Back in the Game, the Restaurant Game

Part 2 of Who Wants to Try a $500 Wine?

20 minutes after I got through with Shackelford, I attended a private tasting at long-time friend John Marihart’s house. Back in the restaurant game, John was on hiatus from the restaurant business to start a family and a successful second career in the technology business before returning to the food and beverage business to open a prime steakhouse. John has goals; big goals, because just like in Road House, John will get enough sleep when he’s dead.

The double blind tasting was conducted by Sommelier Vincent Cho.  I was certainly ‘warmed up’ from tasting with Shackelford.

The highlight of the tasting, was the flight of Cabernet. My Jedi senses were strong late in the day, as I yakked poetically about Chateau Montelena in Napa, the stylistic nuances it has along with the historic Paris tasting, fresh with the memory of the more modern Schrader/Scarecrow/Hourglass in my brain. Knowing there was at least one French Bordeaux in my flight, I didn’t guess Lynch Bages, but was very happy to be moving back and forth, pondering between the Montelena and the Lynch Bages. The third wine in the flight, a ‘new American’ Matthiasson Cabernet was more about contrast in the flight, as the wine was very lean and acid driven. In the perfect world and combining both the Shackelford and Marihart/Cho tastings, going from a Matthiasson to Forman to Lynch Bages to Montelena to Schrader would be an incredible example of Cabernet in a range of styles and the history of California winemaking.

As a Cabernet winemaker, I want luxury in my young Cabernet, not lean fruit and mouthfuls of acid. If I’m pulling a cork on a $60 Cabernet I want it to drink luscious, not lean. I want decadent, not demure. Dark black brooding fruits, not red cheery cherry fruit. If I wanted lean and full of bright red fruit, we had one in our blind flight, the Jolie Laide Gamay Noir from El Dorado County. Lean and mean, it was all bright red acidic fruit and perfect to drink early with cheese and country pate’, not a steak.

Other standout wines included a Krug Grande Cuvee 163rd edition,  a flight of Chardonnay, 1st Cru Meursault from 09 and 16 and the Rajat Parr project Sandhi Mt. Carmel SRH. A great comparison of wines from both old and new world, yet strikingly similar in style, but that seemed to be the point. Another Somm project, Gramercy Cellars 2014 Lagniappe Syrah from Washington was dense and rich and opened up nicely, I went back to it with some of the smoked tenderloin that was offered for dinner. The final two wines of the tasting were a Brunello and a Rioja, textbook style Brunello that was my first real drink with dinner (meaning, I was done spitting) and a Rioja that was built for the American or export palate, showing the presence of the American oak in the front and mid palate.

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Not every wine is a great wine in these tasting formats. From the Marihart/Cho tasting, I’m still not a big fan of whole cluster fermentations. The green character they exude when whole cluster is being done for the sake of being called whole cluster is no different than putting 100% new oak on Cab because it checks some box, it is lazy wine making for the sake of being cool. When whole cluster ferments taste like yalanchi filled with green peppers dipped in a wheatgrass sauce, it didn’t work out the way you planned and don’t excuse it for terroir, it’s not terroir, it's sloppy and a poor experiment.

I'm looking forward to my next double blind tasting experience with Marihart Inc....carrying on 35 years of tasting everything from Keystone Light to Grand Cru Bordeaux.

New York, New York Steak

I just ate 10 steaks in one hour!

Recently, I was asked to evaluate 10 different cuts of steak from two different beef suppliers for an upcoming restaurant opening. All of the beef was Certified Angus or Prime and all the steaks were prepared the same way (salt and pepper over a flame grill) by chef Tommy Chavez. I paired each steak with three of my wines, 2014 Cab Franc, 2014 Superstrada (Sangiovese/Cab Sav) and 2015 RWSC (Bordeaux Blend).

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What did I learn?

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First, that I consumed about 3 pounds of beef! More importantly, not all steaks are created equally and no two steaks paired equally well with the same wine. All the steaks were delicious, as it’s difficult to go wrong with prime steaks expertly cooked, but there were differences in texture, density, ‘meaty’ flavor, chew, tenderness, and fat content.

The most dramatic difference in flavor, texture and wine pairing was a prime bone-in New York strip (Club steak) versus the prime boneless NY strip.

My 2014 Cabernet Franc and 2014 Superstrada paired nicely with the boneless NY strip. Complimentary flavors, the steak was lean and well textured, my wines integrated well with this classic restaurant cut.

