Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Press Release for Trio That I Really Wanted to Send Out

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (Brogue, PA) – The winemakers from three Pennsylvania wineries have teamed up once again to produce a collaborative wine. Or collaborate on the producing of a wine.  (OK, let's just be happy that they didn't drink the blending session away.....)

Winemakers Brad Knapp (Pinnacle Ridge Winery, Kutztown), Joanne Levengood (Manatawny Creek Winery, Amityville), and Carl Helrich (Allegro Winery, Brogue) have combined what could at best be described as their non-weaknesses into the bottling of a so-called "reserve" quality wine named Trio.  For the third and so far most redundant time, it's a dry red blend from grapes grown in the vineyard of each winery.  We wish they could come up with something new, but since this is only the third time in eight vintages, we should be happy they at least got their acts together enough not to make us wait a whole decade.

The wine is made in the style of a classic Bordeaux – a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot. Again, it seems as though years of swilling wine in dark cellars has addled their creative juices, thus leading to this unimaginative blend that everyone else and their cousins seem to produce.  The first Trio debuted from the 2007 vintage and the second from 2010. This one is from grapes grown in 2015.  Is this important?  Probably not.  Will there ever be another one?  Who the heck knows?

The criteria that determine when a new vintage of the wine will be made is simple: The winemaking trifecta must not disagree that the fruit warrants spending extra time with each other and dealing with all the snafus that come with any sort of partnership.  And, they also claim that the wine tastes good.  That does help.

Each spring, Knapp, Levengood, and Helrich get together to taste each other’s wines in barrels from the prior harvest to make this determination.  They've been doing this for years.  It usually happens at Joanne's place, sometimes at her house where her cats seem to walk all over the tasting notes those years.  (Nobody complains since they're usually half-lit by lunchtime anyway.)

“It was amazing to realize what a pain in the ass it is to collaborate on a mutually beneficial project with other winemakers," said Knapp, “Well, we got the wine in the bottle, and I think we're still all friends, but it was close this time.”

Levengood, whose winery hosted the actual bottling because she doesn't trust Brad or Carl not to screw it up, said "Who in the heck had this idea for working together?  I'd rather go back in my hole of a cellar and wait for harvest, dammit.  Where's my beer?"

While there has been an enormous increase in the number of wineries in the Commonwealth--probably too many at this point-- these three winemakers have been around longer than most. "I think our Trio wine is the culmination of roughly 70 years' worth of winemaking experience,” explained Helrich, “But if I don't see Joanne's bottling line in the next ten years, it'll still be too soon!"

The 2015 Trio will be released for tasting and sales at all 3 wineries on Mother's Day weekend, Friday, May 12th.  We all know that they'll tell you that Trio is a limited edition wine available at each location while supplies last.  But we know good and well that it's only "limited" because they plan on drinking most of it themselves.
Those are wine bottles

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Why We Plant What We Plant

I realized today that I have a different view on time.  The older I get, the days and hours fly by.  I used to think that five years was an eternity.  Now, I think it's just around the corner.  (Yeah, I know that it has to with the relativistic perspective we have of time and how it relates to how much time we have spent on this planet.)

I'm also in love with vineyards.  There's something timeless about vineyards even though the fruit of their lives is about as time-bound as can be.  (That's a subject for a whole other post: how wine is a year bottled up.)
Getting ready to plant.....

But then I believe that we plant vineyards for the next generation.  Hell, that's why we planted that three acre block of Merlot 181.  But I also know that we've been growing vinifera grapes successfully for over 50 years, and we know where to plant what these days for the most part.  Yes, there are subtleties that need to be teased out, and we haven't shown what exactly is best exactly where.  But we know that Concords and Niagaras grow well in Erie and the Finger Lakes, that Riesling needs cool nights along with Pinot, that it's too cold for Merlot north of I-80 in PA and it's best to plant Bordeaux south of the turnpike.  

It's like when I tell someone I don't know much about growing grapes here yet.  It's not like I'm telling them that they should go and start from square one.  But my "ignorance" is based on 18 years of growing grapes, and talking to people with decades of experience.  It's ignorance from an omniscient point of view, but people take it as a license that our industry has no clue what we're doing and that they can be pioneers here.  The pioneers were all done and gone by 1990.  We're standing on their shoulders.

New vine growth
This industry is slowly moving towards vinifera due to consumer acceptance of our wines that are better than they used to be.  Not that any winery is abandoning hybrids and natives.  Allegro isn't.  But the wine drinking community is starting to take notice of vinifera wines.  As is the press.  The hybrid/native common denominator will always be there, but local communities don't usually "take pride" in them.  They are proud of their vinifera, and that's what starts to get noticed by the media and on a national level.  

