Thursday, November 26, 2009

Heading Home for the Holiday

I always thought this was an interesting expression, since most people seem to travel for holidays, heading home afterward. The meaning of "home" is not a person's physical place of residence in this instance, but instead a person's city of origin. Despite my relative absence since I moved away five years ago, San Diego will always be home. It's nice to be back.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Tangent 2007 Edna Valley Sauvignon Blanc

Jack and Catherine Niven moved to Edna Valley in the 1970's, pioneering grape plantings in a then unknown region with the founding of Paragon Vineyards. Partnering with the Chalone Wine Group, they founded Edna Valley Vineyards winery in 1980. While Jack focused on Paragon Vinyards, Catherine turned her attention to her front yard. She tended her own 3.5-acre Pinot Noir vineyard here, which was planted in more traditional French style ("California Sprawl" was the popular trellis system in California in early years). Eventually, she used this fruit to produce a few hundred cases for her new label, Baileyana.

Once Baileyana was passed on to the next generation of Nivens, the brand began to grow quickly. Chardonnay and Syrah were added to their offerings. They built their new winery in 1998, relying on help from knowledgeable French winemaker Christian Roguenant, who had settled on California's Central Coast after years of winemaking around the world.Today, third-generation family members continue to work with Christian to keep the Niven Family Wine Estates moving forward. In the past few years, they have introduced three new labels: Tangent, Trenza, and Cadre. Tangent Winery is dedicated to producing alternative white varietals, leaving the Chardonnay to their Baileyana label and instead producing wines from grapes such as Albarino and Pinot Blanc.

Winery - Tangent Winery
Location - Edna Valley, California
Wine -Tangent 2007 Edna Valley Sauvignon Blanc
Varietals -Sauvignon Blanc
Appellation -Edna Valley
Alcohol - 13.5% by volume
Price -$13 USD

Color
- Clear, pale yellow.
Nose/Aroma - Grapefruit and grass.
Palate/Flavors - Nice crisp acid combined with a minerailty that carries through to the finish. Tropical and citrus fruit, maybe mango and lime, with a soft grass character.
Style -Definitely a cool climate Sauvignon Blanc, but not on the same level as those coming from New Zealand.
Food Pairing - Great food wine, easy to pair. Grilled calamari steak with lemon-garlic sauce over pasta.
Comments - Good balance of vegetal and fruit characteristics. I don't like over-ripened Sauvignon Blancs, which seem to be a dime a dozen in California these days, or under-ripened ones, which are usually associated with New Zealand (particularly Marlborough). Great wine, good value.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Tolosa 2006 Edna Ranch Pinot Noir

Bob Schiebelhut and Jim Efird have been involved in the Edna Valley wine industry for nearly two decades and are responsible for a large portion of vineyard acreage in the valley (over 700 acres). It wasn't until 1998 that they opened their state-of-the-art custom-crush facility and began producing their own wine. Reserving the best fruit for their own brand, Tolosa has quickly gained acclaim under renowned winemaker Larry Brooks. Focus has and will remain on the two primary varietals of Edna Valley (Tolosa offers three different Chardonnays and six different Pinot Noirs), though they also offer several other varietals (Grenache, Grenache Blanc, Petite Sirah, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Viognier).

Winery - Tolosa Winery
Location- Edna Valley, California
Wine - Tolosa 2006 Edna Ranch Estate Pinot Noir
Varietals - Pinot Noir
Appellation - Edna Valley
Alcohol - 14.1% by volume
Price - $28 USD

Color
- Brickish-red.
Nose/Aroma - Black cherries and toasted oak.
Palate/Flavors- Ripe black cherries and strawberries coupled with charred oak and molasses. Definite sweetness to this wine not due to residual sugar, more of a fruit sweetness. The tannins were smooth and helped keep the light body from becoming thin. Medium finish of oak and molasses has very little astringency.
Style - Not as big and broad as what I usually refer to as "California Pinot Noir", but not very French.
Food Pairing - Crab cakes with a ricotta cheese sauce.
Comments- I enjoyed this wine. Well balanced, not over-extracted. Probably best to drink sooner than later since I think it will show best over the next two years maybe.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Laetitia 2006 Brut de Blancs

Laetitia was created in 1997 by Jean-Claude Tardivat after he purchased and renamed Maison Deutz. In the early 1980's, the renowned French champagne house, Champagne Deutz, began searching for premiere sparkling wine growing regions outside of France, which led them them to plant nearly 200 acres in the Arroyo Grande Valley and to found Maison Deutz.