Change gears to a longer cooked bone-in NY strip a.k.a. Club steak and suddenly the integration of the wine with the steak changed. The bone itself was flat and nearly 2 inches wide and covered the length of the strip, which effected cooking time. Whatever the bone and cooking time did to change the flavor profile of the steak was dramatic enough to favor a more tannic and heavy-weight wine. The Cab Franc didn’t have enough heft or tannin to hold up to the Club steak. Superstrada was good, but showed better with other steaks.

Enter the 2015 RWSC.

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The 2015 RWSC is my 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Franc from Dry Creek and Alexander Valley, with a 50% new Minnesota 36 month medium toast water bent oak and 50% neutral oak profile. Yes, I’m being very specific about my oak. Simply calling it “American oak” is an inadequate generalization.

While the 15 RWSC paired well with nearly every steak in the line-up (except perhaps the filet mignon where the wine overwhelmed the lean cut), it shined with the Club steak. This is where some combination of alchemy, meat sweats, and badly needing a plate of fries might be affecting my palate, but it was an enlightening moment in the tasting. How could one wine and one steak pair so well together? Why is this pairing so outstanding? This isn’t just me bragging about my wine. I’m sure other wines would have paired wonderfully, but in that moment, with those selections, the RWSC shined bright.

Next time I’m asked to evaluate steaks, I’m bringing more wine.

Where can I make natural wine?

You want to make a natural wine? Good. But where are you allowed to make it?

I make a few natural/low/no intervention wines each season. One of my more popular wines is Sangiovese. It will typically (because nothing is typical in a native ferment) start native fermentation within 24 hours of being destemmed. After fermentation and press out, the wine is placed in clean (steam cleaned), neutral oak for a period of between 9-20 months, where it will be racked once, regularly topped and minimally sulfured during that time. That’s it.

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Sangiovese was the first native fermentation I ever allowed to complete. I was scared to have a native fermentation go poorly or just plain bad. As a boutique winery under 2000 cases, I can ill-afford mistakes for such a substantial part of my winemaking program. Throwing away 5 tons of fruit is simply not an option for me.

Are you new around here?

Suppose you’re a new winemaker in Sonoma County who would like to make a natural rose’, white and red wine. You have your vision and your manifesto for making a great natural wine. You want to use ancient fermenting vessels like amphora, egg shaped fermenters, and 500 liter wood barrels. You want spontaneous native fermentations and in-barrel malolactic fermentations.

The boutique winemaker has three choices:

1.       Make wine at your own facility (lucky you that you have all the equipment)

2.       Make wine at a custom crush facility (Alternating Proprietor Type 2)

3.       Make wine on the side at the winery you probably work for (You probably have a nice employer)

A brief break during Harvest 2017 of dry-farmed Cabernet Sauvignon in Dry Creek Valley

A brief break during Harvest 2017 of dry-farmed Cabernet Sauvignon in Dry Creek Valley

Everyone has access to a concrete egg fermenter, right?

The debate about natural wine often misses the point of what’s practical in making, storing and maintaining the actual wine in a modern custom crush facility, (aka a facility you don’t own and make wine with as many as 40 other winemakers). As a winemaker with a Type 2 license I am an alternating proprietor at the custom crush facility and abide by the rules of the host facilities wine making protocols or suffer the consequences. For instance, I can't operate the forklift or bring in barrels that have tested for brettanomyces.

Here’s a quick list of 5 things you might want to know about custom crush facilities before you embark on your natural wine journey:

1.       Regularly testing of oak barrels for brettanomyces and volatile acidity by the cellar master. The Cellar Master may remove barrels with unacceptable levels or not allow used barrels you’ve purchased into the cellar. Consolidating your natural wines into a single facility for bottling and efficiency may be stopped at the door after laboratory testing because your existing bulk inventory may have unacceptable levels of VA or brett detected and are rejected by the cellar master. Unacceptable levels may be determined by the custom crush facility, not you. Remember, there may be other winemakers in the custom crush that don’t want any hint of brett in their wines.

2.       Does the cellar master use a combination steam/ozone/SO2 to clean their barrels and yours before filling them?  Standard protocols in many custom crush facilities require monthly monitoring of free sulfur levels in finished wines and regular sulfur (SO2) additions to finished wines in barrel. Topping schedules are completed monthly.

