I’m the Chairman of the Bored…Craftsmanship in the era of the short attention span!
“I’m bored.” I often hear this refrain as my girls navigate the teen years - an irony since they attend demanding schools, are plugged into the social network, and anything can be a swipe of the fingertip away.
I’m also hearing this same refrain from sommeliers, wine journalists and wine drinkers these days. “I’m bored with (insert variety, winery or region here)!” The urge for something new is irresistible, maybe even addicting - or have we just become conditioned to think we want something new?
We have access like never before with the ability to discover new things daily on the information highway. As an Instagram abuser (@rsinvin), I can see culinary trends transmit across the world - oceans or languages are no longer barriers. We see culinary trends like farm-to-table, cupcakes, pork belly, tacos, ramen, pho, and whole-animal begin when a plugged-in traveling chef “discovers” something in one corner of the world and returns home to post their latest creation online. Within weeks, chefs are creating their own versions and then, within a few months, the “new” dish or trend jumps the shark by appearing on corporate restaurant menus. The cycle continually shortens.
It wasn’t always that way - at one time we really didn’t have a choice. We only knew (and had access to) what was local. What differentiated was the craft behind the product…the honing, the skill, the knowledge that only time and repetition could provide. New or unusual was viewed suspiciously. Tried and true was cherished.
Wine is a craft, but it is also an accident. Crush some grapes, put them in a crock, and they will ferment. It is up to luck if the result is something you want to drink. But put those same grapes in knowledgeable hands and they might become something ethereal.
Historical wine regions have become refined over decades, if not centuries. This is no accident. Fine wine cannot chase trends because it takes too long and costs too much to plant, cultivate, make, and age wine. Instead of vacillating with the trends, wine regions have become more focused and refined by what works best. Burgundy is the land of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay - while Chianti is mostly Sangiovese. Bordeaux is divided into the Left and Right banks (which in turn are divided into sub-regions), where the former is dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon and the latter Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Laws have been created by governments or ad-hoc vintner organizations to keep wine regions focused on what they do best and help maintain their identity.
However, we make wine in the New World - the land of independence, the cowboy, the rebel - where no one tells us what to do and to hell with the rules. We certainly have been guilty of this attitude ourselves, but we’ve now had over thirty years to sow our wild oats, experiment, and refine what works best, continuing to evolve, learning something new each year that adds to the knowledge gleaned from years past. So, instead of replanting our vineyards with the varieties of the Jura, our cure for boredom comes by answering the thrill ride of challenges posed by the four seasons in an attempt to capture the distinctiveness of vintage.

I’m the Chairman of the Bored…
Craftsmanship in the era of the short attention span!

“I’m bored.” I often hear this refrain as my girls navigate the teen years - an irony since they attend demanding schools, are plugged into the social network, and anything can be a swipe of the fingertip away.

I’m also hearing this same refrain from sommeliers, wine journalists and wine drinkers these days. “I’m bored with (insert variety, winery or region here)!” The urge for something new is irresistible, maybe even addicting - or have we just become conditioned to think we want something new?

We have access like never before with the ability to discover new things daily on the information highway. As an Instagram abuser (@rsinvin), I can see culinary trends transmit across the world - oceans or languages are no longer barriers. We see culinary trends like farm-to-table, cupcakes, pork belly, tacos, ramen, pho, and whole-animal begin when a plugged-in traveling chef “discovers” something in one corner of the world and returns home to post their latest creation online. Within weeks, chefs are creating their own versions and then, within a few months, the “new” dish or trend jumps the shark by appearing on corporate restaurant menus. The cycle continually shortens.

It wasn’t always that way - at one time we really didn’t have a choice. We only knew (and had access to) what was local. What differentiated was the craft behind the product…the honing, the skill, the knowledge that only time and repetition could provide. New or unusual was viewed suspiciously. Tried and true was cherished.

Wine is a craft, but it is also an accident. Crush some grapes, put them in a crock, and they will ferment. It is up to luck if the result is something you want to drink. But put those same grapes in knowledgeable hands and they might become something ethereal.

Historical wine regions have become refined over decades, if not centuries. This is no accident. Fine wine cannot chase trends because it takes too long and costs too much to plant, cultivate, make, and age wine. Instead of vacillating with the trends, wine regions have become more focused and refined by what works best. Burgundy is the land of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay - while Chianti is mostly Sangiovese. Bordeaux is divided into the Left and Right banks (which in turn are divided into sub-regions), where the former is dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon and the latter Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Laws have been created by governments or ad-hoc vintner organizations to keep wine regions focused on what they do best and help maintain their identity.

However, we make wine in the New World - the land of independence, the cowboy, the rebel - where no one tells us what to do and to hell with the rules. We certainly have been guilty of this attitude ourselves, but we’ve now had over thirty years to sow our wild oats, experiment, and refine what works best, continuing to evolve, learning something new each year that adds to the knowledge gleaned from years past. So, instead of replanting our vineyards with the varieties of the Jura, our cure for boredom comes by answering the thrill ride of challenges posed by the four seasons in an attempt to capture the distinctiveness of vintage.

Balancing Act… another perfect day in hell!
Your idea of perfection might very well be my idea of hell… maybe perfection is hell! We think we want things perfect and we spend our lives making “it” better, more beautiful, easier, faster… but what we really want is distinctiveness. Don’t get me wrong, we enjoy the pursuit of an ideal, but more often than not, once we’ve achieved a perception of perfection we’re rarely satisfied and find ourselves in need of new challenges - even if it means that we must ignore or reverse the advances we’ve already made.
The pursuit of perfection in fine wine is a prime example of something that, when taken too far, has unintended consequences. Achieving ripeness was historically the goal of fine wine. A benchmark “vintage” wine could only be created from a relatively warm year. But as knowledge and technology intervened to make things more consistent in the less than optimal vintages, we began to see wines that were so good you couldn’t finish the glass - ripe, rich, and high in alcohol. This style may be someone’s idea of perfection, but when wines from different regions all taste the same, they became like the Stepford Wives… creepy in their perfection.
It’s a counterintuitive idea, but all the little technological steps taken to create a perfect wine has led to the blanding of a whole category of aspirational beverages. Clones were bred to ripen earlier, sugar up, and shed some acidity before the fall rains came. Viruses and diseases were controlled resulting in more vigorous vines. Sorting tables were employed to remove any less than ideal grapes, leaving only the most “perfectly” ripened examples for the fermenter. All of these things and more were done to create a riper, richer, sweeter style of wine. And, for a while, it worked. These richer wines stood out in blind tastings against leaner, more subtle entrants and were rewarded with high scores, creating an arms race for the “perfect” 100 point wine.
In the pursuit of perfection we lost something in the form of character and balance. Wines from around the world became perfectly boring with a rich, sweet flavor profile.
Balance is elusive. Most people respond to things that stand out, especially in a blind tasting. Balance becomes even more important at the dinner table. Every great chef knows that certain sweet or rich foods need acidity to balance the richness, either by adding it to the dish in the form of citrus, vinegar, or wine, or balancing it with a bright wine on the table. If there is no relief, the richness will keep building until it overwhelms the palate.
Balance is a hot topic for wine writers, sommeliers, and winemakers. Most of the discussion centers on picking grapes earlier for lower sugar, lower alcohol, and higher acidity. But this is only part of the equation - just picking earlier creates wines with the flavor profile of underripe fruit. Every grape variety, every selection or clone, has a predestined ripening cycle. Some are early ripening, some are not. Those that do are more suited to a cooler climate because in warmer situations they often sugar up before achieving flavor ripeness. Many of these earlier ripening selections were chosen for warm climates in the 80s and 90s because vineyard owners were rewarded with accolades for a riper style. Just picking these selections earlier will give you a wine with the right amount of sugar for moderate alcohols and perhaps decent acidity, but they will lack flavor. In this case, the variety, clone, or selection is out of sync (or balance) with the climate. The trick is to find the right selection for the place so the grapes can achieve flavor (physiological) ripeness by the time the grapes sugar up. This is a generational concept that (unless you have lots of history in an area) requires time and experimentation.
RSV has had over thirty years to experiment and refine - in the pursuit of balance - even when that style was not popular. I like to think that we ignored the devil on our left shoulder promising fame and fortune and instead listened to the angel of balance whispering in our right ear.

