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Nine Days in Willamette Valley

winter skies over Seven Springs Vineyard

At the last of November I began nine days in Willamette Valley meeting with a range of producers of all sorts – in various subzones, with different stylistic interests, varying winery sizes, and working with a range of varieties – to spend time talking about age-ability of wines in the region, the 2017 harvest, and what people are excited about. While there I shared some of my travels on Instagram. Here’s a look at that collection as shared at the time.

Tons of fun new stuff happening at Carlton Winemakers’ Studio. #willamettevalley @crltnwinestudio

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Taking a soil walk with Jason Lett of Eyrie through the Dundee Hills to gather samples from different sites and distill petrichor samples. The parent material through the area is basalt (as shown in the 2nd photo) but the architecture of the soil itself changes depending on the aspects, and erosion of the site thanks to how the microclimate interacts with the topography. The biological health of the soil too changes the soil architecture over time and so also how the vine health persists through a growing season. Petrichor aromatics reveal details of soil health that are difficult to quantify but at the same time insightful of the relationship between wine, vine, and environment. #willamettevalley @eyrievineyards

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I’m not crying. Shut up. You’re crying. #willamettevalley @eyrievineyards 1974 and 1975 Pinot Meunier

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Visiting the girls at Big Table Farm. #willamettevalley @clarecarver

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Talking through vintage variation, age-ability, and winemaking choices on Brooks Janus Pinot Noir 2007-2015 with winemaker Chris Williams and Managing Director Janie Brooks Hueck. Brooks makes biodynamically certified wines in the state of Oregon, which means no additives in the cellar. Their estate vineyard is also biodynamically certified. Janus is my ongoing favorite of their Pinots. It also ages like a champ maintaining freshness for years. While I have always liked the energy and lift of Brooks wines upon release their real magic is found after time in bottle when the weave of the wine opens and reveals a complex constellation of subtlety and flavor. My favorite in this like up is the 2007 – beautiful and earthy with lithe and supple depth. #willamettevalley @brookswinery @janiebrooksheuck

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Awesome exploratory tasting with Adelsheim winemakers David Paige and Gina Hennen discussing stylistic evolution, soils, vintage variation, and age-ability of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The opportunity to taste a range of stylistic expressions built by the evolution of the winemakers’ perspective as well as vintage character with a focus on openness, honesty, and most especially listening is one of the most thrilling parts of how I spend my time. This trip to Willamette has been very much about having those open, trusting conversations with people across a real range of approaches and sub-zones. The way these conversations build deeper connections and understanding of wine, community, and even each other means everything to me. It ‘s what has kept me at this these several years turning a rather unusual way of life into my career. Deeply grateful to the members of the wine community that entrust me in these ways with their triumphs, foibles, uncertainties, curiosities, and explorations regardless of style or technique. Thank you. Spinoza said that the more different sorts of people, things, experiences we are able to connect with the stronger we will be. This idea has been one of my guiding principles in life. I am grateful for the ways it has been shown to me again and again in wine. The more broadly I taste, the more openly I listen, the deeper my understanding and the more I can be of service. I am most grateful to be of service. #willamettevalley @adelsheim

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Portrait of the writer in a bottle of wine she loves. This is what it feels like to love a bottle of wine, to find yourself inside of it, surrounded by the life and rush and energy of it, to discover the world inside your senses far larger and more consuming than the size and space your psyche has until that moment projected and maintained as the outline of your physical body, to discover in the experience of the wine you both disappear and are energized. To experience pleasure as more than hedonistic, as emboldening, as well as enlightening. I am in love with the energy, subtlety, and complexity of this wine. Hope Well 2016 (as yet unreleased, and so also as shown here, unlabeled) Pinot Noir from Mimi Casteel’s Hope Well Vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills. The fruit comes from blocks she farms herself by hand with a focus on continuously improving the innate soil biology and thus also vine health. With this in mind she also foregoes tilling. Her efforts have been so successful a previously believed extinct North American beetle has recently been rediscovered on her property. #willamettevalley @mimicasteel

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Petaluma Gap AVA – Trump’s First New AVA

The Petaluma Gap AVA in Sonoma and Marin counties has finally been approved today after a long delay, making Petaluma Gap the newest AVA in the United States. The last previous AVA to be approved by the TTB was the Appalachian High Country of North Carolina in October 2016 under the Obama administration.

