Posted By : Chris Corley
We spend a lot of time talking about wine in our family. We talk about how certain wines taste, how they tasted in the past, how they’ll taste in the future, what foods they taste best with. Wine runs through our blood to the point that my son, Jackson, wrote the following Mothers Day note to my wife, Julianna, in his first grade class – “Happy Mothers Day. My mom is soft like a dog and ruff like a lion. Thank you for makin good wine …”. I wonder what his first grade teacher thought of his poem when he turned that in.
In talking about wine, we use a pretty diverse vocabulary. We speak of wines in every metaphorical means imaginable. We refer to wines in terms of colors – ‘black, blue, purple, red, golden’. We speak of wines in terms of textures – ‘smooth, rough, rich, grippy’. We converse about wines in terms of weight – ‘fat, thin, heavy, light’. We debate wines in terms of numbers – ’96, 91, 89, 92′. We revel in wines in terms of sensuality – ‘elegant, sexy, voluptuous, alluring’.
In every instance we use language to convey the message. We discuss, with words, the emotions or feelings that the wine has invigorated within us. Most of us in the professional wine tasting world understand each other when we’re in the midst of a winespeak tasting session. I imagine that it might sound like a load of gibberish to someone who is not immersed in this metaphorical world of winejaw.
When I’m presenting wines to visitors at Monticello, one of the first things I try to glean is their understanding of wine and more directly, at what level do they engage in winespeak. We don’t have a babel fish to put in our customers ears to translate my enological ramblings, so it’s important to communicate in language that everyone feels comfortable with. Note : A babel fish is a small fish that when placed in the ear will translate any language in the galaxy for the listener (from ‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy).
Today we are hosting our Spring Release party, and will be releasing our 2008 Corley Proprietary Red Wine. The festivities will include a wine component / blending presentation that will be largely conveyed via my piano (my babel fish). I’ve deconstructed a song I wrote on the piano and matched the three main preliminary components of our 2009 Proprietary Red Wine to three main components of the song – the bass line, the melody, and the chorus. We’ll taste each of the wines while listening to the musical component. We’ll taste the blend while listening to the song as a whole. The goal is to convey one art form by using another, to minimize the words and revel in the emotion of the blend. Most everyone can feel music. You don’t need to have perfect pitch or be able to snap your fingers to a complex 7/8 rhythm. Most of us can tell when a note is out of tune, or a basic rhythm skipped. Music is a wonderful means of communication. Its inside of all of us.
A Babel Fish Composition
Today, I want to share that visceral pleasure that I enjoy when blending our Monticello wines. At the blending table, I like to close my eyes and savor the wine, to instinctively feel and experience its pleasures or faults. I like to clear my mind of titratable acidities and tannins, and focus on the ethereal and sublime that can be found in the glass. The intellectual aspect of winemaking is done before and after the blending table. The blending table is where art is created, where the paint wets the canvas, the pen hits the paper, and the fingers strike the keys. I’d like our wine club members to experience this today. And I’d like to share it today through music
"We were in Brooklyn a few weeks ago visiting our wine broker and spending a few days with my wife Julianna's sister, Joy, and her husband, Noureddine. Depending what airline we fly, we either check our wine (Southwest - bags fly free) or we send it ahead (all others). This time, we shipped several cases ahead (it cost the same to ship as it would to check, so may as well let the shipper lug it around!). It's nice to have wine ready for you upon arrival, and we were looking forward to some great bottles during our trip. Approximately a third of the wines we took to taste with our broker, but we also had plenty of nice wines for drinking, including plenty from other producers (we don't just drink our own stuff all the time!)
On our first night there, I was craving a big fat glass of red wine after a long day of family travel, and was almost salivating on the way from the airport, just thinking about popping a cork. We pulled out our first wine, and to my great disappointment, the wine was corked. It wasn't terrible, but it definitely had that familiar wet cardboard, aquarium gravel kind of smell that I just can't get out of my head once I smell it.
