Archive for the 'wine' Category

Terroir from Santa Cruz to Australia

I wouldn’t say I’ve spread the gospel (?) of terroir to friends in the wine and tech business, but I’ve certainly talked about it a lot in reference to our Mapovino project.  And as in all things where you take the time to sow the seeds, enough interest is returing for a perfect Fall harvest.  (Ouch, what a metaphor).

A while back, independent wine salesman Alex Pryor (now over at Starlite Vineyards) pointed me to this article about the search for an Australian sense of terroir. What I liked about the article was that these folks tried to taste the difference between wines mades within the same appelation (Barossa), but coming from different sub-regions that could potentially reflect different influences on the wine.

More recently, my friend in wine and Drupal, Kurt Hurtado (at Bottlenotes) passed this on to me – the original Rhone Ranger’s thoughts on terroir.

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WineQuesters – and disaster mapping

Jim Preston from WineQuesters pointed me to his site a while ago. He logged several thousand miles (and hours, I’m sure) driving to wineries and tasting rooms, in order to get accurate GPS data on where these are located. Anyone who has seen a list of P O Box addresses and “nearest big town” addresses for wineries knows the challenge of using public address info for mapping. And as far as I can tell, he’s done this for wineries that accept visitors – and not necessarily “outing” small wineries that don’t accept visitors and don’t publish their vineyard address.

WineQuesters also has a forums area for people to discuss visiting wineries, and more to the point, propose wine tasting tours. This is a great niche, and one that I know has an audience. (I have a couple of friends who can spend far too much time on planning wine tasting trips. I think their all time best was 7 in one day, with a designated driver. It doesn’t seem like a lot but try it sometime….)

Then the fires started, and Jim began using his mapping skills to map out the Big Sur wildfires. The project started coming full circle once the wineries in Upper Carmel Valley began to be threatened…. Jim says 8-11 thousand people are using his maps – some people are relying on them to decide whether to evacuate or not!

Ultimately, he said his experience there will inform Wine Questers. And maybe some Questers will check out the wineries in Carmel who may need some extra attention after this fire….

Where’s the open map data?

One of the first people I talked to when I was at WhereCamp several weeks ago was a guy from GeoCommons. Now this is the kind of thing that I get excited about – people putting up virtual warehouses to encourage people to store open data. In this case, geo-coded data.

Of course, one of the first things I did was look for geo-coded data on wine appellations. Unfortunately, there’s nothing there. In fact, I’ve looked high and low for open-licensed geo data for US wine appellations, with no luck. (Yes, Vestra has this info for sale. But if we buy it, we can’t share it, right?) If Mapovino has to code this ourselves, then it’s going to set us back a little bit. In the end, our aim would be to then publish the kml / geo-coded data on… GeoCommons, for example.

The appellation data itself is publicly available from several federal sources (here, for example). The challenge is that the appellations are defined in natural language, and according to USGS maps, not latitude / longitude. So there’s some translation work that needs to happen. There are a few different ways of taking this descriptive data and turning it into KML files (my first idea involves using the hiking software Topo, but that’s another story) – but it will require a human and many hours.

In the end, even emails to the TTB (the wing of the ATF that focuses on non-terrorist related activities) and the USGS have turned up empty handed – they all pointed me to the narrative description files I’ve found before.

So it looks like we’re gonna need an intern and some USGS maps. Know someone who wants to trade drawing skills for some wine? 🙂

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Robert Mondavi: 1913-2008

Big news in the wine world – Robert Mondavi died today at 94. Say waht you want about Mondavi wines, he helped put Napa on the map. And helped slowly (ever so slowly) turn wine drinking in the US from elite and expensive activity to simple populist pleasure. From the Wine Spectator:

“To promote the marriage of food and wine, Mondavi and his wife,
Margrit Biever Mondavi, created the “Great Chefs” programs at their
Oakville winery in the 1970s. Each year, they hosted influential
culinary masters, such as Julia Child and Paul Bocuse, to cook and
experiment with different food and wine pairings.

But rather than limit wine to fine dining, Mondavi championed making
it a part of everyday life and of a healthy lifestyle. When wine came
under attack in the 1980s, Mondavi was a vocal critic of anti-alcohol
campaigns and advocated research into the benefits of moderate
consumption of wine.”

Great wine podcasts – and great geek cheat sheet

In researching the basics of U.S. wine and terroir for Mapovino, I’ve come across a few good resources for interested beginners. And so, to share the wealth:

  • Napa Valley Wine Radio: Despite the elevator jazz and fireside-smooth feel of this podcast, it has some gems of fundamental information. I’ve been looking for a good guide to “Decision-making in the course of wine-making” (a useful tool to use on Mapovino to compare differences among wine-makers?), so I appreciated Episode 61 – Winemaking 101. Yes, it’s a beginner’s overview, but it does point out step by step what decisions a winemaker will make that can affect the outcome of the wine. And then, perhaps more relevant to Mapovino, Episode 63 – The Napa Valley AVA.
  • Twisted Oak Winery: I’ve never tried their wines, but their “cheat sheet” (pdf) is not only helpful to understand their wines, but to understand some of the “wine geek” numbers that get thrown around a lot by people fascinated by such things (residual sugar, brix, etc)
  • Grape Radio: Grape Radio has a ton of great content. Unfortunately, I’m not a fan of the trio’s banter (but then again I prefer the foul-language and insult-laden diatribes of LUG Radio, so who am I to say anything?). That doesn’t stop me from recommending them as a great resource – and if you’re at all interested in Pinot Noir, you should listen to their recording of this lengthy Pinot Noir seminar with Allen Meadows. Whether you know very little and are curious, or you are well-versed in Burgundy wines, this is an incredible font of knowledge and history.

