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Corley Family Napa Valley

Chris Corley
 
August 5, 2008 | Chris Corley

VIGNETTES -

"NOTE : VIGNETTES is a section for short fictional works.

Antenna Head

 

Informally known as The Panel, the seven wine critics met once a month to discuss events in the wine industry, share notes, etc. They all found these monthly meetings very enjoyable as it was a release for them to spend some time with other wine-lovers who knew as much about wine as they did. The Panel, although pretty nice folks away from their work, were incredibly knowledgable about wine, so much so that they found it almost insufferable to discuss the topic with people who didn’t understand wine as well as they did. The Panel’s monthly meetings were a welcome release for them to bestow upon their peers their fantastic understanding of the beverage.

From time to time, they would invite a young unknown winemaker to bring his wines for them to taste. Typically, these novice wines were of reasonable quality, rarely were they extraordinary. Most members of The Panel genuinely enjoyed seeing a young winemaker show his wares, as it gave them a chance to offer their advice on how he could do his job better – the irony, of course, being that none of the critics actually knew how to make wine, rather their talent was in identifying its strengths and weaknesses as a finished product. In actuality, the advice that they bestowed was more a lighthouse in the fog – only the winemaker himself could truly navigate the seas of oenology.

Unfortunately, there were a few members of The Panel who enjoyed the novice presentations for an entirely different reason. These three old dogs were stubborn and grumpy and longed for the old days. They disdained new technologies and advances in viticulture and winemaking, and as the world slowly passed them by, they became increasingly bitter. The irony, of course, was that these three old dogs didn’t seem to mind the advances in their own field – blogs, online wine ratings powered by robust search engines, podcasts, etc. As long as their opinions commanded the power, they really didn’t care the medium through which the information was delivered. With one exception – verbally.

The Panel was accustomed to submitting reviews, whether positive or negative, to their respective magazines, to be presented in type, which now included postings on the web. Rarely did they honestly review a wine in person. If wines were tasted with the winemaker, notes were taken, and reviews were written later to be published. Never did the critic tell the winemaker to his face his true impressions. One time, when two members of The Panel addressed a group of local winemakers, they stuttered and stammered through their presentation. Their discomfort was all over their faces as they talked to the dubious group whom they’d been rating the work of for years. It was clear they felt much more comfortable dispensing their critiques from behind closed doors.

Having a young fresh winemaker in their office, eager to please and hoping for his big break, was just too irresistible for these three old dogs. The wines were usually not that great, the winemaker not very confident. It was a lamb going to the slaughter and these three critics relished the opportunity to verbally unleash on these poor young people, who were just trying to do the best they could to get a start, usually with meager funds and not the best grape sources at first. It was one of the few opportunities for three old dogs to get out from hiding behind their printed words.

 

* * *

This particular winemaker had been in their office before, about a year and half earlier. They all remembered him vividly. He had brought all of his wines in an old leather sack and was eager to take a few pictures so he could remember this as his big break. He was so proud to be in the room with such great and knowledgable wine reviewers. He never saw it coming. They had really let him have it. He had brought in all of his barrel samples from his first vintage. The critics had railed on him for the lack of fresh fruit, the effervescence, the imbalanced oak and the chunky finish. These wines will never amount to anything, they said. You may want to consider another vocation. Vinegar maker, shouted one, to rambling chorus of laughter. He would never forget the mouthfuls of shiny fillings in the group as they leaned back in their chairs and roared in jest.

He realized at that first tasting that these people were not experienced in tasting wines at that early stage. They were only adept at judging a finished product. so arrogant. Of course the wines were all those things, he thought at the time, that’s not the point. When tasting a wine this young in barrel, you’re not tasting for what you taste now, you’re tasting for what you’ll taste then. They didn’t get it, and weren’t capable of foreseeing what the wines develop into. Disappointed, he packed up his sample bottles and left, never once rebutting the ugly comments hurled at him and his wines.