Under new management, the winery's focus shifted from sparkling to still wine production. Solely owned by Selim Zikha since 2002, the winery has continued to strive for excellence. Its portfolio now includes the original varietals of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc, along with Riesling and Syrah. They also produce several sparkling wines, including their Brut de Blancs.

Winery -Laetitia Vineyard & Winery
Location-Arroyo Grande, California
Wine -Laetitia 2006 Brut de Blancs
Varietals - Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc
Appellation -Arroyo Grande Valley
Alcohol - 12.5% by volume
Price -$28 USD

Color
- Straw-gold.
Nose/Aroma -Peach, bread, with a floral background.
Palate/Flavors - Very light on the palate, airy. Nice acid upfront combines with stonefruit flavors of apricot and peach before giving way to a creamy mid-palate that disappears into a light, lingering finish of sour apple.
Style - Brut de Blancs; along with their other sparklings, a tribute to the winery's original founder,Champagne Deutz.
Food Pairing - This would go well with a nice cream cheese and lox bagel, or a spinach salad with balsamic vinegarette and romano cheese. 
Comments- Light and refreshing, flavor profile was mature and complex. The carbonation level was nice and added to the wine's appearance; effervescent and flowering.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Wine Region - Arroyo Grande Valley

Appellation - Arroyo Grande Valley
Sub-appellation(s) - None
Location
- United States (San Luis Obispo County, California); 35th parallel.
Size - 17,350 hectares (42,880 acres).
Rainfall - 22 in/yr (560 cm/yr)
Growing Degree Days - 2,450
Varietals-Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Semillon, Viognier, Zinfandel.
Claim to Fame - Diverse terrain and climate lead to distinct regional differences from west to east; home to Champagne Deutz's California sparkling wine venture, Maison Deutz.


The 16-mile long Arroyo Grande Valley moves east from the Pacific Ocean before turning northeast towards Edna Valley. Though grapes were first introduced into the area in the late 19th century, commercial wine production has only been present since the 1960's after Jack Foote planted experimental vineyards here. The area wasn't named an American Viticultural Area until 1990. Arroy Grande Valley is similar to the Edna Valley, benefiting from a long growing season and cool air brought inland from the coast. The soil complex is also similar to Edna Valley's; shale, limestone, and chert marine sediment combines with volcanic soil. Despite nearly double the total size of Edna Valley, Arroyo Grande Valley contains far less vineyard acreage and far fewer wineries.
The western region of Arroyo Grande Valley was originally considered too cold for wine grapes. This was quickly proven incorrect by Champagne Deutz, the historic French champagne house, when they opened Maison Deutz here in the early 1980's. The western portion of the valley is now placed in the region I growing category, and provides the perfect environment for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (Syrah is also popular here, and Laetitia still continues the traditional of sparkling wine). These wines are quite similar to those from Edna Valley, particularly the Chardonnay which often has similar flavor profiles. Pinot Noirs from Edna Valley tend to have more dominant phenolic character than those of the Arroyo Grande Valley, which seem to lean slightly closer to a true Burgundian style. Laetitia and Talley have produced some stunning examples of Central Coast Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
The valley's eastern section falls into the region III growing category. The predominant varietals here are Zinfandel, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Wineries such as Saucelito Canyon Vineyards and Rancho Arroyo Grande Winery focus more on these varietals. These wines tend to show a cooler climate approach to these popular varietals, more fruit forward and elegant than their robust counterparts in Paso Robles.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Shots from the Hills

Just got an e-mail from Nick with some cool pictures from our adventures in Ventura two weekends ago. I'm not sure, but it sounds like there's some more photos to come. Thanks for the shots, Nico.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Honey Red Ale #1 Recipe