3.       Access to amphoras, concrete cone fermenters, large format exotic wooden casks or other non-standard fermenters. The facility may not have use or budget for less common fermentation vessels.  As the start-up winemaker, you may not have the budget to buy your own less common fermentation vessel, therefore, you will use standard plastic macro bins for small lots. If you buy your own fermentation vessel and use it at a custom crush facility, who holds liability for the proper care, use and potential damage to a concrete egg or clay amphora?

4.      Extended macerations on white wines take up tank space, add time and labor costs to production

5.       Gravity feeding wines without the use of a pumps takes more time, which means more labor and not all facilities are built for “100% gravity fed” wines.

Just some food for thought for those considering the natural wine route.

Tasting the Top 100 Wines

I've been to a lot of wine tastings over the years but none have compared to tasting the Top 100 wines of 2017, as rated by Wine Spectator. It's true, all 100 wines were available to taste over a 4 hour period. Special thanks to my friend (since grammar school!) Joe and his friend Janet for asking me to join them.

The end of the Wine Spectator Top 100 Tasting

The end of the Wine Spectator Top 100 Tasting

Where does one start?

Our host, Brander Winery, starts guests off with opening the white wine section first, then, an hour later, opens up the red wine area. Many of the participants tasted in numerical order, from highest to lowest rated whites (without regard to varietal) then immediately moving to the highest to lowest rated red wines, again, without regard to varietal.

I took a different approach, sampling the wines by varietal, lightest to heaviest, regardless of score, starting with lighter bodied white wine, such as Albarino and finishing with heavier, oak-laden, malolactic Chardonnay. Same process for the reds, starting with Pinot and graduating to things like Tannat near the end of the journey. 

It's tougher with reds on a progression from light to heavy bodied structures. Fully developed Zinfandel with a solid punch of oak can be a palate wrecker just as easily as Touriga Nacional late in the game.

For many, simply tasting the Top 10 wines was the most important duty. I tried the Number 1 wine, Duckhorn Merlot. It's $50 retail per bottle. There was another merlot in the group from Oberon in the Top 100. Between the two, I favored the Oberon, ranked 77 with a retail price of $23. These lists really come down to a matter of taste.

It's also not a good idea to drink French Bordeaux side-by-side with California Cabernet. Sure, Bordeaux/Napa wines are based on Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc or Merlot but they are vastly different in terms of style and construction. Take for instance the #7 wine, Château Canon-La Gaffelière St.-Emilion which is Merlot dominant at 55% versus the #8 wine, Meyer Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley which is generally Cabernet Sauvignon dominant. Both the Château Canon-La Gaffelière and the Meyer rated 95 points, so there is no loser.

I loved the Château Canon-La Gaffelière and tasted it twice, both early and late in the tasting to check on my palate fatigue. It was one of my favorite wines of the day. It's classic, layered, elegant and young for a wine. The Meyer was a rich, opulent Napa style from the warmer climate (same warm climate my grapes come from) It's easy to reconcile, sweet fruit tastes good young, and Meyer delivers. 

While sharing common varietals, Bordeaux and Napa Cab/Merlot based wines are grown on different continents. They might as well grow on different planets. One should enjoy each of these regional wines, but not compare them. Too often, toe-to-toe comparisons happen with ratings. I purposely picked two Bordeaux varietal wines at similar price points and exactly the same rating to make the point. You can like them both equally for very different reasons.

There are notes on several of my favorite wines from the tasting in the gallery of pictures. Incredibly educational, it was a privilege to participate in the event.

The California Appellation Designation: The Future of Boutique Winery Success?

The California appellation designation on a bottle of wine has long carried a negative connotation. Wine can be sourced and blended from anywhere in California, usually from the cheapest regions of the state and then packaged in a box or large format bottle.

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Enter Dave Phinney.

Dave Phinney, creator of The Prisoner and Orin Swift offers a guiding light to reinterpret and reposition the California designation. We can debate the Phinney wine making style; not the sales results. Phinney sourced The Prisoner (now owned by Constellation) like many winemakers have for years, from all over California. Constellation has announced that The Prisoner Wine Company will have its own tasting room replacing Franciscan Estate in the heart of Napa Valley.

Orin Swift, now owned by Gallo, forever changed the landscape with California appellation wine designations garnering a premium price with the likes of Trigger Finger, Abstract, and Machete. Brilliant! Judging by commercial success alone, the Orin Swift and Prisoner wine business models are successful.