Yet here was again. A year and half after that first tasting and with the very same wines, he sat before The Panel. This time his experience was to be very different. The wines had completed their aging in barrel and had been bottled for about 6 months. He was getting close to releasing them and had been invited back to their tasting presentation because their reputation now preceded them, and The Panel was having a tough time finding young winemakers willing to come out to them for a thrashing. He didn’t care, he was proud of his wine regardless of what anyone said.

 

* * *

 

This time, there wasn’t a single member of The Panel at the table that wasn’t deeply entranced by the wines he was tasting. All seven of them were well respected professional wine tasters and writers in one capacity or another, although not one of them had ever been affected so deeply by a group of wines.

The wines danced on their palates and provided them pleasures beyond any that they had known before. They closed their eyes and swirled the glasses under their noses. The wines were so beautifully bursting with aromas, that the room was actually filled with a mélange of all the wines’ aromas. Swirling like clouds, rainbows, thunderstorms and sunbeams through the room, an intoxicating blend of fragrance and hedonism – alluring, dangerous, irresistible and refreshing. But the real magic was on the palate. These wines were operatic - literally singing in their heads. They thought they were going crazy with joy as the wine burst into song inside their heads. The rhythms and melodies were almost too much to bear, they thought they were going mad! The three old dogs fainted in their seats and needed to be assisted over to the floor where they could lay down for a few moments, before being taken away by an ambulance. They were nearly hysterical with joy, shouting of the most beautiful melodies which played in their heads. Where was this beauty emanating from ? It must be the wine, they screamed. Everyone thought they had surely gone mad.

 

* * *

 

About a week later, The Panel called a special meeting. They had much to discuss. These wines that they had tasted had shattered all of their notions of what a great wine was or the heights of pleasure that a wine could provide. These wines made them question every score or review they had ever written because their whole subjective scale was now warped. Their previous hazy notions and definitions of what defined 100 points meant nothing now.

The question they were all asking of themselves was – Can we tell anyone about this ? If they were to review these wines honestly, they would need to elevate their rating scale to 110 points. That would eliminate all accuracy of any wine they had previously judged over their entire career, all of which would have been based on a lower relative scale. Wines previously rated at 95 would be dropped to 86 under a new system. A coveted 90 would be a mere 82. This would be the scandal of the century. Once the numbers were shown to have no fixed meaning, the reviews would be revealed as mere opinions, which unfortunately for The Panel is what they were. The collapse of the 100 point scale would not be good for their business, careers or their magazine sales.

Their dilemma was clear – rate these wines highly and honestly and risk the collapse of the 100-point scale and the reevaluation of their lives’ reviews, or sweep the kid’s wines under the rug when they formally review them upon release. What a mess …

 

* * *

 

The young winemaker was working back at his small run-down winery. It was bonded in the early 1900s so his wine license was grandfathered in – it would never be permitted under the current rules. He had a small shed off to the side that he used as his workshop. He pondered over the stainless steel wires protruding from the barrels and reveled in the sweet strains of Vivaldi’s “Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione” (The Contest Between Harmony and Invention.).

From the outside, the small shed looked like it was about to fall apart. Ramshackle, it had a slight lilt to the side and you got the sense it wasn’t quite built to square in the first place. The boards were bleached from a century of sun, and you wondered what may be lurking within those dark knotholes. Once you walked through the door, however, you were in a different world. The door itself was much heavier than imagined from its old appearance on the outside. It was heavily reinforced and insulated on the inside, as were the other interior walls of the workshop. The small room was bright, fresh and amazingly clean, the interior walls covered in 3 inch thick metallicized insulation board. Under that the walls had been stuffed with encapsulated insulation. The room was easily 55 degrees even though it was well over 90 degrees outside. In the center of the room were 12 barrels on the floor, each with two thin stainless steel wires emerging from the bung. The wires ran across the room to the stereo where the music was coming from.