Balancing Act…
another perfect day in hell!

Your idea of perfection might very well be my idea of hell… maybe perfection is hell! We think we want things perfect and we spend our lives making “it” better, more beautiful, easier, faster… but what we really want is distinctiveness. Don’t get me wrong, we enjoy the pursuit of an ideal, but more often than not, once we’ve achieved a perception of perfection we’re rarely satisfied and find ourselves in need of new challenges - even if it means that we must ignore or reverse the advances we’ve already made.

The pursuit of perfection in fine wine is a prime example of something that, when taken too far, has unintended consequences. Achieving ripeness was historically the goal of fine wine. A benchmark “vintage” wine could only be created from a relatively warm year. But as knowledge and technology intervened to make things more consistent in the less than optimal vintages, we began to see wines that were so good you couldn’t finish the glass - ripe, rich, and high in alcohol. This style may be someone’s idea of perfection, but when wines from different regions all taste the same, they became like the Stepford Wives… creepy in their perfection.

It’s a counterintuitive idea, but all the little technological steps taken to create a perfect wine has led to the blanding of a whole category of aspirational beverages. Clones were bred to ripen earlier, sugar up, and shed some acidity before the fall rains came. Viruses and diseases were controlled resulting in more vigorous vines. Sorting tables were employed to remove any less than ideal grapes, leaving only the most “perfectly” ripened examples for the fermenter. All of these things and more were done to create a riper, richer, sweeter style of wine. And, for a while, it worked. These richer wines stood out in blind tastings against leaner, more subtle entrants and were rewarded with high scores, creating an arms race for the “perfect” 100 point wine.

In the pursuit of perfection we lost something in the form of character and balance. Wines from around the world became perfectly boring with a rich, sweet flavor profile.

Balance is elusive. Most people respond to things that stand out, especially in a blind tasting. Balance becomes even more important at the dinner table. Every great chef knows that certain sweet or rich foods need acidity to balance the richness, either by adding it to the dish in the form of citrus, vinegar, or wine, or balancing it with a bright wine on the table. If there is no relief, the richness will keep building until it overwhelms the palate.

Balance is a hot topic for wine writers, sommeliers, and winemakers. Most of the discussion centers on picking grapes earlier for lower sugar, lower alcohol, and higher acidity. But this is only part of the equation - just picking earlier creates wines with the flavor profile of underripe fruit. Every grape variety, every selection or clone, has a predestined ripening cycle. Some are early ripening, some are not. Those that do are more suited to a cooler climate because in warmer situations they often sugar up before achieving flavor ripeness. Many of these earlier ripening selections were chosen for warm climates in the 80s and 90s because vineyard owners were rewarded with accolades for a riper style. Just picking these selections earlier will give you a wine with the right amount of sugar for moderate alcohols and perhaps decent acidity, but they will lack flavor. In this case, the variety, clone, or selection is out of sync (or balance) with the climate. The trick is to find the right selection for the place so the grapes can achieve flavor (physiological) ripeness by the time the grapes sugar up. This is a generational concept that (unless you have lots of history in an area) requires time and experimentation.

RSV has had over thirty years to experiment and refine - in the pursuit of balance - even when that style was not popular. I like to think that we ignored the devil on our left shoulder promising fame and fortune and instead listened to the angel of balance whispering in our right ear.


Real Pink… the serious side of rosé!
While walking through the “Valley of the Bobs”* one day, I decided to take a left turn onto the high road. The time had come for someone to make a stand - it might as well be us.
Almost twenty five years ago, I watched one of my favorite wine styles, rosé, get molested on the altar of commerce. I was afraid if we didn’t do something soon, it would forever be tarnished with a bad reputation. The culprit was sugar-laced White Zinfandel. It ruled the shelves and created moguls out of farmers. The problem was not that it just pushed rosé out of the mindshare of “real” wine drinkers, it was tarnishing rosé’s image as the ultimate food wine.
In my mind, a great rosé is a non-cerebral, visceral beverage. It is about pure joy - fresh, vibrant, and crisp, it’s a day on the beach with fresh seafood - supper on the porch with friends - live music, salumi and cheese - a hot tub of fun, or a Sunday under the covers. If it goes with the food on your table and puts a smile on your face, it has done its job.
The problem was that most of the American rosé back then was a by-product. It was either made from grapes that couldn’t be sold because the variety (Zinfandel) had gone out of fashion, the vineyards were inferior for fine wine, or it was made from wine that was “bled” off fermenting juice to concentrate the skin contact of red wines and something had to be done with the excess. The result was usually an awkward wine with a bitterness that could only be corrected with heavy filtration and sugar.
We decided that instead of making a rosé an afterthought, we would create a pink wine from the ground up. We dedicated a block or two of our organically grown Pinot Noir from our Carneros vineyards, delicately whole cluster pressed the grapes, and cool fermented in stainless to capture the purity of the fruit. The wine was delicious, bright, and satisfying, but I couldn’t sell it. No one wanted a dry rosé for fear of being accused of drinking White Zin.
Two decades later, some people still can’t shake the image that all rosé is sickly sweet, but one by one, the “cool” kids flaunted the status-quo with their pink cred, accepting dry rosé like never before. Restaurants now have sections of their wine lists devoted to rosé, retail shops have shelves lined in shades of pink, the Nantucket wine festival is conducting a seminar called “the serious side of rosé” (I will be a presenter) and there is even a documentary movie being made called “Rosé Rising!” Pink is finally ready for its close up and, unlike the early days, it is our fastest selling wine. It only goes to show that if you do something you believe in, you will find kindred souls who like to break bread and share a pink-induced smile.* The Valley of the Bobs was an annual dinner hosted by the Culinary Institute whereas all the vintners named “Robert” were invited to co-host. One year, I sat next to a Bob whose fame was derived from White Zin. I was the only one to present a pink wine and, after I did, Bob leaned over and suggested that if I left some sugar in it, I would make a lot more money.

