Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Great drives in Italy and great wines from Burgundy

31 Ottobre
Last week, prior to bottling our 2 newest children, Syrah and Montepulciano, I took off to parts north to see some beautiful Fall colors and taste one of my favorite wine types in the world-Pinot Noir from Burgundy.
My friend from KC, Bill and I drove first to Lake Como to stay with the lovely Alessandra at her vacation rentals: above
Varenna on the eastern shore of the lake.  We stayed a couple of days and explored the wines of Arpepe, near Sondrio who have a really tough job growing Nebbiolo on steeply terraced slopes where no tractor can arrive.  Everything is done by hand, at least I have my tractor to spray, mow and till.
Bill and Ale at Arpepe

Ale and the 5th generation co-owner Isabella

Not for those with vertigo, this style of grape growing

The lightly colored Nebbiolo must, just a few days after harvest
Ok, get out your Italy map and follow along:  this shows the ferry crossing from Varenna to Menaggio

Next head to Locarno where you will take the incredibly narrow, scenic highway to Domodossola.  This feat of engineering was placed well up the hillside to give you and your passengers a precipitous drop if you happen to stray from the mostly asphalted road surface. Bill thought it was perhaps the steepest drop from a road he had ever seen.  Half way along you run into Camedo where unfortunate folks such as ourselves will be forced to the bar by the train station for a coffee whilst we waited for the narrow road through town to be asphalted.  One hour delay, but below is the view back east-not bad!  Also, if you forgot to fill up your tank before leaving in the morning, Camedo is your first chance along this road to do so.

Seemingly out of place, this church in Re rises well above the town where it has been welcoming pilgrims ever since a miracle occurred some centuries ago.  The old chapel has been expanded to include this newer massive structure.

Domodossola finally comes and goes and you start one of the most scenic, curvy roads in the world which takes you above Domodossola to the Simplon pass and into Switzerland.  In wintertime, you can put your car on a train which takes you through a tunnel to the other side. 

The full color change in the trees was a highlight.  The part through Switzerland until the lake is pretty with all the terraced vinyards evident on the hillsides to the north, but we were in a hurry for an important wine tasting in Burgundy, so didn't dawdle.
After our delays, we arrived at Marchand Tawse winery in the midst of Nuits St. George.  Its masterful winemaker Pascal makes small quanitities of beautiful organic Pinot Noir wines from plain Borgogne up to Grand Crus.  We were treated as VIP's thanks to Ale's ties with Pascal and Thomas took us into the cellar for probably the most memorable barrel tasting I have ever experienced.  I couldn't find any weaknesses in the entire gamut of their wines although the Grand Crus were obviously the top of the tasting.  I felt guilty tasting a wine with only 1 barrel of production for the year, but understand it well enough as that was our availability for our Petit Verdot, Cab. Franc and Cab. Sauvignon from 2010.

Modeling in the cellar

Bill and Thomas and Ale's hand
I am happy!

Cantina Maume is the next stop, a bit more rustic, but interesting nonetheless with the son of the original owner now partnering with Pascal to make even better wines, I am sure.

An old version of Francesca, the pump we use in our winery

Bill knows this winery well and says the wines are known as "beasts", taking many years to reach their ideal "drinkability"
This is not the best example, but pretty nonetheless, leafroll virus is ubiquitous throughout the burgundy vines and the winemakers just shrug it off, saying some years it presents itself more forcefully and others not.  In California, this vineyard would be dead in a matter of years.  Either our version is less lethal or the climate moderates its effects.  I had 50 plants of C.F. affected last year and it is hardly noticeable this year and instead there are several Syrah vines seemingly affected.

Final stop at the passionate winemaker Pierre at Domaine de Villaine, a mythical wine and since Bill was on his search for this holy grail, we gave it a shot.  The old equipment above is no longer used but is, as we say in Italy, simpatico

No red wine left Bill, just Aligote and Chardonnay.  This is a real biodynamic wine.  The winemaker has a deal with the wild boars to leave his vines alone and if they do happen to enter and eat some grapes, he knows it is time to pick.  Lots of other stories from him, but kudos to someone who practices what he preaches...and sells all his wine!