 

* * *

 

He had been experimenting with musical infusion of his wines for about a year. Some time ago, he had visited a winery in the next valley over where they played classical music in their barrel room. According to the tour guide, the music was soothing the wine, and they played it 24 hours a day. Just a gimmick, he thought, but what if you really could enhance the wine by infusing it with music. The possibilities could be endless. He wanted to make it real.

He immediately began his experiments back at his workshop by running stainless steel speaker wires direct from his stereo to the barrels, removing the speakers and allowing the wine to absorb the musical energy. Over months, he played with different music and wine combinations, infusing his Zinfandels, Cabernet Sauvignons and Pinot Noirs with Metallica, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Beethoven, Van Morrison, Mozart, Sly Stone and myriad other artists. The different genres all had varying impacts on the wine. Ultimately, his trials convinced him thet Vivaldi was the touch for the entire vintage, so he settled in on the Opus 8, a set of twelve concertos, one for each barrel. The first four barrels were designated as The Four Seasons, correlating with the opus. This inaugural vintage would be his masterstroke.

Through experimentation, he had observed that the musical infusion effect in the barrel lasted about 2 weeks then faded out as thought the volume were being turned down. In his experiments with bottling the wine within that two week window, he had discovered that he could capture the musical energy in the wine, especially if he used the new glass stoppers that were on the market as opposed to corks. He needed to seal the music in the bottle before it escaped.

 

 

* * *

 

The wines he had infused with music had evoked intensely emotional responses in him during his experimental trials. At times, it was overwhelming. The winemaking technique was groundbreaking, it opened never before conceived avenues in the complexities of wine, expanding the tactile, olfactory and visual pleasures of wine to include the entire aural spectrum – true rhythm and harmony in the glass.

He thought back to that first day in front of The Panel when they were all laughing at him and he noticed the abundant shiny fillings in the mouths of the three old dogs as they reared back in their seats. Those would make great antennae, he thought …. "

Time Posted: Aug 5, 2008 at 1:22 AM
Chris Corley
 
July 31, 2008 | Chris Corley

A Question from Curtis Ingraham

"Where can I buy your Brut champagne ? I just sampled it at AVA restaurant in Ross and was bowled over. Terrific."

Curtis Ingraham - Kentfield, CA



Curtis,

Thanks for the question. We're going to ship you a bottle (on us, of course) for being the first to submit a question to our blog! You can e-mail your shipping info to our retail room at <a href="mailto:wine@corleyfamilynapavalley.com">wine@corleyfamilynapavalley.com</a>. I'll start chilling it for you !

For Domaine Montreaux, I'd encourage you to visit us at the winery. As it is, we'll likely be harvesting the 2008 in 2-3 weeks ... you may get a kick out that if the timing worked out.

Although we've been producing Domaine Montreaux Sparkling Wine since 1983, we don't make a whole lot of it each year. It's a very labor intensive project going from sunshine to bottle with the bubbly.

The cuvee shifts every year or so as a new vintage of vibrant young bubbles is produced. In addition we adjust our vintage blend based on tastes, and draw heavily from our inventory of bottle-aged vintage wine still aging "Sur Latte". Our current offering of Domaine Montreaux (DMX in our cellar shorthand) is a very intriguing mix of our 1990 and 2007.

The 1990 has been in the bottle aging on the lees for an incredible 17 years and has developed a very rich nutty, yeasty, caramel like aroma profile.

The 2007, conversely, spent only about 3 months in bottle prior to being used in the blend. The 2007 is full of fresh green apples, very lively acidity and a crispness that I find very appealing.

The wines work quite well together, enhancing each others positive attributes and strengthening each others weaknesses ...

Cheers,



Chris

Time Posted: Jul 31, 2008 at 4:30 PM
Chris Corley
 
July 28, 2008 | Chris Corley

"That which we call a rose..."

Posted By : Chris Corley

Juliet :

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
Romeo and Juliet

As a refreshing finish to a warm day or midsummers night, I've been enjoying our 2007 Rose with some frequency over the last couple of months. Clearly I have a natural bias, but I really like it. It's got a nice light pink color, vibrant acidity, and a long fruity finish.