Real Pink…
the serious side of rosé!

While walking through the “Valley of the Bobs”* one day, I decided to take a left turn onto the high road. The time had come for someone to make a stand - it might as well be us.

Almost twenty five years ago, I watched one of my favorite wine styles, rosé, get molested on the altar of commerce. I was afraid if we didn’t do something soon, it would forever be tarnished with a bad reputation. The culprit was sugar-laced White Zinfandel. It ruled the shelves and created moguls out of farmers. The problem was not that it just pushed rosé out of the mindshare of “real” wine drinkers, it was tarnishing rosé’s image as the ultimate food wine.

In my mind, a great rosé is a non-cerebral, visceral beverage. It is about pure joy - fresh, vibrant, and crisp, it’s a day on the beach with fresh seafood - supper on the porch with friends - live music, salumi and cheese - a hot tub of fun, or a Sunday under the covers. If it goes with the food on your table and puts a smile on your face, it has done its job.

The problem was that most of the American rosé back then was a by-product. It was either made from grapes that couldn’t be sold because the variety (Zinfandel) had gone out of fashion, the vineyards were inferior for fine wine, or it was made from wine that was “bled” off fermenting juice to concentrate the skin contact of red wines and something had to be done with the excess. The result was usually an awkward wine with a bitterness that could only be corrected with heavy filtration and sugar.

We decided that instead of making a rosé an afterthought, we would create a pink wine from the ground up. We dedicated a block or two of our organically grown Pinot Noir from our Carneros vineyards, delicately whole cluster pressed the grapes, and cool fermented in stainless to capture the purity of the fruit. The wine was delicious, bright, and satisfying, but I couldn’t sell it. No one wanted a dry rosé for fear of being accused of drinking White Zin.

Two decades later, some people still can’t shake the image that all rosé is sickly sweet, but one by one, the “cool” kids flaunted the status-quo with their pink cred, accepting dry rosé like never before. Restaurants now have sections of their wine lists devoted to rosé, retail shops have shelves lined in shades of pink, the Nantucket wine festival is conducting a seminar called “the serious side of rosé” (I will be a presenter) and there is even a documentary movie being made called “Rosé Rising!” Pink is finally ready for its close up and, unlike the early days, it is our fastest selling wine. It only goes to show that if you do something you believe in, you will find kindred souls who like to break bread and share a pink-induced smile.

* The Valley of the Bobs was an annual dinner hosted by the Culinary Institute whereas all the vintners named “Robert” were invited to co-host. One year, I sat next to a Bob whose fame was derived from White Zin. I was the only one to present a pink wine and, after I did, Bob leaned over and suggested that if I left some sugar in it, I would make a lot more money.

The Sweet Spot…
You know it when you find the sweet spot. It just feels right. Like hitting a tennis ball in the center of the racket as it makes that perfect “pop” sound or swinging the bat as it meets the ball with a “thwack!” Or accelerating out of the apex of a turn in a way that puts a smile on your face - and elicits screams from your passengers.
The first known use of the phrase “sweet spot” was in the 1883 novel “Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson when John Silver states: “this here is a sweet spot, this island — a sweet spot for a lad to get ashore on. You’ll bathe, and you’ll climb trees, and you’ll hunt goats… Why, it makes me young again.”
Ah, but in 1883 “sweet” was still a luxury and the very word connoted visions of ease… the sweet life. Sugar was rare in the pre-20th century world, but even so, we craved it. We learned as hunter gatherers that sweet fruit provided instant energy and if it was that good, what if we concentrated the sugar in that fruit by drying it, or juicing it? Yum! Later, during the very beginnings of agriculture, we learned how to ferment the sugar of grapes to create a beverage for the heart and soul. Even later, in the northern reaches of the grape growing zones, the fruit would freeze on the vine and those industrious vignerons would pick the frozen fruit, press the concentrated sugar nectar from the grapes, and make a wine that both warmed the soul and sweetened the disposition… a dessert wine that had happy levels of sugar and moderately low alcohols balanced by good acidity.
The sweet spot of the past was a wine that captured the essence of perfectly ripened fruit, fruit that would have been stolen by birds or animals before humans would have been able to harvest or would have rotted before making it to market. It preserved the fruit character at its apex of ripeness.
But now sugar is cheap and commonplace. Most of us were weaned on sugared drinks and snacks. Every coffee house has jars of sugar on counters, spoonfuls of which are free for the taking. Our sugar meters are calibrated differently than our forebears and, unfortunately, more of it is needed to impress. So, if excess is what impresses, where is the sweet spot today?
I will confess that the first time I tried a “super sticky” dessert wine, I was impressed. The sweetness knocked my socks off. But as I tasted more and more sweet wines, I found that high amounts of sugar alone no longer satisfied. What I wanted was balance, something that tasted like ripe, crisp fruit…
There is a point in the cycle of a growing season when the vine no longer supports the ripening of the grape. It shuts down and the only thing that is occurring is dehydration or rot, hopefully the noble kind, removing water and concentrating sugar. However, what is being lost is acid and it is acid that makes a wine crisp and refreshing… even a sweet wine.
So, in my contradictory world, the sweet spot is more ethereal… it is the intersection of physiological and sugar ripeness… a point of libration as sweet is balanced by crisp acidity. Like biting into an optimally ripened crisp apple or peach right from the tree on a cold fall morning. This is my ideal sweet spot.

The Sweet Spot…

You know it when you find the sweet spot. It just feels right. Like hitting a tennis ball in the center of the racket as it makes that perfect “pop” sound or swinging the bat as it meets the ball with a “thwack!” Or accelerating out of the apex of a turn in a way that puts a smile on your face - and elicits screams from your passengers.

The first known use of the phrase “sweet spot” was in the 1883 novel “Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson when John Silver states: “this here is a sweet spot, this island — a sweet spot for a lad to get ashore on. You’ll bathe, and you’ll climb trees, and you’ll hunt goats… Why, it makes me young again.”

Ah, but in 1883 “sweet” was still a luxury and the very word connoted visions of ease… the sweet life. Sugar was rare in the pre-20th century world, but even so, we craved it. We learned as hunter gatherers that sweet fruit provided instant energy and if it was that good, what if we concentrated the sugar in that fruit by drying it, or juicing it? Yum! Later, during the very beginnings of agriculture, we learned how to ferment the sugar of grapes to create a beverage for the heart and soul. Even later, in the northern reaches of the grape growing zones, the fruit would freeze on the vine and those industrious vignerons would pick the frozen fruit, press the concentrated sugar nectar from the grapes, and make a wine that both warmed the soul and sweetened the disposition… a dessert wine that had happy levels of sugar and moderately low alcohols balanced by good acidity.

The sweet spot of the past was a wine that captured the essence of perfectly ripened fruit, fruit that would have been stolen by birds or animals before humans would have been able to harvest or would have rotted before making it to market. It preserved the fruit character at its apex of ripeness.