The new California wine model is focused more on the word California than whether you are a new or old style of winemaker, or whether or not you use a specific varietal or vineyard or what appellation the grapes are from.

Can I borrow $8000 for a ton of Cabernet?

Using the California labeling designation to its fullest extent, as Phinney has done, is one option for the boutique winemaker’s to grow and flourish. How much $5000/ton Pinot from Russian River can a micro winemaker buy each year? Or $8000/ton Cabernet from Napa? How long can a small winery float that money before they have to have positive cash flow? One season? Two?

By using the broad California appellation designation, a wine maker can use grapes from any part of the state. Early ripening, colorful, fruity and less expensive ($650/ton) Petite Sirah from District 13 (Fresno/Madera) combined with slightly more expensive ($1200/ton) Tempranillo in the Foothills (Amador/El Dorado) and finished off with some average priced Cabernet Sauvignon ($3200/ton) from the North Coast Appellation (Lake/Mendocino/Sonoma) and voilà, California Red Wine is made.

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The micro winemaker would then make wines from each individual vineyard, say a vineyard designate Cabernet from Alexander Valley and sum of each appellation, a Sonoma County Cabernet or a foothills Tempranillo. A vineyard designate Cabernet from Alexander Valley and a Red Blend from California can both be made at the same time in the same location. Your harvest may start earlier and end later than most regionally specific wineries like Napa or Sonoma only, but your average costs will be lower.

The successful new California winemaker is the same as the successful old California winemaker, source quality fruit at the best prices from throughout the state and make a great wine that people will buy. Perhaps, easier said than done, but Phinney gave us all a model for success.

The natural wine of Lencioni Vineyard in Healdsburg

Lencioni Vineyard: Ever since my first vintage in 2007, I have used minimally farmed Lencioni Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon in Dry Creek Valley. I’m going to use the term minimalist or natural to describe what Lencioni Vineyard is and it's typical of small farms in Sonoma County.

From a distance, Lencioni Vineyard looks like any other vineyard in Sonoma County. Rolling hillside. Beautiful view. The vineyard is laid out in clean rows, the Cabernet has a wire set up, the Zinfandel is head trained and there are remnants of the old drip irrigation system in place from 35 years ago. No water has flowed through those drip lines in 27 years.

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Minimalist, Feral, Natural or Wild?

It’s the up-close and personal view, walking each row, inspecting each vine that changes your perspective from bucolic vineyard to individually wild vines.

Lencioni vineyard is ‘feral’ for lack of a better term, or perhaps ‘natural’ since that seems to be a term being used more widely in the wine business these days. The rows are difficult to walk, as thorny blackberry bushes are everywhere. Some vines are long gone, dead, forgotten. The occasional poison oak plant shows up from time to time, right next to a grape vine. The vineyard is in some places terraced and undulating and rarely ever flat due to the once, sometimes twice a year tractor work.

Two things happen in the vineyard each year, the rows get disced and the vine gets pruned. That’s it. Nothing else. No sulfur has been applied on these vines in over 10 years. No soil amendments, no cover crop (unless you count blackberry bushes) and most of all, no human applied water. Only Mother Nature provides water.

With this minimalist approach, in 10 years I’ve never seen mildew or rot. The birds don’t eat the grapes. I don’t see bugs or pests. No deer or wild pigs. And without a single drop of pesticide, fungicide or foliar spray, the vineyard survives.

The Wabi - Sabi of the Vineyard

I recently highlighted the struggles micro winemakers, like me, have with small farms, irregularity in harvests being one of them. In 2011, a wet and tempermental year in Dry Creek Valley, I had zero crop from Lencioni. In 2012, regarded as a great, near perfect vintage, I received over 6 tons of fruit from the Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard, the most I’ve ever received. Since the banner year crop of 2012, I’ve seen decreasing yields each year. In 2017 I’ll have harvested less than 1 ton of fruit from the Cabernet vineyard.

Working with the minimalist Lencioni Vineyard is indicative of what micro winemakers, like me, experience; high quality, pure expression of fruit with an unreliable yield and fickle vineyard management, near textbook example of the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi. It's strange to hear the words unreliable and fickle in the wine business; we're conditioned to hear perfect and dependable. Working with small farms is anything but perfect, but in that imperfection is beauty, the beauty of the fruit in the final wine.

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What's Love Got to Do with It?

