Posts Filed Under California wine
In the latest installment of 1WD TV, I go backstage in D.C. to talk to rocker Les Claypool about his Claypool Cellars wines, eat the butterscotch cookies in his Green Room, and generally geek out about great Sonoma Pinot Noir. Les has just kicked off a tour with Primus in support of their new (excellent, dark & funky) album Green Naugahyde, a jaunt that will take them across a wide swath of the U.S., with stops in South America later this year and a stint at London’s famed Royal Albert Hall next April.
This is my second interview with Les (you can check out the first one here), and he’s still clearly very into the CC endeavor, and is quite the CA-boy homer when it comes to Pinot Noir. Words can not accurately describe the coolness of this interview for me, so just watch the friggin’ video already because it’s Pudding Time, children!!!
Mentioned in this episode:
Burt Williams might speak softly and have a relatively unassuming appearance, but when it comes to age-worthy, elegant Pinot Noir he is one hundred percent deadly Jedi Knight.
That much was clear during the recent West Of West festival in Occidental, CA (I attended as a media guest), where Littorai’s Ted Lemon interviewed Williams to kick things off. It was tough for me to pay attention, because a) there were Sonoma Coast Pinots sitting in front of me ranging from `96 to `01, and I was ready to geek out, and b) I found the entire event confusing, because I’m an anal Right Coast guy who requires exposition and purpose stated clearly up-front, and the WoW Fest proceedings launched without much detail on either.
Fortunately, possessing a formal plan is not a prerequisite for making great wine. In fact, to hear Williams tell it, very little about Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir was planned in the early days when he first starting making Williams Selyem wine in his ‘spare’ time. “We got a call from an ATFA agent,” he mentioned, “who basically told us that we should get bonded before we got arrested; so, we got bonded.”
Williams also told us that “if the wine is balanced… if you pick the fruit before it’s really ripe… I know Sonoma Coast [Pinot Noir] can age!” Proof is in the vinous pudding: the 1996 Williams Selyem Riverblock Pinot Noir (about $100 if you can find it, and an ‘A’ rated wine if I’ve ever had one) is delicate, earthy and svelte, with cherries, plums, spices and hints of game meat. The finish could accurately be described as gorgeous; it’s a wine that doesn’t smack you over the head, but seduces you.
And it’s in drinking wines like that 1996 Pinot – wines which seem to be made at a more-than-expected frequency in the West Sonoma Coast area – that you say to yourself (if you’re me, anyway): “F*ck Napa Valley Pinot – this is where it’s AT!”…
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Imagine a a narrow, unevenly lit, and thoroughly cramped comic book shop near the Delaware / Pennsylvania state borders, inside of which we find a short, lanky kid in a blue-and-white 3/4-sleeve t-shirt fresh from rummaging through the bargain-bin boxes. He’s holding up two “B-grade” comic books – one in each hand, suspended like some kind of very odd but colorfully shrink-wrapped leaves suspended from opposite branches of a geek tree.
“Excuse me… I have a question… which of these comics will be worth more in a few years?”
The (ok, admittedly bearded, large, and in appearance at least completely-fitting-the-cliché) comic shop owner stops what he’s doing, gives the kid a sideways glance, then slides his chair closer and leans over the shop counter. He looks the kid squarely in the eye in a rather… serious way, and answers him.
“A better question,” he says in a voice filled with much more kindness and understanding than would be belied in his stare, “would be ‘which one of these comics would give me more enjoyment.’”
The name of the comic shop and its owner are lost somewhere in my memory (or more likely were stored in brain cells long-since destroyed by alcohol consumption). The kid, of course, was me – many, many (many) moons ago. And that comic shop visit was just about the last time I can remember finding myself in the throes of what I like to call “blind collection mode” – a mode of “appreciation” in which far too many wine aficionados would likely find themselves today, if only they’d take the personal blinders off long enough to realize it.
BCM isn’t caused by wine scores, but it is enabled by them. Because once you put a numerical value on a product or experience, you’re inviting a comparison of worth – and people will define the “worth” part in various ways, even to the point of absurdity…
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The Center for Wine Economics released a report of a recent study on the sugar levels of wine grapes in California, titled “Too Much of a Good Thing? Causes and Consequences of Increases in Sugar Content of California Wine Grapes.” Not sure how new this news is, but it was new to me so I’m yappin’ about it!
While that title of the report doesn’t sound particularly fascinating, the report’s conclusions are – if you’re a wine geek, that is, and if you’re a fan of California fine wine and have ever wondered why alcohol levels seem to be kind of high in the premium vino coming out of that state. According to the report, it’s not just your imagination – wine grapes in CA have indeed been getting riper over the last twenty years, which translates into higher booze levels, with white grapes bearing the brunt of the increase:
“The data show that the average alcohol percentage increased by 0.30 percent, with a larger increase for white wine (0.38 percent) than for red wine (0.25 percent). This increase in alcohol percentage is consistent with an increase in the sugar content of the grapes used to make that wine of 0.55 degrees Brix, on average.”
That sugar measurement might look small, but according to the report it’s a “substantial” increase, and it’s that rise in sugar levels that is making CA wines a bit more… busty than they’ve been in the past (I imagine if you were used to drinking CA wine from 20 years ago, drank too much, passed out and pulled a Rip Van Winkle, upon waking up in 2011 you’d be forgiven for thinking that during your extended slumber your fave CA Cab had undergone the vinous equivalent of a boob job). What this study does that is so fascinating is this: it puts data and critical thinking behind something that many CA wine drinkers may have already suspected… CA fine wines are getting boozier, and it might be the result of the fine wine market…
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