I was at a dinner party a couple of weeks ago and the subject of Napa Valley wine came up – I realize this is not shocking nor in itself blog-worthy! However, at this dinner we were specifically discussing Chardonnay. Maybe it was the time year as Chardonnay was the grape harvest du jour. Maybe it was the company I was in; long time Napa locals and wine makers. Maybe it was the wine I brought for the occasion.
This was mildly ironic as not more than 8 years prior I attended an ABC dinner, an entire night of Anything But Chardonnay. Admittedly, I was a reluctant participant but I attended *sigh* and took part in the grape bashing. “Too oaky!” claimed one reveler. “Manipulated and contrived” cried another! My favorite denial of this classic varietal was “Chardonnay does not pair well with ANY food!”
Wow--quite a statement! However, to put it bluntly; they were wrong.
It is now a number of years later and we are approaching Veteran’s Day. In America, this day is reserved as a time to reflect and celebrate past heroes and champions. Perhaps wine lovers should follow suit and pay respect to one of America’s wine heroes. After all, it was a California Chardonnay that won the 1976 Paris tasting and brought recognition and eventually fame to a small farming community; Napa Valley.
Chardonnay is the second most planted white wine varietal in France and remains the most planted white wine grape on the planet. Additionally, Chardonnay styles differ dramatically and can reflect the artistry of wine making; buttery and oaky, crisp and fruity, austere with minerality. Combined with the diversity of soil and climatic zones, Chardonnay exhibits varied complexities and offers ageble wines with broad appeal. Plus, in the last 20 years wine makers have found malolactic fermentation and oak ageing are winemaking tools, but don’t have to be used fully, or at all, with every Chardonnay.
I regret my brief slide into the ABC movement. While our preferences may change as we explore different growing regions, varietals, and styles of winemaking; it is important to stay open-minded and savor new discoveries. And sometimes, we just have to stick to our guns and defend tried and true veterans that brought victory to the field and eventually… to our glass!
Chardonnay is primarily fermented in oak and is aged sur lie or on the lees. Lees refers to deposits of residual yeast and other particles occurring during fermentation. Ageing sur lie softens the taste of Chardonnay, especially on the finish. Oak provides oils and resins which not only add to the overall flavor and character of the wine but make Chardonnay a white wine which can benefit from bottle ageing.
The 2007 Napa Valley Chardonnay has become ripe and juicy with golden apple, comice pear and lightly toasted brulee. If you have any of this Castello beauty hiding in the corner bring it out this Thanksgiving! Enjoy with a hearty harvest salad garnished with candied pecans and crumbled Feta
The 2008 Castello di Amorosa Bien Nacido Chardonnay knocked my proverbial wine-socks off! At five years from vintage this was visually beautiful and simply stunning in the glass. Vanilla and spice were the words repeated again and again, however, the 2008 Bien Nacido retained its fruit and was vivid on the palate.
Chardonnay may not be the traditional go-to for Ahi salad, but, a bit of ageing leveled off the acidity and the velvety texture of the avocado played off the creamy notes of the Chardonnay. This was a delicious and luxurious pairing.
Ahi and Avocado Salad with Ponzu
½ cup soy sauce
3 Tbsp. water
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
1 Tbsp. grated ginger
1 thinly sliced green onion
1 ½ tsp. lime juice w/ zest to taste
Mix well and pour over cubed Ahi and Avocado
In all honesty, Halloween has never been my favorite holiday. I don’t have a sweet tooth, I never liked to dress in costumes and fright movies terrify me. With three older brothers I was often the victim of pranks and shenanigans and I am quite certain my irrational fear of monkeys and primates can be traced to the mischief my brothers concocted which turned grade school trips to the zoo into angst ridden rituals. The only aspect of Halloween I truly warmed to was the fact that traditionally Halloween marks the beginning of the holiday season. Fall and winter vegetables replace summer fruits and the conspicuous cornucopia of harvest prevails. Bring out the blankets and smell the spices wafting in the chilled autumn air.
