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Wine Camp Blog - Wine Camp by Craig Camp

Last Build Date: Sun, 18 Mar 2018 22:10:46 +0000


Natural Selection

Sun, 18 Mar 2018 22:23:24 +0000

Perfectly ripe vermentino at Troon Vineyard   Vintages come and go and with each passing harvest your focus slowly edges away from tanks, barrels and technique to dirt and climate. For wines of character and individuality, it all comes down to the vineyard, all the rest is background noise. In the cellar, it is your job to get out of the way. Actually not out of the way, that’s too simplistic. An artisan winemaker’s job is to know what to do, when to do it and to do nothing more than is necessary - minimalist winemaking is the term I prefer over “natural”. In industrial winemaking, intervention is the rule not the exception, which is the correct strategy if your goal is to produce commercially reliable wines that taste the same year-after-year. There is little we know for sure in winemaking, but one thing I do know for sure is that if you don’t have the right dirt in the right place and the right vines in that dirt, you might be able to make good wines, but you’ll never make compelling memorable wines. It is very simple. If you want to make exceptional wine you have to have the right grapes in the right place farmed by the right people. The right people is easy, it’s you if you have the passion, resources and discipline to do the work in the vineyard. The variety and place are much more complicated matters. While visiting the east coast a few years ago, wondering about what it was like to grow grapes in such humid conditions, I asked a viticulturist how often he sprayed his vineyard. His response was every week - almost up to harvest. Another time I was talking to a grower from a famous west coast AVA who was farming “organically”. Asked about his spray program, he revealed that they were applying forty pounds of sulfur per acre every year. I was equally shocked in both cases because extreme measures had to be taken to grow grapes wine grapes on their sites. (Obviously calling that vineyard “organic” is a stretch of the imagination.) The vineyard on the east coast suffered from a climate unfavorable to wine grapes. The west coast vineyard was in an ideal climate, but either that individual site was less than ideal or the variety they had determined to grow in it was wrong for the site - or both.The range of soils that can grow great wines has proven to be much broader than once thought. For example, you have pinot noir grown on high pH, alkaline soils in Burgundy, while Oregon’s Willamette Valley is dominated by low pH, acidic soils. Yet in blind tasting after blind tasting skilled, experienced wine tasters are fooled and confuse the wines of Burgundy and the Willamette Valley. However, the climate is much less forgiving than the soil - assuming healthy soils. Selecting the wrong variety for the site is almost as bad. Try to grow cabernet franc on too cool of a site and you’ll end up with pyrazine tea. Grow pinot noir in too hot of a site and you end up with a very expensive version of MD 20/20. Differences, I assure you, even amateur tasters can spot. You have to have the right variety in the right climate, the right terroir to make exceptional, memorable wines vintage after vintage. I am always confused by terroir deniers. Any farmer knows terroir exists no matter if they are growing wine grapes, apples, asparagus or tomatoes. One major difference between wine grape farmers and other farmers is that winegrowers will insist on growing a crop that is not economically viable in their growing conditions. Or, worse yet, will insist on overcoming nature and selling wine produced from chemically abused vineyards using every winemaking trick in the book to produce commercially and critically acceptable wines. The surest way to know if you’ve got the right vine in the right place is that the vineyard can be farmed year-after-year using ultra low-input agriculture. If you have to blast your vineyard with chemicals every week just to stop the grapes from ro[...]

A First, Deeper Look at Dirt

Sun, 18 Mar 2018 21:53:23 +0000


An electromagnetic soil scan of Troon Vineyard 

We received our first, very preliminary, electromagnetic soil scans this week. At this point, the main use of these scans will be to determine where to dig the many, up to 80, five feet deep trenches that will we will be digging in April for analysis by Dr. Paul Anamosa of Vineyard Soil Technologies. This information will guide us as we move forward in selecting varieties for new plantings and areas for grafting. It will also provide invaluable data for rootstock selection in our new plantings.

One very fascinating point to me at this stage is that you can see denser soil patterns in long lines that coincide with vineyard rows. These certainly come from years of tractor compaction and we will be working to open up those soils as we move forward with biodynamics. 

Electromagnetic Soil Scanner

Wed, 28 Feb 2018 20:18:52 +0000


Our soil studies at Troon Vineyard started today with Nick Madden here for the day to do a complete electromagnetic soil scan of our vineyard blocks. We've retained Dr. Paul Anamosa and company to do a complete analysis of our vineyard blocks. Armed with this scan data we will be selecting locations for about eighty 5 feet deep pits to fully map our soil types. This data will help us select the proper varieties as we add new vineyard blocks and replant old ones. The scanner is on the sled behind the ATV. Here is some information on exactly what Nick is doing

”Electromagnetic induction (EMI) has been used to characterize the spatial variability of soil properties since the late 1970s. Initially used to assess soil salinity, the use of EMI in soil studies has expanded to include: mapping soil types; characterizing soil water content and flow patterns; assessing variations in soil texture, compaction, or- ganic matter content, and pH; and determining the depth to subsurface horizons, stratigraphic layers or bedrock, among other uses. In all cases the soil property being investigated must influence soil apparent electrical conduc- tivity (ECa) either directly or indirectly for EMI techniques to be effective. An increasing number and diversity of EMI sensors have been developed in response to users' needs and the availability of allied technologies, which have greatly improved the functionality of these tools. EMI investigations provide several benefits for soil studies. The large amount of georeferenced data that can be rapidly and inexpensively collected with EMI provides more complete characterization of the spatial variations in soil properties than traditional sampling techniques. In addition, compared to traditional soil survey methods, EMI can more effectively characterize diffuse soil bound- aries and identify areas of dissimilar soils within mapped soil units, giving soil scientists greater confidence when collecting spatial soil information. EMI techniques do have limitations; results are site-specific and can vary depending on the complex interactions among multiple and variable soil properties. Despite this, EMI techniques are increasingly being used to investigate the spatial variability of soil properties at field and landscape scales.”