But now sugar is cheap and commonplace. Most of us were weaned on sugared drinks and snacks. Every coffee house has jars of sugar on counters, spoonfuls of which are free for the taking. Our sugar meters are calibrated differently than our forebears and, unfortunately, more of it is needed to impress. So, if excess is what impresses, where is the sweet spot today?

I will confess that the first time I tried a “super sticky” dessert wine, I was impressed. The sweetness knocked my socks off. But as I tasted more and more sweet wines, I found that high amounts of sugar alone no longer satisfied. What I wanted was balance, something that tasted like ripe, crisp fruit…

There is a point in the cycle of a growing season when the vine no longer supports the ripening of the grape. It shuts down and the only thing that is occurring is dehydration or rot, hopefully the noble kind, removing water and concentrating sugar. However, what is being lost is acid and it is acid that makes a wine crisp and refreshing… even a sweet wine.

So, in my contradictory world, the sweet spot is more ethereal… it is the intersection of physiological and sugar ripeness… a point of libration as sweet is balanced by crisp acidity. Like biting into an optimally ripened crisp apple or peach right from the tree on a cold fall morning. This is my ideal sweet spot.

Sex, Truffles & Pinot Noir
There are two things in the culinary world that are almost as satisfying as sex: truffles and perfectly aged Burgundy, um… I mean, Pinot Noir. But sometimes it’s difficult to know the real thing when chatter, created by our virtual, over-amped, “turn-it-up-to-11” conditioned society, obscures it.
A chef once told me he used truffle oil to exaggerate the flavor of real truffles because his customers complained the dish without the oil did not have enough flavor. That complaint might be viable if the chef used the lesser Summer or Chinese truffle, but not the elegant Perigord or White truffle.
The irony is that there is no truffle in truffle oil, yet we think its flavor is powerfully rich and decadent. Occasionally, pieces of Chinese truffle float in the oil to make it look like an infusion - but it rarely is. Instead, it’s usually a synthetic compound that combines thioether (2, 4-dithiapentane) with an olive or grapeseed oil base. Thioether is similar to ether except instead of an oxygen atom, it has a sulfur atom. Sounds yummy… gives new meaning to the expression, “a knock out dish!” People have come to associate and confuse the exaggerated, overzealous aroma and flavor of truffle oil for the real thing. Robert Chang of The American Truffle Company says the greatest threat to truffle farming is truffle oil, because people expect the blatancy of the oil and no longer appreciate the subtlety of the real thing.
Recently, Maria and I celebrated our anniversary with a simple white truffle pasta dish. The main flavors were from the truffle and Parmesan cheese. It was elegant and subtle… perhaps too subtle for the chosen wine that was showing a bit too sweet. Now we didn’t open a “sweet” wine per se, but this particular Pinot Noir, an expensive, highly regarded wine, was picked ripe, had relatively high alcohol and left us with a perception of fruity sweetness. So we dug deep into our stash and found an orphan bottle of our 1988 Pinot Noir. This was only our third vintage and we were still figuring out our style. When this wine was released, it was hard with tannin, high in acidity, low in alcohol and had a subtle raspberry/cranberry, tea-like aroma and flavor. The youthful version of this wine took some time to show its potential, yet it was incredible with this dish - a full twenty-five years after it was produced!
I have been fortunate to be the recipient of dumb luck. My father planted our original Pinot Noir the old-fashioned way. We tasted wines and, when we found one we liked, we went to that vineyard to take cuttings to plant in our vineyard. Much has changed since those innocent days. Back then, there was an industry-wide inferiority complex that those early Pinot Noir cuttings lacked the “oomph” associated with high quality wine. It wasn’t unusual for those early Pinot Noirs to be blended with Petite Sirah for intensity of flavor and color - but the manipulation didn’t stop there. Wood chips or planks were used to give the wine the sweet vanilla flavor of toasted oak. Then, about the time that our 1988 wine was made, vineyards were being replanted with what some vintners thought were superior clones of French Pinot Noir. These clones ripened earlier and produced wines with more intense aroma and flavor, higher alcohol and a perception of sweetness. They received high scores that resulted in more being planted… but that was not good enough. People picked riper and added acid. Some bled off juice to concentrate the juice-to-skin ratio, making the wines more intense. They sometimes even put it into a centrifuge to reduce the alcohol from these powerful, overripe wines… and somewhere along the way; some people lost their taste for elegant, subtle, and perhaps even earthy, Pinot Noir. They wanted Pinot to “knock you out!” I’m surprised that no one has yet added a little trioether to give it an exaggerated earthy, truffle “pseudo-terroir” note.
There is an old saying that the further we are from nature, the more we lose our natural taste. Or to say it another way - once we accept artifice as reality, can we regain our ability to recognize and appreciate natural purity? I am encouraged that there is a growing backlash against “overdone” wines, yet the most popular wines continue to be very ripe and sweet, with relatively high alcohol that hits you over the head. I guess there is a place for those wines… just not at the table paired with a subtle white truffle pasta dish.
That dumb-luck, combined with stubbornness, saved my beloved elegant, understated Pinot Noir. Those early “inferior” cuttings (that we now refer to as heirloom selections) turned out be the right selection for the climate. We just had to learn how to grow it well and keep our manipulative hands off it… to trust it for what it was and let it be what it is.

Sex, Truffles & Pinot Noir

There are two things in the culinary world that are almost as satisfying as sex: truffles and perfectly aged Burgundy, um… I mean, Pinot Noir. But sometimes it’s difficult to know the real thing when chatter, created by our virtual, over-amped, “turn-it-up-to-11” conditioned society, obscures it.

A chef once told me he used truffle oil to exaggerate the flavor of real truffles because his customers complained the dish without the oil did not have enough flavor. That complaint might be viable if the chef used the lesser Summer or Chinese truffle, but not the elegant Perigord or White truffle.

The irony is that there is no truffle in truffle oil, yet we think its flavor is powerfully rich and decadent. Occasionally, pieces of Chinese truffle float in the oil to make it look like an infusion - but it rarely is. Instead, it’s usually a synthetic compound that combines thioether (2, 4-dithiapentane) with an olive or grapeseed oil base. Thioether is similar to ether except instead of an oxygen atom, it has a sulfur atom. Sounds yummy… gives new meaning to the expression, “a knock out dish!” People have come to associate and confuse the exaggerated, overzealous aroma and flavor of truffle oil for the real thing. Robert Chang of The American Truffle Company says the greatest threat to truffle farming is truffle oil, because people expect the blatancy of the oil and no longer appreciate the subtlety of the real thing.

Recently, Maria and I celebrated our anniversary with a simple white truffle pasta dish. The main flavors were from the truffle and Parmesan cheese. It was elegant and subtle… perhaps too subtle for the chosen wine that was showing a bit too sweet. Now we didn’t open a “sweet” wine per se, but this particular Pinot Noir, an expensive, highly regarded wine, was picked ripe, had relatively high alcohol and left us with a perception of fruity sweetness. So we dug deep into our stash and found an orphan bottle of our 1988 Pinot Noir. This was only our third vintage and we were still figuring out our style. When this wine was released, it was hard with tannin, high in acidity, low in alcohol and had a subtle raspberry/cranberry, tea-like aroma and flavor. The youthful version of this wine took some time to show its potential, yet it was incredible with this dish - a full twenty-five years after it was produced!