It took one full week of labor to pick 2 tons of fruit, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon in 2017.  We started picking September 1 for Zinfandel and September 5 for Cabernet. The vineyards are spread over 4.5 acres. It’s a pain to pick. It’s pure labor. Love has nothing to do with it. Paid crews don’t want to work it. The fruit is scarce, so hourly labor, not by-the-ton, is how crews got paid in the past. This year, I paid myself to pick it. Let’s hope that I can persuade someone to disc the vineyard a couple times in 2018 and get someone, other than my family, to pick Lencioni Cabernet and Zinfandel in 2018. Picking isn't easy, but like an old climbing buddy told me, "picking was easier than climbing the Eiger:" True.

The upside, after all this labor to pick such a vineyard? The fruit is delicious. The wine I make from Lencioni is intense, beautiful, colorful and full of character. I don’t need to do much of anything to it, as heartiness in the vineyard translates into heartiness on the crushpad and full-flavored wine in the bottle. The 2014 Signature is currently released and is 100% Lencioni Vineyard. The wine was completely on used barrels in 2015 and 2016 and will likely be released under my Signature label sometime in late 2018 and 2019 respectively. 

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Micro Winemakers Under Threat

Jon Bonne’s book The New California Wine gave voice to many winemakers. He wrote more recently in PunchDrink, questioning what the future looks like for winemakers such as me.

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You can’t make a living on 500 cases.

Winemakers who are adaptable, not doctrinaire have the greatest chance for success. The trouble is, if your hit eclectic varietal is limited in acreage or is planted in a distant part of the state, how does a New Californian style winemaker follow up their big local winemaking hit if their resources are limited to 2 tons or roughly 100 cases? Or even 500 cases? You can’t make a living on 500 cases.

The next generation of start-up winemakers will have to have a portfolio of adaptable skills, both boutique and industrial. Winemakers have to be well versed in wine style, interventionist and non-interventionist, what sells to distributors, direct to bottle shops, sommelier driven restaurants and in the tasting room. The approach is practical, not dogmatic and not out of step with some of the winemakers in New California. Defining the terms natural and industrial seems to be the hottest topic in wine making these days, when only 5 years ago wine making was all about balance, as in pursuit of. How will natural be re-defined in 5 more years? How will the broad California appellation evolve?

Cabernet in Sonoma Vs. Barbera in Mendo

We as winemakers have to be both aggressive and flexible in simply finding fruit. I can find Cabernet in Sonoma County pretty easily if I can afford it. But I can’t find Sangiovese and Barbera, at least not at the price I’d like. I could go to the Foothills, but good luck if they deliver in 2 ton lots to Cloverdale. I could go to Lake or Mendocino County for a couple tons, but I’ll have to pick it up and prices aren’t $500/ton any more for small lots. Try closer to $1500/ton and many growers won’t sell 2 tons lots.

A wine sold at $25/bottle full retail is not a sustainable model for a stand-alone winery if the fruit alone sells for $2500/ton, not including crush fees. $2500 per ton and higher is not uncommon for many varietals in Sonoma County, my backyard. Winemaking can work as a side-hobby, but not as a self-sustaining business with a 500 case production, so don’t quit your day job.

Sure, there are pockets of small vineyards in Dry Creek and Alexander Valley looking to sell to “home winemakers”, but fruit quality and consistency can be painfully erratic. I know; I purchase from small farms every season. As winemaker, I have to be part time vineyard manager and viticulturist.

Mechanization

Lodi is already dealing with lower yields on old-vine Zinfandel and increases in labor and facility costs. Much of that planted acreage will sell to the highest bidder or simply be torn out and replaced with younger, more vigorous varietals and planted for mechanized harvesting. Recent articles show the increasing economic concerns of growers dealing with decreasing yields and increasing labor or skills costs. Mechanization is here and is growing.

There was (past tense) a wave of New Californian winemaker using forgotten varietals at cheap prices. Now, everyone is using them (again). Unfortunately, those varietals are more expensive as demand has increased, or simply, those vines have been ripped out in favor of more vigorous and popular varietals that demand higher prices.

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Small vineyards with eclectic varietals lack scale. Custom crush fees have increased from the time The New California Wine book was written. Today, with more elaborate “cooperative” spaces that require higher fees for smaller lots and minimum sizes of 10 or 20 tons crushed, not a grand total of 5 tons for a micro winery. Increases in varietal price and crush fees have squeezed margins on the entire boutique winemaking industry. Prices for Cabernet and Sangiovese are going up, not down, in premium wine growing regions.