The Petaluma Gap AVA application had fulfilled all stages of approval during the Obama administration except for the final approval signature. The official signature was not granted under the Trump administration due to a failure of the new administration to appoint the necessary official to sign the document, and a moratorium on rulemaking created by Trump. Now that the official position has been filled and the moratorium on rulemaking lifted, it appears the approval process can begin for other proposed AVAs in the pipeline such as the Van Duzer Corridor AVA within Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

Making the Petaluma Gap official clears the way for wineries to label with the new AVA wines made from grapes from within the area. The approval also marks the first official AVA in Marin County. Until now the produce of Marin’s vineyards could be labelled only with the …

To continue reading this article (free-for-all) head on over to JancisRobinson.com. Here’s the link: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/petaluma-gap-trumps-first-new-ava

Vignerons as the Mediators of Modernity

I see vignerons as the mediators of modernity. – Professor Marion Demossier

Marion is an anthropologist who works on wine culture of Burgundy, here standing in the partially restored 11th century Abbaye St-Vivant de Vergy, speaking to top producers of both Burgundy and Central Otago during the Central Otago Burgundy Exchange ten-year anniversary celebration last month.

It is difficult to translate the profundity of a moment like this to the page. The Abbaye of St-Vivant de Vergy is the site at which our contemporary understanding of wine began.  Its notions of site expression, classifications, Pinot Noir’s ability to carry where it is grown into the wine, and, yes, terroir, all originated when, in the 10th century, monks of France fled the kings who were persecuting them and were given land in the 11th century by the Dukes of Burgundy in, what we now know as, Vosne-Romanee. The region already included vineyards but they were planted to a melange of varieties. Settling into the area, the monks began focusing specifically on Pinot Noir. With it, they also began to build the carefully wrought system of interpreting and studying not only how vines interact with their environment, but also of how we interact with the vines. In this way, they started modern viticulture, as well as reverence for wine.

Today, even as viticulture has evolved and adapted to environments around the world, what the monks started is the basis through which Pinot Noir certainly, though other varieties too, is grown and understood throughout the world. Wine growing is one illustration of modernity, with its ordered understanding of the world, its interpretations and questioning of our surroundings, and its dependency on technology. That insight is implicit in the moment of drinking wine itself, though different people do also have differing levels of recognition of it. In this way, when sharing what we take to be a simple glass of wine, people also share an encounter, a moment of recognition that includes often unsaid information, and levels of understanding of each other. It is partially because of this that Marion can make the claim that vignerons are mediators of modernity. Their work is an expression and enactment of modern culture, and it becomes a means through which our encounters with each other can be mediated too.

Modernity, as a concept, refers to a way of interacting with and interpreting the world around us that arose out of Medieval Europe and continues today. As a notion it includes ideas of critically engaging with our environment, with each other, and with our own experience, in order to probe for meaning, and in that way create a sense of order to otherwise overwhelming experiences. The vigneron works with a plant that on its own grows wild, literally reaching in all directions on a hunt to cover ground, and climb its surroundings, to instead shape it and farm its fruit. By studying how the vine grows, the vigneron interprets nature. In sharing that knowledge, a sharing of information is born. But that sharing of information is also a moment through which, much like the vine, culture is both formed, and spread. In this way, wine encircling the globe as it has, has acted as a vehicle for a meeting of the minds. It has created the opportunity for not only the sharing of cultures but also the transforming of them. Wine has simply been the vehicle. Vigneron, in their way, have mediated – that is, acted as both the means, and the mechanism through which such transformation has occurred. When we enjoy together a glass of wine we are participating in these moments of sharing, and of changing each other’s understanding of the world around us, even when it otherwise seems as if we are not talking about much.

