Monday, January 21, 2008

Purity vs. Accessibility

I was at the Winery last week putting the final touches on the blend for a Grenache release for our club members later in the year (the wine will be called Symmetry, the label for which is at right and was created by Emma Alexander). I had gone into it thinking that I would probably add a bit of Syrah to the blend to round the wine out some, give it a touch more softness and a bit more fruit.

As I tasted through the 10 barrels of Grenache and picked the 7 or 8 I liked the best (I carry a little tape recorder with me and voice my notes on each barrel then transfer the info to an Excel spreadsheet...each barrel gets an A-F grade as well), the issue of varietal purity vs. a wine's accessibility made for lively conversation between me, Claude Bobba, and Brad Buehler (two winemakers at Wente Vineyards).

The 8-barrel composite blend of 100% Grenache (this is the first one we have produced) made a wonderful wine...delicious upfront notes of vanilla-tinged berry and citrus, a long, well-balanced finish. What made the wine unusual, apart from its unique fruit palette, were the quite obvious and sturdy tannins that came on like gangbusters on entry and persisted throughout the wine.

The addition of 12.5% Syrah softened the early tannins and rounded the mid-palate as I thought it would. This wine was also wonderful.

So here we are...two very different wines, both delicious; one more singular than the other, and requiring more open-mindedness perhaps...the other, still varietal, more likeable, but less interesting, maybe.

We have made our decision regarding the final blend, but I don't know if it's the right one.

What's more important to you...exposure to NEW wines that are interesting and delicious but may be a little too different or a wine that prizes comfort over differentness?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Does it Suck Getting Old?

The Wine Spectator's James Laube posted a conversation (subscription needed) with Bill Harlan of Harlan Estate on his blog recently that had to do with the ageability of his wine.

Many of the commentors on the blog seemed offended that a wine as expensive as Harlan, with the kinds of ratings it has received, was not necessarily made to age.

Notwithstanding my personal feelings about the quality of the Harlan wines, the comments made me revisit the question of a wine's ageability. Below is the comment I made:

The question of ageability fascinates me. When did a wine's ability to age become so closely related to its inherent quality?

It would first seem that enough wine drinkers had to accept that the qualities of older Cabernet-based wines were "better" than those of the "younger" wines for that criterion to attain its level of importance.

Then it would seem that this group of wine drinkers would have to agree that the same criterion for quality that is appropriate for Bordeaux should be used for California Cab, which, to me, is more unlike Bordeaux than it is like it.

Bordeaux, I understand. The wines were lower in alcohol/higher in acid, more tannic, less defined by fruit than California when young so their charms needed time to be revealed...I get that.

But using a Bordeaux paradigm to qualitatively describe California doesn't seem particularly useful to me. Nor does being beholden to this arbitrary criterion for quality. There is nothing objectively fine about aged wine; this is a "truth," which like most things wine-related, is a function of fashion.

Then again, maybe I am just hopelessly obtuse and am trying to re-capture my own fleeing youth in each glass of fruit-bombish Cali Cab.

Am I hopelessly obtuse? Or on the right track? Let me know what you think.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Getting to Know You...

My greatest fantasy, still, is riding the 1 line in New York and seeing someone reading my novel and being able to ask if she liked it.

At this rate the book will be done in about 25 years and I'll be too old to get down the subway stairs, but I do have the honor of learning pretty immediately whether we are doing a good wine job or not.

This past Saturday we released Fiore della Vita, an estate-grown Barbera to members of our Collector's Circle wine club at a party to commemorate the wine's debut. 177 club members joined us and I got a lot of valuable feedback.

Our Club members are truly the foundation of our business. For a small winery like ours, there is too little love in the wholesale end of the business...and I mean that literally. One of the most valuable things we can know is if we are creating the right kind of experience for those most enthusiastic about our wines. In the "broad market" the only real indication of "success" is getting another order from your distributor, but even then, you don't have any real sense of how the wine drinker feels about the wine...what pleasure, if any, it gave him.

Every day our club members and guests to the winery teach us more. Every day we get the opportunity to take the bad with the good, face-to-face...and do better the next time. And in a business setting, where real connections are hard to make, this is best kind of interaction we can have.

So, keep it up, make us better...let us know how we can provide an extraordinary experience for you.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Death of the Twinkly Grapes

Twinkly Grapes

Aug. 2005 - Jan. 2007

January 4, 2008 marked the end of the twinkly grapes out on the Steven Kent Patio. Done in by wind gusts that neared 50 mph, our hardy twinkly grape lights twinkle no more. Twinkly grape lights...we hardly know ye...

The first major storm of the year dumped 2.6 inches of rain from January 3 -5 on our estate vineyard, uprooted trees, and destroyed the tent that covers our patio. Livermore averages about 11 in
ches of rain a year (our weather station recorded a total of 5.36 inches in our vineyard), getting half of last year's rain in one three-day period is pretty awesome (in the inspiring awe sense).

In a larger sense, the change agents are everywhere. In this case it was Mother Nature who caring not a whit about our goings-on, had an action plan of her own. It might be the economy, changing wine tastes, a bad review...a good review; whatever the cause, for small businesses like ours, limberness in the face of mutability is no vice.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Honest Right Back Atcha!

Probably, this should have been part of our first post...but if we do this blog-thing right, we will be able to give you more clarity about the wine-wise progress of our Valley, some of the behind-the-cellar-door stuff, some of what makes this such a great biz; and you'll tell us when it's good, and -more importantly- when it's not. And if we do it even better...this thing will morph into something completely different and even more interesting.

So, let us know what you think; what you like and don't like about our wines, wine in general, your experience at Steven Kent...whatever's on your mind. We'll be honest right back atcha!

What It has to do with Wine

In December, among other things, we sold the following items from our Tasting Room...
  • Bling Tee - Long Sleeve (1)
  • Bling Hat (1)
  • Hot choc-Creamy (1)
  • New Tree Big Bar (1)
I don't have any idea what a "New Tree Big Bar" does or what flavors it comes in or what need it fills...and that's the point. It is really hard to predict what part of what we do is going to resonate. Everyone's taste is different...everyone will get something a little different from his or her experience here at the Winery. Though we may have intended a right turn and got a left instead, hopefully you get out of it something a little bit better or a little more meaningful than the right turn down the road.

By the way, this is a "New Tree Big Bar" ------------->