In the past, our Rose has always been varietal specific - for instance ""Rose of Pinot Noir"" and ""Rose of Syrah"". In 2007, I did 'saignee' on a fair amount of our red fermentations. No, saignee is not a form of voodoo, although I have been known to use a little mojo in certain vintages. Saignee is a french term for bleeding juice from the fermentation almost immediately after crushing the red grapes. The juice that is bled from the tank is generally clear to light pink, as it is removed from the tank before it has a chance to extract much, if any, color from the skins. This pink juice is then treated much like a white wine, fermented at cool temperatures and protected from the air.

In 2007, we had several varietals of rose which we had produced by saignee, which all tasted great individually - Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah. Not really inclined to bottle four separate Roses for the vintage, I started playing around with blends, and ultimately arrived at the current bottling, which includes all four varietals and even a splash of Chardonnay, which added a very nice textural component with its naturally high acidity.

Clearly, we couldn't call this wine ""Rose of ..."", so we casually kicked around a few ideas. One name that sticks with me is ""Rose de Sangre Fresca"" because its fun to say and translates (in a somewhat macabre way) into ""Rose of Fresh Blood"", tying into the winemaking technique. Ultimately, we decided to simply identify the wine as ""Rose"". It's elegant if you ponder the word a bit and let it linger ...

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.” 

Time Posted: Jul 28, 2008 at 3:30 AM
Chris Corley
 
July 27, 2008 | Chris Corley

Turning Colors

Veraison ! Right now is an exciting time in the vineyard. Some of the grapes are going through that magical metmorphosis called veraison, when the berries begin to soften up and change colors. The white grapes transform from tart, bright green pellets into soft luscious golden grapes and the red grapes drift through every shade imaginable between lime green and deep purple. It is really amazing to watch. When I figure out how to post pictures on the blog, I'll be sure to include a picture of a cluster mid-veraison.

As different varietals all have their own timelines, they go through veraison at different times. As of today, our Pinot Noir is about 40-50% through, the Chardonnay about 50-60% through and the Syrah roughly 10-15% through. For me, putting a percentage on veraison is really a peripheral observation, made mostly by walking through the blocks and taking a broadview of the clusters and getting a sens of about how many berries on the cluster have turned color. A little easier to see with the red grapes. With the whites, it takes a little squeezing to see if the cluster is softening up.

Today we were removing leafs and pulling excess shoots to expose the fruit to more clusters. Just like mowing your lawn, you can smell the vegetation as it gets cut from the vine - in this case, like fresh cut grass and bell peppers.

The vibe picks up when the berries start turning color, and the guys in the field and in the cellar are definitely buzzin' with harvest around the corner ...

Time Posted: Jul 27, 2008 at 8:56 PM
Chris Corley
 
June 18, 2008 | Chris Corley

Get Lost !

I taste wine nearly every day. My typical regime is to have our lab tech, Mark, pull and prepare the samples in the morning and I'll taste through various wines each morning between about 10:00-12:00. In terms of winemaking, it is one of my most cherished rituals and pleasurable responsibilities.

It's not unusual for me to get lost in glasses of wine during these tastings. It's that moment when you close your eyes, the world goes silent and you take in the full experience of the wine as a canvas drenched in vibrant colors and musical notes raining down from the heavens. It's that moment when the wine sings to you in a voice so beautiful that the lyrics don't matter. It's that moment when a wine is a field of wildflowers, or a dusty box of fresh cherries, or a sweet fragrant kiss from your true love.

I love getting lost in wines. It's the indescribable thrill and ultimately the reason we work so hard in the field and cellar to craft the wines we do. It's the climax.