Get Set, Go!

Sun, 14 Jan 2018 22:53:36 +0000

Biodynamic consultant Andrew Beedy and Troon winemaker Steve Hall on the spot selected for our compost program. This is the spot that will become the most important place of the vineyard. We’ve chosen the spot for the compost piles. There is a day that dreams, plans and goals become a reality. On your mark, get set, go! As we crossed the starting line this week, we were firmly aware that we were starting a marathon, not a dash. This week we took our first steps to converting Troon Vineyard to organic and biodynamic agriculture. We have our eye on 2020 to achieve our first organic and biodynamic certification, but that will not be the finish line. In agriculture, there is no finish line. We had already taken some steps forward as we had received our L.I.V.E. and Salmon Safe sustainable certifications, but we have now committed to biodynamics as our vision for the future of Troon. Our first big step was to secure the services of Andrew Beedy ([]). Andrew's speciality is designing a complete plan that looks at your property as a whole, not just as a vineyard. Andrew has spent his entire life immersed in biodynamics as he was born on a biodynamic dairy farm in Pennsylvania. He attended a Steiner elementary school that was attached to a biodynamic farm. As a teenager, he worked on an organic farm in England. After university, he moved to California, where he worked with his mentor, the famed biodynamic consultant Alan York, who also was the biodynamic consultant for our neighbor, Cowhorn Winery, here in the Applegate Valley. Today, Andrew’s clients span the entire nation coast-to-coast. After walking for hours with Andrew through our vineyards and our entire farm property, you can feel your perceptions began to change as you start to look at your farm as a whole rather than as simple blocks of vineyards. This extends beyond our property lines as you understand that the Applegate Valley itself is included in a whole farm, holistic plan for farming. With conventional agriculture you identify problems and then apply various applications. Many, many of these applications are nasty indeed. While they may solve one problem, the collateral damage they cause slowly, but surely kills your soils. Soil is the plant’s foundation, and dead soils cannot produce great wines. When you farm biodynamically you eschew these chemicals, which means you have to deal with the threats to your plants before they appear. In other words, biodynamics is all about prevention. A healthy plant can better resist diseases and pests than one living in dead soils relying on chemical fixes to deal with each and every problem. Our new compost piles will be the heart and soul of the vineyard as this is how we will be bringing our soils back to life. One way I like to explain biodynamics is that it is organic agriculture with probiotics. It is the bacteria and fungi surrounding a plants roots that allow it to take nutrition from the soil. Conventional agriculture destroys this natural system. The power of biodynamics is that it brings the microbiome of your farm back to life, which brings your soils and plants back to life. I will be chronicling the process of bringing Troon’s soils back to life here on this blog. Over the next weeks, we are evaluating our soils and the microbiome of our vineyards, and we will be carefully monitoring and documenting the changes in our soils and vines as we practice biodynamic farming over the next years. It is a story I am very excited to be sharing. It is a process that will change our farm, our vines, our wines and us. It will be a steep learning curve. Could anything be more exciting? Here is a link to the Demeter Biodynamic Farm Standard for certification.[...]

Ten #WBC

Sat, 02 Dec 2017 22:53:28 +0000

10 years of Wine Blogger Conferences A decade of anything seems significant in a world that gets its dander up about Twitter expanding from 140 to 240 characters. However, a decade needs more than even the new verbosity now found on Twitter can handle. Ironically, the decade and the event I’m thinking about was mainly documented in 140 character bursts on Twitter. Having just attended my tenth Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC), which is all of them by-the-by, I can’t help but take some time to contemplate the changes in the conference and the industry over the last ten years. As that’s a topic worth far more Twitter can contain, it would seem that blogging about it is a rather obvious idea. In ten years, WBC has gone from a wine hackers party of rebels in year one to a decidedly establishment event. I am sure it is more profitable now - it certainly looks that way - but the edginess is gone that existed in the early years, both of which are probably good things. If WBC could not show a profit it would have disappeared years ago. The edge is gone because the genre has matured and that’s the natural way of things. Wine blogging is not cutting edge anymore as well proven by wine blogs that have become the wine corner of the Internet’s equivalent of “newspapers of record”. I remember how exciting it was to discover Alder Yarrow’s Vinography in 2004. Then it seemed subversive, today it is a standard recognized as important by wine writers of all stripes. In year one, 2008, the conference was controlled more by the attendees than the organizers. Held at the delightfully kitschy Flamingo Hotel in Santa Rosa, in the heart of Sonoma wine country, at #WBC08 you were more likely to find a bigger crowd by the pool pulling corks than in the seminars. Sonoma was the perfect place to host this first year as there were a lot of rebel winemakers there too. In the evenings we took over an undecorated conference room where many dozens of bottles of wine contributed by the bloggers, not the sponsors, were shared in a free-form bacchanalia. There was no controlling this crowd and no one tried. It cannot be forgotten that the original crew that attended the first WBC was a creation of Twitter. In those days, Twitter was more like a chat room, not at all like the behemoth it has become. We had all met each other online and had become a community before we ever met each other at #WBC08. Meeting in person all of these people that had become your friends online instantly transformed the experience into a celebration - a celebration of new friendships that continue to this day. Perhaps sensing the un-conference in years to come, a group of us did not stay at the hotel, but at the beautiful vineyard home of @PinotBlogger (Josh Hermsmeyer). My other roommates were @LennThompson and @WineHiker (Russ Beebe). It was here that the first “going rogue” party happened, but we did not know it at the time. Dozens of wine bloggers descended on our house that night and it is impossible to guess how many bottles were opened and shared. It was a good thing the house was out in the country as I am sure any neighbors would not have been pleased. Needless to say, after such an experience few who attended year one missed year two. The success of the first year meant that in the years following the inmates lost control of the asylum. But this was not to last for long as soon the un-conference, so named at the first year of WBC, would return. There needed to be a place for the old guard, the hackers. Over the years, the original crew would be joined by like-minded wine bloggers as they lost their newbie status and started to understand the real value of the event. That value is the community and the event itself is simply a framework to bring us all together. The organizers of the Wine Bloggers Conference have a real dilemma[...]