I know, I know… its Halloween and fright-night festivities may be on the agenda; perhaps not a trick-or-treat outing but maybe a cozy dinner party with a few friends followed by a few favorite movies. And just because it’s a holiday spotlighting pumpkins and candy corn does not mean we should throw thoughts of food and wine pairing to the jack-o-lantern! Take a cue from one of the most ominous and frightening movie monsters in history, move over Freddy and Jason—Hannibal Lecter gets my vote for Halloween’s classic scary movie poster- boy! Hannibal is creepy, petrifying and unnervingly disturbing and yet even while shackled in chains and full facial restraint he maintained a pompous arrogance. This notorious villain has one quality I can’t fault; he certainly cared about pairing his meals with the correct wine! *ahem* Plus, he obviously loves vino Italiano which makes Hannibal Lecter Castello di Amorosa’s gruesomely detestable official “Fright Knight’.
Savor this Halloween with a delicious and super easy comforting classic -- replete with fava beans and a nice Chianti…. (Sangiovese, of course!) Pop in a DVD and enjoy.....
Silence of the Lamb Shanks!
Easy Crock Pot Lamb Shanks
Brown Lamb Shanks in grape seed oil in large pan
Season generously with Salt and Pepper
Place browned shanks into crock pot and top with the following:
1/2 C red wine
1/2 C beef stock
1 can (14 oz) Italian style diced tomatoes
1 tsp Italian Seasoning
8-10 cloves of diced garlic
4 large sliced mushrooms
1 TBSP Worcestershire
1 sweet onion cut into large slices
Place crock pot on low 6 -8 hours, remove shanks and plate with sauce and vegetables
Mushrooms, tomatoes, garlic, broth and red wine create a delicious sauce.
Sangiovese, the primary grape grown in the Chianti region of Tuscany, is a very important varietal at Castello di Amorosa. Sangiovese also provides a spine of bright red cherry in blends like il Brigante and la Castellana.
The silence of the lamb shanks; fava beans and a nice 'Chianti' in true Castello style!
For the last 19 months, I have been on a journey of more healthful eating. This has included only small quantities of lean meats with most animal proteins in the family of fish and fowl. Most of my daily caloric intake comes from fiber via fruit, vegetables, nuts and whole grains. I thought I was doing great; losing pounds, gaining stamina….I felt renewed…invigorated... healthy. However, while a high-fat, high-calorie diet increases the risk of gallstones, apparently a very low fat weight loss plan can also cause issues. While a low fat diet allows you to lose weight, with smaller quantities of fat and oil to break down, the gallbladder does not contract or empty as frequently, and, as a result, this may produce a build-up of bile and possibly an increased risk of gallstones.
With my gallbladder permanently out of the equation, I've taken time in the last few weeks for a little research…. along with a little lab work (i.e. cooking in the kitchen) in an effort to repair my relationship with fats and oils.
Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature. Although oils are not a food group, they provide essential nutrients and are therefore included in USDA recommendations of what to eat. Most fats should be polyunsaturated (PUFA) or monounsaturated (MUFA) fats. Oils are the major source of MUFAs and PUFAs in the diet.
My research eventually took me to an article published by Bon Appétit. Who better than the good eating experts to help guide me in my search for healthy and tasty oil? “Some fat is actually good for you,” the article quotes Alice H. Lichtenstein, director of the cardiovascular nutrition laboratory at Tufts University. “But, to get the most from fats, you need to go beyond olive oil. Open your cupboard to new flavors, cooking temperatures–and health benefits–by diversifying your oils.” In the number one position of most healthful oil on Bon Appétit's list—grape seed oil! High in polyunsaturated fats and vitamin E, grape seed oil has a high smoke point, which makes it a good substitute for olive or vegetable oils for a sauté or stir-fry, and because it has light and clean flavors on the palate, it lets top-notch ingredients stand out.
I remain diligent when it comes to healthy eating and food choices. However, as a discerning skeptic my cynical tendencies combined with my resistance to change has always played second string to the great equalizer; taste! Donning a lab coat for this foray instead of an apron, I must experiment. I made a few fairly standard favorites where I traditionally used olive oil and substituted grape seed oil.
