Posted by: Thomson Vineyards | July 25, 2011

Ain’t No Rest…

I’m getting tired of answering winery representative’s questions about if we are sustainable or organic at Thomson Vineyards. This season I have a two standard answers:

  • Does being a 4th generation wine grower managing the same vineyard site – owned by the family since 1938 – meet your sustainability requirements?
  • Does a Mac PowerBook G4 purchased in 2003 – used then to write a thesis on the wine industry and still used today to file online spray reports detailing the application rate of organic sulfur applied in our vineyard meet your criteria for sustainable organic?

Some may counter that answering a question with a question doesn’t really answer the question at all. But I think these two examples do a fair job of getting the job done.

After eight long years of steadfast reliable service, multiple trips through DFW airport in grad school and riding shotgun as my mobile vineyard office the past three years, today I upgraded to a new 2011 MacBook Pro, transferred 2,000+ tracks from my iTunes library, and have absolutely no intention of looking back.

I don’t exactly embody your average and traditional music freak, but I’ve always enjoyed the diversity of radio over an album. With the advent of iTunes, I began categorizing themes of music into playlists, transforming my Napster and LimeWire driven media into well curated libraries.

Little Did I Know I Would Be Forever in Blue Jeans

I grew up lip-synching to Neil Diamond’s Forever in Blue Jeans blasting on The Farmer’s 1950s restored Wurlitzer Jukebox. It took four 30-something grown men to move it to a new permanent location this past weekend. They certainly don’t make ‘em like they used to.

I downloaded like a fiend the first year Napster was available in the Cal Poly dorms. Later losing that collection to an ex-boyfriend who somehow ended up with my computer at his apartment and his Gary Fisher mountain bike and Cannon Rebel EOS at mine. I considered it a fair trade.

While lifeguarding at Cal Poly a much older lifeguard wouldn’t let me off the guard stand before I could name the song and artist of three classic rock songs in a row as they blasted through the massive sound system poolside. Those were grueling shifts. The classic rock genre was before my time.

I now find myself reliant on an iPod to get me through the next mile of a long run or the next row in the vineyard. Recently both my Cannon digital camera and iPod went MIA. Recently is an understatement. It’s been since March that I’ve been without and I’ve found the mobile Pandora App to be exactly what they claim it to be – genius.

Last year I joked that we were playing specific tracks in the vineyard to inspire better absorption of certain viticulture techniques in the vineyard. Last post I lamented that I was having difficulty selecting my walk up song, otherwise known as my anthem, for the year.

Between then and now, I’ve pretty much sold out of all 2011 Thomson Vineyards fruit, we’ve set a healthy crop of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and the Merlot is well ahead of where it was last year, leaf water potential readings came in this weekend between 7 – 9.37 bars, the long cool growing season is here to stay, and The Farmer has taken precision perfect farming to an all new level.

While we wait out the long cool and temperate growing season, I encourage you to legally pay for and download the tracks below from iTunes and load up your iPod or mobile device with the Thomson Vineyards 2011 Vintage Playlist – my anthem resides in the No. 1 spot:

10. Tighten Up, The Black Keys

9. Hell Yeah, Montgomery Gentry

The Future of Thomson Vineyards

8. Little Lion Man, Mumford Sons

7. Moves like Jagger, Maroon 5

6. Money, Velvet Revolver…yes, I am aware this was first performed by Pink Floyd

5. One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer, George Thorogood

4. I Won’t Back Down, Tom Petty

3. Lot of Leavin’ Left To Do, Dierks Bently

2. Good Life, One Republic

1. Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked, Cage The Elephant

If you’re a winery partner in 2011 thanks for selecting the Thomson Vineyards channel to supply your fruit this year and if you’re a reader who follows along with the blog thanks for tuning in once again for yet another vintage.

Next blog post I’ll detail the growing season up to this point and what’s also been occupying The Farmer’s and my time while we watch for verasion. It involves a ’67 VW Karmann Ghia and renovating a historic Napa Farmhouse. Because just like the anthem’s title implies, there ain’t no rest!

Posted by: Thomson Vineyards | July 5, 2011

Wine Industry Anti-Propaganda Party

While many of you hosted 4th of July parties among the vines, I held an anti wine and anti propaganda lake retreat at Mt. Lassen over the three-day weekend, followed by an All American beer only tailgate at AT&T park on Monday.  While sitting in holiday traffic, I came to the realization that for such a patriotic holiday there sure is an awful lot of propaganda floating around this industry as of late.

It takes a lot of good beer to make great wine

In honor of the 4th of July, and in the spirit of anti-propaganda, grab an All American Budweiser and settle in for a few truths I’ve recently learned while working on my All American girl tan in the vineyard.

1. Napa Valley vineyards depending on when they were pruned and the location of the site are either suffering or flourishing. Vineyard managers say that shatter it wide spread in valley floor Cabernet, Sauvingnon Blanc, and Chardonnay. Touch a cluster and watch it fall apart in your hand. Sonoma Pinot Noir and Chardonnay shoots underwent significant wind and rain damage which caused a disruption in flowering. Pest Control Advisors (PCAs) feel that specific vineyard sites seem to be more adversely affected, and not specific varietals. Mid to large sized operations who circulate pruning crews through multiple vineyards rapidly – pruned early and on time this year – just as they do every other year. Late La Nina storms were ill-timed during bloom affecting some vineyards ability to set a decent crop. Three different vineyard managers have told me production on the valley floor and in Carneros is down significantly. Thomson Vineyards prunes late every year intentionally. We time our bud break to occur at the latest point possible during the season which reduces our chance of frost damage. Due to our small-scale and focused viticulture practices, we have set a healthy and balanced crop with no frost damage. We also pushed bloom out far enough to avoid the late rains and wind storms. In a word, our crop is flourishing.

2. In 2009 and 2010 there were upwards of 60 listings for Carneros Chardonnay grapes for sale on winebusiness.com at this same point in the season. As of today there are six. I reached out to every other Chardonnay grower listed on the classifieds and asked what their price was per ton in 2011, some responded, most wouldn’t. If you all haven’t been keeping up with the news, NEWSFLASH: we live in a new economy, welcome to the new normal, this aint temporary. For the wine industry this means growers must begin sharing with their neighbors more about their own pricing structure to hold the price steady and brush off the négociants who insist on living as if it’s still 2009.  This means wine grapes really are reaching <gasp> commodity status. See No. 1 Truth, look me in the eye, and tell me you aren’t going to sell fruit to Paso Robles wineries when they call because their Chardonnay crop was virtually obliterated back in April. It’s who you do business with and the value the wine grower brings to the winemaker and vice versa that creates competitive advantage in this market.

Fine Carneros Chardonnay

3. Thomson Vineyards Chardonnay is $2,400 – $2,900/T. If you don’t like those prices, I invite you to head down the road and buy another Carneros Grower’s fruit for $4k/T. Which is what one of the two sons told me it was going for as we poured beer together at the First Annual Wine Country Tractor & Truck Pull. The Napa Farm Bureau raised a good amount of money at the event due in part to my being the lone girl of the Young Farmers & Ranchers crew checking IDs, taking $5 a beer and all the tips you beer drinking gentleman could spare. Thanks for supporting 4-H, FFA and YF&R scholarships this year.

4. There is almost no available land to plant on the valley floor in Napa anymore. Only by spending upwards of $100k/acre blasting out the hillsides to terrace rocky alluvial soil will you find any land to plant. Two winemakers recently showed me a video taken on iPhone, at a high-end Cabernet tasting, of their new “site” being developed with an ample supply of dynamite on the Stage Coach property. I was not impressed. Nor did I give them my number when they asked for it. My unlabeled merlot got polished off that night, well before their commercially produced swill.