Provence 1970 and How We All Changed the World

Sun, 29 Oct 2017 22:32:05 +0000

My sister Susan is an excellent cook and her garden is a thing of culinary beauty. I’m not a bad cook either, if I say so myself. This is a gift from our family. While we were both raised in the fifties and sixties, the dark ages of American cooking, we were lucky as, for us, food was something tied to family and celebration. Our mother lovingly prepared our meals and dad manned the grill in summers. We always sat down as a family for a dinner that did not include a television set. Our parents also loved to entertain, so adults gathering around food and cocktails (wine had not yet been discovered in Harvard Illinois) made good food and good times synonymous for us. Then there was our grandmother, my mother’s mother Goldie, who was simply one of the greatest cooks I have ever experienced. Her repertoire was formidable, but it was only in one genre - classic midwestern farm cooking. This was a hybrid of English and German cooking that had been transformed into the cuisine of the American prairie. Portions were substantial, as this was fuel for families spending their days doing the hard physical work that was life on a small dairy farm. Her Christmas dinner was a tour de force: roast turkey, roast beef, ham, oyster stuffing, mashed potatoes drenched in butter and seemingly countless other side dishes. A table bent under the weight of pies and cakes. Almost thirty of us would gather at one long table and eat until we could eat no more. But eat more we would as the pièce-de-résistance would be unveiled - the suet pudding. She would only make this pudding once a year at Christmas. It was sublime. It was also the single richest dish I have ever eaten in my life. Special note must be made of my grandmother’s pies. Thank goodness these were the days before cholesterol and Crisco. Goldie made her pie crusts with lard and the fillings from what grew on the farm - apple, rhubarb, cherry. If you have never tasted a pie crust made from lard, you have not tasted a real pie. The memories of these pies (rhubarb was my favorite) makes my mouth water to this day. Growing up I never wanted a birthday cake, I wanted a birthday pie. Such positive memories of food in your youth cannot help but lead you into the kitchen yourself. When I started to get seriously interested in cooking, I was lucky to have some very special teachers. There was Julia Child, James Beard, Richard Olney, M.F.K. Fisher and Marcella Hazan at my side in my kitchen as I taught myself to cook. Their cookbooks were stained and abused as I tried to follow the recipes. Indeed my first copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking was severely singed on the back cover due to a brush with a hot stovetop. To me, the wear and tear on these books was a badge of honor. I inhaled these books like a mystery fan reads Sherlock Holmes. This was learning to cook in the 1970s. Food had been born again in the United States led by these now venerable cooking and food writers. My entire life and career was influenced by these writers and they led me down the path to my love of wine and my, now over thirty-five years, career as a fine wine professional. Due to them, for me food and wine has always been the same topic and it is this philosophy that guides my winemaking goals to this day. I was filled with these memories and feelings as I read a book that has to be profoundly moving to anyone who experienced the rebirth of American cooking . Provence 1970 by Luke Barr chronicles the experiences of M.F.K. Fisher (his great aunt), Julia and Paul Child, James Beard and Richard Olney as their love of France and French cuisine transformed American cooking and eating and then, eventually transformed them as they went beyond the limits of French cooking and help create a uniquely American food and wine culture. Provence 1970 is one of those books that brings you a touch of sadne[...]

Winemakers (and Vineyards) Need to take Probiotics Daily

Mon, 23 Oct 2017 00:14:50 +0000

Your microbiome is suddenly fashionable. The bugs in our gut are chic. We can’t get enough of probiotics and fermented foods. This is a very good thing and a trend that will certainly lead to healthier people. The bugs love us and now, finally, we love them. Good thing, because we would not exist without them. However, the microbiome is not just in your gut. It’s everywhere - literally. It’s part of everything you touch, breathe, eat and drink. Yes drink. That includes wine. Bugs in wine? Not so much really because alcohol and bugs do not get along well. But before fermentation wages its war on bacteria (sometimes more successfully than others) there are grapes in a vineyard and the key to a healthy vineyard and great wines is the microbiome of the vineyard itself. Just like us, for vineyards there are good bugs and bad bugs and the key to good health is maximizing the good ones and minimizing the bad ones. Conventional farming has destroyed the microbiome built up by Mother Nature over the millennium. The resulting soils are dead requiring mainlined injections of petrochemicals to grow anything at all. Soon, like any addict, the plants require stronger and stronger doses to survive. A vicious dead-end cycle that ends up the same for the plant or the drug addict. Just like we need to take probiotics to repair the damage we’ve inflicted on our microbiome, a vineyard needs the same remedy. Unfortunately, for a vineyard it’s a bit more complicated than simply taking a pill. However, there is a proven cure - biodynamics . First let’s make one thing clear - I believe and revere science and scientists. I know that climate change is real. I know that astrology is ridiculous and that relativity is not. So how does someone who believes these things also believe in biodynamics? That’s a good question and in a very real sense many aspects of biodynamics and science are in total conflict. Yet, I think with deeper thought and research the gap between them is not a chasm, but is in fact semantics. Clearly there are aspects of biodynamics that are absurd to any educated person, but there is a major problem here because, very simply, biodynamics works. Biodynamics not only works, but works dramatically well. The list of wineries using biodynamic agriculture is a who’s who of exceptional winemaking. The results speak for themselves. Often it is argued by anti-biodynamic crusaders that it is not biodynamic practices that improve a vineyard, but the simple fact that the owner must spend more time in the vineyard. Without a doubt there is an element of truth here for as they say, “the best fertilizer for a vineyard is the owner’s boots.” Yet there are many dedicated viticulturists who spend endless hours in vineyards that produce flavorless wines from dead soils that have had the soul ripped out of them by chemicals. Time spent in the vineyard alone cannot be the answer. However, if you strip the voodoo out of Steiner’s biodynamic program (and Steiner was loaded with voodoo ideas) what you get is a discipline dedicated to putting the bugs Mother Nature intended to be there back into your vineyard. Burying horns filled with manure, hanging stuffed animal organs in trees then spreading their contents over your vineyard is very simply creating a probiotic for your vineyard. Almost all of the numbered biodynamic preparations are focused on composting. It’s in the area of composting that biodynamics meets science as there is hard data showing that compost treated by biodynamic methods is more active microbiologically than untreated compost. I believe this extremely proactive composting program is the heart and soul of what makes biodynamics effective. You are simply creating a giant probiotics therapy program for your vineyard. It is here that science and biodynamics reconcile. An[...]