The results were en-lightening!
The process begins on the conveyor for these yummy clusters. Ready to go into the hopper where the stems will be separated and then composted.
Although we are a world of organic goals, long term sustainability is realistic and achievable now. The stems are separated from the clusters and prepared for composting and provide vital nutrients in the vineyard.
After fermentation and a final press of the skins, the pumace is taken and the seeds will be separated and dried.
After several months, the dried grape seeds are ready to be pressed and oil is extracted from the seeds. The oil is obtained through pressing and grinding seeds with the use of stainless steel presses. Since grape seeds are discarded as part of the wine making process, the extraction of the oil is an efficient and sustainable use of a byproduct.
The best oils are cold pressed. Although pressing and grinding produces heat through friction, the temperature must not rise above 120°F for any oil to be considered cold pressed. Cold pressed oils retain their flavor, aroma, and nutritional value. Sample cold pressed grape seed oils at Castello di Amorosa on the Royal Food and Wine Pairing tour.
Since grape seed oil is lighter than olive oil, I was having a problem with a pool of oil accumulating at the bottom of the salad bowl. Problem solved; when making salads, I now add the seasonings and toss it which coats the lettuce with the seasoning giving the oil something to adhere to. Light, healthy and the lettuce retained its crispness.
I drizzled a little Sauvignon Blanc grape seed oil and basil on the bruschetta bites—delicious!
Stir fry and sautés are my favorite use of grape seed oil. Since grape seed oil has a higher smoking point than olive oil, veggies and meat are added to a hotter pan. Plus, the grape seed oil gives off very little flavor in a sauté and this really lets the ingredients shine.
As summer comes to a close and long hot days become abbreviated and alleviated with cooler temps and sweater worthy evenings--September is here. With it, the beauty of harvest and fall is underway. Undeniably my favorite time of the year; the anticipation, the realization of another season. Nervously…… we wait. The hopes, the expectations— will it be as good as last year? Will this year bring the success of another triumph? Will we get the points and revel in great scores? It has finally arrived.
That’s right… are you ready for some football!?
Regular season NFL starts this week and the pigskin is finally back in action. Of course, while the football is being passed and punted on the gridiron the red zone has officially been crossed at my house. Bring on the pigment!
All wine grapes contain clear juice. Although there are a few varietals with tinted juice it is extremely rare. Red wine becomes colored or pigmented in the winemaking process. The liberated or pressed juice of black grapes are fermented in contact with the skins. Since the skins contain all the color, fermentation with the skins extracts this color to the juice and resultant wine. The skin of black grapes also contains complex elements that not only result in this pigmented juice, but imparts tannins and many healthful antioxidants.
My match-up this week includes Cabernet Sauvignon; and since it doesn’t get much more pigmented than this thick-skinned varietal… well….. this pairing calls for a pepper spiked little pig of my own to mark the occasion.
Cheers, or as they say on the field—get ready for kickoff!
No need for binoculars! View this action live and in person from the proverbial 50 yard line! Fall is the time of year for a trip to wine country. Watch the winemaking process from Castello di Amorosa’s home field, the crush pad!
Talk about score! Robert Parker gave Castello di Amorosa’s 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon 91 points! This 100% Cabernet Sauvignon is brawny with loads of muscle yet exhibits a graceful and elegant mouth feel. Brooding deep dark fruit with a hint of spice box and black pepper. Touchdown!
Simple, quick and delicious. This meal won’t keep you away from important plays! I sprinkled the tenderloin with sea salt and garlic powder then very generously coated it with coarse ground pepper. Bake at 350 degrees until the center of the loin reaches 150 deg. Let rest for 10-15 minutes before serving. The peppery seasoned tenderloin plays off the dark fruit of the Cabernet. After Sunday’s match-up this makes for incredible sandwiches to enjoy the next night...during Monday Night Football!
