While you were marinating in the sun or elbowing a path through Europe or the Wisconsin Dells, California winemakers were busy laboring at ... well, their vacations, same as the rest of us.
Just about the only thing hard at work this time of year seems to be the vineyards. While you lollygag your way through July, I figure it's a good time to see what's happening in California's vineyards.
I checked with Kendall-Jackson winemaster Randy Ullom, who works with vines all over the state, and as it turns out, the growing season is entering a crucial phase: veraison. Basically, that is the onset of ripening, when grapes begin to soften and start losing their green color, taking on shades of red or yellow depending on the variety.
It’s vacation time in America. France gets the hell out of Dodge in August, but here in the States, July is the month most of us wander off into the hinterland of adventure and sunburn.
For the believers out there—can I get an amen, somebody?—wine has to be part of the vacation-planning process. Let the scoffers drink Coke.
There’s a particular math when it comes to wine and vacation. The formula for how much wine you need to take with you is directly related to the extravagance and location of the trip. If you’re taking a villa in Tuscany or touring Bordeaux, then why schlep a bottle?
On the other hand, there are vacations that require mass quantities of wine, for example, if camping is involved or Disneyland is on the itinerary. (You can’t shuffle off to Burgundy every summer.)
Years of bitching about California Merlot are paying off, folks. Wineries are making less of it, a lot less. Turrentine Brokerage, a company that tracks such things, says Merlot acreage in Sonoma County has plummeted 47 percent between 2004 and 2010. That’s about 400,000 fewer cases a year. Napa dropped 20 percent in the same period.
I’m not convinced that Merlot will ever produce classic wines in California with any consistency vintage to vintage. Merlot is a tricky grape. You can’t just plant it anywhere, and you have to pamper the vines and manage the crop size closely, or you end up with bland wines or freaky concoctions of stewed cherry and veggies, but there are a few wineries making great Merlot.
My first wine cellar was a lame attempt no matter how you looked at it; I was young and my discretionary income bought 10 minutes on a parking meter. But I had the wine bug and had it bad. Loitering in wine shops became a favorite hobby. I’d buy a good $10 or $20 bottle on the weekends and occasionally splurge. I still remember the day I bought a Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1989 for $45 and worried how I’d explain it when I got home. Eventually my disjointed assortment of bottles was large enough so I could use the word collection without resorting to a sarcastic tone or air quotes.