Cork taint is a topic that we as an industry pay close attention to. It can arise from the combination of wood product, moisture and chlorine. The offending molecule that raises the stink is called trichloroanisole (TCA). A lot of corks (wood) used to be sanitized (moisture) in chlorine based washes (chlorine), an malevolant olfactory trifecta. A winery could have a systemic problem with TCA. Many older wineries were stick-built (wood), are humidified (moisture) and historically used chlorinated tri-sodium phosphate (chlorine) as a sanitizer. Most wineries and cork producers have moved on from chlorine to other forms of sanitizers. We stopped using chlorine-based cleaners years ago, and keep our cellar relatively dry to avoid having too much moisture creating mold in our cellar.
Back in Brooklyn, we had plenty of other bottles to open, so we did, and we moved on, but it kept bugging me, and we had a fair bit of conversation about the corked bottle. I remembered reading something somewhere about using cling wrap to help remove the cork taint from an afflicted wine. I'd never tried it, but why not? It was the perfect opportunity, we'd be tossing the wine out otherwise. We wadded up a ball of cling wrap and tossed it into the decanter and swirled it around and let it soak for a few minutes, then fished it out. Interestingly, our anecdotal conclusion was that it did seem to have an impact on reducing the impact of the TCA in the wine. Not a major difference, but something noticeable and positive, and what harm is done? You've got a bottle that you've put aside anyway due to the TCA, you may as well play around with it. I'll add that this 'highly scientific' test was conducted while drinking a fair amount of other wines. While traveling, we try to complement all of our activities with copious amounts of wine, including our 'scientific' tests on the road!
Cork taint is a big topic in the wine biz, and I'm just keeping it light and anecdotal this evening on The Corley Blog. For the curious, you can read a little more about TCA at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cork_taint ."
I walked into Ed Beards St. Helena Insurance office in 1987, the day I turned 16. Fresh from the DMV, and with a 1979 Chevrolet Caprice Classic station wagon awaiting, I needed to sign up with Ed for my auto insurance. All went well and my adventures in driving were underway that afternoon. Ed was a friend of my dad's, and as I recall there was really no question where I would go to get insured. My dad sent me down to talk to Ed.
Twenty four years later, I still have my family car insured with Ed's office. And my house, my wife's business, and my life. I grew up with Monica, who has worked in Ed's office for as long as I can remember. That tells you something. People can make choices about where they work, and when someone works at the same place for the better part of their adult lives, it tells you a lot about the people there.
We do some custom winemaking at Monticello, and Ed would send over a few tons of Chardonnay each year that we make for him and bottle under his family's Beard Vineyard label. Ed liked a clean, crisp style of Chardonnay and his vineyard suits that style. The wines were fermented in stainless steel, and aged in neutral barrels. Ed would call to check in on the wines from time to time. His deep, somber voice on the phone was always comforting. "Chris, it's Ed Beard ..." he would say, and I can hear him saying it now as I write this. It was always a pleasure to talk with him. Always even, consistent, ever present. I miss talking to Ed on the phone. I wish I would have saved one of his voice messages.
Ed Beard was a kind man that touched many lives. The world is a better place for having Ed in it. I'm a better person for having known him, and I'll miss him. Rest In Peace Ed.
Posted By : Chris Corley
A wonderful aspect of wine is its seemingly endless variety. Wine is produced in all the major regions of the world, many of which produce wines with distinctive characteristics that over time can be consistently aligned with that areas. In general, when we talk about ˜wine', we're really talking about wine made from grapes, but there are lots of wines made from other fruits as well. I've been consulting the past year on a potential project that would produce pomegranate wine.
My wife and I are having an early celebration of our 10th anniversary, which is next month. We're spending a week in Jamaica, and as can be expected are enjoying all of the wonderful bounties of the island ¦ rum, snapper, conch, jerk chicken and herbs, rum.
Interestingly, when we visited a little shop in Negril to pick up a few things, I noticed about 4-5 different Jamaican wines available on the shelf. All of them were very inexpensive, a couple of bucks a bottle, and the fruit they were made from was not identified. Sugar Dandy, our sometimes ride, said that he had homemade a batch of wine from sea grapes that worked out alright for him. I don't know if these wines were made from sea grapes or not, but they definitely had some added flavors mixed in.