5. J Bonne wrote an article going into this holiday weekend. In it I found some interesting points and some fairly ridiculous points. One of which relates to Truth No. 4. Bonne wrote, “One of the most stubborn gaps in California wine is between grower and winemaker. With a new generation of winemakers who very much want to farm, but can’t acquire their own land, now’s the time to reconsider that gap by encouraging winemakers to hop on the tractor.” People. Please do not sell any more land, or lease any more vineyards to the guys who call themselves winemakers, carrying iPhones, with former  Silicon Valley VP titles, who think it is cool to spend $100k blowing up the hillsides of Napa. There are 31 postings for Cabernet grapes for sale on winebusiness.com, buy some of that stuff off the market.

Cal Poly Collegiate Team 2011

5. I’ve haven’t hopped on the tractor so far this year. Mostly because The Farmer has monopolized his three rig fleet, two Fords and an International, dragging a disc, creating perfectly straight lines through the damp soil. For an old farmer this is a lost art. Permanent cover crop and overgrown “organic” farming practices have led to tre chic vineyard practices. In the old days The Farmer assures me this was known as “lazy” farming.  So while he’s on the tractor, I have been doing a lot of hand labor. Leaf pulling, thinning and replacing end posts. A month ago I discovered Gelish manicures. This Truth is for all the women working in the industry. Gelish really does withstand  two or more weeks of vineyard work without a single chip and maintains its glossy top coat for 14+ days. So far I’ve gone through one application of international orange in honor of the World Champion SF Giants and a second application of Barbie doll pink. The more girly the better for working with the men in the vineyard.

6. I was invited to speak at the Mendocino Winegrape Commission bi-annual seminar a few weeks ago where I attempted to cover Thomson Vineyards marketing strategy in under 20 minutes. I subscribe to the theory that you could write a plan about what you’re going to do – or you could just do it.  If Mendocino can manage to put some growing degree days up on the board this season, I suspect that they really are growing some great fruit and have the marketing infrastructure in place to make an impact with their wines in an already crowded industry. I’ve actually dialed back my marketing strategy this year. Last year I averaged one blog post a week, one tweet a day. I am currently averaging one blog post a month 7.5 tweets a day. Two Direct Messages (DMs) have come through this month amongst 1,100 followers asking how much Thomson Vineyards fruit is and if any more is still available. See Truth No. 3. And YES, I’ve got clones 76,96,97 Chardonnay fruit available for a winery interested in making wine from some of the best, and only Dijon clone, Carneros Chardonnay on the market. Clone 809 smells like floral cleaning solvent. Just sayin’

Water rights. Whose right is it?

7. The Farm Bill was vetoed last week. Maybe it should have been more appropriately titled the Big Ag Bill. You can quickly get up to speed about what the bill entailed on Civil Eats Top 10 List of Things You Should Know About the Bill. We’ve got some of our own Big Ag to deal with in Carneros. After illegally building a resevoir, diverting air mass and water, making both properties susceptible to flooding and frost Domaine Chandon, owned by Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and managed by Walsh Vineyards Management is installing a catch drain to collect and fill their resevoir with water designated to Thomson Vineyards by the State of California water rights board. We’ve held the water rights to drainage from Hwy 12 and Los Carneros Creek since 1948. At the same time, UpValley Growers tell me they’ve seen big shop wine operations hauling in cheaper Central Valley day labor on an every day basis. Which pretty much puts a damper on Napa wine associations touting the use of skilled local Napa labor, supporting the local economy and families, doesn’t it? These two examples give new meaning to the terms “corporate” and “social” responsibility in my Millennial eyes. Please keep this in mind as you cruise the Champagne section at your local wine shop and select your next bottle of bubbles or make plans for summer Sunday brunch and mimosas.

8. As of today the USDA is still blocking out of state shipments of Napa fruit in 2011 due to the juice sucking European Grapevine Moth. The Napa Ag Commissioners Office assures me they are working on it. We are one of five growers on the list who will potentially ship fruit to the growing number of  wineries across the US who cannot grow cool climate varietals like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. As one industry old timer told me the other day, with the humidity, extreme climates, and other adverse weather conditions, “I don’t envy any other grower in any other state – I wouldn’t want to grow anywhere but California!”

9. And as tradition would have it, just when the SF Giants get really deep into the season, is just about the time I announce my annual walk up song. It’s the song I play in my head as I supervise crews in the morning, it’s what you can be sure it playing in my head as I throw down just how much you’re going to pay if you want what’s left of Thomson Vineyards 2011 Chardonnay, it’s what @Clivity would call his anthem, except he’ll be sure to tell you to get your damn hands up. I am undecided at the time of this post just what my anthem is. Leave your suggestions in the comments. I’ll load up my iPod.

Carneros: Producing better grapes and better wine since 1976

10. Signage recently went up two driveways away from Thomson Vineyards in Carneros. Positioned roadside, a sheet of plywood has been painted out with the words “NO DUST” Apparently word hasn’t gotten out. If you’re looking to buy grapes in Napa, Carneros produces better Pinot Noir and Chardonnay fruit than any of other subappellation. It’s the DUST that makes our grapes so good!

If there’s any question about the truthiness in this post, I suggest you take a moment and get a good picture of Jack Nicholson in his dress blues in your head. Then fast forward to the line he’s most famous for in a Few Good Men, and imagine he’s talking directly to YOU, “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth.”  How’s that for the truth?

Posted by: Thomson Vineyards | June 9, 2011

Gopher Control Caddyshack Style

By now you have read all about the fact that it was one of the coolest months of May on record and most likely you have already subscribed to the media frenzy buzzing about the vineyards being behind and growing degree days being completely thrown off track for the rest of the  season; if you’re a winemaker you’ve put your own spin on it proclaiming that with a cool wet spring comes a long temperate growing season – epic conditions for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, disastrous conditions for Nebbiolo and other late ripening* varietals or vineyard sites.

HOW TO: Talk down a gopher

Although only the farmers seem to be able to painfully remember that this season is getting off to a start incredibly reminiscent of the 2010 season, it’s with that memory that we’ve all dusted off our clubs and enrolled ourselves in the occasional UC Extension class to pass the time.

A farmer like none other – I’ve done both of those things and over-scheduled my social calendar in an attempt to occupy myself as bloom inches from just 45% of the vineyard towards 65 or 70% if we’re lucky this week…and at the same time, hopefully overcome the writers block I’ve  suffered from recently.

For those of you wanting a detailed field report: several of Thomson Vineyards Chardonnay blocks have achieved full bloom status, but several are still mid bloom – including the Pinot Noir and Merlot blocks. Two spray applications of stylet oil and one application of sulfur have gone on thus far. Wind seems to be keeping mildew at bay and is not having an adverse effect on shoot growth, nor has done any damage as reported recently by some Sonoma vineyard owners. Cover crop doesn’t seem to be stunted one single bit by the cold weather. It’s already been mowed several times. Leaf Water Potential (LWP) readings will not begin for several more weeks. But raising wires and top suckering commences Monday.

Anyhow, leading up to the recent Chardonnay Day Soiree, where I managed to get my ruff ‘n tuff VW Passat stuck in a ditch full of mud, and prior to spending a late night playing midnight golf – the highlight of the past few weeks had to be the half day workshop I spent with The Farmer learning about gopher control.

One for the road

There are an infinite number of ways to control the pocket gopher population in your vineyard which include trapping, fumigation with aluminum phosphide, poison baits, and the use of a gas explosive device. Roger A. Baldwin, UC Wildlife Pest Management Advisor discussed several recently at the UC Davis Oakville test vineyard site. There were three front runners:

1. Trapping and fumigation. Ranges  from 74 percent to 90 percent effectiveness.

2. Baiting control. Ranges from 30 percent to 56 percent effectiveness.

3. A gas explosive device known to farmers as the Rodenator. Rodenator control ranges from zero to 55 percent effectiveness.

Going on a gopher hunt...

And while it may be cool to light off explosives in the back 40, Roger was quick to point out that it’s highly ineffective and YOU are BLOWING things up in the vineyard! The most success has been seen in clay soil types.

The time required to apply each treatment is relatively similar between baiting, trapping, and Rodenator treatments (90–106 seconds).

Trapping plus fumigation is estimated to be the most cost effective treatment, at $252 per acre, compared with $396 per acre for the Rodenator, and $420 for baiting.

