This week the entire country decends upon Sacramento, CA for the 2018 Unified Wine and Grape Symposium. This is, by far, the largest wine focused trade show in the US. All the suppliers for anything having to do with grapes or wine are in attendance and one can easily just attend the exhibit halls and not see the entire show space. I like to attend the talks though. It starts on Tuesday with the Keynote luncheon. These talks are separate from the show itself which starts Wednesday but it never fails to be inspiring and full of good information. Tomorrow’s speaker is Gina Gallo of the winemaking giant Gallo. Gina is known to have been one of the driving forces behind repositioning the company towards higher end wines so her insight into the industry I’m sure will be interesting. After last year’s luncheon with wine writer Eric Asimov, I walked away with close to 10 pages of notes. To save my hand, I’ve brought my SurfacePro this year and fully anticipate getting some good information again.
Another one of my favorite highlights is the “State of the Industry” talk which kicks off the main part of the symposium on Wednesday morning. Having any one of the speakers present their information to you would cost you well beyond the price of an admission ticket but the panel of people that they assemble for this gives a very detailed look at the state of the industry in California. Although global issues are touched on it is a CA driven talk but there are always good parallels to be gleaned. Since CA makes up 90% of the wine industry in this country, knowing where CA is going gives good insight into where the market is going.
The rest of the day is split into “tracks” with multiple sessions being held at the same time for viticulture, winemaking, and marketing. It never fails that I end up wanting to go to two or three talks the happen at the same time and need to make a game day decision.
Thursday tends to be a lighter talk day with less in depth subjects so that usually ends up being my trade show day. You MUST go to the trade show with a plan. Inevitably, one will run into a bunch of friends and colleagues and it will take three times as long as you expect to cruise down each aisle as you find people to catch up with you haven’t seen in years.
The social aspect of the show cannot be discounted either. Planning one’s dinner and after party schedule is almost as hectic as planning what you want to see at the show itself. The bars at the two main hotels, The Sheraton Grand and the Hyatt Regency, are guaranteed hang out spots for after late night activities. I have often wondered if they prepare for this week like generals preparing for battle. Getting a room at one of these hotels is a feat in itself since they are snapped up within seconds of being released. I felt it was a major accomplishment to have gotten a room at the Hyatt for this year’s show. I’ve never been on top of it enough to have booked one of these rooms before without being a speaker.
However you look at it, Unified is one of the key meeting of the minds of the US wine industry. Regardless of your geographic location, there is a wealth of information here for anyone who wants it.
Photo from UnifiedSymposium.org
It feels in some ways that this has been a super long harvest and in others it fells so short. We had the rain on and off for the week in early October but since then the weather has been beautiful. Riesling has been very strange this year. There was a large crop and that led to many vineyards stalling out in the mid-teens for Brix and moving very slowly. The best growers as always managed to produce beautiful fruit regardless.
The barrel fermented Blaufrankisch is settled into barrels (for aging this time) and going through ML. It looks very promising. We finally picked our Riesling for 240 Days last week and it is getting ready to go through primary fermentation. The 240 Days Rose looks and smells like pink Sauvignon Blanc which is super interesting and delicious. It just finished fermentation and will get sulfur this week. Also on my list soon is getting the 2016 Cabernet Franc out of barrels and blended.
I know the snow is coming soon and with it a slow down in my travels but greater focus on what is happening in the winery. The start of the 240 Days of winemaking is upon us!
As a side note, I’m excited to announce my blog has been named one of the top 100 wine blogs on Feedspot, was listed as one of the top 10 wine blogs on 10Greatest.com, and I did a quick interview with the WSET out of London. Find that full article here. All in all it’s been a great week!
Finally, it has dried out. I can walk in the vineyards and my back yard without worrying about sinking into a puddle. Since my last update we have still had several more storms however it has not been everyday and we have at last seen a return to sun which gave us a few weeks of normal summer weather. Despite this, the humidity has stayed very high and has caused growers to continue to be on their game with fungus sprays. Downy mildew has been widespread this year. This week brought many storms as a cold front moved through and now our forecast says nights in the 50s with highs in the 70s over the next week or so. Luckily it is supposed to be relatively dry over the same period. If this continues it should make up for the crazy rain from earlier in the “summer”.
The reds are just now going through veraison but many of the white hybrids are within a few weeks of harvest. We are starting our Aurore harvest tomorrow for sparkling and we will continue almost constantly until mid-October. The vinifera is very exciting this year with the cool nights. It should be a beautiful year for acid assuming the rest of the fruit is clean. If we get a moderately warm September with low rainfall and cool nights, this vintage could be spectacular. It is still too early to tell but the vines are healthy.
Blaufrankisch at the start of veraison
I’m getting ready to crush Blaufrӓnkisch (Pronounced Blaw-fraan-kish) for the first time for the 240 Days Project. I’ve never worked with this variety but I’m extremely excited about it for the Finger Lakes. It is an Austrian variety, mainly grown in the Burgenland with characters similar to Syrah but with a Cabernet-like structure. Most of the local wineries call this variety Lemberger and many cite Blaufrӓnkisch’s challenging pronunciation as the reason to do so. I have my own thoughts on this since we haven’t found another name for Gewürztraminer (Ge-vurz-tra-meen-er) yet and goodness knows that one is equally challenging. Blaufrӓnkisch is a deeply colored variety that ripens a week to week and a half ahead of where Cabernet Franc ripens, making it very appropriate for our short growing seasons. In anticipation of the small but fun project, I’m going to do something else I’ve never done; I’m going to ferment it in barrels. That has necessitated me purchasing coopering tools, pictured below. These will help me remove the hoops and heads then retighten the hoops in order to be able to stand the barrels on their remaining head and dump in the harvested fruit.
Barrel Wax, Head Tool, Hoop Hammer, and large L shape is a Head Holder.
This is something I had always wanted to do with the To Kalon fruit in Napa but we never got around to trying it before I moved. I think the roundness of the palate of the Blaufrӓnkisch and the spicy character will pair nicely with the natural structure and complexity of an oak fermentation. There will be challenges since these will need to be punched down rather than a pump over. The early cap work I usually do during a red fermentation will be much harder. I am considering getting a wader and punching down by foot but we’ll see.
Today, I’m off to China for the final trip of the Ningxia Winemaker Challenge. On August 29th we all find out how we did over the past two years. This has been an incredible experience and one which I will remember forever. I can’t wait to find out how the wine is received.