Admittedly, I didn't go to too much trouble to seek out any particular wines or even do much homework on them ¦ I'm on vacation and the Red Stripe and Rum Punch has been sufficing my needs for libation. It was fun to grab a few small bottles of what seemed to be the most popular brands in the store to get a sense of the local taste. I'm a winemaker, not a critic, so out of respect for my fellow craftsmen, I will stick to describing the wines and withhold judgment when writing on our family blog.
All of the wines were sweet and had very basic fruit flavors like cherry, strawberry and cola. The ‘Red Label’ wine was the sweetest and fruitiest, very viscous and almost syrupy in texture. The ‘Mandingo’ was listed as roots tonic wine, and it had a gingery kind of floral aroma and a sweet-tart bite. The “Old Pirate” was candied fruit on the nose and real easy-going on the palate, not supersweet nor acidic. The sweetness in these wines is almost port-like, it seems as though the local taste is for very sweet wines, with strong berry flavors. No right or wrong tastes, just fun for us to get a taste of the local flavors!
Posted By : Chris Corley
I'm in Southern California for a few days to pour our wines at the two Family Winemakers of California (FWC) tastings in Del Mar and Pasadena. In addition to showing our support for FWC, which is a valuable industry resource that works on behalf of family-owned wineries across California, these tastings give the members a forum for presenting our wines to existing and potential new accounts.
A wines journey from the winery to the dining table is largely based on relationships. There are lots of nice wines being produced all over the world, and lots of them are being sold for fair prices. With wine, its not just as easy as making a good product and selling it for a fair price. Those are only the first steps. Maintaining healthy relationships at every step of the process, both internally and externally, is critical to our winery's success and longevity.
Our previous broker in the Los Angeles area retired this past year after many years of representing our wines. We wish her well and hope that she can enjoy a well deserved spell of rest and relaxation. I met with our new broker at Palate Food and Wine Bar in Pasadena last night. I'm very excited by their energy and commitment to representing wines that they feel strongly about. We had a wonderful meal, one of the best I've had recently, and the enthusiasm at the table was infectious. Chef Octavio visited us at the table and sent out some fantastic off-the-menu treats from the kitchen. I was impressed with fluidity and balance of his dishes. Balance and seamless transitions is something we strive for in our wines, and last nights meals was one of the best examples of accomplishing this with food that I've experienced lately.
As a family, we've spent the better part of the last 40 years giving everything we've got to make Monticello Vineyards be the best it can be. We've had ups and downs, but we have always maintained good internal relationships within our company and external relationships with other companies and individuals. This is why we have such a large percentage of staff that have been with us for 20-30 years, and why we tend to think for the long term and maintain long-lasting relationships with our vendors and brokers and all the other people who are critical to getting our Monticello wines from the winery to the dining table. I think this is also why our fans of the winery are so loyal. Its not just about the wine, its about the relationship, too.
Posted By : Chris Corley
These last few days have been busy and also a lot of fun. Monticello participated in four appellation tastings and a trade-only tasting hosted by the Napa Valley Vintners, Premiere Napa Valley (PNV), at the Culinary Institute - Greystone, in St. Helena.
We have five vineyards spanning the valley floor that we either farm ourselves or are in control of -
Monticello Home Ranch Vineyard in Oak Knoll District (Big Ranch Road)
Knollwood Vineyard - Oak Knoll District (Big Ranch Road)
State Lane Vineyard - Yountville (State Lane)
Tietjen Vineyard - Rutherford (Niebaum Lane)
Yewell Vineyard - St. Helena (Ehlers Lane)
This year, our unique auction offering was monikered 'The Five Boroughs of Monticello', and is a Cabernet Sauvignon based blend incoprorating all five vineyard sites. The wine is rich in texture with dark fruits, smoky oak accents and a long finish. I'm really happy with this blend.