Presently, trapping and fumigation appears to be the most effective and efficient method for gopher control according to UC Extension Advisors who’ve tested each system feverishly.

So what if Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield, and Bill Murray can’t get a handle on the pest back at the Country Club? As one of The Farmer’s Twitter Followers, Dan Kessler of KH Vineyards & Wines in Lompoc, California, pointed out we can’t afford not to. A vineyard on 8×4 spacing, for every 1 vine lost=~1btl wine at 2.5t/ac. Lost yr+3yrs for replant to prod=4btls wine, $30/btl=$120/vine, per every vine lost. How many vines you gonna let Clifford to pocket mole excavate now?

What a way to spend a day on the job site

After spending much of the morning looking over my shoulder for the PETA administrators who would surely want a piece of me for Tweeting about the No Gopher Guts No Glory Clamp 5000 The Farmer and I headed out to do some tank sample tasting of the 2010 vintage with winemaker Rudy Zuidema and assistant winemaker Michael Andrews at White Cottage Ranch. Upon arrival at the winery, we confirmed that winemakers are doing exactly what the farmers in the valley are doing – golfing.

It was nice to find Kopriva winemaker Myles doing something a bit more productive later that evening, shucking Hog Island oysters – paired alongside his crisp 2009 Sonoma no-oak Chardonnay. He was sure to give The Farmer a good rousing about getting on the tractor later that night and applying another spray of sulfur before his next unannounced visit to the vineyard.

Speaking of the Carneros Chardonnay vineyard. It’s looking damn nice. Just about as nice as a finely manicured golf course. So nice, I’m toying with the idea of hosting the next midnight scramble there.

Until that day and while we’re all patiently waiting for the heat wave we need to tee off the 2011 season you can catch me perfecting my swing at SF Giants Winefest, Taste of Mendocino, and Pinot Days.

And on off days you can find me at one of the several greens highlighted in this month’s 7×7 magazine. Maybe I’ll let you buy me a drink at the club’s bar and we can talk the current grape market, if you’re lucky.

The Farmer & Kopriva Winemaker Myles talking about perfecting their swings this summer

With that challenge on deck, here’s a raised glass of Chardonnay to all you winemakers holding off on buying fruit in 2011, stalling the market with your indecisive ways…from the Napa Valley Country Club bar. Bottoms up.

*Late ripening vineyard sites: Thomson Vineyards has just one. The Merlot vineyard in Napa Valley on Hwy 121 at 1500 feet. Which has already been shoot thinned aggressively, will carry just two clusters per shoot  in 2011, and will not be sold to any winemaker who does not sign, honor, or comply with a written grape purchase agreement. This ‘aint 2009 anymore boys and Bloomberg news has proclaimed the juice off of this vineyard epic. Unlabeled bottles of it are the first to be drank at high end parties held in the Up Valley Cabernet shops. It’s obscure, and you’ll want to have it if you can get your hands on it.

Posted by: Thomson Vineyards | May 10, 2011

By The Will of Both The Farmer & Winemaker

This content was originally published late last year by Wayne Kelterer on the wine blog: A Long Pour, Fifty-two weeks with California wine. It seems appropriate to publish it this week on the Thomson Vineyards blog because I’ll be sharing my thoughts about this very topic Friday at a seminar hosted by The Wine Institute and California Association of Wine Grapegrowers called “Marketing for California Wineries & Growers.”

More importantly though, this content signifies the extensive work I’ve done over the course of three years carefully selecting the right wineries to make wine with The Farmer’s famous fruit. It’s evidence that wineries and wine growers – working together – can not only grow better fruit, but they can garnish more attention for their efforts, sell more wine, and in turn each benefit from a relationship which is more often known in grape purchase agreements as “buyer” and “seller” and not the partnership – which perhaps should be referred to on paper as “wine grower” and “wine maker”.

I’ve received several phone calls in recent months from distributors requesting cases of the 2009 Black Sheep Finds, Hocus Pocus Thomson Vineyard Pinot. Maybe that’s because the wine recently scored 90 points in Wine Enthusiast. But honestly, what’s in a score!?! Score or no score, I enthusiastically refer them right back to Black Sheep Finds Winemaker, Peter Hunken. Although one distributor is still in my voicemail waiting for a call back from me, I’ll get right on it – and this is why:

My theory is that the wine grower and the winemaker who work together, not only in the vineyard, but who also work the room together will be far more successful in this economy than the next winery. And in the end, for every case of Black Sheep Finds, Hocus Pocus Thomson Vineyard Pinot Peter sells, that’s just one more ton I can sell him in 2011 – as demand for the wine continues to grow. Not to mention, just as Wayne points out, Peter is very nice; and just as Peter points out the Thomsons are very nice….it just seems to be a really nice match.

For more about my strategy you can attend the Wine Institute & CAWG event Friday, May 13, 8:30 a.m. at the Meritage Hotel. May 25 & 26 the event will be held once again in Monterey and San Francisco. The event is FREE and does not require membership to either organization to attend.  Those of you who know me, know I no longer subscribe to wine industry paid membership associations and believe that education to benefit the industry as a whole should always be free.

As usual, I’ll be the girl you think is the tasting room chick, but who is really The Farmer. And as usual, never satisfied with the status quo – I’ll cause a ruckus about the “Vintners Track” and the “Growers Track” format planned for the program i.e. segregation of information and separating the “Vintners” from “Growers”. Because if you’ve read this far, and are smarter than a winery dog, you too are beginning to pick up on the fact that there is no I in Team, two are stronger than one, and winemakers cannot make wine without a grower. Furthermore, the people – consumers – want an authentic story about the vineyard, the farmer, and then the winemaker. Don’t worry, I plan to point that out when I offer my comments that morning.

Now, get yourself a glass of Black Sheep Finds, Hocus Pocus Thomson Vineyard Pinot, available at Black Sheep Finds website, sometimes the Wine Garage in Calistoga,  and saddle up for a good one. Wayne writes long. Like me!

-The Millennial Daughter

Black Sheep Finds – By the Will of the People

November 18, 2010

It is human nature to respect great efforts of time. Be it a work of art, the sculpted beauty of a National Park, or a long overdue title win, we value more so what takes longer to achieve. For those wine enthusiasts with a larger vocabulary than “mmm grapes!” we too value and esteem great efforts of time. We respect the Grand Cru vineyards, the storied Chateau, and even the great vintages. We do so because we respect the time they represent and the effort, determination, and foresight behind them.

This respect of time is evident when considering wine regions and the importance we place upon them. France is the undisputed King of wine and for many it will always be so. It is more difficult and subjective to crown a Queen, but for now, France still has a powerful monarch named Wine and his influence is strong and his dominion wide.

Black Sheep Finds Office. Site of Winemaking and Grape Purchase Agreement Signing.

France’s kingly rule is established not on a claim to all the best wines, although they make many of them. It isn’t that King France has pioneered all of the newest practices of viticulture. No, France is King because few other places have accumulated the same depth of wine wisdom. It is the accumulated wisdom amassed over hundreds of consecutive vintages and bound together by generations of vintners that creates an elaborate and complex understanding of wine. We love the freedom of California winemakers. We love the quality and bargains from South America. However, France demands our respect.

Knowledge though is becoming easier to access, even for the peasants living in the shadow of the King. Given the enormous capacity for information sharing today, the vast history of wine is available to any that are willing to search it out. Where winemakers were once students of a region, even of a single vineyard, they can now be students of World oenology.

With some study and patience, in goes the knowledge of Rhône and Burgundy. In goes Bordeaux and Alsace, Piedmont and Tuscany. In goes Germany, and Spain, and Chile, and Oregon, and California. In go hundreds of years of collected wine knowledge. Younger generations of winemakers, like Peter Hunken of Black Sheep Finds, then take this mass of collected knowledge (holus-bolus) and sift from it what is right for them. In the end, what they produce is a continuum of everything that came before, yet entirely new.

