Friday, July 23, 2010

Shhhhh!


There are changes afoot in WineWorld.
Years of near-optimal grapegrowing weather (at least in Washington) have brought us over-ample harvests. The economy is still quite weak. Some folks are leaving wineries, who have been there for years. The number of post-offs (discounts) at my distributors is much higher than in the past. Torii Mor, for example, just took a federal stimulus loan, in order to keep operating; now it has even more debt to repay.
At long last, the combination of massive (reckless?) new plantings of winegrapes over the past decade has run headlong into a Great Recession. Stocks of wine are building up, not just in the distributors' warehouses but also in the wineries.
What is a winery awash in its own juice to do? No winery wants to admit that its top-end wines are not selling.
Enter the Second Label and the Negociant.
Some wineries issue a second label, for value-priced wines. If their premium wines aren't selling, lots of that juice can find its way into the second label bottles. Some wineries (e.g., K Vintners) will freely admit that in slow years, some of their top-end wine ends up in their value-label bottles. Other wineries take the stealth route, and sell prime wine to negociants, under the strictest confidentiality (the wineries don't want anyone to know that they can't sell all their best stuff). The negociants then sell the wine under some label which doesn't disclose the true identity of the wine. You can imagine a tank truck backing up to the winery, under cover of darkness . . .
If you can identify those value labels which contain a lot of top-end wine (say, wine made by the likes of Leonetti, or Quilceda Creek, or Cayuse, or Basel, or Abeja, or Walla Walla Vintners--you get the idea), then a great bargain can be had. The difficulty is in spotting the gems amidst all the gravel. I'm working on this concept, and hope to bring you some great bargains; if you have any info for me, please write me at kenton_erwin@msn.com

Friday, July 2, 2010

Trying so hard to create a show vineyard


July 2: Grapes are looking pretty shipshape, after (finally!) some sunshine. Most shoots are past the high wire already. Bloom began June 26, and 2 varieties out of 6 still haven't broken to flowers. It's late this year, but there's still time to make up the cumulative heat/sun deficit, if we're lucky.
That's thyme on the vineyard floor--some dozen varieties of it. Some of them are blooming purple and pink right now, which is pretty cool, but my favorite might be the (yellow and green) variegated lemon thyme--what a bouquet if you walk on it, or pick a twig and crush it beneath your nose! It's practically begging to have a bit picked and taken into the kitchen, to turn some food or other into a masterpiece.
The thyme replaces tall pink field clover, which was a dumb idea from the start but this city boy didn't think about how tall it grows and I was thinking its nitrogen-fixing would be nice plus it's good fodder for our bees. I tired of whacking it down, or letting it block airflow to the fruiting wire so much that the perennial Powdery Mildew reared its head. (I could/should have chosen ground-hugging lawn clover, but I'm still mad at it because it never yielded me a four-leaf clover as an impatient boy, despite hours of searching, and let's face it: There are too many white flowers in this world ;). I paid for my folly by having to pull out each plant of clover, stem by stem, and root by root, all along my seven rows, six-feet-wide. I can think of no better way to cement a lesson in a stubborn brain. If only our justice system could think up similar punishments for some of the lesser crimes . . . . Which reminds me of something I did as a father that I am very proud of: When a daughter kept slamming her bedroom door against repeated parental advice, I walked up and calmly and wordlessly removed it from its hinges and carried it away for a few days. You should have seen her incredulous face as she sat on her bed and watched me do that! (PS-she is now the most wonderful and successful person you could hope to meet. We should all be so lucky as to have achieved anger management at such a young age.)

Hoping for dry sun!