While allowing yourself the luxury of getting lost in a wine is perhaps the purest route to enjoyment, it doesn't ultimately lend itself to responsible cellar management. As a counterbalance, I also keep extremely detailed tasting notes and rankings of all my tastings - lot by lot - and diligently have these entered into the computer for future reference, both long and short term. In my humble opinion, a winemaker must simultaneously be his own most enthusiastic supporter and also his own bluntest critic. The former trait will encourage and compel him to try new paths in seeking his ideal wine - the latter trait will keep him true to his vision and let him know when he's drifted down the wrong path.

And so my tastings go each morning, oscillating back and forward from beautiful lost wanderings in glasses of wine as vast as seas and skies to scribbling down its essence in a handful of sentences when I open my eyes again.

What a beautiful journey ...

Time Posted: Jun 18, 2008 at 3:39 AM
Chris Corley
 
May 24, 2008 | Chris Corley

RECOMMENDED READING -

This dramatic book tells the story of those who marched with George Washington in 1776, the year that the Declaration of Independence was written. The whole of America's future lay in the hands of General George Washington and his "rabble" army - composed of soldiers of all ages, most with no military experience whatsoever.

It is an inspiring story, witten in a fluidly narrative style that includes excerpts of field notes of officers, soldiers, and other people of the time whose journals have survived the ages. It tells of a loosely assembled army of American rebels that fought against a highly organized British army that outfunded, outmanned and outgunned the Americans at nearly every confrontation. The dramatic battles in Boston and New York are particularly compelling, as well as the build up to General George Washington's heroic crossing of the Delaware and the ensuing battles in Trenton and Princeton, New Jersey.

"It may be doubted whether so small a number of men ever employed so short a space of time with greater and more lasting effects upon the history of the world." - Sir George Otto Trevelyan, in his classic study of the American Revolution.

The aformentioned quote from Sir George Otto sums up the feeling you have while reading this book. Namely, how could such a small ill-equipped and inexperienced group of men accomplish so much under such difficult conditions and in the face of such a powerful foe ?

The perseverance of George Washington and his ability to keep his troops composed had much to do with it. These brave men fought and died for the freedoms which we enjoy to this day. We owe them much.

David McCullough has received the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award twice each. His biography "John Adams" was recently aired as a 7 part original mini-series on HBO, which was excellent. Mr. McCullough has also been honored with the National Book Foundation Distinguished Contribution to American Letters Award and the National Humanities Medal.

Time Posted: May 24, 2008 at 8:48 AM
Chris Corley
 
May 17, 2008 | Chris Corley

An Eastern Migration

Posted by : Chris Corley

In the (bizarro) spirit of those great Jeffersonian explorers, Lewis and Clark, my wife and I loaded up our stagecoach full of wine and blazed back east to visit a couple of our distributors recently. We made good time as our 'coach' was a newer model built by the team over at Virgin America.

Julianna's sister lives in Brooklyn, so we got a great feel for the local mojo in her neighborhood. There are some very nice restaurants and hangouts within blocks of her house, and a subway stop within a block, which was nice for our daily migrations to Manhattan and New Jersey ...

We spent a day in Manahattan and a few days in New Jersey, and the reception to the wines was excellent. It was also fun to visit with some of the retailers and restarauteurs who remember our Monticello wines from the late 1900s.

Our MONTICELLO Cabernet Franc and our CORLEY Proprietary Red Wine were big hits, and I was very happy with how the wines were showing throughout the week. People were really excited about our use of Cabernet Franc in our blends and in the 100% varietal bottlings.

On our last evening there, we had dinner with our NJ distributor, Jeff, and his lovely wife Sandy. They've been enjoying wine together since they got married nearly 27 years ago. The restaurant was a BYO (Bring Your Own, because they don't sell wine at the restaurant). Among others, Jeff brought two bottles to dinner, a 1986 CORLEY RESERVE Cabernet Sauvignon and a 1986 CHATEAU MEYNEY St. Estephe. What a treat to taste the two bottles side by side! Both had aged gracefully and we easily segued into a conversation about what makes the great wines age well. Jeff is a nut about wine, and he also brought a very nice German Pinot Blanc and a beautifully complex Vouvray (Chenin Blanc) for the evening. What a great dinner with great friends !