Another winery with a Willi's poster!

The search culminated with a "find" of the last available 2010 red hidden away in a dusty nook and Bill sniffed it out.  He found another in Beaune in a wine store, but 6 other wine stores had none.  Way to go Bill!
If you head to Burgundy, be sure to eat lunch at Restaurant Simon, see my tripadvisor review and explore up and down the valley, all the areas have their own charms and the wines change dramatically as well. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Dogana loop hike in the Sibillini mountains

19 Ottobre
I am just finishing up the olive harvest and now have time to post on the hike Bacco and I did last weekend.  The 15.5 km/9.6 mile Dogana loop hike starts at the Forca di Presta under Mt. Vettore and very near a rifugio or refuge where you can get a meal or stay the night during summer season.  The hike is a bear only because of its distance, but I will help you avoid that problem, if you want to cut it a bit shorter.
A look back from the road which leads up to the Belvedere below.  Her you see Mt. Vettore on the right and Cima del Lago and Redentore on the left

From the Belvedere above which labels all the mountains in the distance for you, we headed straight across the road and up the slopes of Mt. Macchialta.  From its flanks you get great views of the plateau of Castelluccio below (famous for lentils, flowers in late June and its beauty year-round), and also the regions of the Marche, Umbria, Lazio and Abruzzo-like the 4 corners region.

As always, Bacco arrives first at the summit, this one Mt. Macchialta

Below is the view back towards the east and Abruzzo

The above picture is important as you can see the short route to return to your starting point in the mid right portion of the photo.  If you are using Gillian Price's guide book "Italy's Sibillini National Park-Walking and Trekking Guide" you will see on the map an inverted "v" in the trail which skirts Colle del Lupo, located below Mt. Macchialta.  When you get to the apex of that "v" if you turn right at the T crossing instead of left which takes you into the beech forest below, you will arrive at the trail to take you back on the other side of the crest you walked under to arrive here and avoid the majority of the distance this hike requires.

But, if you take the shortcut, you will miss the horses, the bitty ski slope and refuge at Colle le Cese (where you may also enjoy a lunch) and the fonte del Vescovo, the silo and house of Amati, etc.  Are those worth the tired legs of 5km of walking in the flat?  Only you can decide, with help from the photos below.
Bacco showing the fountain, with the silo in the distance. (below)

The little lake above and the house I have often seen from the road into Castelluccio, called Casotto Amati with the mountains of Cima del Lago and Redentore above

Finally, from the hills around the plateau of Castelluccio, you may often notice hang gliders or parasailers, I guess they are more correctly called, beautiful cloud formations and the occasional traffic jam as you see in the last pic.

I am glad I did this hike once, but if I was doing it again, I would take off from the refuge at Forca di Presta and climb up on the ridge to the west and head off towards the most southern peak in this little chain, Mt. Macchialta.  This would save you a km, maybe by not following the curves of the road, but you would miss the Belvedere.  The views down to Castelluccio would be better however.  I would also take the shortcut back as the 5.6 km (my estimate was about 3.5 miles) slog through the plain called Dogana is looong.  In the summer you need to bring at least 2, if not 3 liters of water.  I know you could fill your canteen at the fountain, but I am superstitious (I am sure it is potable, but my mom got Giardia once in Colorado and it makes me cautious-the italians drink freely from these fountains without any bad effects, I must admit).  The views from the Dogana, you can get from many other angles and without the extra work.  