I first came across Black Sheep Finds, a small producer from Santa Barbara County, a few months back. I was at a local haunt in Santa Barbara called The Winehound. “I want something new Bob, what do you have?” Bob, from behind his counter, pointed to a shelf well endowed with local Santa Barbara Rhône varietal wines, some of the most praised of the region. “That,” he said, pointing to the 2007 Hocus Pocus Syrah sitting on the third shelf. “That’s the best Rhône style I have in here right now.” Bob loves Rhône wines so I took the compliment seriously and at $18 it was a bargain considering the low production. I took it home eager to enjoy its enchanted juice. The label with vintage influenced artwork reminiscent of an 1800’s circus poster was enticing, as was the name, Hocus Pocus. At home, the purple black potion poured from the bottle into my glass. It was lush, it was balanced, and it was beautiful. Hocus pocus, I was hooked.

Black Sheep Finds, which produces a Hocus Pocus Syrah and Hocus Pocus Pinot Noir as well as wines under the Genuine Risk label, comes from the husband and wife team of Peter Hunken and Amy Christine. Splitting their time between Los Angeles (where they sell much of their wine) and Lompoc, the story of Black Sheep Finds is in many ways the story of the young California winemaker. Peter is a student of Old World wines, favoring the finesse often found at lower alcohol levels to the ultra ripe and high octane wines that have become a trademark of California. But orthodox he is not.

For a guy making a Pinot Noir sourced from Carneros when he is literally ten minutes from one of the most praised Pinot regions in California, I asked him if the choice made him a renegade.

“Probably I guess. We just released the wines a few months ago, so not too many people have really said anything. There are defiantly great Pinot Noir sites in the Sta. Rita Hills, no question. But the fruit tends to be pretty expensive. I’ve made some expensive wines and its been really hard to sell [them], at least for us these last 2-1/2 or 3 years.”

With such wide choices in Pinot fruit available throughout California, I was interested in how they decided on a vineyard from Carneros. It was a choice of both style and economics. “I am not a fan of the ripper, cola-y, full bodied Pinots that I taste a lot from the Russian River and some from this area for sure. I find that style even less pleasant than New World Syrah. I much more enjoy a Pinot that has some acidity naturally, has aroma and spice, wines that don’t have a ton of alcohol. So [I was] looking for a place that could do that and Carneros seemed like a good option.”

While the choice to source his fruit from Northern California is somewhat unorthodox by local standards, the vineyard was as well. “It’s a fairly old vineyard,” he explained, “it’s 30 to 35 year old Martini clone. You can talk to people and they say Martini is like the worst.”

Wine Wizards at Black Sheep Finds Produce Hocus Pocus Thomson Vineyard 2009 Pinot Noir (background)

ALP: “To work with?”

PH: “It’s not like all of the newer clones, like 667, all the French clones that have smaller clusters and darker color and bigger flavor. But those are not the kind of wines I am interested in. I find it intriguing that here is this kind of funky old clone that’s probably originally from Switzerland, so it’s just kind of weird and different. So that was part of it. Obviously the affordability of the fruit and then the people we work with, the Thomsons, they’re super nice and even though they are 350 miles away I probably have more communication with them because they are owners and growers. So it’s just a really nice fit, a nice feel.”

In addition to the Pinot, which they have not produced for several years, they are introducing a white to the program; a Roussanne sourced from the McGinley Vineyard (formerly Westerly) in Happy Canyon. “We wanted to make something other than Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc,” he said of his choice to work with a Rhône white. “I really like interesting Rhône whites, Châteauneuf whites that have some Roussanne in them usually. So I am looking forward to that.”

In winemakers like Peter, I find a particularly poignant parallel between two of my passions: wine and music, particularly the LA indie scene. A band I came in contact with five or six years ago, Red Sparowes, is a perfect example of what I mean. Made up of members from Pleasure Forever, the Nocturnes, and the now sadly dormant ISIS, nearly all of the members have other projects. At one point, a few years ago before the retirement of ISIS and the departure of one of the members, the list was longer. Like Red Sparowes, it is not uncommon for indie bands especially in LA, to consist of members from multiple projects, sometimes from different parts of the Country.

Such has been the way for Peter and a growing number of young winemakers who are finding success in a multitude of projects.

The one time assistant winemaker at Stolpman Vineyards, Peter collaborates on a label with Sashi Moorman called Piedrasassi. Another project which started out as Peter and Sashi as well as Chad Melville of Melville Winery & Brewer Clifton, and Jim Knight of Jelly Roll resulted in a Syrah program called Holus Bolus.  Black Sheep Finds is the label he manages with his wife Amy which includes Hocus Pocus, Genuine Risk, and an Italian collaboration with a friend back in Chianti.

Much of the collaboration in music and wine is economically based. For Peter, working out of Lompoc’s famous “Wine Ghetto” has meant close contact with some of the most talked about producers in Santa Barbara County. In the same way it is natural for bands that may share studio space or tour vans to work together, collaboration is natural for winemakers accustomed to sharing both space and equipment. The cramped wineries of these up-and-coming winemakers find a fitting comparison to the cramped and aging Dodge Ram “tour vans” and half-rusted tow behind trailers many of my friends traversed the Country in. While superstar wineries have the funds to enjoy climate controlled mega-wineries, and arena rock bands have air conditioned mansions on wheels, our young winemakers and musicians must toil and sacrifice to get by, hoping they have just enough gas to get them to the next show or harvest. It is hard to chase our dreams.

But it is the struggle and voyage that many find rewarding. For the winemaker, the long hours on the road spent by touring bands is substituted for long hours in the vineyard and winery, where it is often cold and damp. While it provides a rewarding lifestyle and even a comfortable one for some, more winemakers travel by Jetta than private jet.

But where does all of this sharing of ideas go for California winemakers?  In Los Angeles, the collaboration across bands and genres has resulted in a more dynamic, creative, and stable music scene. It’s why indie bands from all over the country flock to LA, even from other established music scenes. More music happens in LA or New York because more is going on there. It is shaping up the same way for California wine.

In Santa Barbara County, the collaborative spirit has already led to the birth of some exciting projects like Holus Bolus, as well as Thread, a collaboration between Dave Potter of Municipal Winemakers, Larry Schaffer of Tercero Wines, and Blair Fox of Blair Fox Cellars (all winemakers for Fess Parker). It will no doubt lead to more.

Home Sweet Winery. When He's Not Flying To Carneros For a Vineyard Visit, Winemaker Peter Hunken.

Trends change, in music, in fashion, in wine. Ska was the next big thing for awhile, until we decided it wasn’t. Swing then took the Country by storm, until we decided it shouldn’t. So far, boots over jeans and stretch pants has lasted longer than I thought it would, but its day is coming too. Syrah was the savior Red, the next big thing, the future of wine in much of the New World. And then it wasn’t. Although Peter makes several wines, it is Syrah that is his workhorse. So with all the debate over the last few years about the future of this bold flavorful wine, I thought I should ask Peter where he thought it was all headed.

PH: “I think a lot of damage has already been done. You don’t get a lot of second chances with the public. So there is a lot of damage that’s been done with poor Syrah from the Southern Hemisphere to be very broad, or from the Northern Hemisphere, from California. There is a lot of pretty average Syrah from California, Washington, and Oregon. But I hope that the styles will change. That’s the thing, there are a lot of really great Syrah producers in California that run the gambit of styles… We still sell more Syrah than anything else in our portfolio. Hocus Pocus is still our best seller and maybe that’s because it’s the cheapest. I am not going to be a fool to economics.”

“People still like Syrah, but I look at the market place and as great as wines from Hermitage or Côte-Rôtie are, I don’t see those flying off the shelves. They’re expensive, $75-100, and those are great wines and they will last as long as anything will. [But] I feel like all over you see a lot more interest in less expensive Syrah…People are happy paying $25 for a bottle of wine. I hope that people will realize it is a good wine not only at the value level but also at the premium level.”

For any winemaker playing the odds to build their own project, all the numerous factors and challenges that conspire against them make the endeavor a genuine risk. You can imitate the best and fail. You can do everything right only to be ignored, for it is the people who will decide “who gets to win and who gets to loose” as Peter puts it. So how does one proceed? Does one chase trends that are in constant change and hope they get the timing right? Or does one follow what is right for them? “You kind of get to the point where you want to make the wine you like,” Peter has concluded.