I have been fortunate to be the recipient of dumb luck. My father planted our original Pinot Noir the old-fashioned way. We tasted wines and, when we found one we liked, we went to that vineyard to take cuttings to plant in our vineyard. Much has changed since those innocent days. Back then, there was an industry-wide inferiority complex that those early Pinot Noir cuttings lacked the “oomph” associated with high quality wine. It wasn’t unusual for those early Pinot Noirs to be blended with Petite Sirah for intensity of flavor and color - but the manipulation didn’t stop there. Wood chips or planks were used to give the wine the sweet vanilla flavor of toasted oak. Then, about the time that our 1988 wine was made, vineyards were being replanted with what some vintners thought were superior clones of French Pinot Noir. These clones ripened earlier and produced wines with more intense aroma and flavor, higher alcohol and a perception of sweetness. They received high scores that resulted in more being planted… but that was not good enough. People picked riper and added acid. Some bled off juice to concentrate the juice-to-skin ratio, making the wines more intense. They sometimes even put it into a centrifuge to reduce the alcohol from these powerful, overripe wines… and somewhere along the way; some people lost their taste for elegant, subtle, and perhaps even earthy, Pinot Noir. They wanted Pinot to “knock you out!” I’m surprised that no one has yet added a little trioether to give it an exaggerated earthy, truffle “pseudo-terroir” note.

There is an old saying that the further we are from nature, the more we lose our natural taste. Or to say it another way - once we accept artifice as reality, can we regain our ability to recognize and appreciate natural purity? I am encouraged that there is a growing backlash against “overdone” wines, yet the most popular wines continue to be very ripe and sweet, with relatively high alcohol that hits you over the head. I guess there is a place for those wines… just not at the table paired with a subtle white truffle pasta dish.

That dumb-luck, combined with stubbornness, saved my beloved elegant, understated Pinot Noir. Those early “inferior” cuttings (that we now refer to as heirloom selections) turned out be the right selection for the climate. We just had to learn how to grow it well and keep our manipulative hands off it… to trust it for what it was and let it be what it is.

One Vineyard - Two Grapes
I think all my smart devices are making me dumb. These days, when I sit down to write, I get an irresistible urge to check Instagram for a “like” fix… It’s as though I’ve become a lab rat, choosing cocaine over food, but in this case it’s the instant gratification of a “like” response over the quiet satisfaction of the written word. Sometimes we’re better off with fewer choices… a simplified set of parameters that allow repetition and refinement. The modern world offers up so many options, it’s easy to be intrigued by the next shiny object, distracting us from the inherent beauty of what is and leaving us yearning for what could be.
RSV has a small piece of land behind the winery where, for the past twenty-five years, we’ve been growing Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. We farm it organically with biodynamic principles. All input choices are natural and revolve around cover crops, compost, or what’s left behind by the sheep. We have no reservoir, so the vineyard gets very little water. Here, there is no instant gratification, but a long term investment: we observe how each year imprints itself on the fruit as well as the finished wine and, if necessary, make adjustments for the current season and a mental note for next year’s improvements. On harvest day, the grapes will travel from the hill to the cellar where they are transformed from fruit to wine. Decisions are made based on observation, with a focus on expressing what is there… not someone else’s ideal of what a Napa wine should be, but what’s best for this piece of land and the unique weather of the vintage.
One vineyard, two grapes, and the same winemaker for twenty five years - these three things allow a rare degree of focus and a consistency to pursue a pure, distinct expression of Cabernet Sauvignon - a refined wine of simple elegance that is unlike any other “New World” wine. It’s a wine that deserves some attention.

One Vineyard - Two Grapes

I think all my smart devices are making me dumb. These days, when I sit down to write, I get an irresistible urge to check Instagram for a “like” fix… It’s as though I’ve become a lab rat, choosing cocaine over food, but in this case it’s the instant gratification of a “like” response over the quiet satisfaction of the written word. Sometimes we’re better off with fewer choices… a simplified set of parameters that allow repetition and refinement. The modern world offers up so many options, it’s easy to be intrigued by the next shiny object, distracting us from the inherent beauty of what is and leaving us yearning for what could be.

RSV has a small piece of land behind the winery where, for the past twenty-five years, we’ve been growing Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. We farm it organically with biodynamic principles. All input choices are natural and revolve around cover crops, compost, or what’s left behind by the sheep. We have no reservoir, so the vineyard gets very little water. Here, there is no instant gratification, but a long term investment: we observe how each year imprints itself on the fruit as well as the finished wine and, if necessary, make adjustments for the current season and a mental note for next year’s improvements. On harvest day, the grapes will travel from the hill to the cellar where they are transformed from fruit to wine. Decisions are made based on observation, with a focus on expressing what is there… not someone else’s ideal of what a Napa wine should be, but what’s best for this piece of land and the unique weather of the vintage.

One vineyard, two grapes, and the same winemaker for twenty five years - these three things allow a rare degree of focus and a consistency to pursue a pure, distinct expression of Cabernet Sauvignon - a refined wine of simple elegance that is unlike any other “New World” wine. It’s a wine that deserves some attention.

Mod Merlot… the pendulum swings!

It’s déjà vu all over again. Skinny ties and tight suits are back “in.” I’ve seen this cycle a few times in my now-not-too-short life - first when the Rat Pack seduced my parents generation and then when the “Mod” inspired Who exploded on m-m-m-my generation.
When the seventies dawned, ties and lapels widened and tight pants bloomed bells on their bottoms. The human silhouette morphed into an exaggerated, exuberant caricature of self - look at the Partridge Family or Brady Bunch (or my high school yearbook) to see how bad those fashions were.
Punk imploded the late seventies, hatching a back-to-the-future, faux-mod movement with bands like the Jam and the Specials turning punk into the new wave. Skinny ties and tight suits were cool again and Vespa riding mods adorned their scooters with a plethora of unintentionally symbolic rear-view mirrors. Oh, but that too was short lived. The eighties witnessed a return to bad fashion with Miami Vice shark-skin zoot-suits and big-hair that only a David Byrne/Talking Heads giant suit parody could de-rail, making way for the next generation of trend setters… grunge!
Well, the skinny tie is back. Though in a curated way. People want to be down to earth, yet fashionable. A black denim trucker’s jacket cut tight in a sport coat trim. Jeans made of Japanese fabric, tailored to fit close. It is a mash-up of what came before… a search for something authentic from the land where anything goes.
I’ve always said that RSV Merlot is not a fashion statement. It can’t be when you are farming the land and growing the grapes. It takes too long to create the wine to be a follower of trends… that is, unless you go out of your way to be trendy - but then you run the risk of one day becoming unfashionable.
The history of Merlot in the New World is actually shorter than the story of the skinny tie, but in some odd way it has parallels.
Merlot was a relatively unknown upstart, living in the shadow of Cabernet Sauvignon and looked upon as a blending grape when, in the early nineties, it took center stage. At first it was seen as an elegant counter point to the more tannic and green Cabernet Sauvignon of the time. But it slowly began to believe its own press. Merlot producers latched on to the buzzwords of “soft,” “lush,” and “unctuous,” and learned that Merlot could be planted in marginal areas and manipulated to fulfill pre-conceived notions. As the nineties became more exuberant, the wines did too until, like David Byrne wearing the giant suit, Paul Giamatti uttered the now famous cinematic Merlot slur and suddenly, no one wanted to be seen with a glass of Merlot in their hand. Excess killed the grape.
However, excess also did the grape a favor. Since Merlot lived and died the trendy life, it fell off the radar. Those chasing the market had no choice but to rip up their Merlot vineyards and plant something that might be producing in time for the next trend. But those committed to the grape (with vineyards in select regions that produce elegant, untrendy Merlot) stuck to their guns and soldiered on… focusing their production and their skills to make classically proportioned Merlot that they wanted to drink.
Perhaps RSV Merlot is more like fashion than I want to admit… yes, it’s a timeless classic.
Mod Merlot… the pendulum swings!