8.75 lb     pale malt syrup 
0.75 lb     organically grown, alphalfa honey
16 oz       caramel 40 steeping grains
1 oz         barley flakes steeping grains
86 g        Centennial Hops (alpha 7.6%)
11.5 g     Safale US-05 dry ale yeast
5 g          corn sugar (for bottling)

Steeping - All steeping grains added directly to two gallons of water for 40 minutes at 170 degrees Fahrenheit. Strained out prior to boiling.  
Additions/Hops - All malt syrup and honey stirred in slowly prior to boiling. 60 grams of Centennial hops added as bittering hops for 60 minutes boil, while remaining 26 grams added as aroma hops for last 5 minutes of boil.  
Primary Fermentation - After adding just over 3 gallons of water and cooling the wort to about 60 degrees Fahrenheit, inoculation was completed. Fermentation started quickly. Care given to reduce temperature and slow down (maintain more honey?) 
Secondary Fermentation - Racked off its solids into a 5-gallon carboy slightly prior to fermentation completion. Still sweet and strong honey flavor.
Bottling - A week later, the beer was once again racked before a priming solution composed of 5 ounces of corn sugar and 2 cups of water was added to induce fermentation in the bottle. Still some honey characteristics.
Comments - After a successful Honey Brown Ale, I still had some honey remaining. I thought a beer with a bit more bitterness might help accentuate the sweet honey flavor. I thought this beer retained, or at least displayed, more honey characteristics as a finished beer. Could have been benefited by slower fermentation rate and earlier racking off primary ferment (more retained volatile compounds?)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Honey Brown Ale #1 Recipe

8.5 lb     pale malt syrup
1 lb        organically grown, alphalfa honey 
8 oz       brown malt steeping grains
4 oz        caramel 80L steeping grains
17 g        Zues hops (alpha 13.5%)
14 g        Wilamette hops (alpha 4.5%)
11.5 g     Safale S-04 dry ale yeast
144 g      corn sugar (for bottling)
Steeping - All steeping grains added directly to two gallons of water for 40 minutes at 170 degrees Fahrenheit. Strained out prior to boiling.  
Additions/Hops - All pale malt syrup and honey stirred in slowly once water reached boiling. 17 grams of Zues hops added as bittering hops for 60 minutes boil, while 14 grams of Wilamette hops added as aroma hops for last 5 minutes of boil.  
Primary Fermentation - After adding just over 3 gallons of water and cooling the wort to approximately 60 degrees Fahrenheit, it was transferred into a 7-gallon carboy and inoculated. Fermentation started quickly but slowed substantially and stopped releasing carbon dioxide. 
Secondary Fermentation - The beer was racked off it's solids into a 5-gallon carboy. At the time, it was still somewhat sweet but had retained some honey aroma and flavor.
Bottling - A week later, it was racked once again before a priming solution composed of 5 ounces of corn sugar and 2 cups of water was added to induce fermentation in the bottle.
Comments - This was my first attempt at using honey as a beer additive. My understanding was that most honey aromas and flavors volatilized during fermentation and were removed from the beer. This was not the case, although the finished beer did taste far less honeyed than after the first and second racking.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

One Hundred

Well, this is my hundredth post. When I started this website ten months ago, it's primary function was to communicate with family and friends while I traveled. In the process, it became a great way for me to share my experiences with others. A window into my world, which seems stranger to me than ever before.

 Despite the clarity of my recollection, my travels seem far behind me. Before my return to San Luis Obispo, I was optimistic about moving back into familiar surrounding. It was comforting to think I had my old home and old life waiting for me. Soon after my arrival back in California, I discovered how different reality was from the fiction of my memory. My small town was no longer mine. Everything seemed different; the places, the faces, the atmosphere. Everything but me.

Several months after my return, I've come to the conclusion that my first impression upon return was incorrect. San Luis Obispo hasn't changed, I have. I am no longer content with the same old routine that I fell into over the years in San Luis Obispo. Now that I have finished yet another Edna Valley vintage, I find myself anxious to leave San Luis Obispo, begin traveling, and return to my life. My new life.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

South County Black & White

Pismo Beach is a small community with approximately 10,000 residents located just twelve miles south of San Luis Obispo. Relying heavily on tourism from the inland valley, particularly Bakersfield, downtown Pismo Beach consists of a range of restaurants, shops, and hotels along with a bowling alley. The beaches lining Pismo can provide some quality surf during any swell with a westerly direction, though it is far more sheltered from northwestern swells than other county beaches. Most surfing is focused near the pier, though miles of empty beach spans south to Oceano.

