottles were stored in the ideal conditions, while the other 200 were kept at temperatures typical of the home environment.

The experiment was conducted by Fondazione Edmund Mach in San Michele all’Adige (Itally), which is a prestigious institution that has delivered a range of education, training and technology transfer programs in the fields of agriculture, food processing and sustainable development.

Lead researcher Fulvio Mattivi said, “We discovered that a relatively small difference in the temperature speeds up several chemical reactions associated with wine aging and even promotes new reactions that are not observed at lower temperatures. After six months under domestic conditions, the wine in the bottle was approximately as old as a bottle from the same producer and lot stored for two years under cellar conditions. The house-stored wine was aging approximately four times faster.”

So, what does this mean for the individual who does not have a wine refrigerator? While many folks who love wine may not always have the “ideal” temperature, there are ways to preserve that special bottle for the right time. Keep your wine in a dark place, with a constant cool temperature. A central closet that is dark may provide the best option if you don’t have a wine cellar or wine refrigerator.

Another option is to drink the wine sooner to account for the faster aging process. This could be good news, and it is wise to be informed. With home temperature accelerating the chemical reactions that take place, the advice is not to wait too long on that special bottle. You would not want to miss its prime time for your drinking pleasure.


Wine — In a Flash

Everybody loves a good deal. In today’s market, there are opportunities to purchase wine at discounts from 10 to 20% or even as much as 40% off retail. These opportunities can be found at something called Flash Wine Sites. They typically offer limited quantities of wines at discounts. The wine is offered for a limited time – hence the name “Flash.” This can be a great bargain. Akin to Tuesday Morning or other discount stores, the situation is not one of searching for a particular label or brand – you need to be open to what is being offered. There are bargains to be had if you know your wineries and what the vintage being sold has to offer.  If so, this may be right up your alley.

This is the market place born out of the excess inventory of wineries. For wineries with an excess, it makes a lot of sense to offer their inventory to a flash site to move it efficiently and quickly. In just a few short years, this segment of the wine market has grown to about 100 million dollars in annual sales. This accounts for approximately 25% of the online wine market, according to an estimate by the wine industry-consulting firm VinTank.

There are many Flash Sites now competing for your wine dollar. Here is a list of those most commonly used:

Cinderella Wine
Last Bottle Wines
Last Call Wines
Lot 18
The Wine Spies
Wine Woot
Wines Til Sold Out

Each of these websites will offer different twists to attract you to their site. The significant majority of wines being offered by these sites come from California, many of which are from Napa and Sonoma.

Sounds good, right? Just a few caveats… While shipping may be free, it is challenging at best to ship wine in the summer months based on temperatures. The vast majority of wineries will only ship during fall, winter and spring. Also, the question has to arise, how was the wine held while waiting to be sent to you? I personally am always a little shy about buying from sources where conveyance is of question. Also, how do they handle returns? What if you get a bad bottle? How do you exchange it for a fresh one? These are all questions you should be sure to get the answers to, so you safeguard your investment. There are bargains to be had, just make sure you know what you are buying. Check them out to see if they hit your sweet spot.


Just Say No — to Bad Wine

Travel and being on the road can be tedious at times. While many hotels do their best to be hip and even provide wine tasting hours, many fall short. It can be a real challenge to get a good glass of wine while traveling and staying in hotels. Ordering wine by the glass in the restaurant can be frustrating as well. Recently, I have had some experiences that have taxed my taste buds.

Just recently, I was staying at a hotel in Los Angeles, and their steak house had a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. I was by myself and ordered a glass of wine off the wine list. The list touted a Washington wine from a very good vintage, and I was excited to try it. They had good crystal on the table, so I expected a great glass. Upon arrival, the wine had no aromatics; the taste was flaccid and bitter. This was unacceptable.

What do you do in the situation? You let the server know that the wine is bad and ask for a fresh glass – which I did. The server brought the new bottle — a vintage two years later than indicated on the wine list — and and opened it at the table. Aha! There was some fruit in the wine, yet it was very tight. It was a 2012, and the wine list stated it was a 2010. The waiter said that the wine list needed to be updated. Well, at least there was flavor in the second glass.

Please do not accept wine that is old and has been open for days. Feel free to ask the server how long the bottle has been open. Feel confident and comfortable to send back wine that is past its prime. Be aware that wine lists – even those with Wine Spectator Awards of Excellence (there are 3 levels of Excellence) — are not always representative of what they are pouring and you should inquire as to the year. All this to say, if you do not like the wine because it is spoiled, do not accept it. It is your money, your palate, and your pleasure.

Another challenge on the road, besides wine that has sat open too long, is the overly generous server. I had the occasion in another hotel recently to get the bonanza pour. The server only wanted to be of service and take good care of a customer, yet it was almost undrinkable. As you can see in the picture, the server filled the glass (a water glass) all the way to the brim. Swirling was not allowed on this day! This is a more delicate situation to deal with. Here is someone trying to do you a favor and be generous with a pour, but it makes the wine hard to enjoy. This time, I did not send it back or make a comment. She meant well.


So, here is the message and the encouragement. Do not accept wine that has seen its prime – days before you got there. It is important to ask questions and be confident that you know something is off if it’s not pleasant. It is okay to send it back and ask for a fresh glass.


P.S. We did experience some technical difficulties with the last blog. The email notifications did not go out, yet there was a blog posted. Check it out!

Hot Summer — Cool, Refreshing White Wine!

The forecast for the West Coast is hotter than usual.  By now, that is no surprise for many who live here.  The thermometer has been over 100 degrees in Sacramento several days this summer, and it is only July.  Hot daytime temperatures make us all a little thirsty.  A great, refreshing white to “pound on down on the patio” is Pinot Grigio, as the Italians call it.  It is also known as Pinot Gris in other parts of the world.  In fact, this little grape is produced all around the world and has many different titles depending on whether you are in France, Germany, Austria, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, or Australia.  This is a lovely white wine that hails from around the world.

The Pinot Grigio I’d like to tell you about today is grown in Napa.  It’s lightly honeyed, with a hint of spice and minerality.  It’s darn good and refreshing!  It is the perfect apéritif to start the evening and set up the palate for dinner or simply to enjoy in the afternoon with no food at all.  I unfortunately have drunk all that we bought and must go back for more.

The winery that produced this lovely white is Gargiulo.  Located on the Oakville Cross Road in Oakville, CA, it is a winery that had flown under my radar.  This is an appointment-only property and again well worth the time to visit.  While I am sharing about the Pinot Grigio, they produce big reds that are delicious.  Their barrel offering for the Napa Valley Auction was one of the top ten wines in terms of the total bids that were placed for it.  It is no doubt that red wine is the staple of the winery; and, as you can tell by the name, Italian in influence.

The winery setting is rustic and surrounded by beautiful vineyards.  Garett was our host on the day we visited and was a real pleasure.  He was born and raised in Napa and was well informed about wine and the exploration of what is in the glass.  He readily shared information about the family who owns the winery and their process.  The tasting was relaxed and quite pleasurable in a lovely setting.  I can wholeheartedly recommend a visit and the wine.