It’s déjà vu all over again. Skinny ties and tight suits are back “in.” I’ve seen this cycle a few times in my now-not-too-short life - first when the Rat Pack seduced my parents generation and then when the “Mod” inspired Who exploded on m-m-m-my generation.

When the seventies dawned, ties and lapels widened and tight pants bloomed bells on their bottoms. The human silhouette morphed into an exaggerated, exuberant caricature of self - look at the Partridge Family or Brady Bunch (or my high school yearbook) to see how bad those fashions were.

Punk imploded the late seventies, hatching a back-to-the-future, faux-mod movement with bands like the Jam and the Specials turning punk into the new wave. Skinny ties and tight suits were cool again and Vespa riding mods adorned their scooters with a plethora of unintentionally symbolic rear-view mirrors. Oh, but that too was short lived. The eighties witnessed a return to bad fashion with Miami Vice shark-skin zoot-suits and big-hair that only a David Byrne/Talking Heads giant suit parody could de-rail, making way for the next generation of trend setters… grunge!

Well, the skinny tie is back. Though in a curated way. People want to be down to earth, yet fashionable. A black denim trucker’s jacket cut tight in a sport coat trim. Jeans made of Japanese fabric, tailored to fit close. It is a mash-up of what came before… a search for something authentic from the land where anything goes.

I’ve always said that RSV Merlot is not a fashion statement. It can’t be when you are farming the land and growing the grapes. It takes too long to create the wine to be a follower of trends… that is, unless you go out of your way to be trendy - but then you run the risk of one day becoming unfashionable.

The history of Merlot in the New World is actually shorter than the story of the skinny tie, but in some odd way it has parallels.

Merlot was a relatively unknown upstart, living in the shadow of Cabernet Sauvignon and looked upon as a blending grape when, in the early nineties, it took center stage. At first it was seen as an elegant counter point to the more tannic and green Cabernet Sauvignon of the time. But it slowly began to believe its own press. Merlot producers latched on to the buzzwords of “soft,” “lush,” and “unctuous,” and learned that Merlot could be planted in marginal areas and manipulated to fulfill pre-conceived notions. As the nineties became more exuberant, the wines did too until, like David Byrne wearing the giant suit, Paul Giamatti uttered the now famous cinematic Merlot slur and suddenly, no one wanted to be seen with a glass of Merlot in their hand. Excess killed the grape.

However, excess also did the grape a favor. Since Merlot lived and died the trendy life, it fell off the radar. Those chasing the market had no choice but to rip up their Merlot vineyards and plant something that might be producing in time for the next trend. But those committed to the grape (with vineyards in select regions that produce elegant, untrendy Merlot) stuck to their guns and soldiered on… focusing their production and their skills to make classically proportioned Merlot that they wanted to drink.

Perhaps RSV Merlot is more like fashion than I want to admit… yes, it’s a timeless classic.

The Agrarian Worker…Aries terroirist tendencies
As California grape growers, we are spoiled. Compared with our French, German, or even Oregon friends, we have idyllic weather. Little gets in the way of our ability to bring in a great crop. We historically experience no hail, rarely any rain, and very little pestilence during the growing season - but there still is risk. The ideal can encourage complacency, leaving one unprepared for those years when nature changes its rhythm.
Every year offers a unique set of challenges, but 1989 was our first experience with a truly difficult vintage when the skies opened up during harvest and the rain came down. The entire valley was atwitter with technology-based solutions. Restaurant suppliers and grocery outlets could not keep sugar in stock. (In this country it was, and still is, illegal to add sugar to wine so we’re still trying to figure out where all that sugar went.) Some, more law abiding, winemakers chose a technologically challenging, yet legal, remedy. They picked some of their fruit early, had it concentrated, then added it to the fermenter weeks later with just-picked fruit. Others chose the dramatic, flying helicopters low over the vineyards to “air dry” the grapes, timed to go airborne when the local Bay Area news crews appeared.
Critics outright declared the vintage a failure, essentially destroying the marketability of the wine. It was anything but that - the vintage just had a different character than the sloppy, sun-driven wines that garnered high scores before; that is, unless you tried to turn them into something they were not meant to be.
Our solution to the pre-conceived notions of the ’89 vintage was not to barrage the wine with tech, but rather to let it be itself, a lighter more delicate Pinot Noir. We then created a new label we called Aries.We figured the wine was good, it was just stylistically different than what people had come to expect from Robert Sinskey Vineyards. In later years, we would dust off the Aries label whenever we had a lot or two of wine that did not fit stylistically into the blend, or when we were figuring out the character of a new vineyard.
Now that our vineyards are mature and we’ve refined our selections and varieties to best express terroir, we no longer have as many “outlier” lots of wine. But sometimes, the weather forces our hand. Since we do not “manipulate” our wines, we have to make choices and let the grapes do what they are going to do. Then it is up to us to select what lots should go into which wines.
Aries has grown up and lost some of its whimsy in exchange for gravitas. It sports a new label based on an ancient etching that reflects a wine with a more grown up character, richer and more full bodied than our other RSV Pinots. It is also more satisfying at a younger age. It is a true California Pinot.
In Babylonian times, the constellation Aries was known as “The Agrarian Worker” - this seems appropriate for this wine, as its character is defined in the vineyard.

The Agrarian Worker…
Aries terroirist tendencies

As California grape growers, we are spoiled. Compared with our French, German, or even Oregon friends, we have idyllic weather. Little gets in the way of our ability to bring in a great crop. We historically experience no hail, rarely any rain, and very little pestilence during the growing season - but there still is risk. The ideal can encourage complacency, leaving one unprepared for those years when nature changes its rhythm.