Medlock Ames, Alexander Valley, Sonoma

Winery - Medlock-Ames

I just came back from visiting Medlock Ames, a winery farm in Alexander Valley, in Sonoma. I first heard about them at last year’s Wine 2.0 event, although they are anything but high-tech – in all the right ways. I was visiting to get some pictures and basic data to use as a test for a small Mapovino demo we are hosting next week, and Medlock Ames is a great example of the kind of geographically specific, sustainable winery that we want to showcase.

Panorama - Medlock-Ames
At first glance, Medlock Ames is well within a trend sweeping many wineries: a sustainably farmed, organic vineyard that has adopted a lot of biodynamic practices to boot. In an oft-repeated reasoning among adopters of biodynamic grape-growing, Ames Morison, grape grower and winemaker for the the winery, said that he wasn’t sure exactly how biodynamic improved things, but it did – the results tended to be better than just using conventional organic farming methods.

Wait, I just said “conventional organic.” Wow, see how far along this road we’ve already travelled, where simply “organic” is still not enough?

In any case, Ames does pay attention to every piece of the ecosystem. Like any good father, he was up the entire night previous to my visit, monitoring the overnight cold snap that was hitting the region to make sure his new leaf buds didn’t freeze.

Native habitat - Medlock-Ames
But that’s to be expected from a premium grape grower. So also, these days, are the owl boxes that act as IPM to reduce mice and other vineyard pests; clover and native Californian grasses acting as cover crop to refuel the soil with nitrogen; solar panels to reduce dependence on fuel. This kind of attention to sustainable farming practices is certainly not ubiquitous, but becoming more and more common among the vineyards of Napa and particularly Sonoma.

But using a horse and plough? That’s a commitment, one of many made at Medlock Ames. How about the fact that they use less than half of their land for grape-growing, keeping the rest as natural habitat? Ames pointed out that it’s not altruistic – it actually helps maintain pest control, promotes animals and plants that are beneficial to the health of the vines, and in general supports the entire winery’s “health.” I also guessed, judging from some of the superlative wines I’ve had from the south of France that always hint of fennel, that the wildness of Medlock-Ames imparts a distinct character on the wines (Ames pointed out that, in a similar fashion, Heitz’ “Martha’s Vineyard” has a hint of eucalyptus.)

And Medlock Ames is certainly wild. They use sheep to act as natural weed-whackers, but have recently had some “predator problems.” I guessed a coyote. Ames responded that it was probably a mountain lion because of the neck puncture wounds on the dead sheep; coyote tend to gut their prey when they kill it.

Huh? This winemaker can identify predators by they way they’ve killed sheep? I felt like I was on a vineyard safari. And that’s when it really hit me – Medlock Ames is really a farm that produces, amongst other things, superb wine. When I mentioned this, Ames related the story from “An Omnivore’s Dilemma” where the dairy farmer actually identifies himself as a grass farmer, because that’s at the root of everything else he produces. Ames feels similarly about Medlock Ames.

Bulls at Medlock-Ames
To complete the safari feel of the tour, I pulled out my camera to capture some brief glimpses of the new small-bred cows they are now testing out to keep weeds and grasses down. These cows, bred in Australia to be heartier eaters across a wider range of environments, are also a bigger match for coyotes or mountain lions than sheep. I could hardly imagine them ambling among the fragile-looking vines, but apparently they do fine as long as it’s not right during the new leaf bud.

Medlock-Ames produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, a rosé (only available to club members) and a Bordeaux blend called “Red”. You can get their wines online, or from Bi-Rite Market and Castro Village Wine Company in San Francisco.

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Mapovino: Google-mapping and social-networking and wikipedia-ing

It’s very difficult to describe what we are aiming for with the Mapovino project without getting caught up in Web2.0 buzzword bingo; or, going the other route, being so pretentious that it’s we’re sooo different that we shun any words that sound vaguely like the “read-write web”. Sigh. Below are my best thoughts in words so far….

(We’re having a demo and wine-tasting in San Francisco soon. Contact me if you’re interested!)

Mapovino is a wine-mapping website incorporating GoogleMaps to showcase geographically distinct wines and the stories behind these wines.

Mapovino is interactive:

  • Users can add comments, photos, link to maps in their blogs, and even add blog links on the map.

Mapovino is encyclopedic:

  • It will pull wine and geography information from Wikipedia and other public information sources. This secondary user-generated content further enables users to interact with Mapovino.

Mapovino is information and referral:

  • Mapovino will not sell wines; instead, it will point to where to find the wine in stores and restaurants.

Mapovino will be driven by wine fans, helped by Mapovino staff:

  • Producers will not have the burden entering information about their wines and vineyards – fans of their wines can help input that information. Mapovino staff will highlight producers, and post in-depth articles and interviews. Producers can control their own entries, but do not have to do anything specific for their wines to appear on the site.

Mapovino is in development:

  • To be part of the conversation, please email “greg.beuthin” in front of “”

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