We're already looking forward to our next market visit back east !

Time Posted: May 17, 2008 at 5:00 AM
Chris Corley
 
May 9, 2008 | Chris Corley

Bowlcut or Mohawk ?

Posted by : Chris Corley

My wife, Julianna, and I have two wonderful kids - Jackson (4) and Ruby (3). Over the years, I've performed my share of haircuts. I'm not always so hip on current trends, so when it comes to decision making at the shearing table, my internal compass seems to quiver between bowlcuts and mohawks.

These same decisions apply when its time to groom our vineyards. How we tend to the rows between the vines can be as important as how we tend to the vines themselves. In general, there a few different techniques for tending to the rows, most everything else is a variation on a theme ...

1. Leave the soil as is and mow down the natural cover crop - the natural grasses and weeds.
2. Disk the soil, turning it over to break up the dirt.
3. Plant a specific cover crop (specific grasses or legumes) to accomplish a specific objective - i.e. to "drink" excess groundwater, or to replenish the soil with nitrogen, etc.

Sometimes the rows are treated uniformly, meaning that we would till every row in a given block of grapes, or we would grow a cover crop in every row.

In other blocks, we alternate cover-cropped rows with disked rows. It depends on the soil in the block, the vigor of the vines, the amount of rainfall through the winter, and which direction their internal compasses swing when Kevin and Angel are in the field.

By the way, I've never actually pulled out the salad bowl for the kids, but I'm reserving the right to scalp them with a mohican if there's any funny business !

Time Posted: May 9, 2008 at 6:57 AM
Chris Corley
 
May 7, 2008 | Chris Corley

BARREL TASTING - 2007 Syrah

I love tasting young Syrah out of the barrel! It's such an expressive grape in its youth, just exploding with spicy, peppery, deep dark berry fruit and sweet juicy tannins.

We've got 2 different clones of Syrah planted - Clones 470 and 174. Over the years, I've gone back and forth on my preferences between the two, spending equal time favoring each and have come to the conclusion that, at least for us, the Syrah clones are like your kids - you enjoy their individual traits, but don't really pick a favorite.

The 2007 vintage of Syrah is fantastic, with some barrel lots showing intensely dark, almost electric color and beautifully rich textures framed by moderate tannins which give the wine just the appropriate grip on the finish at this young age. I'm very excited to see how this vintage of Syrah develops over the next 12 months ...

This past weekend marked the release of our 2006 Monticello Syrah, which is tasting great as well. With each passing vintage, we grow increasingly excited about this varieatl and its flexibility in the cellar, both as a stand alone wine and also as blending wine ...

Time Posted: May 7, 2008 at 3:01 AM
Chris Corley
 
May 3, 2008 | Chris Corley

RECOMMENDED READING - 'American Sphinx' by Joseph J. Ellis

I just finished a pretty fascinating book about Thomas Jefferson called American Sphinx. It was written in 1996 by Joseph J. Ellis, a professor of history at Mount Holyoke College and a National Book Award Winner.

The book takes us through 5 distinct intellectual segments of Jefferson's life, through both his public and private moments and correspondences ...

Philadelphia : 1775-1776

Paris : 1784-1789

Monticello : 1794-1797

Washington, DC : 1801-1804

Monticello : 1816-1826

The thrust of the book is to delve into Jefferson's mind to attempt to understand how he developed his fascinating views on individual freedoms and governance of men. The author also speculates how Jefferson reconciled some seemingly contradictory viewpoints that he held. For instance - how Jefferson reconciled his views of individual freedoms with his ownership of slaves and how he reconciled his essentially unilateral actions in the procuring of the Louisiana Purchase while at the same time opposing that kind of unilateral power for a government official.

The book is extremely well written, fluidly and intelligently, and portrays Jefferson as an extremely complex, erudite and somewhat solitary man. It is a somewhat provocative book that any American history buff will be sure to enjoy.

Time Posted: May 3, 2008 at 7:15 AM

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