Every year offers a unique set of challenges, but 1989 was our first experience with a truly difficult vintage when the skies opened up during harvest and the rain came down. The entire valley was atwitter with technology-based solutions. Restaurant suppliers and grocery outlets could not keep sugar in stock. (In this country it was, and still is, illegal to add sugar to wine so we’re still trying to figure out where all that sugar went.) Some, more law abiding, winemakers chose a technologically challenging, yet legal, remedy. They picked some of their fruit early, had it concentrated, then added it to the fermenter weeks later with just-picked fruit. Others chose the dramatic, flying helicopters low over the vineyards to “air dry” the grapes, timed to go airborne when the local Bay Area news crews appeared.

Critics outright declared the vintage a failure, essentially destroying the marketability of the wine. It was anything but that - the vintage just had a different character than the sloppy, sun-driven wines that garnered high scores before; that is, unless you tried to turn them into something they were not meant to be.

Our solution to the pre-conceived notions of the ’89 vintage was not to barrage the wine with tech, but rather to let it be itself, a lighter more delicate Pinot Noir. We then created a new label we called Aries.
We figured the wine was good, it was just stylistically different than what people had come to expect from Robert Sinskey Vineyards. In later years, we would dust off the Aries label whenever we had a lot or two of wine that did not fit stylistically into the blend, or when we were figuring out the character of a new vineyard.

Now that our vineyards are mature and we’ve refined our selections and varieties to best express terroir, we no longer have as many “outlier” lots of wine. But sometimes, the weather forces our hand. Since we do not “manipulate” our wines, we have to make choices and let the grapes do what they are going to do. Then it is up to us to select what lots should go into which wines.

Aries has grown up and lost some of its whimsy in exchange for gravitas. It sports a new label based on an ancient etching that reflects a wine with a more grown up character, richer and more full bodied than our other RSV Pinots. It is also more satisfying at a younger age. It is a true California Pinot.

In Babylonian times, the constellation Aries was known as “The Agrarian Worker” - this seems appropriate for this wine, as its character is defined in the vineyard.


THE PERFECT CIRCLE… Birds, Bees and Pinot Noir!
The diving pelican elicited shrieks of joy as it crashed into the pacific. The large, pre-historic looking bird was a rarity in the 60’s and a sighting was almost as thrilling as witnessing its dive-bomb aerobatics.
More than fifty years ago, the big bird was near extinction… decimated by the genius of our species. We humans are good at problem solving, probably too good. We have a myopic tendency to immerse ourselves in finding a solution to a singular problem before understanding how that might impact other living things.
The chain of events began with a noble purpose - to eradicate the malaria carrying mosquito and the typhus spreading louse. Typically, the “humanitarian” purpose was a means to protect our WWII era troops by protecting the local population. DDT was the solution and it was sprayed everywhere the insects lived. It was so effective that the chemist who recognized its insecticidal use was awarded a Nobel prize and the World Health Organization deployed it in its chemical arsenal. On the home front, it became so commonplace that it could be found on most farms, in our beds, and under the kitchen sink.
For a while, life was great. The good guys won the war, food became plentiful and cheap, malaria and typhus deaths dropped precipitously. Then, seemingly unrelated to all this, scientists began noticing that the pelican, osprey, peregrine falcon, and, the symbol of America itself, the bald eagle, were all in serious decline… but there were no bodies to reveal cause and effect.
As DDT increased in popularity, it found its way to the oceans, entered the food chain and, since it was fat soluble, persisted. It worked its way up the chain, concentrating, until it reached the predatory birds at the top. Instead of killing the birds outright, it thinned their eggshells so the incubating bird crushed its offspring under its own weight.
However, this tragedy didn’t enter the public consciousness until Rachel Carson’s seminal book “Silent Spring.” Carson also indicted DDT as a carcinogen. As a result, it was eventually banned for use in the United States – though, unbelievably, it is still in use in North Korea and India.
Fortunately, the use of DDT was curtailed in time for the birds to return from the brink, but this episode stands as a reminder that we don’t have all the answers.
We forget that everything is interrelated, how complicated and unpredictable natural systems are. We compartmentalize, using chemicals in our backyard to kill what ails our ornamentals, destroy pesky weeds, or kill those ants, without a thought to the larger ecosystem. It is not so much this spot use, but rather the accumulated effect these chemicals have on the environment as they run off into storm drains, mix into a toxic slurry and enter the food chain… never mind the accumulated effect these chemicals have on you and your family. You have little control over your exposure outside the home, but you do have a choice in what you purchase and use.
Recently, certain pesticides have been indicated in the mass collapse of bee colonies. The debate still rages as to the exact cause. There is evidence that it is a fungal disease, but it is believed that exposure to insecticides weakens the bee’s immune system, allowing the fungus to rage unchecked. If the bees don’t survive, the use of chemicals in our food supply will be a false economy.
Why write this in what should be a short marketing piece for wine? For me, it’s never been about just selling something… I feel as a business owner I should bear more responsibility than that. Maybe the real products I am selling are ideas… or thoughts that happen to taste good. I would like to believe we are offering guilt-free hedonism - because if something is going to be luxurious, it should do no harm.
When we called our series of limited release Pinot Noirs “A Perfect Circle,” it was more a philosophical statement - an aspirational goal - to view everything as interconnected. It is a never-ending quest to understand the impact our farming and winemaking have on an impossibly complex environment - improving methods as we go to lessen those impacts while increasing the quality of our fruit and wines. This begins by not using synthetics in the vineyard… but there is so much more.
For example, how soil structure is important for mycorrhizae and how that mycorrhizae can transport nutrients to the roots of the vine. Or, how cover crops can support soil structure and the waste of sheep eating those cover crops can increase soil fertility. Or, how increased organic content of the soil actually sequesters carbon. Or, most amazingly, how the vine can access the nutrients in this soil to create balanced, healthy fruit that can make better wine.
Off the farm, we look at ways to offset the energy used in winemaking by increasing efficiency, generating energy from solar, and using carbon offsets to defer the energy used in shipping the wine.
Finally, no matter what we do ourselves, we can’t solve all the problems on our own. If we want to keep moving forward, it comes back to educating the next generation. A Perfect Circle gives back 5% of the proceeds to educate youth about organic farming and the importance of heirloom preservation. Eventually, the goal is to develop a farm where young and old can come to learn. When, and if, this happens, the circle will be one step closer to perfection.

THE PERFECT CIRCLE…
Birds, Bees and Pinot Noir!

The diving pelican elicited shrieks of joy as it crashed into the pacific. The large, pre-historic looking bird was a rarity in the 60’s and a sighting was almost as thrilling as witnessing its dive-bomb aerobatics.

More than fifty years ago, the big bird was near extinction… decimated by the genius of our species. We humans are good at problem solving, probably too good. We have a myopic tendency to immerse ourselves in finding a solution to a singular problem before understanding how that might impact other living things.

