Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Chinese farmers bury relatives in the Vineyard

These are graves in the vineyards. To bury the dead, one resident told me that first a vertical shaft is dug, followed by a horizontal one perpendicular to the vertical shaft. The body is placed in the horizontal shaft. I don't know what accounts for the difference in type of graves from the two different Provinces.
I found these elaborate graves among in the extensive vineyards leased by Dynasty Winery in Tianjin Province.
There are dozens of graves on this knoll surrounded by pine trees in Junding Winery's vineyards in Shandong Province. Some were built up with stone, others simply mounds of earth.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

In China Size matters

In China Big is Better. If you're not big, you're not good. If you're not big, you don't have ability, you're certainly not successful. Using big as a yardstick, how successful would you say these Chinese wineries are?

Above two photos taken about a year ago, the above photos show Dynasty Winery's new building under construction right next to their current Tianjin facility.
Above two photos are Chateau Junding, Shandong Province, China

Above photo is Huadong Parry Winery near Qingdao, Shandong Province, China. The General Manager said that this winery is large by French standards, but it's not big enough for China, so they are building a much larger Chateau near Penglai.

Here at Chateau Changyu AFIP Global winery, about one hour out of Beijing, I almost expect Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck to come out to greet the tourists in this Disneyland-like setting.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Is darker better in this photo?

While selecting photographs for my upcoming Vineyard Light book, I came across this shot of a work bench at the Yalumba winery's barrel making shop in southern Australia. The tools, old photograph and warm rich colors make it look as if it could have been taken 100 years ago. But I found my eyes grabbed by the almost white seat cover and the pile of stuff near the neon green safety jacket. Light areas attract a viewer's eyes. Since these areas are simply distracting, I darkened them.

What do you think of the photograph below? Is darker better for those light distracting areas?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Can a teenager help create great wine in Napa?

When I told Jean Hoefliger, winemaker at Napa Valley's Alpha Omega winery, that my attempt at blending wines produced olfactory manure piles, he sympathetically invited me to a personal blending lesson. "It's not rocket science," he reassured.
So on the appointed day, there we were with 4 bottles of 2009 Napa wine and 6 empty glasses each neatly arranged in front of us. Jean introduced the wines in terms even I understood: Merlot the sensual female, Cabernet Franc the energetic teenager, Cabernet Sauvignon usually the big masculine macho guy, and Petite Verdot the mysterious extra mask. When tasted, each of the components provided some interest, but none really shined.

That's exactly why Jean blends.
(Pretend you're a Frenchman when pronouncing his name.)

But what percentages to blend? OK. My guess: 20% of the female (I like women), 25% of the teenager, 50% macho Cabernet Sauvignon–which wasn't really super manly in 2009 and 5% Petite Verdot.

We tasted my blend. Wow. My nose got a pleasant workout trying to identify all the aromas, much more complex and interesting than any of the individual components. But my poor palate felt like it was going over a Himalaya-sized washboard, not exactly a scenic drive through Napa Valley. And the tannins grabbed my tongue like a Sumo wrestler coated with sharp needles and he wouldn't let go on the finish.

Jean explained that the aromas would change over time, but not the complexity. So we want to maintain those. Let's cut back on the teenager and increase Mr. Cab Sauvignon. But won't Mr. Sauvignon's famous stinging tannins just increase that Sumo-sized tannic grip? No. Jean explained that adding tannin to tannin softens them. I confessed skepticism. But I did know that after being stung with nettle, stinging oneself again in the exact same spot actually pulls out the itch-causing toxins. Could the same be true for tannins?

But I took the professional winemaker at his word about
tannin in tannin. So my reconfigured formula was 15% female, 15% CF teenager, 65% Mr. CS big guy and 5% mysterious PV mask. Jean was right. The Sumo tannic needles had lost their stinging grip. And my little taste buds were no longer bumping over a 28,000 foot washboard.

I had to admit, it was a better effort. But the finish was still too short for a great wine.

I suggested some 5% changes, then felt like an ax man. The pro agreed to changes, but used a much gentler touch. He cuts the feminine Ms M by 3% to 11%, increases the teenager by 2% to 17%, keeps Mr. Macho at 65% and increases mysterious PV by 2% to a total of 7%.

We taste.

Wow. How did he do that with those tiny 2 and 3% changes? The rainbow of aromas were still there, the palate had an interesting journey and the finish was extended without stumbling off a tannic cliff.

My come-aways from Jean's patient teaching:
1) Clearly identify each individual in the line up at the beginning. Characteristics change from year to year.
2) To mellow tannins, add tannin. (Can two wrongs make a right?)
3) Experience counts. Jean knew that the aromas would change characteristics but not necessarily in number.
4) I can trust my own nose and palate.

Thank you, Jean for the lesson. But you don't have to worry about competition from me.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A week at the CIA studying the effects of alcohol

No, it wasn’t a CIA study to prevent alcoholics from becoming terrorists. I got a scholarship to an intensive week-long Master Wine Class at the Culinary Institute of America–the world-famous Napa Valley culinary school affectionately known as the CIA.

But this wine tasting is not the lean-against-the-wooden-bar-while-cracking-jokes most people experience. Rather picture clinical analysis. Each of us 17 participants sit at a station complete with light table–to analyze wine clarity, a sink–you spit not drink, and a tiled counter top with small squares to organize the 10 or more sparkling clean glasses each holding 2 ounces of the various wines for tasting.

Right at 9:00 on the first day we were introduced to STP, which stands for Systematic Tasting Process–a rigorous list of about 20 different criterea we analyze for flights of wines each day.