We don't need to grow hybrids for the reason that we think we don't know if vinifera will grow or not in a certain place.  Willy Frank disproved that years ago.   (But shot himself in the foot by saying that hybrids caused cancer.)  The real question is, does a person want to make wines that are going to have to compete against regional, nation, and international wines in the  marketplace or does a person want to make local wines with a local following (from hybrids and natives).  (That said, Hazlitt, Duplin, and Oliver have transcended the local with some of their hybrid and native wines, but they aren't national by any stretch of the imagination.  

I like to tell my tours that people usually plant grapes where they want, wondering if they'll grow. I tell them, of course, they'll grow.  It's between the 30th and 40th parallel.  That's where grapes grow.  The real question is, should we be growing a certain variety here?  And more importantly, do we want to drink the wine made from that variety grown in that place.

Americans have a need to reinvent the wheel.  They think that if nobody has done it before, then they can be first.  Usually they haven't done enough research.  We know so much about wine, but it's mostly in the other words, what not to do.  Just because someone has never blended Chardonnay and DeChaunac for a blush wine doesn't mean it should be done.  (I saw that once at a's the way homewinemakers think.)
Old vine showing its old character

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Why I am Dumber Now Than I've Ever Been in my Entire Life

Years ago, sometime in my early thirties, I read somewhere that the human brain is at its best for raw computing capacity at around age 24.  This was depressing to me.  (Sorry....I've forgotten the reference here, but it was legitimate, trust me....this was before Facebook.)
Obligatory picture of Enistein from Wikipedia

I'd known at that time that I wasn't as accurate and quick with my math skills as I used to be, but I chalked that up to just being too stressed with starting a winery or short on sleep due to young kids and being tired or focusing on a million other things.  There was no way in hell I was getting slow at age thirty-four.

(Note beside: in hindsight, that was the year in my life that I was at my peak physically as measured by the amount of pure labor I was able to's been downhill ever since.....may this be a warning to all you thirty-three year old males out there!)

Now, we've all been told that as we get older our wisdom increases.  What does that mean?  I like to think of intelligence as the ability to know how to use something, much like using it as a tool.  Wisdom, in my analogy, is knowing how it works.  Very different.  It has to do with the underlying factors out there.

But, you'll say, I was twenty-two and I knew how an internal combustion engine works, so what the hell am I talking about?

It's more about the structure of things, how things interconnect.  And more importantly, why they interconnect.  The first inkling I got about wisdom was when I figured out Jerry Maguire was's all about the me the money....follow the money.  (Money being a very dirty term for any kind of currency, be it monetary, goods-oriented, or anything intangible like attention or affection.)

I thought that was wise at the time, and in many senses it was.  But seeing the forces that act on behavior in an internal personal realm, human societies, or even the natural world, is what I call wisdom.

From somewhere on the interwebs:
home winemaking at its simplest.
It's even found in winemaking.  Anyone can make wine.  Any one.  Yes, you, too.  Hell, grapes want to become wine (with the help of ever-present yeast.)  The problem is that without human intervention, wine quickly becomes undrinkable (vinegar).

The bare mechanics of fermentation are easy to understand.  Start with a substratum of liquid with sugar.  Introduce yeast.  Fermentation occurs.  Wine results.  Congratulations, you're a winemaker!

But that's not really "wise" winemaking, nor is it really "intelligent" winemking but we'll let that pass for right now.....  It's winemaking, sure, but there's no thought about an end product.  Or at least, there's no real thought about where the wine will end up.  There's always a need to have a goal for winemaking.  Goal-less winemaking is all about luck.  An old boss of mine once said, "Even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes."  True.

Winemaking with wisdom is knowing where a wine should be going, and even more importantly knowing where it can't go and and when not to push it.  That's because I am starting to understand the interconnections of winemaking, perhaps getting closer to "wise" winemaking.  Unfortunately or forutnately as the case may be, I feel like I "know" less these days than I ever used to about winemaking--more of an uncertainty than anything else--and yet the wines seem to be better.  At least that's what I tell myself.

Am I dumber than I've ever been?  Yes, the further away from that magical age of twenty-four I referred to earlier.  Am I wiser than I've ever been?  Sure!  Every year that goes by is one where I like to think that I gain in wisdom.  But this brings up an important point, one probably best illustrated by a graph.

(Graph and data by the author)
Since intelligence and wisdom both can be related to age, we can plot them versus time.  Intelligence decreasing over time and wisdom increasing over time.
As you can see, intelligence goes up over time till twenty-four then starts to slide.....We naturally start with zero wisdom, but I see that function as exponential (or at least I am hoping it is.....)  What I find is really important is that there is one point where the two lines intersect at a trough point.  I've empirically determined that point to be at the age of 46.

Strangely enough, the data I have from 2012 shows that trough to have existed at that time at around the 42 year point.  Even more strangely is that in 2009 my data shows the deepest depression around age 39.  This phenomenon continues to boggle my mind.  I can't for the life of me figure out how the scale seems to slide with each passing year, matching perfectly with my own age.  Extrapolating from these anomalies makes me guess that the depression point next year will be around age 47......

....which is why I am dumber now than I've ever been in my entire life.