Without a hill to die on, some people would have no fun at all.

So it’s the “balanced” wine crowd now…alcohol levels are too high in California they say. Or maybe it’s the “the pendulum is swinging back” pack with their  synecdoche argument.

Alice Feiring, in a Newsweek article linked above,  stops short of contending that there is a full-scale movement toward lower alcohol wines in California , but one could be forgiven for intuiting that the small set of examples she gives is meant to stand for a(n as-yet-unseen) stampede.

So too with Raj Parr and Jasmine Hirsch founders of the In Pursuit of Balance group who, in their search for “balance,” have found a shibboleth waiting there all along. To be fair though, Mr. Parr admits that wines can be in balance at higher alcohol levels but that alcohol, fruit, wood, and tannin find “harmony” when they are co-equal.

California is a really sunny place, most of the time. Grapevines produce sugar via photosynthesis. Sugar in the grapes gets converted to alcohol when they’re crushed and exposed to yeast. If you read “ripeness” as higher sugar content in the fruit, California is nearly always going to have riper fruit than most European producers (the laws in Europe have something to do with this as well).

So, if warmer weather leads to higher alcohol wines, what do you think cooler weather does?

In the last 2008 and 2009, generally considered fairly temperate years, the degree-days in the Livermore Valley were off of their 30-year average by nearly 3%. And in 2010 and 2011, quite cold years, the same value was off the average by 17.9% and 13.4% respectively.

Sometimes a mystery looking for a solution has one staring in its face. Could it be that winemakers are not changing their style as much as they are just taking what Nature has given them?

Putting a Pin in Time

March 21, 2012

The image on the masthead of the Steven Kent Portfolio blog is the top of our Lineage bottling.

The shield contains the roman numeral for 6 and stands as a symbol for the 6th generation of the Mirassou family to find his passion making wine in California.

I make Lineage to honor those fathers and grandfathers before me and to inspire those who come after. I want to stick a pin in Time and show that all of the vintages before this first one were a prelude to what Lineage symbolizes and to what Lineage is intended to become.

I believe in the inherent greatness of the Livermore Valley, and my singular goal is to transform the viticultural gifts we have in our Valley into an offering that ultimately takes its place among the handful of the world’s iconic wines.

My children, or theirs or theirs, will stick a pin in me too. They will (I hope!) carry this mission farther, and by passionately striving to make their vintages great will honor the passion of the generations that came before them.

Livermore Valley, Arise!

March 8, 2012

It would be different if the Livermore Valley appellation didn’t promise such potential.

If our Valley weren’t oriented the way it is — to the cooling mouth of San Francisco Bay — and if it didn’t have such an ideal diurnal temperature range, and a wealth of different soil types and micro-climates; the early history of excellence (the first International gold medal for a California wine was awarded to a Livermore wine, and in the 1880s more acreage was  planted to Bordeaux varieties than Napa), and a core group of vintners intent on pushing the envelope of quality, you could forgive the lack of attention the Valley gets from the critic and high-end wine consumer. But it does…and you can’t. Or you shouldn’t, and neither should any of the producers here in the appellation.

There is too much quality inherent in the land and weather and history here to settle for producing less than terrific wine. For any number of original motivations, the winemakers who are in the Livermore Valley have been called here. But that is not enough; the Livermore Valley makes demands and it is up to us to step up and answer them. And while much has improved on the wine-quality front in recent years, everyone making wine here needs to do a better job if we are to be taken seriously by the larger world.

There isn’t always a precipitous event (like the Paris Tasting) that thrusts a place into the limelight. Much more often than not, it is the steady and quiet accretion of quality that eventually tips over past notions, and — in the words of my father  — 20 years later you’re an overnight success.

Not to put too fine a point on it…that’s your daddy’s paradigm. Information moves too quickly these days and focus is lost easily as new opportunities for wine consumers are offered, seemingly, on a daily basis, and new appellations come to the fore.

If the Livermore Valley is going to ascend to a level it should, the heavy work needs to be done now and needs to be done constantly. This is a call to arms!

It may be cute to be second place, but it sure ain’t pretty.