We did learn some important background information, like: the best time to taste wine is when the body is just beginning to get hungry–that’s why many tastings begin at 10:30 in the morning; increased levels of alcohol first affect abstract thought–I wondered if Einstein drank wine, then speech, fine motor, gross motor and finally passing out; and a prison study that basically determined a little wine helped inmates out perform a control group and a group given whiskey.

Then on to rigorous tasting of wines poured from bottles with bags, so that students could not tell varietals or winery. We noted specific color, nosed for fruit, non-fruit and type of wood (mostly American or French oak) used, if any, and finally tasted for those components. I filled a page for each wine in my tasting notebook.

Then, before the brown bag was taken off to reveal the wine, we discussed whether the wine came from a cool or warm climate, from the New World (America, Australia, New Zealand) or Old World (Europe as in mostly France) as well as the age and grapes used.

After only the second day and at least 25 wines later, I’m learning aromas I never knew existed. Have you ever experienced lanolool?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Biodynamic. Is Truth stranger than we can think?

Here's another highlight from the Vineyard Light book I'm creating.
Before we plow ahead, first, a simple definition for those who are not familiar with Bio
dynamic farming, which is gaining popularity among vineyard owners. It sprouted in the 1920s, when Rudolf Steiner, yes, the very same founder of the Waldorf School, developed a rigorous farming system that’s organic agriculture–which prohibits the use of synthetic pesticides and herbicides–combined with an overlay of Steiner’s holistic philosophy and the use of nine preparations in miniscule doses applied according to planetary cycles.
So what's this planetary cycles stuff? And what the heck would the guy who developed a learning system know about farming? Some vineyard managers think it's pure voodoo, but more and more are adopting the techniques around the world.
That's Doe Ridge Vineyard pictured below. The part on the left is biodyanmically farmed, the part on the right farmed with more traditional techniques. (I organized a taste off between wines from the two parts. The results: surprising.)

The truth isn’t just stranger than we think, its stranger than we can think.
Niels Bohr
19th & 20 century Nobel Prize winning Danish physicist

I had an interesting experience with Matthew Baker, my BD consultant. Most of the biodynamic preparations are buried in the ground for a period of time to compost. When I told Matthew that I had buried some nettle in a clay pot out in the oak savannah, but had forgotten exactly where,he said, “lets go down and see if we can find it anyway.” Within a minute of walking through the field, Matthew said, “Kevin, it’s right there.” It was fascinating, the vetch and the grasses were all a foot higher in this circular area where I had buried the clay pot. Nettle is a stimulus. While it is also considered to be antifungal, its really used to stimulate plant growth, to move the plant from one physiological phase to the next. So if you want to encourage the vines to bloom earlier, you would spray some nettle on them. Kevin Chambers, owner/grower Resonance Vineyard and chief executive of Oregon Vineyard Supply, McMinnville, Oregon

So what do you think?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

And I saw these vines dancing naked at night.

While photographing at night in the Bien Nacido vineyards in Santa Barbara County, California, I captured these vines dancing naked under the starry night. And I was told vines were conservative.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Can doubt and boldness coexist?

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
German writer and polymath

How is it that I can start a marathon-like Vineyard Light book project so boldly, then, somewhere around mile 17, get overwhelmed with doubt? Will this project resonate with others? Who cares what a bunch of vineyard workers, winemakers and owners say about life, our planet, our character and spirit?
Forget it. For me, it's so much easier just to start another project.

What suggestions do you have?
How do you keep running with large projects?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Need your feedback on book idea?

For almost two years I've been interviewing and gathering material for a book I call Vineyard Light. (Originally called Lessons from the Vineyard.) To this point I've asked nearly 100 winemakers, vineyard workers and winery owners around the world what lessons they have learned while working with the vineyard. It's like taking a core sample or biopsy of our human character, spirit and life on earth as seen from the vineyard.
Why vineyards? The simple answer is that Vineyards have more than a 5000 year relationship with humans. The more complex answer asks why Jesus and Muhammad both used the vineyard in their parables. And, after a cataclysmic flood, why would Noah
plant a vineyard as soon as he stepped off the boat?

My book vision is to combine quotes with photographs on the layouts. Below is one possibility:

About one-half of the world’s population lives on less than $2 per day. World Summit on Sustainable Development

"Our people are very, very poor. Not enough food; we struggle for survival. In those kind of times, you really cannot think about how to do something beautiful, you only think about how to survive. So for a long time most Chinese people struggled to survive. In 1980, I was very poor. When you are young and you are very, very poor, you are very afraid. But you have chances. And then as you get the money you feel safe. I worked very hard to make money. This is very popular here in China.

"Then when you are successful making some money, you really can consider other things. We make a lot of money here in Shanxi Province; we take a lot of profit from this place, but we left lots of pollution.

"Now, I really feel guilty. First, I am a very educated person. Second, I travel everywhere and I can compare here to other countries. I like to think that you feel guilty, if it is like this, so dirty, even if everyone makes a lot of money.

"I know that dirty pollution is not natural. Human beings create the pollution. Even if we start doing something now, we need a long time, a lot of effort and a lot of money to re-clean the environment. It is not easy to become clean. Today if I am rich, I can build a very beautiful village here, but if the window can not be opened, and we cannot be outside, we can’t enjoy it.

"Still many rich people continue to pollute. I believe most of them do not get it.
Mr. Chan Chun Keung, Industrialist, owner Grace Vineyard Winery, Shanxi Province, China

I would appreciate any feedback.