Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Thursday, November 18, 2010
There is a rather poor way to measure the quality of a grapegrowing season. It is Growing Degree Days (GDD's), which in the US are calculated in three different ways. The most common is to calculate the average temp for a day [(max temp + min temp) divided by 2] and then subtract 50 degrees F. (50F is the baseline.) If the result is negative (which is the case today, Nov 18, where the high is not even 50F), then just give that day a zero. Then, you add up all such results, for each day of the year. For 2010 in the Portland area, this results in a total GDD for the year of about 1800 GDDs. In 2009 it was about 2200, or 22% more.
So why is this method a lousy proxy for sunshine? Because GDDs vary somewhat independently of sunshine. (What we need is a new way to measure and report actual sunshine units.) Here are some examples proving the shortcomings of GDDs:
1. Think of the US Northeast. It is often cloudy there in the summer, although it can get quite warm. And the nights are generally warm also, due to the high humidity. So the GDDs are pretty high (for a northern climate), but the actual sunshine on the grapes is low. There, the GDDs are misleadingly high, and only extreme Northern grapes tend to ripen there.
2. Think of West Texas. There, the sun is amazingly bright (because of the high altitudes--about 4000') and it shines on those high plains almost every day of the year. Yet, due to the high altitude and low humidity, the average temps, even in summer, fall pretty far at night, which drags down the day's average temp. So the GDDs there are misleadingly low, even though the sunshine is very strong and frequent and the afternoon temps are often in triple digits.
3. Now, consider Scandavia and Southern England. (Yes, wine grapes are being grown there now, just as they were back in Roman times.) There, the high latitude makes the sunshine very bright in summer, and the days are very long, so the actual sunshine totals are pretty high, although the GDDs, due to the cool temps, are very low.
I'm paraphrasing Bill Shoemaker, who is a grape breeder at U of Illinois: "Heat is like an accelerator; it regulates the rate of the plant's physiological engine. Light, on the other hand, is fuel [it is one of the inputs which the plant uses, via photosynthesis, to make sugar and cellulose from sunlight, water, and minerals]. Respiration is also key; it consumes the products of photosynthesis. Respiration is higher wherever the temp is high, so in Scandanavian nations, where temps are cool, respiration is lower and the plant retains more of its sugars. This (combined with the long sunny days in summer that far North) allows the plant to ripen its fruit fully, even though temps are cool and the growing season is shorter." The Portland area is similar.
This is a major reason why the same grape varieties will fare so much differently in different geographic settings. Then there are other important factors, such as soil type, drainage, color of soil and surface rocks (which affects heat absorption and reflection), wind, winter minimum temps, speed of onset of winter, etc. Altogether, it really does make "terroir" a critical component in winegrapegrowing. And it truly makes every wine, and even wine from each plant, uniquely different.
Monday, November 15, 2010
Monday, November 8, 2010
(photo is of Christophe, of Cayuse, presumably standing in The Rocks)
The below blog post is by a person well-acquainted with the subject matter. The lab results are startling in some ways. But we need to remember this is just one bottle tested. And everyone's palate is different. And most "flaws" are NOT subject to general agreement. Still, a large amount of what is essentially a contaminant is worth noting, even in one bottle of wine, and a pH of 4.06 does seem quite high.
What's fascinating about this post (link below) is the debate and political blowback it may induce. The elephant in the room is the proud (and sometimes fiery) Christophe Baron who may be reading the various comments with interest.
On one side you have loyal customers and the world's greatest wine critics, standing with Cayuse. On the other hand you have a brave (foolish?) wine lover who noticed something she didn't like about the wines and had them tested, and thinks she has scientific proof of her palate at hand. There are reasons why both sides may be right. (Perhaps we are seeing that certain excursions from what has been considered "normal" might not result in bad wines, but could in fact become new understandings of quality?)
I don't want to get into the shooting war, thanks, although you will see my own (hopefully moderate) comment, there in the blog comments. I am a Cayuse member. I am mostly just holding my Cayuse wines, as I find their hugeness makes them inappropriate for early drinking. If you try to drink them from barrel, they are so big and tannic that it might kill you ;) None of the Cayuse wines I've drunk have presented the flaws alleged by the wine writer. For an eyeful, just read through the comments.
Sunday, November 7, 2010
I wonder if they have thought about what they're doing? To them, the leaves are trash, debris, a nuisance. To me, they are an essential part of the ecosystem.
In removing the leaves, those "old school" folks are harvesting a "crop" every year. It's the same with bagging your lawn clippings--it's a harvest. In nature, the leaves and grasses slowly become part of the floral floor, where they decompose and then the worms pull them back down into the earth. By removing leaves, you are systematically weakening the soil. Sure, the leaves will probably be composted and used somewhere else, but (i) it uses a lot of fuel to gather them and then distribute the compost later, and (ii) that doesn't help your own yard in any way.
If you just can't stand whole leaves, you can pile them on your lawn and run over them with a mower. Voila! Instant fertilizer. You are again a harmonious part of the natural cycle.
I can't stand people who can't stand leaves ;) You know, as long ago as ancient Greece, the poets were comparing fallen leaves to the different ethnic groups of humanity (light brown, dark brown, yellow, red--you get the idea), and they used the leaves as metaphors for the end of our lives, but still providing a source of hope and promise, for future lives to come.