For those who have the determination to chart their own path, who follow their own vision, there is no magic formula, there is only hard work and dedication to their goals. At the end, it will be the people who decide who is genuine and who is not. No magic, no trickery, no hocus pocus.

Black Sheep Finds

Peter has become one of my favorite winemakers in Santa Barbara or anywhere. Although his portfolio is not massively large like some, everything he makes is spot on. His Pinot Noir is the way I want  Pinot to be and it is the same with his Syrah. I will follow his developing career with much interest. He is also very nice.

- Wayne Kelterer

Posted by: Thomson Vineyards | April 22, 2011

Frost Season: Off The Grid In Carneros

Thomson Vineyards Frost Damage Potential

We call it “Off The Grid” at Thomson Vineyards. In the corporate world they call it “Out Of Pocket” and The Old Farmers call it “Fightin’ Alligators” or “Puttin’ Out Fires”. Whatever you call it – it’s where I’ve been since February.

Since I’ve been Off The Grid, the entire 30 acre vineyard was cane pruned by The Farmer and his guy, plus two more acres of Merlot. My Uncle and his guy did 50 acres. Four guys, two electric pruners, two electric tyers – just about 90 acres.

Throughout those 90 acres we micro managed several Chardonnay blocks, pendelbogen pruning just the northern half of the rows to balance canopy vigor where the water table is more evident in the topography. We’ve mowed twice. Knocked twin buds off of a couple blocks to manage crop volume early on and reduce labor later in the season. It’s now exhibiting uniform shoot growth between 1-3 inches. The vineyard was also weeded and the Shurfarms Cold Air Drain run 4 days out of 7 during the freezing temperatures the second week of April.

We bought the nearly brand new Shurfarms Cold Air Drain in March from Justin Miller of Garden Creek Vineyards who manages about 100 acres in Alexander Valley and a high end label of his own – or two, if you count the verjus business he’s diversified himself into. After twisting The Farmer’s arm we loaded up cold air drain on the flat bed and took it home, rather than the Bear Valley Wind Machine which was going to cost $1k just to move from Big Ranch Road to Los Carneros Avenue in Napa! The circa 1986 machine had a hefty $4-5k price tag and came with a propane engine that would have needed a fair amount of ongoing upkeep. Given the facts, I made the executive decision to no longer rely  “On a wing and a prayer” frost protection and made a deal with Justin – farmer to farmer.

The new technology was worth every penny. On April 12 weather.com reported 44, but temperatures dipped well below freezing. The Farmer – being the great man he is, anticipated it beforehand and arrived at 2 a.m. to turn his new toy on in the Carneros Chardonnay blocks 5 and 6. He saved everything but one vine in row 102. How did he do it? Old Farmer wisdom. Because there is no Frost Alert App for Android on the market yet. Hey Vintank, I think I may have discovered a hole in the market.

Kickin' the tires & hooking the Shurfarms Cold Air Drain up to PTO is a two man job.

The new frost protection is PTO driven and takes just a gallon of Ag Diesel to run it per hour. FYI John Tuteur the county tax assessor apparently cares deeply about sustainability, so much so he’s taken a real interest into just how long the average farmer is keeping equipment around nowadays. He’s requested that I, and every other farmer, catalogue every single piece of farm equipment we own and turn it in to his office for assessment. Correction. He wanted me to. It was due April 1. He shouldn’t consider himself special. I didn’t submit my federal or state taxes to the IRS until 11:45 p.m. April 18. And I haven’t given in to Tuteur’s request because Thomson Vineyards has 57 pieces of equipment on its inventory list. All equipment is categorized into “Non-op” “Semi-op” aka Needs Service/Repair or “Operational”

There are two pieces of equipment in the “Operational” category. Both are pieces of equipment I bought. But, The Farmer and every other true farmer in The Valley will tell you, “you may only need it once in awhile, but when you need it, you need it and if you don’t have it…”

I'll Show You Easy

In all fairness to The Farmer, the tractors are fairly operational and he’s working on the spray rig this week. One of two tractors is nearly up to my satisfaction level with a new battery and push button start that rivals the Staples “Easy” button. Because I drove to Kragen, came back to The Ranch, and put a new battery in it. See a pattern…

So while I may have been Off The Grid for the better part of Q1… farming still goes on. And if you thought The Farmer was farming up a storm last growing season, just wait for this one. We pendelbogen pruned and tyed just the north half of the rows! Row, by row. Of at least three blocks. Only a true viticulturist or meticulous winemaker can appreciate a grower who farms row by row and understand the labor intensiveness behind that kind of process.

Prices went up this year too as a result of the high end hand farming going on and the deep deep discounts we’ve afforded to wineries in the past three years. In exchange for our “generosity” Thomson Vineyards has ended up in the red and the wineries somehow in the black, hence our semi operational tractors and their sold out finished wine.

So, those who won’t pony up for hand farmed fruit or are more trouble than they’re worth are out. And I’m picking and choosing who we’re selling to. Call me up. I’m back On The Grid and taking offers. You can see me ‘n The Farmer at the following events and he’ll tell you about puttin’ out fires, I’ll tell you about the field blend of proprietary clonal selection Chardonnay that I’ve got for sale:

April 27 Vineyard Soil Nutrition Seminar – Mineralogy and wine quality, nutrient cycling in vineyards, leaf, petiole & soil sampling

April 28 10th Annual Wine Industry Conference: Turning point those who are shaping the future of wine

April 28 Building a Green Tech Industry in the Silicon Valley – Is it Real or Hype?

May 4 Cheers to Taste! @ Mondavi Winery

May 13 & May 26 Marketing For California Wineries & Growers

May 26 2nd Annual #Chardonnay Day – grab a bottle of White Cottage Ranch Thomson Vineyard Chardonnay and have yourself a party, we’ll be celebrating those wineries making Chardonnay from The Farmer’s fruit in 2011!

Posted by: Thomson Vineyards | February 14, 2011

Broken Hearts Bleeding Bulk Wine

No. Really. How Much Do You Love Me?

Winegrape Farmer’s hearts were broken last Thursday when the USDA released its 2010 Preliminary Grape Crush Report.

The third largest crush in history after the 2009 crush and most heartbreaking crush in 2005, the California wine industry produced 3.58 million tons in 2010, not nearly the reduced tonnage expected prior to the report being released – speculation circulated beforehand that crush would be down between 5-15%.

Meanwhile back at the ranch we’re upping production in our Creek Block Chardonnay by 30% leaving several more bud positions on each cane to enable us to supply the demand for such beautiful, hand farmed Carneros fruit.

Why give roses this year to your valentine, when you can give the gift of Chardonnay to your winemaker who’s itching to ditch the contracts with not so good fruit, for better fruit? It’s called dating, not getting married. I’ll offer you a one year contract and we can see if we like one another, if you’re the kind of man – I mean buyer – I look for who knows something good once he’s seen it and prefer to sign on the dotted line for several years, I’ll make it worth your while. I promise.

And at the Thomson Vineyards SF Satellite Office the San Francisco ABC guys just can’t seem to get enough of me and have scheduled an appointment tomorrow in my “office” to check out just where and what they are licensing between Lake & California Streets in The Avenues. Last Tuesday they were lurking around the front of my apartment snapping pictures with a digital camera, trying to get a glimpse of something through my blinds. Why is it the ones you’re not interested in, always want you? And the ones you are interested in just keep saying, “No.”

What the fellas’ down at 71 Stevenson Street don’t seem to be able to understand is that a Type 29 Winegrape Growers License allows me to be the one wearing the pants in a relationship when I hop into bed with a winery. Over the past several weeks I’ve been practically having a not so free online communication event more reminiscent to the 49 questions eHarmony uses to expertly match you based on deep compatibility rather than a government institution. Here’s a snapshot of the first few weeks of our, “he’s way more into you than you’re into him” relationship:

“So where will you be storing the wine?” At the winery who crushes it and is a bonded 02 or 17 license holder it I answer.