If you’ve attended the Royal Food and Wine Pairing at Castello di Amorosa it comes as no surprise --you know my affection for Gioia, Castello di Amorosa’s Rosato of Sangiovese. Perhaps one of the most versatile food wines available as the pairing possibilities for a well-made rosé are seemingly endless. Traditionally, rosé wines are dry, light, and fruity and carry appeal for white and red wine drinkers. Any black-skinned grape can be made into a blush or rosé wine. The longer the skins remain in contact with the juice and pulp, the more pigment is imparted and, thus, the redder the juice or wine becomes. Rosé is produced by limiting the contact of the skins of black grapes with the juice; for Gioia, it is approximately 36 hours. As we weather the dog-days of summer and celebrate with picnics, grill parties and backyard entertaining, Rosé indeed seems to be on everybody’s mind…and palate. This is a perfect opportunity to explore the aforementioned ‘pairing possibilities’.
Let’s put my theory to the test…let the pairings begin!
Castello di Amorosa’s Gioia, Rosato of Sangiovese has a bright and beautiful salmon colored hue. Serve this chilled rosé with tasty apps or a light and seasonal dinner.
Full-bodied rosé wines are a great match for terrines, pate, and Italian salumi. The fruit notes of Gioia compliment the gamey meats and the acidity provides just enough ‘zip’ to cut through the fattiness of these tasty selections.
Roasted red pepper hummus is a yummy app with a chilled rosé.
Olive-based tapenades with anchovies, capers and light vinegar are prolific in Italian cuisine. The saltiness of the olives is a perfect back drop for fruity Gioia.
Forget the margaritas! Salsa provides a hint (or a lot!) of spice—cool crisp Gioia with the tomatoes and cilantro atop a salty tortilla chip is delicious. Yo tengo chips and salsa!
No time to make a caprese salad..no problem. Caprese bites are a quick and easy alternative.
A favorite on the Royal Food and Wine Pairing menu, cream of tomato basil soup. A touch of cumin adds Mediterranean flair and chilled Gioia is a refreshing contrast to this warming comfort soup.
Margherita Pizza is named for the first Queen of modern Italy, Margherita De Savoia-(l85l-l926). Margherita pizza is a thin crust pizza with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. For a peppery freshness, try it topped with leaves of arugula. Thank you Queen Margherita, you would have loved this pizza with Castello’s Italian style Rosato of Sangiovese, Gioia.
Hot wings and Gioia was my husband’s favorite pairing. This duo takes me back to circa 1985 ordering buffalo wings and a bottle of chilled white Zin! I was definitely on to something—fruit and spice makes everything nice!
Pasta with marinara sprinkled with Asiago and served with Gioia was a simple meal on a hot summer evening.
Research suggests that eating oily fish once or twice a week may increase your lifespan by more than two years and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease up to 35 percent. That combined with a relaxing glass of wine and we may have found the fountain of youth! I loved the grilled smokiness of the delicate salmon meat which was complemented by the crisp berry burst of Gioia. This healthy pairing was incredible; grilled sockeye salmon from our friends at Great Alaska Seafood http://www.great-alaska-seafood.com
A cool watermelon salad tossed in cold pressed grape seed oil and light vinaigrette. Flavorful red onion and a few crumbles of feta combine for a surprising palate of sweet, salty and tangy. Castello di Amorosa’s Gioia completed this palate of fruity crispness.
Kanpai! Talk about a mixed marriage! Rosé is a natural for exotic spices.
The dictionary defines reduction as the act or process of reducing. This is concise and fairly straightforward. In the kitchen, reductions are equally concise and straightforward. Reducing is simply the process of thickening a liquid i.e. soup, sauce, wine etc. by heating. This slowly causes evaporation thereby intensifying the flavor of the liquid. Using a pan without a lid is preferable (which allows the vapors to escape) until the desired volume is reached.
For this segment and by popular demand (Thanks, Rose!) I am going to specifically address balsamic vinegar reduction.
There won’t be much more except a note from personal experience. Reducing balsamic vinegar makes me look like a culinary genius (thanks, balsamic & heat!) and it is a great way to add richness, texture, and sweetness to savories and desserts. It elevates the ordinary.
As my grandmother said, "alla gioccia".. good to the last drop!
Mary Davidek C.S., C.S.W.