The Premiere Napa Valley event is always a pleasure to attend, and it gives us a chance to visit with all the incoming trade (distributors, restarateurs, retailers) that are in Napa for the week. Its a great opportunity for us to introduce our wines to new trade and also to visit with friends and existing reps. The resulting auction also raises a lot of money for the Napa Valley Vintners (NVV), an organization that our family has dedicated a lot of effort to support. Our father, Jay Corley, is a past President of the NVV. Stephen Corley is currently in his second year as Vice-President, and Kevin Corley has spearheaded the volunteering of time and leadership of the Beverage Committee at Auction Napa Valley for the last couple of years.
Most of the winewriters and bloggers are in attendance for the Premiere event and the appellation tastings preceding it. Over the last few days, I've spent roughly 12 hours standing on the other side of the table pouring our Monticello wines for various tradespeople and winewriters. This year I was struck by the differences in approach of different writers and tasters. At PNV, there are 200 wines that are being poured. I know of only one writer that commits himself and maintains the discipline to go through all 200 wines and keep organized notes of each wine. From my side of the table, Alder Yarrow, of Vinography (www.vinography.com), with his tasting notes going directly into his iPad, clearly is the writer that walks away with the most comprehensive view of this tasting. My apologies to any other writers that are attempting to put together comprehensive reviews of these tastings, but from my side of the table, Alder seems to me be in a league of his own in his approach to tasting at these types of large scale events.
The bidders are typically pretty organized in their approach, as they are determining what lots they are going to invest their auction budget into. These bids are based on wine quality, but also a large part based on brand. As with most auctions, you pretty much know which ones are going to be the big bids going into the day. While our 5 case donation does not generate the stratospheric prices of some of these top lots, we're very proud of the time and energy that we've put into the NVV, related organizations and our community over the last 40 years.
A lot of the money raised by the Napa Vintners goes to a lot of great causes around Napa that eventually helps lots of people in our community. From our side of the table, we are proud to be a part of a community that cares for and puts so much energy into the others that need help in the community.
This past week I had a chance to visit the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida. This was a highlight of our family trip back to Florida to spend Thanksgiving with family. My 6 year old son and 5 year old daughter were enthralled with the 3D Imax movie of the International Space Station, the simulation of the launch in the control room, and the opportunity to walk underneath the massive Saturn V rocket mounted overhead. The experience was a lot of fun for all of us, and educational as well. After spending the day at the Space Center, the kids had been introduced to a whole new world in a very meaningful way, and my wife and I had a deeper understanding and appreciation for what theses brave and creative men and women did back in these early days of the US space program.
APOLLO 11 COMMAND MODULE USED TO LAUNCH ARMSTRONG, COLLINS, AND ALDRIN TO THE MOON IN THE SUMMER OF 1969.
Most all of us are familiar with the widespread images of the first lunar landing of Apollo 11 and the famous words of Neil Armstrong upon placing mans first foot on the moon. What I have a much better appreciation for now is the unbelievable efforts of all the men and women that led up to that historic moment. There were many flights to test systems and equipment, some more successful than others, some resulting in fatality.
My immediate reaction to seeing the actual capsules and the massive Saturn V rocket (longer than a football field) used to launch them into orbit was that these guys were absolutely out of their minds to strap themselves into these things and blast themselves out of our atmosphere. I still think they were out of their minds. But they were also courageous and honorable men and women, striving to learn more about a new frontier. What a fantastic opportunity and honor for a talented and curious pilot to be accepted into the space exploration program. And it is not just a self-serving motivation of adventure. These brave men and women paved the way for the future International Space Station and Space Shuttle missions that advance science by means of the experiments that can be conducted out of our atmosphere.
In July of 1969, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin were shot into space on the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. It must have been an extraordinary event to observe and follow at the time. My dad, Jay Corley, was 38 at the time, a year younger than I am now. What a thrill for him to follow this adventure. These brave men representing a curious mankind leaving their home planet to travel to the moon. They were to investigate the surface of the new region and collect soil and rock samples for further study.