“But this Type 29 License says it’s a Winegrape Growers Storage License?” Yes, it allows me to be the owner of the wine in tank or barrel at the winery who crushed it at its facility who again is a bonded licensed 02 or 17 facility. You know, kind of like when you leave your toothbrush over at someone’s house clearly marked as yours by a distinguishing color, but with their permission rather than sneaking it in alongside the toothpaste for them to discover, or discover you’ve removed later.

“Well, I’ll need to see your TTB and BATF applications.” No. First of all that’s a bit more personal than I want to get with you during the first two weeks of our torrid relationship and second I don’t need those as I’m not selling any wine for retail, there is no label, I have no trademarks. I’m essentially applying for a piece of paper that may as well be a stock brokers license to buy, sell, and trade wine on the bulk market. This protects me from my possessive winery boyfriends who may crush it, sell it and give me back what they feel I’m worth, not what I know I’m worth.

“So you’ll store this wine at XXX 9th Ave, San Francisco, CA. 94118?” Yeah. In my bathtub after I drain the bubbles out from my Valentine’s Day bubble bath I take later on tonight.

The last week has done a real number on this single millennial girl’s heart. Keep reading as this Carneros romance novel or Love/Hate manifesto unfolds. Outside of what’s going on in the vineyard, I’ve just about had it with my stalker the ABC District Office in San Francisco.

I wake up often with nightmares about this time last year when I was being broken up with on a virtual Post-it by wineries, with commitment issues, only to find them come crawling back once I’d delivered the 2009 Crush Report in hot pink trapper keeper folders decorated with sparkly I Luv You stickers. Hey – a Wine Grower – I mean a girls gotta’ do what a girls gotta’ do.

This year the relationship vibes are better and I’ve got voicemails and emails stacked up from wineries wanting dates or asking if I’d consider stop seeing other people. Black Sheep Finds, Bravium, White Cottage Ranch, Urban Legend Cellars, Lightheart Cellars, and my new BFF Kopriva are just a few. I admit it, I’m still dating around. I have to, I upped my production by 30% in the Chardonnay Man’s Man Block and as of February 14, 2011 have about 20T of clone 76 left.

Worth It. Way Worth It.

The 2010 Preliminary Grape Crush Report indicates that while more and more “non winegrapes” are being pumped into wine production, upping the total tons crushed and hemorrhaging more value wine into the bulk wine market, pricing may have dropped by several percentage points, but it’s possible there may be a deficit in the Chardonnay market within the next one to two years.

And make no mistake about our online profile. The Pinot Noir and Merlot we grow at Thomson Vineyards, you can’t just pick up in a Marina or Cow Hollow bar, no, these girls are refined, intelligent, confident, put together and have already had their hearts broken one too many times. You’ll have to wine and dine them harder than the rest, because I promise you they’re worth it. So’s the girl who wears the Expensive But Worth It necklace, in and out of the vineyard.

I Bet A Mojito There's More Than 60 Cases In His Basement.

If you need to talk to me today, I’m downstairs in my SF basement drinking bottle after bottle of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Merlot so my stalker non-boyfriend the San Francisco ABC Office can’t question why there’s 60 cases of the stuff down there confusing yet again, the premise of the Winegrape Growers Type 29 Storage License. Just imagine how that part of the date could go tomorrow.

“So these 60 cases, you have absolutely no plans to sell them, why are they stored here?” It’s my personal single girl stash! How do you think I lure the few and far between straight men to my San Francisco apartment!?! A girl’s gotta’ differentiate herself. Go down the street and turn right. I’m sure Newsom has a few cases in his basement and doesn’t hold a Type 29 License!


Posted by: Thomson Vineyards | January 26, 2011

Sending Dog The Bounty Hunter After My Wine

The Only Difference Between The Dog & Me? I'm a Lot Better Looking.

I have an appointment with the good government employees of the San Francisco ABC Office on January 31 for the very reason the Insider Blog at Wine Business pointed out earlier today…a winery on Zinfandel Lane in St. Helena has 4 tons of what was Thomson Vineyards 2009 Chardonnay, they won’t give it back, they won’t return any wine to me, and I haven’t seen a dime of the $10k it’s worth.

I need a Type 29 License, to get that ’09 Chardonnay legally transferred into my possession, that is after I play Dog The Bounty Hunter, roll up to the winery’s neatly manicured lawns and go outlaw on their a$$e$. It’s been a long time coming anyhow to apply for the licensing and take being a Wine Grower one step further so I’m not totally put out…

What I am put out by is that California Wine Growers extend credit year in and year out sans credit, background or blood type check to big wineries and small while credit and financing institutions across the US make it more and more difficult every day to secure business financing, raise interest rates and enforce stricter penalty laws on businesses of all kinds, yet there is not one venue available to Wine Growers to run a “credit check” on a winery.

Next to the winery on Zinfandel Lane, we’re owed some change by a winery who recently made the SF Chronicle’s list of top Carneros Pinot Noirs on the market. Funny, that winemaker said the fruit was $hit. They always seem to say that when they can’t pay.

I bought a scale off of Crushpad in San Francisco last year and being the girl in heels and chunky fashionable jewelry the Crushpad employee got to talking about how he to used to buy fruit out of Carneros. Pinot Noir. Old Vine. Real good $hit. But that he didn’t have a good business sense about what it actually took to be in the wine industry with his own label and financially failed – he “paid” greatly for it, going almost bankrupt. He ended the story by saying, “I never paid the grower for that fruit…who did you say your family was again?” I responded Thomson & Iund Vineyards. He went white. The rest of the story is writing on the wall – afterwards I tried to talk him down from $600 to $400 on the scale politely pointing out he never paid his debts on the fruit he took from us years back and maybe he could cut me a better deal on that there scale.

More recently, a negociant that I sold sunburned fruit to in 2010 said he wouldn’t sign a contract with a California Lien Law clause. I’ve since heard that whether the clause is inserted in the contract or not it’s California law; applies whether I hand write it in there or not. Any lawyers want to weigh in on this? Any growers want to share their story about enforcing such a clause in their contracts?

Another Wine Grower, Pilar Luchsinger of Luchsinger Vineyards in Lake County and I were kicking around dirt clods in the driveway two weeks ago and this topic came up. A Millennial woman herself (the sub sector of the industry with all the greatest ideas), we’re proposing a Black List database where Growers can either post and search the names of wineries who haven’t paid up, or straight up Scarlet Letter this plan and put it on a public website until debts owed are paid in full.

Here’s the thing. Right about now your skin is either crawling or you’re in the cheering section bursting with Wine Grower pride. But as the Insider Blog points out, if you don’t have glass, cork, or labels your product aint gonna go to market and so it’s just easier to prioritize the Grower further down on the list. Being the only one in the supply chain with a perishable product seems to make the Wine Growers the unfortunate underdogs in this situation, now doesn’t it?

We all have cash flow issues in this economy, but is it fair to make the one link in the supply chain wait that without it you’d have NOTHING!?! Glass? Put it in a canteen. Cork? Be a spendthrift and use synthetic. 25 ounce bottle vs  heavy as steel glass? The choice is obvious.

The California Association of Winegrape Growers reached out to me a month ago after I publicly stated that Thomson Vineyards would no longer be paying membership fees to grower or wine or industry associations who could not prove their value beyond email blasts and paid seminars. CAWG wanted to know if I would speak candidly about what benefits of membership I would consider valuable. Candidly!?! Did they know who they were speaking to?

I’ll be meeting up with CAWG, if they can track me down, at Unified Wine Grape Symposium this week to talk about The Black List. That’s real value. And let’s be totally clear. There is no malicious intent behind this proposal. Now Dog The Bounty Hunter – he’s malicious. Take your pick.

Posted by: Thomson Vineyards | January 19, 2011

SLUG-O-Matic 9000 Vineyard Equipment Release

Available at a Dealer Near You...Soon!

