Burrr … California frost and the impact on the 2008 vintage

Minnesotans know what it’s like to be cold (especially after this last winter!). In many ways, we relish that first morning of beautiful frost covering the lawns and trees. But for California grape growers, frost is a four letter word … especially this year. Although weather for the past couple weeks in California has been above average and downright hot in some areas – 100s in Napa and mid-90’s in San Francisco (native San Franciscans melt in the 80’s), frost damage over the past two months is the worst in 25-30 years.

The areas I’m referring to are many of California’s premiere vineyard appellations: Napa, Sonoma, and Monterey. Those areas are estimated by the state’s board of agriculture to have 7% crop loss. This is far worse in many sub-AVAs (American Viticultural Areas). Damage was mitigated by sub-climate zones and micro-climates zones. For example In Carmel Valley the influence of the Pacific Ocean limited damage to very minimal at Robert Talbott’s Diamond T vineyard (7 miles from the ocean) while further up the road (up valley 12-15 miles from the ocean) there are vineyards that experienced a near total loss.

David Graves, co-founder and principal of Saintsbury Vineyards and Winery said it best in a conversation Friday, “7% loss is bad but really what it means is if you’re the guy who got hit you lost everything.”

Areas with especially high-value fruit have extensive frost-protection measures in place. These typically take the form of overhead fans in Napa valley. First-hand accounts there report the frost fans running 20-plus days in a row. This almost never happens. Areas that are less affected by frost in a normal year have no frost protection measures in place. If you farm those vineyards and frost hits hard, the vintage is a write-off and its time to plan for next year.

So, where does that leave us for the 2008 vintage? Answer: we’ll see. Theoretically the vintage could be better quality in some vineyards due to “frost thinning” but in reality those vineyards are already managed to the correct low yield to maximize quality. So, back to Mr. Graves comment, for many producers the frost either wiped your 2008 vintage off the map or you survived in pretty good shape. Regardless, as you meet winemakers and principals from California this year, a good point of conversation will be the historic frost damage of 2008.


Reefer Madness, Part One

When summer arrives, chilled white wines and roses come to mind. Problem often is our typically available refrigeration, while long in capacity, is sort on wine-friendly temperatures. Most white wine when served at beer/milk temp (i.e. your fridge at home and most coolers at the bar in most restaurants) is closed and dumbed down. It goes down easy (another problem in most situations) but aromas and flavors are severely muted. In another common “fine dining” example, a cellar temperature white is plunked in an ice bucket where it resides getting colder and dumber all the while until its chilly demise.

Rather than serve these wines at 42 degrees why not chill (warm) to 50-55 degrees and then let the wine warm over the course of the meal, perhaps placing on ice periodically to maintain temperature? This is easily done at home and surprisingly easy to affect in restaurants as well. A good to great wine at this temperature will almost always taste better!

For a trick that would make Grandma Bea proud, try chilling red wine. Old-school Grandma humor aside, this “trick” works beautifully in a cool climate in both summer and winter. Think about it, homes and restaurants are heated in winter to essentially near-tropical temperatures and chilled in summer to an even warmer (though relatively cooler versus seasonal outside temperature) level. Red wines nearly always show best closer to cellar temperature of between 58 and 65 degrees. How many homes are chilled to 60 degrees in summer? Well, in most summers anyway… You don’t need a wine geek’s dual-temperature eurocave to make serving appropriately chilled reds a reality.

DO TRY THIS AT HOME: the next time you are serving a red wine stored at room temperature, place it in the refer for 15-20 minutes before your meal. The wine will show better and will reveal distinctive nuances as it warms to room temperature. Placing it on the ice or back in the cooler will maintain temperature. The best part about this is, if you prefer at room temperature, the wine will get there again! This is an entirely no-risk reversible process. But I’m willing to bet it will become a habit.

Now if you REALLY want to get serious about the effect of temperature on wine (especially on the wholesale and import side) check out this article from Jancis Robinson!

New arrival: LIOCO wines

Lioco Chardonnay bottleWe’re proud to announce the arrival of LIOCO (pronounced LEE-oh-co) wines to the state of Minnesota.

The terms ‘hand crafted’ and ‘limited production’ are tossed around endlessly in the world of wine (when you really think of it, all wines are hand crafted and limited by their very nature). But here you have something different: a specific dedication to one idea, that being the terrior of some of the best sites in California.

This label/winery was created by Matt Licklider (who brought import and distribution expertise to the table) and Kevin O’Connor (former wine director at Spago Beverly Hills, who brought vineyard contacts to the table). They formed the idea of LIOCO (a combination of their two last names) with the question: could California produce wines that are as terrior driven as the great wines of Burgundy?

To that end, the only variable between their wines is the vineyard source itself. For example, their Chardonnay ‘formula’ is this: hand harvest fruit from specific locations of character – locations that set themselves apart from all other vineyards in California, careful pressing, complete wild yeast fermentation, full malolactic, NO OAK, and bottle unfined and unfiltered. The Pinot Noir regiment is very similar, but includes a TOUCH of oak … and I mean a wee whisper of it!

To say these guys have a dedicated vision is the understatement of the year.

The wines are incredible. In addition to the single vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noir program, they produce a Sonoma County Chardonnay and a red blend called Indica (a blend of the oldest old vine Carignane in California with some great Petite Sirah). Click here to see the full breadth of their selections.

Only available in nine states, we are honored to have LIOCO in Minnesota and look forward to sharing them with you.

Far more information can be found at the winery’s super cool, content rich, beautiful website: www.liocowine.com.