That same summer of 1969, Jay Corley was readying for a launch of his own. Driven by a similar curiosity, he was preparing to launch from his home to the north. He also intended to investigate the surface of a re-emerging region called Napa Valley and to collect rock and soil samples for further study. As did Apollo 11, my dad had a safe mission, was encouraged by the results of his rock and soil samples and planted his flag in the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley. My brothers and I are proud to carry on his tradition and fly the flag that he planted on our property over 40 years ago. The result of those early missions and subsequent efforts is Monticello Vineyards.
REPRESENTATION OF THE GERMAN-BUILT COMMAND MODULE USED TO TRANSPORT JAY CORLEY TO NAPA VALLEY IN THE SUMMER OF 1969. TESTING ON TRACK PRIOR TO LAUNCH.
In the same way that the early astronauts, engineeers and technicians paved the way for future generations to appreciate and strive to learn, so has my dad and all the other vintners that were planting vines in Napa Valley 40-50 years ago. As young vintners, we owe a lot to this previous generation, and I try to say thank you at every opportunity. When you're a kid, you believe that your dad is a superhero, he may as well wear a cape. I've got my own kids now and would be humbled and honored if they felt the same way ... but I still kind of feel that way about my dad, especially when I indulge myself with the time to reflect on his accomplishments. I hope that my generation can contribute as much to the generational dialogue as those before us. They were pioneers in their own right."
Posted By : Chris Corley
In a previous post a few months ago, I wrote about the intentional shearing of my longbeard and how the timing of the annual shearing of the harvest beard is a lagging indicator of the how the growing season is developing. Yesterday, I made a rookie accident that resulted in a facial follicle tragedy, but also has a correlation to winemaking. Somehow, in the 20 years I've had a beard on my face, through many nights of travel and mornings of self-induced grogginess, I've managed to avoid this peril. The clippers were carefully set to 5, but the guard was not in place, resulting in a runway across my cheek that the Space Shuttle could land on upon its return to our atmosphere.
I was temporarily blinded by the bright virgin cheekskin that had not seen the light of day since 1991. Once I regained my vision and senses, it was clear that there were not many options. I had to go barecheeks for the first time in 20 years. Sideburns and Goatee, Moustache, or a complete face-razing. A moustache seemed completely out of the question considering I don't have a pair of reflective CHP sunglasses to go along with one. A face-razing was too much to consider under the circumstances. Sideburns and Goatee.
These kinds of things happen in winemaking as well. In spite of all the careful planning, written and signed work orders, data entry and double checking - every now and then shit happens. 10 barrels, instead of 9, get pumped into a blend. Maybe the correct lot was pumped into the blend but the wrong barrel was pumped, resulting in a different new oak composition than intended. Fortunately, I have a long time crew that really cares about the wines that we , as a team, are making. In those unfortunate and uncommon situations, they react the same way that I did when I sheared a runway across my face. They stop what they're doing, assess the situation, and then we can move forward with the best option given the circumstances.
Fortunately these types of situations are as infrequent in the cellar as they are in my home barbershop. If you ever see a new brand on the market called 'Goatee', maybe the loyal readers of our blog will know the story behind the blend ..."
Posted By : Chris Corley
Our kids, at 6 and 5, are right in a sweet spot for trick-or-treating. In the last year or so, Halloween has become a lot of fun again with that exciting kind of dump-your-candybag-on-the-table-and-tally-your-loot kind of anticipation. It's so much fun to watch the kids running from house to house in their costumes yelling out 'trick or treat' and loading up their bags and little plastic pumpkins. We're going to gang up with some friends that live near us and hit the neighborhood tonight en masse. I'm really looking forward to the evening.