Harvest 2017 Troon Vineyard, Kubli Bench, Applegate Valley Oregon 10/12/17

Sat, 14 Oct 2017 21:27:37 +0000

Tannat leaves at dawn Malbec with the Siskiyou in the background Havesting malbec Brillant malbec leaves Harvesting malbec Harvesting malbec Harvesting syrah Harvesting malbec Loading malbec into the bins [...]

Harvest 2017 Troon Vineyard, Kubli Bench, Applegate Valley Oregon 9/27/17

Thu, 28 Sep 2017 17:30:46 +0000

Waiting for dawn to start picking Harvest dawn over the Applegate Valley Vermentino pick Picking viognier Picking viognier Viognier harvest Just picked vermentino Harvesting marsanne Harvesting marsanne in the Siskiyou Mountains [...]

Harvest 2017 Troon Vineyard, Kubli Bench, Applegate Valley Oregon 9/22/17

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 19:10:00 +0000

Vineyard manager Adan Cortes picking zinfandel Adeline crushing by foot Newly crushed tempranillo "New" old barrels arrive for harvest Beautifully ripe zinfandel [...]

Harvest 2017 Kubli Bench Applegate Valley Oregon: Vermentino

Wed, 20 Sep 2017 04:34:00 +0000


We know the vermentino is getting close when it starts to turn golden Everyone around us has picked theirs, but we're holding out and going for the gold and more flavor and complexity. Should be picking in about 10 days.  

Selling Wine in Mason Jars

Sun, 13 Aug 2017 22:56:09 +0000

I’m holding a bottle of wine it's taken me almost sixty years to make. I pull the cork and pour a few ounces into a more-or-less clean Mason jar. It seems we are going back in time. Decades ago, when I was building a new fine wine distribution company, I would take winemakers that are now wine legends - Angelo Gaja, Dominique Lafon, Josh Jensen, Tony Soter, Cathy Corison, Richard Sanford and others around Chicago, where we would pour samples of their wines into small plastic cups and try to convince buyers to give these newcomers a shot. Needless to say, those buyers never got a glimpse of the true greatness of these wines and winemakers out of those little plastic cups.Fast forward from the 1980's to 2017 and selling great wine is a lot more glamorous, right? Sharing your wines with the sommelier at Castagna or Nostrana could not be more pleasurable - if you make good wine that is. Yet, all to often, we've not progressed beyond those pitiful little plastic cups.In states that allow both distributors and retailers to sell wine and spirits, the profits from spirits make their cash flow work. These profits from quick, large-margin spirit sales are the lifeblood of large liquor stores, which give them the opportunity to build broad, but slower selling wine selections. In states like Oregon, where spirits sales are ridiculously limited to state controlled “liquor stores” that means amazing wine and spirits stores like K&L, Binny’s and Zacky's cannot exist. In state controlled Oregon, grocery stores have a significant advantage over wine-only shops as they have many other products to give them the cash flow required to support the inventory in their wine department - just like full-service liquor stores in other states.This means that I spend a lot of time in Oregon selling wine to grocery store buyers. While tasting wines with buyers in the back room of a grocery store out of old Libby glasses may not have the panache of sampling your wines in Riedel on white tablecloths it's just as important to your sales. Also, most of these grocery store buyers are just as serious as any sommelier. They too are passionate to find wines that their customers will love. Also, like a sommelier, they are out on the front lines and if the customer does not like a wine they are just as likely to blame them as to blame the winery. It's not a bad system. Or, at least it used to be not a bad system. Fine wine and corporations do not mix well and management at some important Oregon chains are taking their local buyers out of the game and sending them home with Mason jars of wine in their backpacks.No longer can you taste your wines with these buyers. You go into the back room, among the storage shelves of dog food and canned goods and pour your samples into well used Mason jars or some other even less glamorous receptacle. You pour your wines into old jars or bottles as the buyers are no longer permitted to taste wines on the job. Which, as that is a big part of their job seems, well for lack of a better word, stupid.We go to a lot of work to be sure our wines are presented and sold in the proper condition. Pouring them into a Mason jar that is then tossed into a backpack, that may spend time in a hot car or that then may not be tasted for days is not fair to us or the final consumer. Grocery chains should treat both their wine buyers and the wines they buy with more respect considering the significant profit they generate for these corporations. Next time you buy a wine in a grocery store you don't enjoy, please don't blame the wine buyer. The wine they tasted from that Mason jar after it had sloshed around in their backpack while they rode home on their bike on one [...]