You will not find this piece of equipment at the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium Tradeshow floor this week, nor is it “As Seen On TV”  – The SLUG-O-Matic 9000 is piece of proprietary engineering under development at Thomson Vineyards and will be used to combat the little suckers who already destroyed 100 lbs. of vintners cover crop this year in our famous Creek Block Chardonnay.

Having just come off a year where wine critics are already asking what the 2010 wines will taste like. News stories are being broadcast in winebusiness.com’s daily news that crop insurance filings are up, way up, for 2010. And The Farmers have been left shaking in their boots, severely battered and bruised by a ruthless 2010 vintage coming full circle and including foggy days, rain, blistering heat, and rain again – 2011 brings different challenges already, this time in the form of SLUGS.

It's a Party in the Creek Block Chardonnay

Napa Valley Ag Supply’s J.R. Beatty cruised out to the vineyard on Tuesday after I breezed into his St. Helena warehouse looking for some cereal rye and grain grasses I never picked up in November for our Minefield Block Chardonnay.

A long time family farmer himself with 100+ year old Zinfandel, Cabernet and others in Angwin, J.R. carefully inspected the entire vineyard. He determined that several blocks worth of cover crop miraculously survived the every year 100 year flood that occurs in our vineyard because our respectable neighbors managed to contour their land just enough to create a nice big drainage problem which at times requires a small Ark to bypass. Malva weeds are rampant, every Farmers nemesis and for the Gentleman Farmers who can afford their vineyard management companies to do it, the shovel is the only answer. And upon seeing the Creek Block, doing a solid assessment, kicking dirt around and examining the germinated seeds gave the following prognosis:

“You know, this is the second vineyard I’ve seen this in this year. The first is over on Big Ranch Road. See how many slugs are out here in a square foot radius, I count 7 or 8. These seeds are germinated, rooted, and that’s your problem – SLUGS.”

Cover Crop Seed Germination in Minefield Block

So, how does The Farmer deal with slugs? A couple hundred bucks is already gone, munched up by slugs. The first thought that went through my head was beer rather than roses at the end of every row, but that’s a different animal. And with The Farmer already having scared off two “biodynamic” winemakers with his talk of Roundup (see Malva reference) I’m going with the ecosystem answer.

Thomson Vineyards is “Ecosystem Friendly”. Screw biodynamic. Stu, that one’s for you. We’ll never meet the biodynamic or certified organic benchmarks or in actuality pay for those certifications because we already meet them. I’ve trademarked “Ecosystem Friendly” and we’re doing it right, embracing the birds falling out of the skies, the floods happening in the vineyard pumping thousands of fresh water shrimp into the irrigation lines, the romantic visual of jack bunnies hopping around the rows as I mow them and killer geese lounging in the reservoir beneath the wind powered windmills lightly infusing the pond with vitamin c concentrated natural air.

If you want to slap “Ecosystem Friendly Farmed” on your label, I’ve got 15T of Chardonnay left, 5T of Merlot and 5T of Cabernet – call me. My only request is that you allow me to dress you up and take a photo of you with the SLUG-O-Matic 9000. And don’t worry, as Steve Heimoff notes, it’s not like the TTB plans to actually do any cleaning up of the vague misleading label terms already out there – so why not let The Farmer add one more!

Vineyard Designate: Thomson Vineyards Certification: Ecosystem Friendly

While sadly you will not be able to locate the SLUG-O-Matic 9000 on the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium (ever notice how “Grape” always gets the boot in verbal communication, what is that?!?) Tradeshow Floor, I’d like to know if anyone else out there has seen this damage in their cover crops? How you’re handling it?

Better yet, how annoyed are you with vendors like Metrohm USA, Monvera, Premier Wine Cask, and other offenders spamming your inbox with what booth they’ll be in at #UWGS? If you’re going to send an email blast – at least make it creative, entertaining, or provide some additional exciting piece of information such as how your product will interact with the SLUG-O-Matic 9000 in the vineyard!

Posted by: Thomson Vineyards | December 29, 2010

12 Grapes For Twenty Eleven

L-I-V-I-N in Twenty Eleven

The Farmer refuses to eat pears to this very day. A tantrum ensues at the sight of them. In the grocery store he steers clear of the produce section in an effort to remain calm. Whole, canned, dried, compote don’t you dare try to get him to eat one. The way The Farmer feels about pears, is the way I’m beginning to feel about grapes.

I recently heard about a tradition that began in the early part of the twentieth century where people actually eat 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight on New Years Eve, each grape representing a month of the coming year. The first thought that went through my head was that it would be one tradition Thomson Vineyards will not be observing. I don’t care how lucky it is.

Apparently the tradition began in Spain because of a grape surplus, but people kept doing it and it spread to Portugal, Peru, Venezuela, Mexico, and Cuba. The sweeter the grape, the better the month will be that it represents. If you get a sour grape, it may be that the month it represents could be difficult for you. Spaniards are darn resourceful is all I have to say. Maybe you guys can adopt the tradition and let me know how it goes to decrease our current grape surplus.

Rather than eat 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight here are 12 “grapes” a little sweet and a little sour as we embark on the 2011 vintage:

1) The Thomson Vineyards blog post that received 1,250 hits in just 6 hours was supposed to be a post detailing the wine grape sales Thomson Vineyards has made via Twitter. Putting an end to all the marketers and wine industry social media experts running around shouting at one another about ROI. Instead 7 Eleven struck and The Millennials became the great white hope of an industry paralyzed by its own segmented, old school antics. I was forced to shift gears and wrote the Millennials Would Rather Die post; in the aftermath one respected and knowledgeable wine publication editor remarked “well, I think you got their attention now.” Having since thought better of detailing which wineries bought what from us in 2010 or are going to buy what blocks from us in 2011, I will merely say that three Twitter DMs have resulted in 20 tons of wine grape sales for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet. Tweeting once a day is the benchmark for that part of our marketing strategy. You do the math. And to the unnamed wine brokerage who had me on conference call last March, chuckling about just how much I’d sold via Twitter, I’ll buy you guys a beer the next time I see you and we can talk about how much you sold via new social media channels.

2) Thomson Vineyards Dirty Little Secret. We’re the only wine growers out there Tweeting and blogging consistently and we have one purpose and one purpose only, to sell the fruit that we are farming by telling our story thus driving our ranking higher in the search engines and ensuring Thomson Vineyards remains top of mind when a winemaker goes to source fruit. At the time of this post, I have successfully dethroned Thompson Vineyards of Santa Barbara County in Google search and I feel fine about it.  If having an outspoken voice in the industry – where we are the very first link in the supply chain, furthest from the finished product, making the least amount of profit results in just one more grape sale because I wear patent leather stilettos and telling tales of The Farmer’s vineyard antics sells more wine grapes at a premium, not bulk, price then so be it. Selling fruit, driving SEO, I promise you that is our only agenda. Blogging once a week is the benchmark. In 2010 – 52 posts were written, 47 published, and just one that I know of pirated.

3) If you think our blog is good, you should try our fruit. No lie, it disappoints me that we garnish attention for writing some of the ballsiest posts in the wine industry, but I’ve still got fruit uncontracted in 2011. It’s early, but I’ve got two blocks of clone 76 Chardonnay, a vineyard full of Cabernet, maybe some Merlot that is hand farmed by The Farmer and yields perfectly formed clusters, demonstrates even ripening, exhibits desirable site specific characteristics like high acids, and includes free delivery within in The Valley. In addition to all of that – artisan producers get white glove treatment you won’t get from vineyard management companies farming and selling hundreds of acres of fruit but will let you select your very own, “2 ton lot.” The Farmer’s fruit is what Thomson Vineyards should be known for first, then our blog.

4) The Pinot Noir is pretty much spoken for in 2011. Unfortunately it hasn’t rebounded to the price per ton it once commanded in 2008. That is until several winemakers have recently put two and two together and raised their eyebrows highlighting the twinkle in their eye whilst discovering that 35-50 year old vines planted in Swan, Pommard, Martini and others between the two properties at Los Carneros Avenue and Cuttings Wharf really do still exist. Bulldozing is up, the little guys are out. Except for us. If you’re on the market for heritage clones give me a call. I’m in the process of selecting a field blend to plant our final 6-acre block where Thomson Martini Clone Pinot once lived and will live once again. If you’re a winemaker who’s “spoken” for Thomson Martini fruit, and want to have a say in the next 6 acres, you know where to find us. Pruning. Wine afterall is made in the vineyard and the season starts in January not September.