So, imagine now the cacophony of elements all chiming together in this moment. One Sunday morning in October, some of the best vigneron of Burgundy, along with many of the best winemakers of Central Otago – a region exactly on the opposite side of the world from where we stand there in Burgundy that is now celebrated too for its quality Pinot Noir – and a handful of wine writers from France, the UK, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand, together there in an 11th century abbey where the origins of contemporary wine culture can be found, listening to an anthropologist (anthropology itself a symptom of modernity too) speak to us about the import of sharing across cultures via the vehicle of wine, and reflect on that idea of mediation – that, through a glass of wine shared, we are ourselves translating our own cultures to each other simply by drinking that wine together and sharing the moment. For even when little speaking is involved, the simple act of being present together brings with it deeper understanding and recognition across cultural differences, and in that way also generates change, even if that understanding, recognition, and change are otherwise ineffable.

By reflecting on this idea, Marion spoke of how programs like the Central Otago Burgundy Exchange offer a solution on how to face and change the political and social struggles of our world today. It is through that ineffable recognition and understanding the empathy and care needed to choose and legislate for humanity, rather than political gain can be founded.

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Travels through New Zealand and France

sky diving over the Klutha River, Wanaka, Central Otago

My daughter Rachel and I just returned from New Zealand. I arrived there in mid-October to serve as an international judge for the Air New Zealand Wine Awards, and then did a road trip around the country until the award ceremony in November. In the midst of the trip I also traveled to France for a Central Otago event occurring in Burgundy. Then, Rachel arrived in New Zealand for a few weeks of travel with me. After the reality of the California wild fires, in truth, I felt a lot of strain and it felt like it took a few weeks just to put myself back together. I had to be slow and steady with myself. Gratefully people on my trip were patient and supportive too. People went out of their way to be helpful and I am very grateful. Here in California, when Caleb Taft found out that due to the fires I couldn’t reach wine I was meant to bring with me to New Zealand for a Chardonnay seminar in Auckland he contacted Arlequin Wine Merchant. The two together, Caleb and the shop, donated the wine for me to bring to the seminar. In New Zealand, friends and colleagues hosted me in their homes, scheduled visits for me, and just provided space for me to quietly stay. It made all the difference. Eventually, when I’d finally relaxed enough again, they helped me have a lot of fun too. It was incredibly special to travel with Rachel. We had a great time and she loved New Zealand too. Thank you very much to everyone that hosted me in New Zealand and France. Thank you most especially to the New Zealand Winegrowers, the Central Otago Winegrowers Association, and Air New Zealand for helping me plan my travel. Here are some photos from our recent travels originally shared to Instagram during the trip itself.

Preloading for my flight to Burgundy… #chardonnay @charteriswines @lacollinanz

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Traveled 39 hours to get here from Auckland. Totally worth it. Driving north through the Haut Cote de Beaune. #bourgogne

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To celebrate ten years (it is now eleven) of the Central Otago Burgundy Exchange a group of producers from Central Otago brought their wines to share with vintners of Burgundy in a tasting held in the king’s room of the Hospices de Beaune. The top producers of Burgundy, as well as former stagiaires of the program, were there with the group of Kiwis and a handful of media, from New Zealand, Australia, the UK, the US, and France. Few of us, even among those from France, had been inside the king’s room of the Hospice before as it is not open to the public. A tasting like this, showcasing wines from so many producers, all there together, from outside Burgundy has not happened here before. Around 140 attended from France. 14 producers from New Zealand poured their wine. It was inspiring and incredible to witness the excitement of the tasting. #bourgogne #centralotago

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Our final day of the Central Otago Burgundy Exchange celebration brought us to the Ancienne Abbaye de Saint-Vivant, a monastary from the 11th century that is in the process of being restored. Aubert de Villaine helped instigate and organize the restoration and so hosted us in recognition of the importance of the Exchange. The Abbaye is not yet open to the public. During part of the ceremony the Central Otago contingent gathered together at one end of the Abbaye and sang a Maori prayer in gratitude and blessing of the Exchange, the sharing of cultures, and the world history of wine the Abbaye represents. Afterwards Aubert shared with us Chardonnay made from the vineyard beside the Abbaye, which is sold to help fund the restoration. #bourgogne #centralotago