Courage of Our Convictions

Sun, 23 Jul 2017 19:24:31 +0000

The Applegate Valley in Southern Oregon  A winemaker in Bordeaux has a universe of five. In Burgundy a winemaker has one, maybe two varieties that demand their focus. In Beaujolais they live by gamay. In Barolo nebbiolo defines the reputation of a winemaker. In Napa, if you make great cabernet sauvignon no one will much notice what else you do. In the established wine regions of the world, a winemaker’s universe of options is preordained. In no way does this diminish their skills and accomplishments, but it does allow them to focus. To be able to focus is to be efficient and efficiency leads to consistency, which is an essential aspect of mass market success. Yet market success does not often fire the imagination or inspire innovation. They say the pioneers take all the arrows. Welcome to the world of winemaking in one of the world’s emerging fine wine regions. I’m in the Applegate Valley of Southern Oregon, but I believe that winemakers in emerging regions around the world get hit by the same arrows. Winemaking in an emerging wine region requires the courage of your convictions. Planting a new vineyard in a new region is a true leap of faith, but as they say, the greater the risk the greater the reward. But we don’t work in a vacuum. Years of knowledge and science have accumulated from the work of winemakers and viticulturists before us so we don’t have to push blindly forward. There are pioneers in every new region that took a lot of the arrows for all of us. Admittedly, many of these people that first planted vineyards in new regions were learning only by trial and error, but from their failures and successes, we can build a foundation for an exciting new wine region. One such exciting new region is on the Kubli Bench of the Applegate Valley. Applegate Valley is not new as it was established as an AVA in 2000, but there is a growing energy here and we are on the tipping point. The Applegate Valley is now on the edge of breaking out. The varieties that will fuel that breakout are coming from the shores of the Mediterranean and the rugged hills of Southwest France, not from Bordeaux, Burgundy or Napa. The Rhône will have a voice, but the future of the Kubli Bench will be in the tradition of Bandol, Languedoc-Roussillon, Cahors and Madiran. These regions are now, after centuries of winemaking, escaping the shadows of their famous French cousins because of an exciting revolution in winemaking and winegrowing in those regions. We will be joining them in this winemaking revolution. We are now making plans to either graft or replant many sections of our existing vineyards with the varieties that belong here. We’ll be planting more tannat, malbec, marsanne, roussanne and mourvèdre for sure (we already have significant acreage of syrah and vermentino), but varieties like picpoul, petit manseng, carignan, grenache (red and white) and cinsault will also find a home on the Kubli Bench. Because of everything that we’ve learned and the excellent quality of the wines we’ve already made I do not feel planting varieties like these is a leap of faith. We have the courage of our convictions. I like making wines that people drink rather than collect. Wines that are delicious, richly flavored, and affordable that bring pleasure to people lives are as rewarding to make as they are to drink. There is no bottle more exciting than the wine that is open on your table. The Applegate Valley is a perfect place to make these kinds of wines. I have to admit. Making wines like this is fun. [...]

Pursue Your Passion

Sun, 02 Jul 2017 22:32:01 +0000

This article first appeared in the Dracaena Wines blog series"Pursue Your Passion""the story of one person in the wine industry, as told by them" It all started with Watergate. How topical is that? That scandal hit just as I started college. Armed with no passion except football at that time in my life I suddenly saw a bigger world and signed on to my college newspaper. I was going to be Woodward and Bernstein. I packed on the history hours eventually spending a semester in Europe "studying" (Nixon resigned during my flight back). While I was graduated as journalist, just four years later I was part of a start up wine importer and distributor. Now instead of reading All the Presidents Men I was immersed in Lichine, Penning-Rowsell and Bespaloff. What happened? On that trip to Europe I was introduced to wine and food. Having grown up in a land were food and drink were eptiomized by Pabst, Manhattans and friday night fish fries the experience was a revelation. A chain reaction was started. This growing transition from news to wine was fueled by my friend Don Clemens, who had landed job with Almaden Imports, who in those days (the late 70s) had a cutting edge portfolio. My mouth still waters today as I remember drinking Chapoutier Tavel with ribs at Don's apartment. There was no going back.In 1978, with zero experience, I talked my way out of journalism and into wine with a new job as the midwest rep of Peartree Imports, whose main brand was the Burgundian négociant Patriarche, but the portfolio was rounded out with a range of spirits guaranteed not to sell in 1978. I hit the books for my first sales calls - work-withs - with the sales team of Union Liquor Company in Chicago. I memorized each vineyard and the precise details of each spirit. On my first day I jumped into the salesman's car and we headed into Chicago's war zone. The main brand of these salesmen was Richard's Wild Irish Rose in pints. We'd get let in the back door of a fortified "liquor store" that consisted of several revolving bulletproof windows where customers would place their cash and, after spinning the window around, would get their pint of Richards. The salesman (there were no women in those days) would get his order for 100 cases of Richards, get paid in cash for the last order, then I had a few minutes to pitch my brands to the owner. I was not very successful. Then the owner would take his shotgun and walk us back to the car so no one would steal the wad of cash we'd just received. Even with this dose of intense realism I was not deterred. The dismal state of the wine industry in those days ended up being an amazing opportunity. In 1979 I joined Sam Leavitt as a partner in the newly formed Direct Import Wine Company and over the next twenty years we built the first mid-west wine company focused on imported and then domestic estate wine. First came Becky Wasserman in Burgundy, Christopher Cannan in Bordeaux (and then Spain), Neil and Maria Empson in Italy then new upstarts from California like Calera, Spottswoode, Shafer, Corison, Iron Horse Soter and Sanford. Not far behind were Northwest wineries like Leonetti, Domaine Serene and Panther Creek. The first big break we got was selling the 1982 Bordeaux futures to the famed (but long gone) Sam's Wines. I literally got paid for these future deals with bags of cash often holding $20,000 or more. Chicago was the wild west of the wine business and, yes, [he too had a gun.] This was a very special time for me. It was a great privilege to work with people of such integrity and creativity. They all inspire me to this[...]