The chain of events began with a noble purpose - to eradicate the malaria carrying mosquito and the typhus spreading louse. Typically, the “humanitarian” purpose was a means to protect our WWII era troops by protecting the local population. DDT was the solution and it was sprayed everywhere the insects lived. It was so effective that the chemist who recognized its insecticidal use was awarded a Nobel prize and the World Health Organization deployed it in its chemical arsenal. On the home front, it became so commonplace that it could be found on most farms, in our beds, and under the kitchen sink.

For a while, life was great. The good guys won the war, food became plentiful and cheap, malaria and typhus deaths dropped precipitously. Then, seemingly unrelated to all this, scientists began noticing that the pelican, osprey, peregrine falcon, and, the symbol of America itself, the bald eagle, were all in serious decline… but there were no bodies to reveal cause and effect.

As DDT increased in popularity, it found its way to the oceans, entered the food chain and, since it was fat soluble, persisted. It worked its way up the chain, concentrating, until it reached the predatory birds at the top. Instead of killing the birds outright, it thinned their eggshells so the incubating bird crushed its offspring under its own weight.

However, this tragedy didn’t enter the public consciousness until Rachel Carson’s seminal book “Silent Spring.” Carson also indicted DDT as a carcinogen. As a result, it was eventually banned for use in the United States – though, unbelievably, it is still in use in North Korea and India.

Fortunately, the use of DDT was curtailed in time for the birds to return from the brink, but this episode stands as a reminder that we don’t have all the answers.

We forget that everything is interrelated, how complicated and unpredictable natural systems are. We compartmentalize, using chemicals in our backyard to kill what ails our ornamentals, destroy pesky weeds, or kill those ants, without a thought to the larger ecosystem. It is not so much this spot use, but rather the accumulated effect these chemicals have on the environment as they run off into storm drains, mix into a toxic slurry and enter the food chain… never mind the accumulated effect these chemicals have on you and your family. You have little control over your exposure outside the home, but you do have a choice in what you purchase and use.

Recently, certain pesticides have been indicated in the mass collapse of bee colonies. The debate still rages as to the exact cause. There is evidence that it is a fungal disease, but it is believed that exposure to insecticides weakens the bee’s immune system, allowing the fungus to rage unchecked. If the bees don’t survive, the use of chemicals in our food supply will be a false economy.

Why write this in what should be a short marketing piece for wine? For me, it’s never been about just selling something… I feel as a business owner I should bear more responsibility than that. Maybe the real products I am selling are ideas… or thoughts that happen to taste good. I would like to believe we are offering guilt-free hedonism - because if something is going to be luxurious, it should do no harm.

When we called our series of limited release Pinot Noirs “A Perfect Circle,” it was more a philosophical statement - an aspirational goal - to view everything as interconnected. It is a never-ending quest to understand the impact our farming and winemaking have on an impossibly complex environment - improving methods as we go to lessen those impacts while increasing the quality of our fruit and wines. This begins by not using synthetics in the vineyard… but there is so much more.

For example, how soil structure is important for mycorrhizae and how that mycorrhizae can transport nutrients to the roots of the vine. Or, how cover crops can support soil structure and the waste of sheep eating those cover crops can increase soil fertility. Or, how increased organic content of the soil actually sequesters carbon. Or, most amazingly, how the vine can access the nutrients in this soil to create balanced, healthy fruit that can make better wine.

Off the farm, we look at ways to offset the energy used in winemaking by increasing efficiency, generating energy from solar, and using carbon offsets to defer the energy used in shipping the wine.

Finally, no matter what we do ourselves, we can’t solve all the problems on our own. If we want to keep moving forward, it comes back to educating the next generation. A Perfect Circle gives back 5% of the proceeds to educate youth about organic farming and the importance of heirloom preservation. Eventually, the goal is to develop a farm where young and old can come to learn. When, and if, this happens, the circle will be one step closer to perfection.


Instant Gratification… after a dozen years of practice!
I love my old Polaroid Pathfinder camera with its bellows, manual Rodenstock lens, rangefinder focus and Prontor shutter – it’s a beautiful example of industrial art. Then there is the ritual of using it. You first open it, extend the bellows, flip down the metal lens cap, frame your subject, take a light meter reading, set the aperture and shutter speed, cock the shutter, focus the rangefinder then move your eye to the framing finder (without moving the camera) to make sure you are properly framed, push the shutter release, pull the paper tab, pull the film through the rollers to release the chemicals, wait for the right amount of development time based on ambient temperature and then, after anywhere from 15 seconds to 2 minutes, peel off the backing and enjoy your “instant” photo… but your job isn’t done yet as you rarely get the shot on the first try so you need to assess your image for focus and/or exposure, make corrections and start over. Not only did I have to put in a lot of work for that “instant” moment, an amazing amount of science, chemistry, and industrial might went into the making of that little rectangle of magic.
I also love a dry Muscat for its high place on the pleasure meter with its instant, smile-inducing dose of spicy grape-ness. However, before the first glass cap was popped on our little moment of happiness, lots of stuff had to happen in just the right way. First, we had to source the noble “á petits grain” clone of Muscat before we could plant it in our Scintilla Sonoma Vineyard some dozen years ago. Then we grew cover crops to provide bio-mass, tilled at just the right time, grazed sheep, created and administered biodynamic preparations, experimented with picking times and fermentations for the first few vintages until we got it “right.” Then we planted some more Muscat so we could have enough grapes to fill up a small fermenter. The result is a wine that provides instant gratification… it just took a dozen years of practice to bring this instantly gratifying moment to you.

Instant Gratification…
after a dozen years of practice!

I love my old Polaroid Pathfinder camera with its bellows, manual Rodenstock lens, rangefinder focus and Prontor shutter – it’s a beautiful example of industrial art. Then there is the ritual of using it. You first open it, extend the bellows, flip down the metal lens cap, frame your subject, take a light meter reading, set the aperture and shutter speed, cock the shutter, focus the rangefinder then move your eye to the framing finder (without moving the camera) to make sure you are properly framed, push the shutter release, pull the paper tab, pull the film through the rollers to release the chemicals, wait for the right amount of development time based on ambient temperature and then, after anywhere from 15 seconds to 2 minutes, peel off the backing and enjoy your “instant” photo… but your job isn’t done yet as you rarely get the shot on the first try so you need to assess your image for focus and/or exposure, make corrections and start over. Not only did I have to put in a lot of work for that “instant” moment, an amazing amount of science, chemistry, and industrial might went into the making of that little rectangle of magic.

I also love a dry Muscat for its high place on the pleasure meter with its instant, smile-inducing dose of spicy grape-ness. However, before the first glass cap was popped on our little moment of happiness, lots of stuff had to happen in just the right way. First, we had to source the noble “á petits grain” clone of Muscat before we could plant it in our Scintilla Sonoma Vineyard some dozen years ago. Then we grew cover crops to provide bio-mass, tilled at just the right time, grazed sheep, created and administered biodynamic preparations, experimented with picking times and fermentations for the first few vintages until we got it “right.” Then we planted some more Muscat so we could have enough grapes to fill up a small fermenter. The result is a wine that provides instant gratification… it just took a dozen years of practice to bring this instantly gratifying moment to you.