5) In just under 30 days The Farmer will be cruising the tradeshow floor, “window shopping” and building relationships at the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium. He enjoyed “looking and not buying” and socializing so much so last year – afterwards spending his evening at the Cal Poly Alumni mixer that he will be making an appearance once again; except I’ve requested that he fly his own school colors and quit posing with mine. You can read up on my 2010 thoughts related to the conference – I assure you they’re the same in 2011.

6) It’s not a Shur Frost it’s called a Wing & Prayer Son. We’re pendelbogen pruning more than just the Creek Block 10 in 2011. Blocks 5, 7 and 8 will get the more labor-intensive pruning method bringing canes and buds 6 more inches up off the wires and 6 more inches above the frost line. If you think winery capital costs are overwhelming, take a look at the investment required on the farming side. $7-15k is what one Shur Frost will set you back. Once you’re done here you can learn more about The Farmer’s pendelbogen pruning method in our Livin’ On A Prayer frost protection post.

7) To Do List: Licensing and Permitting. The only reason I’m re examining these action items is because there is a barrel of 2010 Cabernet in production under an alternative APN number, that will eventually need to be transferred to me. The plan was to make one barrel of each varietal in 2010, instead I sold every last berry of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Please defer to grape number 2 above. Mike Koroson of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control district office in Santa Rosa – I’ll see you next week.

8)This was supposed to be the grape that noted my favorite wine of 2010, my favorite event, my favorite things. Instead I’ll share with you one of my most recent favorite ideas. Two Buck Chuck started it, Oak Leaf has become mainstream, I consistently rave about the Target Wine Cube, and now the upscale Three Wishes is on the scene courtesy of Whole Foods. Consider ringing in the New Year with your closest comrades, four carafes, a couple bottles of each of the aforementioned and a good old fashioned blind wine tasting. Throw an expensive ringer in the mix and you’ve got a party. Just a thought. Discuss.

9) Speaking of discussions, wine industry association fees, is a constant discussion among us at Thomson Vineyard meetings. Well, I’m putting an end to the discussing. You could talk about it or you could do it right? I’ve already sent a note to Accounts Payable. Thomson Vineyards is suspending all association fees and membership until we begin seeing real value out of Napa Valley wine industry associations. Paid workshops in addition to annual membership fees and spam like email blasts don’t cut it in 2011.

10) Diversification is the name of the game and we’re in it. Predicting a wet winter and spring, have you seen the snow reports from the Sierras!?! We’re at 200%+ average. Thomson Vineyards may just solve the water crisis in Carneros and sell water to its neighbors. I’ve been asked about it several times. If you can figure how to do it, I’ll deliver it.

11) Among the posts that were written and never published was one questioning if  “Winemaker” is the new “MBA” Again, having thought better of posting it, instead I’ll go ahead and say I studied for the GMAT not the LSAT. But, here I am writing contracts. Sourcing California lien law clauses so that we can get paid, and if we don’t – hire henchmen to pick that product up out of wine warehouses until we do get paid. There is just one winery on my UNPAID list from 2009 who still has not paid, but whose website notes “2009 Chardonnay releasing soon!” Cute explanation mark, we’ll see how cute you look when I show up to taste that Carneros juice in your tasting room and buy a bottle for $40…soon. Anyhow, please see grape number 9 and let your local association presidents, CEOs or Executive Directors that would be a good use of annual membership dollars, once annual contract review for its members.

12) And finally, every year since college I’ve developed a tagline associated with the upcoming year. This year’s is an extension of 2010 because all in all 2010 was a pretty good year. I defined myself as a wine grower, not a blogger. I quit my job working for The Man to work for The Farmer. Every berry The Farmer farmed was harvested with one exception. Bygones. I live in the greatest city on earth and work in the most beautiful AVA on the planet. And I’ve managed to strike a balance between mud boots and fishnets! I suppose that last point could use a little extra work and effort…

Anyhow, I hope that you all adopt your own motto, mantra, slogan, or tagline in time for the clock to strike 12. While you’re downing surplus grapes I’ll be L-I-V-I-N in Twenty Eleven. As always, send me your comments – better yet, post your 2011 tagline.



Posted by: Thomson Vineyards | December 6, 2010

Millennials Would Rather Die

From Farmer Boots Back to Heels

Last Friday several of winebusiness.com’s top stories focused on recent reports that 7-Eleven would begin selling wine. This comes right on the heels of Starbucks positioning itself in July to diversify with a wine by the glass sales program and just today AdAge published a story declaring that Millennials are the Great White Hope for the Wine Industry. I’ve got news for you, if I’m part of the generation that all you wineries are building your hopes and dreams around. Don’t. And if you think we’ll buy wine at 7-Eleven. We’d rather die.

I grew up in what is known among the inner circle of Napa kids as the Slurpee Triangle. Three 7-Elevens positioned within a 1/2 mile radius of my mom’s house; the first on the corner of Silverado Trail and Lincoln Avenue, the second on Lincoln Avenue and Main Street and the third on Jefferson Street and Central Avenue – down the road from Napa High School. Peach was the hot flavor one summer and I drank a Slurpee a day on my way to lifeguarding at Mt. George Estates swimming pool, every day, all summer long.

Those 7-Elevens are now littered with trash, the sites of regular Napa baseball hat wearing police action, the home of Redbox DVD rental kiosks placed outside the store, not inside, because that’s where all the thugs hang out.

The demographic of frequent 7-Eleven customers is hardly the 20 and 30 something crowd en route to a low-key dinner party or the casual couple running out to grab a bottle of wine to share with one another that they recently read about on Twitter or Facebook.

Unless 7-Eleven’s corporate office is going to begin making over their brick and mortar stores and target a new demographic Just In Time (JIT) to start blowing wine off the shelves before us Millennials turn the old age of 40, I’d recommend sticking to the Sparks Drinking Frat Boys and recognize that’s about as close as you’re going to get a Millennial to buy up alcohol off the shelves and out of the cold cases in College Town USA.

I’d like to know if 7-Eleven’s Vice President of Merchandising and Logistics is aware that Millennials are often referred to as the Demand Generation? We aren’t patient. We want instant and blissful gratification. And we want it to be a luxurious high-end experience that we can afford on our less than ideal wages not necessarily in line with the level of education we’ve all achieved. I invite the CMLO of 7-Eleven to respond to me in 140 characters @ThomsonVyrds.

Finally related to AdAge’s declaration of Millennials being the Great White Hope of the Wine Industry, I’d challenge that wineries who convince their WINEMAKER to talk to Millennials rather than hiring 27-year-old young guns like Adam Beaugh, who the article notes, “formerly did web work for Texas Gov. Rick Perry” may stand a chance.

I’m sure Mr. Beaugh is well versed in the way of Facebook and all things Texas, but if you didn’t get the memo this morning  – Facebook is about to face yet another mass exodus with its recent updates to profiles, enabling advertisers to serve up more ads, your employer to review more tagged photos of you getting drunk off 7-Eleven wine, and allow wineries to coordinate more annoying API based Twitter feeds and Facebook wall posts – you’d best hop on Twitter and Facebook and start reading what Millennials are saying.

I’ll be very interested to see just who Mellinier Leah Hennessy confirms for her 2010 Unified Wine & Grape Symposium Panel titled, “What Matters to Millenials.” And no that’s NOT my typo in the Tuesday program. That’s the largest wine and grape conference in the nation, put on by two of the largest wine and grape associations in the nation who can’t even spell the generation they’re desperately trying to target. Sorry to shatter all your hopes and dreams.

Send your comments my way. I’m in San Francisco this week at Dreamforce on the Digital Media Team – taking a hiatus from the vineyard. Wearing heels, not my Farmer boots.

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