The small community of Shell Beach lines the cliffs just north of Pismo and south of Avila Beach (Shell Beach is actually considered within the city of Pismo Beach). Shell Beach is home to some of the nicest hotels and homes in San Luis Obispo County. There are a few surf breaks here that can provide quality surf during the right conditions. Palisades at the north end of Shell Beach is rather popular with beginners and beach goers looking to enjoy a beer on a hot day.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Black Hill

Black Hill is the second to last of the Nine Sisters, overlooking Morro Bay and its younger sister, Morro Rock. At 665 feet (203 meters), Black Hill is also the second smallest of the peaks. The entirety of Morro Bay can be seen, including the estuary and harbor. Looking inland, Cabrillo Peak and Hollister Peak can be seen overshadowing Highway 1 as it winds towards San Luis Obispo. Accessing Black Hill is quite easy with a road leading nearly to the top from the west side of Morro Bay State Park. There are also a variety of trails that snake down the hill away from the coastline.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Langmeil 2004 Three Gardens

Langmeil Winery has a long history in the Barossa Valley, with the property's first vines planted in the mid-19th century. After a tumultuous history that spanned several owners, the land and winery transferred hands into its current holders in 1996. Richard Lindner, Carl Lindner, and Chris Bitter refurbished the entire property, including the old winery building and some of the original remaining vineyards. Now, Langmeil processes nearly 1,000 tonnes (11,02 tons) for over a dozen different labels.

The 2004 Three Gardens comes from the Tanunda, Lyndoch, and Seppeltfield vineyards (called gardens). The vines range from 15 to 130 years of age and showcase the best of the Barossa Valley. The Barossa Valley is one of Australia's most acclaimed and oldest wine growing regions, located in South Australia, just north of Adelaide. The hot climate can leads to overly ripe grapes and overly phenolic wines when not tamed by winemaking practices.

Winery -Langmeil Winery
Location- Tanunda SA, Australia
Wine -Langmeil 2004 Barossa Shiraz Grenache Mourvedre 'Three Gardens'
Varietals - 48% Shiraz, 42% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre
Appellation -Barossa Valley
Alcohol - 14.% by volume
Price -$20 USD

Color
- Dark, opaque purple.
Nose/Aroma -Plum with a hint of charred toasted oak.
Palate/Flavors - Very fruit forward. Raspberries and plums that blend into semi-sweet vanilla, all-spice, licorice, and oak. The mouthfeel is a bit thinner than expected and the mid-palate is rather hollow, probably due to age. Nonetheless, the finish is quite persistent, leaving sweet raspberries and vanilla coating the mouth.
Style -Rhone comes to Australia. Very good example of what one can do in the Barossa Valley.
Food Pairing - I don't think this wine is at an age where it can stand up well to a truly robust red meat dish. I enjoyed it with a spicy tomato chicken soup, but I think it would work well with a range of foods since it's a bit past it's prime. 
Comments- This is a delicious wine. I wish I would have opened it a year ago because its a bit flabby and seems to have lost a bit of its punch. Still, it has relatively fresh fruit for a wine of its age. I think the phenolic deterioration is the main downfall of this wine, but still quite enjoyable.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Visit to The Hills - Part II

Hopefully, the large swell that arrived this past weekend organized the sand around San Luis Obispo a bit better. The beach breaks have been quite walled, forcing surfers to either try their luck in closeout surf or crowd the few reefs scattered throughout the county. The peak of the swell arrived Saturday, which I spent the entirety of surfing an overhead, left reef break. It was dark when I finally got out of the water, tip-toed across the dry reef, and traversed up the cliff. Saturday's crowd was not unruly, though I expected Sunday to be much worse (news about surf in towns like San Luis Obispo travels fast). I loaded up the car and headed south for a short trip to Santa Barbara.