Ingredients; just 1. A good balsamic need not be expensive. Castello di Amorosa balsamic is delicious and affordable at $18 per 500ml.
Reduce over medium-low heat to just under a simmer; approximately 195 degrees seems the optimum temperature. Use a large pan so the vapors can evaporate more rapidly. Increase stirring as it thickens.
500 ml or 17.25 ounces reduced to 4.5 ounces in slightly more than 1 hour. Store at room temperature or refrigerate for up to one year.
The perfect complement for a caprese salad.
Baked chicken breast with balsamic reduction.
After removing the chicken from the oven, they were finished in the reduction pan which gave the chicken a delicious balsamic coating.
Berries drizzled with balsamic reduction topped with a dollop of fresh whipped cream. The acid in the berries evokes a dark chocolate note from the balsamic.
Firm cheese like Piave Vecchio or Pecorino dipped into a balsamic reduction adds just the right sweetness to these salty cheeses. The 2009 Il Brigante has a bit of Malbec which heightens the jammy notes of this cabernet blend.
This decadent dessert is a tasty surprise for the palate. Double dark chocolate gelato with balsamic reduction adds just a touch of savory. Sprinkle with salted almonds and all the bases of the palate are covered with this rich finale.
Red, White and Bleu …… Let Freedom Ring!
Freedom; no single word in the English language is more synonymous with America. Case in point, "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness" is a well-known phrase in the United States Declaration of Independence as is inalienable rights which the Declaration says all human beings have been given. Even when certain ‘dry” movements (prohibition 1920-1933) threatened one inalienable right, the powers that be eventually restored this right and true freedom was reinstated.
Without starting a political debate, let’s just talk about the fun stuff! We have the right to eat what we like and drink what we choose. In the United States we boast more than 3,700 certified wineries and in Napa, there are more than 450 wineries in this relatively tiny valley. It is obvious happiness has been justly pursued. For the purpose of this blog and this holiday let’s concentrate on a quintessentially American if not, Californian grape; Zinfandel.
Also known as Primitivo, Zinfandel is planted in nearly 15% of all California’s vineyards. Many debates have ensued as to who can rightly lay claim to this popular cultivar’s origination but DNA fingerprinting revealed it is genetically equivalent to Croatian grapes (which I will spare you the pronunciation of) as well as the Primitivo variety traditionally grown in the Puglia region of Italy. Eventually, this grape found its way to the United States in the mid-19th century, and became known by the name "Zinfandel". Zinfandel thrives in Napa’s Mediterranean climate as well as other growing regions of California. Geographical and climatic differences are expressive and many; robust and tannic, fruity and candied, complex and aromatic.
As stated, this is about fun, freedom and the right to pursue both. This 4th of July, you will find me celebrating the red, white and blue with another red, white and bleu. Castello di Amorosa Zinfandel (Primitivo) and a yummy burger off the grill. I like 2 cheeses to top my burger, a little white cheddar for creaminess on the palate and a few bleu cheese crumbles for a salty zing. With all the usual burger suspects present and accounted for-- this red white and bleu is perfect to get you in the mood for a night of fireworks.
Happy 4th of July—Let Freedom Ring!
Mary Davidek, C.S., C.S.W.
Everything for our decadent 4th of July burgers.
Remember, on the grill or the stove--160 degrees is the safety zone for hamburger.
Castello di Amorosa's Zinfandel from Russian River Valley is spicy and fruity with hints of potpourri and dried Bing Cherries. Just big and bright enough for the Bleu and Cheddar.
Happiness pursued and achieved--enjoy with your firework spectacular!