Loving Grana Padano

Mon, 29 May 2017 19:42:17 +0000

You're at the store with two pieces of cheese in your hand. They are equal in size. They are the same price. One is Grana Padano the other is Parmigiano Reggiano. You'd buy the Parmigiano right? The king of cheeses, why not go for the best? But think for a second. These two pieces of cheese are the same price. That means you're probably getting top-of-the-line Grana Padano, while the Parmigiano is almost certainly mass produced and on the lower end of the Parmigiano spectrum. Do you want to pay for the name or the cheese? You're at the store with two bottles of wine in your hand. They are equal in size. They are the same price. One is cabernet sauvignon the other is syrah. You'd buy the cabernet right? The king of wines, why not go for the best? But think for a second. These two bottles of wine are the same price. That means you're probably getting top-of-the-line syrah, while the cabernet is almost certainly mass produced and on the lower end of the cabernet spectrum. Do you want to pay for the name or the wine? Grana Padano and Parmigiano Reggiano are the same type of cheese. While at its pinnacle many connoisseurs consider Parmigiano the ultimate expression of this style of cheese, there are many passionate producers and consumers of Grana Padano that would take exception with their position. One thing I've learned is that dollar-for-dollar you get better value for Grana than you do with the more famous Parmigiano. Often it's a far better choice to buy the most expensive product with a less famous name than the lowest price product with a more exalted name. I apply the same strategy to buying wine. If I have $30 to spend cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and chardonnay don't even enter my mind. My thoughts go to gamay, syrah, tempranillo, aglianico, vermentino, chenin blanc and on and on. Today it seems the choices are limitless. Like the Reggiano cheese place name, many wine appellations get bonus points for name recognition that spot them extra dollars on each bottle over their competitors. When you buy wine from a famous place name you pay a premium for that privilege. Is it worth it? Sometimes yes. There are experiences you can get from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo and Napa that are truly sublime. But with the $30 I want to spend, sublime will not be found in those appellations. You can find extraordinary wine experiences on a budget if you're willing to go beyond these famous place-names. Think El Dorado, Mendocino, Rogue, Sablet, Madiran, Languedoc, Corsica, Sardegna, our own Applegate Valley and, as with the varieties, the options go on and on. Never in the history of wine has it been easier to drink great wines without spending a fortune. Next time you're in a wine shop hold that bottle of cabernet in one hand and a different wine from a place or variety you don't know in the other and ask yourself what you want to pay for - the name or the wine?[...]

Table to Farm

Fri, 07 Apr 2017 23:40:32 +0000

Picking Vermentino at Troon Vineyard in the Applegate Valley  It's an iconic episode of Portlandia. Appearing in the very first season, it's a skit that even those that have not seen the show know. When you enter a search for Portlandia Chic... Google auto-fills the link before you even can finish typing. It's the Portlandia chicken episode. A couple in a Portland restaurant become so obsessed with determining just how local the chicken is that they actually leave the restaurant without eating to go to the farm itself.Like most things in Portlandia, as outrageous the skits are, anyone who knows the city understands that there is a bit of reality in each of them. Indeed there are few cities where the restaurants are more obsessed with farm-to-table provenance. And with good reason, the farmers, dairies, fishermen of the Northwest provide exceptional foodstuffs. It's very hard to understand why so many of the best chefs in Portland know every farmer they work with by name - except the farmers that grow wine grapes. In Portland restaurants that would not consider buying an egg from more than a hundred miles away, or use a cheese not from the Northwest, or pork not from Carlton Farms, it’s common to find wine lists dominated by wines from Europe. While working dead center between two world-class wine regions in Oregon and Washington they somehow rationalize buying wines that have to be shipped in containers across the ocean instead of the internationally respected wines made in their own backyard. Not too long ago I walked into a Portland oyster bar to do some serious slurping only to discover that not a single wine-by-the-glass was from the Northwest. The essentially French list was well chosen, but considering they only featured Northwest oysters maybe a local wine or two might have been in order. Perhaps I'm overly sensitive, but I'd think anyone can see the irony here. However, I am sensitive to their pain. It can take a lot of work to find interesting American wines in the wine-by-the-glass price range. But isn’t that the work that a sommelier is paid to do?We're not talking about restaurants in Arkansas or Alaska with no significant local wine industry to draw upon, but a city within a few hours driving distance of important, world-famous wine appellations like the Eola and Dundee Hills, Yamhill-Carlton, Walla Walla and Red Mountain. These are not some upstart appellations, but vineyards that have been researched and worked for decades. These AVAs and many others literally produce wine in any style from almost any variety you could want. - also in any price point.Incredible as it may seem, I constantly meet wine buyers in Portland who've never gotten their shoes dirty in a local vineyard. People that pour over books breaking down every minuscule detail of tiny appellations in Burgundy or Barolo ignore the vineyards that surround them. While most have understandably never been to France or Italy, it is hard to comprehend why they’ve not been to the Dundee Hills or Walla Walla. One thing for sure, you never truly understand a wine region until you’ve walked in its vineyards. You're either a farm-to-table restaurant or you're not. It’s time they got off their butts and buy local wine as well as local food. You want biodynamic we've got it, want commercial plonk, we've got it, these and everything in-between. Cheap, expensive, rare, widely available, no problem we've got them. Popular varieties, obscure varieties, we've got them. High alcohol, low alcohol, no problem we've got them[...]