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Deeply grateful for this time with friends. It has, on paper, been a crazy side trip to fly to Beaune in the middle of work in New Zealand, but the time here has also been restorative and special. In truth, after everything that has happened recently I have a lot of sadness to deal with over time. The fires and their aftermath are so massive it is hard to face all at once. Our region has been changed and we are all grappling with that small bits at a time. This trip to Burgundy has been both the culmination of a year spent getting to know a particular story, and the ongoing development of friendships. The last two months have included a wealth of challenges for me from personal change, to loss of loved ones, health crises for others, and being part of a massive natural disaster. What a crazy time. The gift of all of it has been recognizing that life has surrounded me with grace. It has felt as though faith has given me sea legs, and with that there is foremost the grace of friendship. The rest, with plenty of care, sorts itself over time. Thank you very much to everyone that organized this time in Burgundy celebrating the Central Otago Burgundy Exchange for including me. #bourgogne #centralotago

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My day today – 80 some New Zealand Chardonnay and Riesling, and a view. #newzealand @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa

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Lovely subtlety. #centralotago Felton Road 2002 Riesling @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa

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Tasting the new Cru wines from Smith & Sheth. Classic Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay. #newzealand

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Looking east over the Pacific from near the Waimarama Domain on the eastern shores of the North Island. #newzealand

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Honestly, Hawke’s Bay, just stop it. Out west in Maraekakaho. #newzealand

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Standing on the edge of the world looking west. Greymouth, West Coast, South Island. #newzealand

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I gave a ride to a backpacker from one small town to another yesterday. From Austria, he was trained and worked there as an architect but got tired with the way increasing regulations in the building industry there heavily reduced, he felt, the room for creativity of design as the focus turns more strongly to cutting costs. Fed up with his work he decided to make a bold move and left his job, let go his rental flat, and sold everything he owns. He left a bicycle at his parents’ home in Austria and now besides has only what he carries with him in his backpack and wears along the way. The ongoing plan is to simply hike what interests him as he finds it along the way here in New Zealand. Arriving just over a month ago, he has walked many of the mountain trails on the North Island, and is now walking his way down the mountains of the South. Eventually he confessed that besides the peacefulness and calm of it one of his favorite aspects of this trek across New Zealand is the trees he finds in the forest. “The trees here all have, I don’t know what to call it,” he said. After a pause he continued. “Personality. They all have their own personality.” One of my favorites is the fern trees. I have never seen them anywhere else. Here looking up into the canopy of one of the South Island’s fern trees. #newzealand

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Fox Glacier view from across the valley, West Coast, South Island #newzealand

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See that plane? We’re going to jump out of it. #newzealand

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Post sky dive mince pie from the Doughbin, Wanaka. #newzealand @buteo_jamaicensis_jr

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On the site today: skydiving with Rachel over Wanaka #newzealand @buteo_jamaicensis_jr

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So, this is what Alaska looks like… #newzealand Aoraki Mount Cook, South Island

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Sunset approaching over the Tasman Bay. Nelson. #newzealand

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Nelson in frames. Looking over the Tasman Bay in daylight. #newzealand

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Rachel in the Tasman. Nelson. #newzealand @buteo_jamaicensis_jr

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Wow. Ten year old Marlborough Semillon beautifully made by Pyramid Valley from vines that no longer exist. Very little Semillon grows today in New Zealand but this wine offers a great reminder of how palate stimulating and distinctive it can be in an aged, dry style – the variety just wants time in bottle. A sea fresh, floral nose with hints of incense and beeswax, on the palate becomes savory, with a firm, delicious mid palate, a crazy long finish, and that classic, wonderful oil-cloth texture of aged Semillon. A bit overwhelmed to get to taste this and share it with Rachel. #newzealand Thank you to @winejames and @yrmom_safoodie for helping me talk through dinner pairings. Wish you were here to share the wine. Thank you to Claudia for gifting us with the bottle. @pyramidvalleyvineyards @buteo_jamaicensis_jr

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A good afternoon starts like this… the Zephyr. #newzealand @mrbglover

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Another nice example of how well Sauvignon can age. Zephyr 2011 from Marlborough. #newzealand @mrbglover