The night of our 2010 Castello Holiday Party I was seated at a table with executive winemaker Brooks Painter. As dessert was served, a decadent Bouche Noelle, we were contemplating our next pour. No small task! Lovers of the sweet anxiously awaited the succulent Late Harvest Gewurztraminer. Tempting. However, in the corner of the rooms I saw a bottle of something red. To my delight it was the highly anticipated 2006 Castello di Amorosa Merlot. Rich chocolate goodness with Merlot? Brooks and I agreed; Yes, please! We toasted another great year and then…..Silence as we took a moment to contemplate the wine. This Merlot was stellar. Heavy intoxicating aromatics with a smooth velvety palate of bittersweet cocoa and blackberries. I asked Brooks where the fruit was sourced from as it differed from the past fruit-driven Merlots of Castello. For the 2006 Merlot Brooks brought in fruit from vineyards near the south end of the Napa Valley, closer to the San Pablo Bay and the fog that rolls in off the Pacific. Made sense. Cooler vineyard sites allow the fruit to mature slowly while maintaining structure and natural acidity. Our admiration was well-deserved as the 2006 Castello di Amorosa release was voted one of the best Napa Valley Merlots of the vintage.
Merlot: typically more approachable than Cabernet Sauvignon, more versatile with food – what’s with all the bad press? (pun intended) Some of my most memorable 'wine dinners’ have prominently featured this viticultural also-ran. Later that night my thoughts turned to past Merlot Super Moments. This trip down memory lane required a bit of travel.
First stop: Italy. Although not specifically known for great Merlot, a few standouts are indeed vino Italiano. Tuscany’s Galatrona Petrolo and Masseto by Ornellaia are two of the finest expressions of Merlot I’ve had. Unfortunately price and availability can be prohibitive. For lovely lush Italian Merlot that won’t break the bank, travel north to the Friuli-Venezia region. Livio Felluga produces Merlot that never disappoints. For approximately $20 this luxurious red is perfect with slow braised fork-tender short ribs and mushroom risotto…..listen closely…..those are angels singing.
Now, across the globe to South America. Chile is now the 4th largest exporter of wine to the U.S. and has 33,000 acres planted to Merlot. (2nd most planted varietal to Cabernet Sauvignon of course). I went to a BBQ last summer and brought a few bottles of one of my favorites from this exciting region; Santa Ema. This $10 Merlot has and edge and is always met with approval. Turns out this southern hemisphere bottling works great with spice rubbed grilled chicken quarters.
And back to where it all began: France. Not only is Merlot the most planted varietal in the country, in the Bordeaux region Merlot accounts for 172,000 acres planted compared to Cabernet Sauvignon’s 72,000. In St. Emilion, 70% of all planted grapes are Merlot. Wines from this region, although Merlot dominant, are primarily blends; they embody elegance and restraint. Be adventurous….pick up a few right-bank’ers in the $30-$40 range and enjoy with roast leg of lamb or grilled duck breast. Two of my favorites: Chateau Monbousquet and Chateau Tertre Roteboeuf, my favorite prime roast beef wine.
I applaud and encourage all global explorations of this soft maligned varietal. In Napa Valley, where Merlot excels at higher elevations and cooler vineyard sites, this once exploited grape is being produced with new vigor and excitement.
Be adventurous and in your endeavors may you find out why Merlot is said to be the “flesh on the Cabernet Sauvignon’s bones.”
Mary Davidek C.S, C.S.W
I have always rooted for the underdog, drawn to the dark horse; sure things and odds on favorites need not apply…..My Dad would have said being a Dodger fan has taken its toll. And so it goes; when it comes to wines my preference also leans to the runner-up. I often pass on the popular choice and instead, opt for its viticulture next of kin. When Cabernet Sauvignon is what’s for dinner, trust I will be sipping Merlot.
Not to say dark brooding Cabernet isn’t tempting with its flirtatious undertones of blackberry, cassis, dark cherry and chocolate…..wait…..am I describing Merlot? Yes. In fact, on a palate chart Cabernet and Merlot are kissing cousins and easily confused. If you want to have some fun, (admittedly wine-geeky fun) invite a few friends for a blind-tasting featuring Cabernet and Merlot. Make certain the wines are of similar pedigree, bottles in the $25 to $45 price range offer worthy contenders. Castello di Amorosa’s 2006 and 2008 Merlot are two of my favorite wines produced by Brooks Painter and his Castello team. Put these beauties in the lineup and even in the presence of well-seasoned palates, I predict a dead heat; a 50/50 split. In tasting panels Merlot is said to possess a softness or a roundness not typically associated with Cabernet. Why then the ridicule for this benevolent cultivar, which is, in fact, the most widely planted grape in all of France!? (Sacre bleu). Truth be told, Merlot is prolific in many regions and quite possibly this is at the root of its undoing.