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

The vineyard is closed, 2012 in review

2 October, 2012
The last harvest is in, the last wine has completed fermenting and we have only to press the Petit Verdot, Syrah, Cab. Sauv. and Montepulciano to finish our work in the winery.  I need to write down the story of '12 before I forget it as it is not a memory to be saved or savored.
February a meter of snow fell on PS Winery in 2 passes, each of which blocked my exit for a week.  It turns out to have been a blessing as we needed the water for the coming summer.  Our clay soil soaked it up after a dry 2011.
Springtime was pretty normal with budding at the normal time and abundant rainfall.  Unfortunately, just after Easter, we experienced a flash frost in the Pecorino vineyard and lost about 40% of these beautiful buds which cut our production by a similar amount.  
Above, the frost damage
Weather was beautiful in May and June, with just a touch of downy mildew arriving in those months, but not enough to impact yield.  The last rain we received was June 27th.
From the 27th on, a series of anti-cyclones started arriving from Africa with temperatures in the 90's and low 100's every day for just under 5 weeks.  All the vines suffered, although the grapes hung in there and were not adversely affected except for a bit of dehydration. This was finally relieved the last weekend of July when we experienced 2 days of diluvial rain, which caused some fairly serious erosion in the Pecorino vineyard, but saved the day for the vines which were about to experience another series of those anti-cyclones for the next 4 weeks.  
View of the B and B and the vineyard below.
 The Merlot and Pecorino and Incrocio Bruni 54, our early maturing grapes were harvested the last week of harvest, nearly 3 weeks before normal.  One of the reasons we harvested so soon was to avoid having wines with alcohol levels near 16% as happened in the hot, dry year of 2011.  Also the rising  pH and lowering of the total acidity of the grapes affected our decision.  The tannins in the Merlot were not green and the juice seemed balanced, so while I would have preferred to wait for the Merlot harvest, it just wasn't possible.  All the grapes from these 3 varieties were in perfect condition.  The Pecorino with its low yield was harvested with the other white and a field blend was made with about 85-90% Pecorino and the rest, the Bruni 54.  This was left 7 hours on the skins before pressing and right now is a wonderfully aromatic wine.  The Merlot underwent our usual long maceration, had a fermentation which lasted about a week and is now pressed (as is the Cab. Franc).  After these 2 harvests, we finally got some normal/heavy rains and were able to postpone a bit the harvest of the subsequent reds.  Starting with the Cab. Franc, we moved on to the Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and then finished the season the last week of September with a 9/24 harvest of the Petit Verdot and the Montepulciano on Thursday and Friday of that week.  The only grapes with any problems were the Syrah with about 3% Bortrytis infestation and the Montepulciano with less than 1% Bortrytis. Seriously affected clusters have been culled and are now fertilizing their respective plants.  Having seen how fast the mold can spread after its arrival and with rain in the forecast for multiple days the following week, we decided to harvest the final grapes, the Montepulciano, a bit early.  90% of the grapes or perhaps a bit more were fully mature, but there were a few stragglers which could have used another week on the vine, but we were forced to decide to move the harvest up to counter the Bortrytis risk.
Due to low nitrogen levels in the grapes, we had 2 blocked fermentations, the Syrah and the 2nd day's Montepulciano harvest.  Both were recognized within 6 hours and quickly re-started with re-inoculation of the must and they then completed their fermentation rapidly.  All reds are currently undergoing extended maceration with plans to press the Cab. Sauv. and Syrah this Thursday.  Yields were quite nice for all but the Pecorino with 2.5X our previous yields for the P.V. and C.F., a slightly higher yield for the Cab. Sauvignon and Montepulciano and about the same yield as previous years for the Syrah and Merlot.  Finally, those poor Petit Verdot and Cab. Franc plants are maturing!
Harvesting in 20Kg containers allows the grapes to arrive at the de-stemmer (below) intact and in great shape

Pumpovers begin shortly after fermentation starts to bind color compounds, feed the yeast and avoid any bad aromas which might try to slip in

Above photos:  harvesting, de-stemming and crushing and pumpovers fill up my work schedule this time of year. 
As to quality of the grapes, the dry hot year allowed me to use 2 fewer treatments with our copper and sulfur ( the only things we can use in organic farming), with almost all grapes coming in perfectly healthy.  I love the aromas in the Pecorino/Bruni blend and can't wait to try it when it is ready.  The Merlot and the other reds are tannic monsters right now, but all are clean (no defects), deeply colored and powerful.  Whether wines from these hot years like 2011 and 2012 will have the same life span and complexity as 2010 remains to be seen.  What could have been a disastrous drought year has turned out well, so we are pretty content and excited to see how these wines develop.  The best part for me was getting 2000 liters of both the Cab. Franc and Petit Verdot, which means there will be some for ME this year!  Stay tuned and come visit PS Winery when you are in the southern Marche.