Nick and I left his cabin just after six in the morning, loaded up with more boards than two people need for a day trip. The swell wasn't filling in as expected, but there were still plenty of fun waves to be had. We made the forty-five minute drive down to Ventura to meet some other friends (probably could add another thirty for the time we spent lost in Oxnard). After a frustrating journey, we found some fun overhead surf and got a couple hours of surfing before the tide got too high. Nick took a few photos, which we'll hopefully get a look at soon.

After a nice lunch, a relaxing soak in the cabin's jacuzzi, and a bit of exploring, we loaded back up for another surf. We headed north of Santa Barbara to a right point break, where we were greeted by chest high waves with a manageable crowd of surfers. Nearly Four hours and three "should we go, or catch a couple more?" moments later, we finally found ourselves walking up the path in the dark exhausted but satisfied.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Angel over The Hills

I made a trip down to Santa Barbara this past weekend for a visit to Nick in the hills and a bit of surfing. Before I left yesterday, I took a short hike to one of my favorite spots on the property. Is there always an angel looking down over the hills?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Big Waves

California is finally starting to get a little winter juice. As I checked the buoys late last night, it was easy to see the pattern. Every hour represented another several feet of wave height. The Cape San Martin buoy, just northwest of Morro Bay, is showing swell of 22 feet at 16 seconds this morning. While not particularly unusual for San Luis Obispo County this time of year, this is the biggest surf I've seen since my return in August. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like the sand bars are going to hold this one. Reef breaks are the only option. Fortunately, the swell should be peaking today (Saturday) and then slowly fading through tomorrow, then holding in the overhead range through the week.

Now that I have officially completed vintage, I'm a free man once again. Along with decompressing from a few long months, I'm working on a couple projects including setting up another vintage in the Southern Hemisphere and doing some traveling around California.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Harvest Update - All Over

It sure came and went this year. Edna Valley has one of the longest growing seasons in California and usually has one of the later harvest completion dates. We received our last load of grapes on the 30th of October, a couple weeks before last year. Still, we didn't finish as early as expected; the rain event several weeks ago put the brakes on an extremely short harvest.

The winery is still busy but the work load has diminished quickly, primarily focusing on cleaning and packing away the winery for the off season. In just under two weeks, I'll be finished with my second vintage of 2009 and unemployed once again.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Fallen Soldiers

During a recent surf check in Morro Bay and Cayucos, I noticed a group of Turkey Vultures landing on the sand. I immediately thought there must be something dead. Turkey Vultures are scavengers found throughout the Americas due to their ability to survive in a range of environments; they rely on a diet of carrion, dead animal meat. These birds have keen senses of sight and smell, and can grow to 32 inches (81 cm) in height with a wingspan of six feet (183 cm).

Since the surf was meager at best, I wasn't in a big hurry to paddle out. From the cliff, I could see that there was not only one but two dead animals, so I slowly made my way down onto the sand and towards the birds. As I approached, the birds became nervous but couldn't leave their find, which I now recognized as California Sea Lions. The California Sea Lion is primarily found off the coastline of California, though they range as far south as Mexico and as far north as Alaska. They can reach sizes of eight feet (2.5 m) and 700 pounds (300 kg), relying primarily on a diet of fish and squid.

In past years, I've discovered several sea mammal carcasses along San Luis Obispo County beaches. They are usually missing a significant portion of meat due to a shark encounter (the baby Harbor Seal, Hang Ten, was the exception). Still, this year has seen record numbers of dead sea mammals, particularly California Sea Lions. News coverage earlier this summer showed large numbers of juvenile sea lion pups dying, credited to a lack of upwelling (the natural mixing of warm surface water with cold, nutrient-rich water from the bottom of the ocean). Without vital nutrients to encourage aquatic plants growth, fish populations were smaller and young sea lions had little food to eat.

Recent deaths are unrelated to these issues, which has gone and passed. These deaths have been attributed to last month's fairly large storm, which brought strong rain and wind to the area. The runoff and simultaneous strong upwelling led to a toxic algae bloom. A predicted El Nino season this winter could lead to further sea lion deaths. Nonetheless, the California Sea Lion population is not in danger. In fact, their population will soon reach its sustainable level after rapid increase since the El Nino year of 1997-1998.