Merlot could wear the banner "Just Because You Can Grow Something Doesn’t Mean You Should" but we’ll cover geography in Part 2. This over-abundance and plenitude eventually lead to Merlot becoming the marketing darling of the 90’s. Finally a wine our thick American tongues could pronounce. (I wonder how many “peanut noyas” were ordered?) Restaurants eagerly filled their wine lockers with this fashionable red. However, this trend ran its course as the over-planted Merlot often bordered on insipid rather than inspiring and earned a “sideways” glance.
Seemingly overnight Merlot became ‘persona non grata’ in tasting rooms as an often quoted movie line rang through the wine country. Out went Merlot and in came the next grape of favor. (shh, don’t tell me chateau Petrus!)
Well, fear not Merlot loving readers! Merlot is back with a vengeance and it’s better than ever. Next I’ll cover a few regions that are cultivating this classic with new vigor and excitement.
Until then, go drink some Merlot!
Mary Davidek C. S., S.W.
This is the time of year when winemakers and vineyard managers start paying close attention to weather patterns. Although long periods of extreme cold and sub-freezing temperatures can always cause distress in a vineyard; frost is particularly damaging in the early spring. Once bud break occurs, spring frosts can kill the young shoots potentially destroying a crop. If you visit wine country in early spring you may spot a few different methods utilized by vintners in attempts to combat frost damage. Most preventative measures are expensive and vary in effectiveness, but, the financial loss of frost damage is extreme.
The least utilized and possibly least effective is burning oil in a smudge pot. The smoke and heat generated is hopefully carried over the vineyard by the wind forming a warmer protective blanket. As the heavier cold air sinks, the warm blanket of air protects the shoots.
A solution that seems just as drastic but that has actually proven viable in some vineyard locales; spraying the vines with a fine mist of water. As the water freezes it forms a protective layer of ice insulating the young shoots by trapping the heat, (think of an igloo or an ice cave). Since Napa Valley’s Mediterranean climate doesn’t generally dip below 25 degrees Fahrenheit, this method shows promise as it is environmentally less invasive and more economically viable. A negative for using water is fairly obvious but worth noting: you are using water, which can be scarce or completely unavailable in remote vineyards.
The most common and visually the most obvious method in use can be viewed off Highway 29 and along the Silverado Trail. What looks like windmills are actually wind machines, which move air over vineyards to keep the coldest air from settling on vulnerable, young shoots. The heavier cold air mixes with the warmer air, being moved by the wind machine, creating a slight elevation in temperature which is often just enough to ward off frost as long as that temperature is above 28 degrees Fahrenheit. However, I live close to one such wind machine and I see it as only partially effective. While it prevents frost from developing in areas directly in the path of said turbulence, my personal observation is the outlying areas are often blanketed with frost. Another fact to consider…..wind machines are essentially propellers that run on fuel so they can be expensive to run and the noise level can be extreme – especially in the wee hours of the morning when they are typically used. *yawn*
Does a foolproof solution exist? Well, if you have an opportunity when driving in the valley, look to the hills. It is rare to find any method of frost control on sloped vineyard sites. Dense cold air naturally drains off the hillsides and settles onto the valley floor quite often rendering the hillsides unaffected by frost.
In this north end of the Napa Valley we are fortunate. With the Mayacamas Mountains to the West and the Vaca Mountains to the East, some of the most prestigious viticultural land in the world has been created. Castello di Amorosa’s Il Barone and La Castellana wines are crafted from Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards on Diamond Mountain, part of the famed Mayacamas range; above the fog line, drenched in sunshine and relatively unharmed by frost.
As we continue to progress in viticulture methodology one fact holds true – Mother Nature will always have the final word.
And with that my final word – Cheers!
Mary Davidek C.S., C.S.W.