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Such a distinctive site. Fromm established the recognition of quality seen today in the Clayvin Vineyard of Marlborough. Even so, I had only had Chardonnay from the site made by other producers. Though Fromm certainly makes their Chardonnay in their own style – focus on freshness and texture, great palate tension and length, utterly dry finish – I was struck by immediately recognizing the Clayvin site itself in the Fromm wine. It carries a distinct acid signature that helps provide the palate tension at the heart of the wine, while also showcasing distinctive toasted nut and citrus notes that carries across producer style. The Chardonnay from Fromm offers lovely transparency and ample presence that hovers and floats through the palate avoiding any sense of heaviness or push. Wonderful wine. Elegant with strength. #newzealand @frommwinery

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Classic. Rachel taking the Wellington Harbor jump from the top platform. #newzealand @buteo_jamaicensis_jr

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Clive Paton, a titan of the New Zealand wine industry, standing in the mother block of Abel clone Pinot Noir, planted in 1980 with cuttings Clive got from the man himself, Mister Malcolm Abel, establishing Ata Rangi, and effectively starting the history of Pinot Noir in not only Martinborough but also New Zealand. These vines went on to become the source of Abel clone, New Zealand’s own unique signature of Pinot Noir, for the rest of the country. Clive went on to spearhead bringing Dijon clones into the country as well, and has continued to keep an eye on the future of the New Zealand wine industry researching new possible varieties for the country and focusing on expanding sustainability and preservation efforts not only in winegrowing but for the environment more broadly. It is deeply inspiring to have time with people like Clive both for the opportunity to connect with him as a person, and to deepen my understanding of the history and evolving conditions of the region, the country, and this industry, to reflect on what it means to humbly gain understanding while using that to contribute to the larger community. #newzealand @ata_rangi

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Walking a legendary vineyard, Heipipi, The Terraces, near the Esk Valley area, part of Esk Valley vineyards, at the Northern reach of Hawke’s Bay, with a total legend, winemaker Gordon Russell. The Terraces has been a favorite vineyard of mine without my having ever seen it until now thanks to its remarkable history, limestone and seashell soils, absolutely stunning dry-farmed, co-ferment, field blend wine, and the passion of winemaker Gordon Russell for the site. Honestly energizing to finally be there and spend the first half of the day discussing it and its wines with Gordon. The Terraces is yet another example of the rich diversity of Hawke’s Bay. At the north end of Hawke’s Bay, the Pacific Ocean is essentially across the street from the vineyard, cooling the vines and extending the growing season. The Terraces themselves were designed in the early part of the last century, then planted again to a field blend of Malbec, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc in the late 1980s. It ‘s a remarkable choice – planting Bordeaux varieties at a time before new world expressions of them had exploded on the international scene, and Malbec before Argentina had again made it famous. Esk Valley’s The Terraces is one of the most unique sites in New Zealand, and one of the country’s truly great wines. Plus Gordon is just damn cool. #newzealand @gordonatesk

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The soils at The Terraces, Esk Valley Vineyard, is an uplifted seabed full of limestone and seashells. Walking the Terraces bands of seashells will suddenly appear from the soil, clutched together in surprising stacks. In the soils above these stacks seashells are dotted throughout with less density but still persistent throughout the limestone-based loam. Surprising and cool. The site sits at the North end of Hawke’s Bay, short distance from the Pacific Ocean. The Terraces are planted to a field blend of Malbec, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, all dry-farmed, and picked together. The fruit is then co-fermented and bottled as Esk Valley Heipipi The Terraces, one of New Zealand’s great wines. #newzealand @gordonatesk (If you look through the three photos they zoom in on the seashell stack visible in the lower right corner of the top photo.)