As a winemaker, I make natural wine from a less popular varietal, Sangiovese. I also make a full-flavored Cabernet Sauvignon with plenty of new oak. I exist in four worlds, the natural and the industrial, the non-interventionist and interventionist. I even have a winemaking manifesto ascribing to a particular belief, Make Great Wine from Great Grapes! I’m a winemaker, playing the hand dealt to me by each season’s harvest and always thinking about the future.

I AM the New California winemaker and proud of it.

Harvest 2017, Mid Season Report

Every indication, leading up to harvest in 2017, showed a gradual ripening schedule, perhaps 7-10 days behind 2016. Fruit quality looked good, with some vineyard concerns of powdery mildew. Canopy growth was vigorous, fruit set was good. Yields in some vineyards were lower than expected, but healthy vines from all the rainfall.

Personally, I’m happy to have high quality, low yield, if there has to be some trade-off.

Lencioni Vineyard Dry Farmed Cabernet Sauvignon

Lencioni Vineyard Dry Farmed Cabernet Sauvignon

The gradual and stable weather gave way to hot temperatures beginning the end of August and came in a couple waves. 100+degrees in Healdsburg on 8/26, 27, 28 with an overnight low on the 28th at 56 (which helps); as Dry Creek Valley behaves differently than Alexander Valley, the fog lingered a little longer in Dry Creek Valley.

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Then the real heat came and the morning fog disappeared.

August 31 through September 2 saw 110 degree temps in Dry Creek Valley with the crushpad up in Alexander Valley at 119. Overnight lows were in the high 60's. We “cooled” down  to 104 on Sept 3 and 90 degrees on Sept 4 with a bit of humidity and a thick haze throughout Alexander and Dry Creek Valley.

So what did all this wild weather mean to Mastro Scheidt Cellars?

All hands on deck at Mastro Scheidt...it was 110 degrees that day

All hands on deck at Mastro Scheidt...it was 110 degrees that day

It meant all hands on deck to pull my dry farmed feral Lencioni vineyard grapes off as soon as possible! 100% hand picked and sorted means you don’t take raisins. Hand-picked also means you start early and finish early because it’s hot, real hot and you don’t want the fruit fermenting in the vineyard if you can help it. 

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And then, strangely enough, on 9/7 there was precipitation early morning and up through 11am. Not a light rain, but real rain. On 9/13 the rain came again and dumped pretty good in the morning and the sun never came out, maybe a high of 70 at the crushpad.

Cabernet and TL can handle the rain. They're both tough

Cabernet and TL can handle the rain. They're both tough

There are still a few things to bring in before the season is complete and the steady weather pattern is back in effect. But who knows, the sooner I'm off the vine the better.

December Feasting

Fresh sea urchin in Santa Barbara, right off the boat. Whole roasted, bone in rib-eye cooked by yours truly only to be followed up by braising the bones and pulling the meat for Bolognese the following night. Lobster tails on Christmas Eve. Hand-made pasta at Cousin Vince's house paired with one of the first wines I ever made, a 2007 Dry Creek Cabernet Sauvignon. Freshly made cannoli by Mom.

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I lost track of how many times I had rib-eye over the month of December. House to house, night to night, city by city it seemed rib-eye was being served. The only break in the rib-eye action was on Christmas Day when Cousin Jeff brought over some antelope (outstanding) and wild duck breasts from three different types of ducks, canvasback being one of them. Delicious (please ignore the unceremonious plating job). Wild ducks are not what most people are used to being served in restaurants, there isn't much fat on these, but the breast meat has a depth of flavor that rivals almost any beef. Cabernet is still too harsh for duck, but Pinot shines with duck, and I've always got some Pinot on hand.

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From the Cellar a 2007 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

From the Cellar a 2007 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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It was a fantastic December of family, friends, food and drink. A great way to end 2016.

Google Trends: Prime Rib and Cabernet Sauvignon

It's December, so guess what people in the United States want?

Prime Rib and Cabernet Sauvignon! Lucky me.

Steak sealed in butter and finished in the oven

Steak sealed in butter and finished in the oven

Prime rib is the go-to meal in December or as the trends show, the day after Thanksgiving people start searching Prime Rib.

It's also curious to research what people are searching related to Prime Rib, like "Christmas Dinner Ideas" as if there were anything better.

I'll be highlighting a few meals of my own along with friends and family showcasing all forms of beef and some of my Cabernet Sauvignon. Enjoy the show.