“Ignore the Snobs, Drink the Cheap, Delicious Wine"*

Mon, 20 Mar 2017 22:44:47 +0000

This weekend there was a wine article in the New York Times by Bianca Bosker, but it was not in the Food Section, you had to veer over to the Opinion Section to find it. These days the Opinion Section of the New York Times has been a refuge I seek out when trying to reclaim my sanity in these insane political times in the United States. However, today there was little comfort there as, in addition to the missives from both the right and left assaulting Trumpism, I found a piece about wine. Well actually not about wine, but about the business of a beverage alcohol product that also uses the noun wine to describe itself. “Ignore the Snobs, Drink the Cheap, Delicious Wine,” screamed the headline in the New York Times, but the word wine should have really been replaced by, “beverage alcohol produced from grapes,” but that would not have gotten nearly as many clicks. There certainly are cheap, delicious wines and I seek them out all the time. Oddly enough, considering this article, these cheap wines I like to enjoy on a regular basis are made in a natural style. Cheap does not have to mean “Two Buck Chuck”, which is produced with less integrity than Coca-Cola. At least Coca-Cola is honest about containing sugar, which industrial wines are not. Cola-Cola has to list the ingredients it puts in the bottle. Two Buck Chuck does not. Most people are all in favor of ingredient labeling for food products, yet for beverage alcohol not so much. The big wine producers shouldn't worry about ingredient labeling when it comes to their products. Those that grab their bottles of “Cheap, Delicious Manufactured Wine” are unlikely to be deterred. The author, Bianca Bosker, says, “The time has come to learn to love unnatural wines.” It seems to me the world, or at least Americans, love unnatural wines already. Most of what is thoughtlessly swilled down under the name “wine” is beverage alcohol made from grapes, and not very good ones at that. Americans need to understand that natural wines are good values too. Not every “natural wine” comes from some ultra-chic biodynamic Burgundy domaine, but they also come from impassioned winemakers selling under $20 Beaujolais, Muscadet, Valpolicella and includes wines from California, Oregon, Washington and the rest of the New World. There is a lot to choose from. (You can read my recent article on what I feel defines natural wines here.) In her article, Ms Bosker describes the process of producing industrial beverage alcohol from grapes. It made me realize that although soon I will have been in the wine industry for four decades, never once have I knowingly met one of these technicians and know essentially nothing about that end of the business. What was clear from this article is there are two winemaking worlds. One where a winemaker makes what they believe in and then seeks out customers that share their vision and those that make whatever beverage the marketing department says the consumer wants. Oddly, this last group includes everything from the cheapest to the most expensive wines. At least those on the low end of the price spectrum possess the integrity of honestly knowing the value of what they produce. Winemaking technicians that pursue the corporate winemaking way are not to be disrespected. What they achieve is a technical marvel. To take an agricultural crop and produce hundreds of thousands of cases of a uniform, repeatable and stable commercial product that exactly matches the flavor profiles that your marketing department has defined is an amazing skill. I have n[...]

New Workflows

Sun, 12 Mar 2017 22:09:45 +0000

Apple Touch Bar image from 9 to 5 Mac Apple’s technology has kept pushing me to evolve new workflows with each new generation of releases. As an “early adapter” to a fault, I have rushed to get each shiny toy. I ordered my 12.9” iPad Pro on the day it was released. It’s a great machine. However, now almost two years in I find I’ve abandoned my obsession to force it to become a laptop replacement. It just can’t compare with my MacBook Pro 13” (late 2014) souped up with TextExpander, Better Touch Tool, Keyboard Maestro, 1PassWord and other great apps. The additional power, speed and ease of use is more than worth the extra weight, which with each new version of the MacBook is becoming less-and-less. Lately I’ve found myself picking up my older 9.7” iPad Air, not my big iPad Pro when I want to work on my iPad. That smaller size is perfect for the activities I want to do on my iPad, which include media consumption, reading, social media, writing, email triage, proofreading, photo management. However, not being able to use my Apple Pencil, Touch ID, Spit Screen and other Pro features really prevent me from doing real work on the iPad Air. My desk work setup has been the same for years. I plug my MacBook Pro into, now aging, Cinema Displays, one at home and one at work. Slowly, but surely, these displays have become less useful. You need an adapter to connect them to my current MacBook, the ports on the rear no longer work and honestly they just don’t look great compared to the Retina screens on all my other devices. Obviously they’ll work even worse on a new MacBook Pro and as I am planning to get a new one when they release the next generation (I want at least 32GB of RAM) it is clearly time to rethink my entire workflow. It seems to me the new MacBooks with Touch Bar changes everything. Even though I have only played with the Touch Bar in an Apple Store, I love the concept. Obviously the Touch Bar makes the idea of using an external keyboard somewhat pointless. To Apple, Cinema displays are a thing of the past. So here is my vision of my new workflow, which means all of my existing equipment will get sold or handed down. For my MacBook Pro I will be moving to a 15” so that I have maximum screen real estate and can fully exploit the Touch Bar. This means my Cinema displays are gone and I just commit to a larger screen MacBook as my main interface both at work and at home. I’ve tried the current 15” MacBook Pro in an Apple Store and the display is gorgeous and it can easily have two apps on a split screen that the 13” cannot and that’s huge for me. For my iPad Pro, as soon as the rumored (all of these rumors have come true for years) 10.5” model comes out I’ll upgrade to that size as it will greatly improve all of my regular workflows and allow me to use my iPad as a laptop replacement only as necessity demands. I’ll keep my old iPad Air for videos and music when I travel as long as I can. Of course, I will include a iPhone Plus to tie all of this together. This seems a leaner, meaner workflow based on essentially three devices. It also seems to me a more efficient use of each device, while clearly using each for what it is designed for by Apple. The idea of fewer devices, screens and adapters is very appealing to me. It is also very exciting that I can carry all of my work hardware in my briefcase. These are all exciting, brilliant tools that make getting things done pure pleasure. No one does this better than Appl[...]