It occured to me this morning as I came into the winery to check on our fermenters (we still have a lot of grapes fermenting in tanks and bins) that it's kind of 'Trick or Treat' in the winery for us winemakers too. Although we're not wearing costumes, we go from tank to tank knocking on doors, pulling samples and tasting ferments to gauge what kind of treat we've got. Just like the neighborhood kids, the expectation is that we'll get a treat and won't have to perform tricks. The anticipation lays in whether we're going to a tasty bag of candy or some pretzels. When we were kids, we knew the right houses to go to for the best treats, and the ones to avoid where the crabby old people handed out peanuts or simply didn't answer the door. In the same way, as a winemaker, we also know which tanks are going to give us the best treats as we make our rounds.
Still, I have the same giddy anticipation at the end of harvest as my kids will have tonight, when I spread my seasonal loot out on the blending table and organize all my wines into different categories of what I like best, and what's medium and what I want to trade. This year so far, it looks like a pretty nice bag of enological loot!
Posted By : Chris Corley
I cut off my beard a couple of days ago. Normally the previous years harvest beard would come off the following spring, but this summer has been so cool that the beard remained nearly until this years harvest. Many vintners gauge the growing season by the development of their tomatos in the garden. Seeing how the tomatos grow and ripen can give some an easy visual sense of how the growing season is developing. I'm developing a hypothesis that the degree days of the growing season can be determined by the lifespan of my previous year's Harvest Beard. On the years that I grow a long harvest beard, I find that I can roughly gauge the following growing season by how long the beard lasts into the summer.
My 2009 Vintage Beard lasted until August 2010. This late shearing indicates a cool growing season and a potentially later harvest. The same was true for the 2004 Vintage Beard which came off late in the summer of 2005. This was a late season as well, and coincided with the birth of my daughter Ruby, who along with her one-year old brother Jack, perceived the beard as a plaything and grabbed at it every chance they could. This prompted me to shear perhaps earlier than I normally would have, and perhaps nulls the scientific approach I'd been taking to linking grape development to beard longevity, but it still applies as anecdotal evidence.
My wife and kids have never seen my chin. For that matter, neither have I for the last 18 or so years. I think it's still there. My sons got a dimpled chin, but we're not sure if that came from me or not. I've always had a beard of some length. I've never thought much about why. I guess I'm just enjoying the hair on my head while I've still got it. Gravity affects men too as we age. For me the effect has been that the hair used to grow vigorously upward out of the top of my head, and now grows downward out of my face. My beard tends to grow long in the winter and get sheared in the spring. We've never saved the shearings or tried to fashion textiles out of them, although I suppose that may be the green thing to do. Maybe some day.
Earlier this year I was in Houston doing some wine events and was at a dinner in which some great Spanish wines were shared. At the close of the evening, I gave one of the guests a parting hug. She realized shortly afterward that she had lost one of her rather dangly earrings. We searched briefly for the missing accoutrement, until she realized that her rather dangly earring was hanging in the underbrush of my 2009 Vintage Beard. I thought it looked pretty good, but she wanted it back, so I acquiesced.
We shear the growth in the vineyard as well. We pull lateral shoots and leaves that block the sun and air from getting into the middle of the canopy. We trim excess fruit that may prevent the vine from fully ripening the crop. We trim the weeds and vegetation in the rows and under the vines, so they don't suck up too much of the groundwater or nutrients or create havens for pests.
Sometimes we hack back the vines themselves. This year, we sawed off the tops of a small portion of Cabernet Franc vines in the front block. We grafted Cabernet Sauvignon buds on to these vines. Just two small dormant buds were grafted on to the top of each hacked trunk. They were gooped, taped and we crossed our fingers. This will be the first Cabernet Sauvignon we've grown on the property in about 30 years. We're all pretty excited about the potential. We're hopeful to have a modest crop of Cabernet Sauvignon from this block in 2011, and be fully enagaged in 2012. As a family, we tend to get excited about things that are still years away. Many of these new buds have shown very strong growth in their first season. These two buds per vine have the full force of the already established root system behind them. With this explosive growth, we've already been able to lay down the early shoots to set the cordons for next season.
The root system for the 2010 Vintage Beard is already established as well. I'll need to order a new tub of Bluebeard's Original so I'll be ready for the potentially explosive whisker development this harvest