Big Wines, Small Names

Tue, 07 Mar 2017 14:30:54 +0000

An emerging American AVA - The Applegate Valley Oregon For decades I’ve been enjoying wines from Cahors, Madiran, Sardegna, Corsica, the Languedoc, Provence, Puglia, Romagna, Sicilia, Marche, Campania, Calabria, Basilicata and on and on. Delicious wines crafted to bring pleasure to your life - to make it better. Now I’m making wine in the Applegate Valley of Southern Oregon and it feels good to be part of that club. So many winemaking regions aspire to be Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne - and now Napa because that’s where the big money and points are, but, as famous and expensive as they are, they are not where the soul of wine is to be found. Just a few decades ago you were not likely to find the wines from Cahors and the other regions I mentioned above, and their many cousins, outside of the regions where they were produced, but today they’re almost everywhere. I'm aspiring to join them. There are certain pleasures and freedoms in making wine in a no-name appellation from varieties never likely to become fighting varietals. First among those freedoms is the privilege of taking real risks that have the potential to make your wines better. First among those pleasures is being able to sell your wines at a moderate price - in making wines people can afford to drink. When you have no star power there are no multi-million dollar auctions with celebrities, no obsessed collectors willing to pay (or actually hoping to pay) outrageous sums for the privilege to possess a few bottles. There are only people looking to enjoy your wines with friends and family. To pull a cork from a bottle of your wine with anything from a Wednesday night cheeseburger to a special birthday party with friends. There is no ceremony when your corks are pulled as everyone is just having too good of a time with each other. There is something that really feels good about making wine for, well, people. As pretentious and high-profile as expensive wine imbibing can be, most of the world’s wines are industrial plonk, nothing more than beverage alcohol. Our big wine stores are full of these wines. You go to a grocery store and there is row upon row of chardonnays (or cabernet or merlot or pinot noir), but in reality, they are all more-or-less the same wine. In fact, sometimes they literally are the same wine despite sporting different labels. The truth is in the world of wines the ones that offer the most pleasure, individuality and affordability are the bottles from places you may not have heard of, not from the names that are famous for being powerful brands or for being objects of desire for those with unlimited funds. In-between the plonk and the pretense is real wine. I am not talking about cheap wine here. These are wines the sell from about $15 to about $50. They are expensive wines for the majority of wine drinkers and they have a right to expect something made with integrity and passion. These are unknown emotions in industrial wines and surprisingly rare in expensive ones. It’s not about funny labels or big points, it’s about bringing pleasure into people’s lives. Now the Applegate Valley is not Madiran or Sardegna or places like that that have had decades, if not centuries, to understand their soils and varieties. These places know who they are and we are still learning. However, these older regions are now making far better wines than they did a few decades ago due to advances in viticulture and enology. We’re very lucky as they had to[...]

Troon, Tannat, Temptation

Mon, 27 Feb 2017 19:42:24 +0000

Troon Tannat and Malbec blocks looking west from the winery. This is exciting. This is what wine growing should be about. We’re planting more Tannat - a temptation I can’t resist. Yes, Tannat, nothing could be more refreshing than being out of the “fighting varietal” business. I believe Tannat is a variety that can define the Applegate Valley. Tannat in southern France is famed for its tannic rage, but our granitic soils take off just enough of that edge to reveal a distinctive Southern Oregon personality - all without taming its wilder side. All of our Tannat is grown on our estate vineyard on the higher, second bench of the Applegate River Valley. Europe is full of regions like Madiran and Cahors, places Tannat has traditionally called home. Many appellations like these that almost died a few decades ago are now reborn and vital due to better winemaking and viticulture - and enlightened consumers. Happily the wine energy today seems to be shifting away from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Napa and so on to new regions and new varieties. As Leonard Cohen sang, “Hallelujah”. These wines are not new to me. In the early 80s I was introduced to the hedonistic pleasures of less than famous place names by Christopher Cannan in France and Spain and by Neil Empson in Italy. At Direct Import Wine Company in Chicago I aggressively imported wines from Madiran, Languedoc-Roussillon, Bandol, Le Marche, Puglia, Priorat and others. They were not easy to sell even at ridiculously low prices, but they were very easy to fall in love with. Of course, I was importing a small cadre of visionary, elite producers that were, in those days, leading the way for their appellations. Today there are many famed producers from these regions and most of the wines I first imported are now, rightfully, famous and not cheap. Some of you may have tasted previous vintages of Tannat from Troon Vineyard, but those wines are related to these wines in name only. Starting with the 2014 vintage we moved to a natural wine growing and winemaking philosophy. Prior vintages were produced with conventional methods and it shows. These new Tannat releases are from grapes harvested from LIVE and Salmon Safe certified vineyards. The pickers are the same hands that worked in the rows for the entire vintage. Upon harvest the bins are treaded by foot for skin contact and to encourage the native yeast populations. After a day or two, they are de-stemmed into small fermenters for native yeast fermentation and hand punch downs. There are no acids, sugar, enzymes or sulfur added to the fermenters. After fermentation is complete the wine is pressed into used French Oak barrels. No new oak is used. The wines are bottled after 18 months in barrel. The new releases: 2014 Troon Blue Label Estate Tannat, Applegate Valley $35 100% Tannat from our estate vineyard. This is unrestrained pure Applegate Valley Tannat. Deeply colored with intense dark fruit flavors and mouth-coating tannins, an in-your-face Oregon wine, yet it can seem restrained compared with many California wines. Despite the strength of this wine, I believe is not for long aging, but should be enjoyed over the next five years as it's better to revel in its youthful power rather than wait for a refinement that may or may not arrive. 169 cases produced. 2014 Troon Black Label MT, Applegate Valley $50 This is a co-ferment, not a blend, and that makes all the difference. Blending can enhance and [...]