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Super fascinating. Surveying the Gimblett Gravels area of Hawke’s Bay with Matt Stafford of Craggy Range. Beneath this raw field rest feet of greywacke gravel deposited over hundreds of years by the Ngaruroro River. The stones tend to correlate with a gunmetal dustiness in wines from the area. In planting a piece of land that at first glance looks flat subtle features on the surface can reveal insights on how the site will interact with future vines. Here the variation in color in the natural grasses and flowers reveals an underlying difference in natural water supply and soil density. In planting new sites the Craggy Range teams does what it can to keep the natural shape of the land, rather than smoothing, flattening, or moving soil more than needed to put in vines. These sorts of subtle dips and valleys tend to mean subtle differences in ripening that can bring interesting character to some varieties and problematic ripening to others thereby pointing to smart varietal and clonal choices. Future plans for this particular site are to plant Chardonnay. #newzealand @craggyrange @crmattstafford

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Walking the Craggy Range Syrah blocks in their Gimblett Gravels vineyard with winemaker Matt Stafford talking clonal and rootstock variation in relation to vine age and subtle site variation. Such a complex dynamic of elements that come together and express themselves in the wine. As we walk the blocks we also taste block and clone, then also rootstock specific vinifications. The older vine blocks reveal a more apparent while also more integrated gunmetal dustiness with loads of sapidity that the Gimblett Gravels are celebrated for. The older vine blocks also feel brighter and more complete with finer tannin. In the younger vines some clonal blocks are more floral, others show darker fruits or more savory notes. The contrasting blocks are all within mere feet (or meters here in New Zealand) of each other but also on differing subtle lifts or dips of Greywacke gravel. By keeping the clonal block components separate during vinification the Craggy Range team is better able to study the growing conditions leading into cellar characteristics of the different clones through their development with vine age. In the end the separate blocks are blended to create a more complete wine, capturing the fine tannin and sapidity of the older vines accented by the floral lift, savory backbone, and mix of fruits of the clonal differences. #newzealand @craggyrange @crmattstafford

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Awesome look at aging potential and vintage variation in the Gimblett Gravels via an odd-vintages vertical from 2005 to 2015 of Craggy Range Le Sol Syrah. Vineyard replants and winemaker changes factor in here too but even so there is great insight here on age-ability and the wineries evolution of style. The 2005 has aged well with time still left in bottle. It‘s a richer, riper style than more recent vintages but carries a nice balance of development with still fresh palate stimulation and several years more left to go. By 2011 the wine has become lighter on its feet beginning to reveal the focus on refinement and ultra fine tannin that is front and center in 2015. While the 2013 feels like a perfect vintage with the balance of structure and fruit, depth and freshness, it also needs more time in bottle to settle into the grace it will have more seamlessly in a few more years. Awesome, insightful tasting. Huge thanks to Matt Stafford and Craggy Range for sharing the wines and the time! #newzealand @craggyrange @crmattstafford

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NZ Winegrowers donate NZ$25,000 to California Fire Victims

This last weekend the gala celebration for the 2017 Air New Zealand Wine Awards took place in Hawke’s Bay. Trophy-winning wines were announced during the dinner with Marlborough taking top honours for 12 of the 17 trophy categories, including the top two prizes. Marlborough’s success this year was especially welcome as the awards were announced almost exactly one year after the Kaikoura earthquake which impacted wineries throughout the region. Dashwood Pinot Noir 2016 Marlborough won the O-I New Zealand Reserve Wine of Show, and Isabel Chardonnay 2016 Marlborough took the top prize, Air New Zealand Champion Wine of Show. A total of 1,300 wines entered the competition this year.

Also at the event four new fellows were announced, recognised for their long-term commitment to the New Zealand wine industry: Babich’s founder and winemaker…

To continue reading this post with free access, continue to JancisRobinson.com. Her site has had on going coverage in relation to the California fires alongside her usual excellent look at wines and wine news from around the world. Here’s the link to the rest of the article: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/nz-winegrowers-donate-nz25000-to-california-fire-victims

Where Burgundy Meets France

Nick Mills, Aubert de Villaine, Lois Mills

Central Otago on the southern tip of New Zealand is the only region in the world with which Burgundy has a formal vintner exchange programme, and the Central Otago Burgundy Exchange celebrated its 10-year anniversary with a three-day event in the heart of Burgundy in late October.

Sophie Confuron of Domaine Jean-Jacques Confuron and Nick Mills of Rippon started the exchange in 2006, establishing a formal work and education programme for vintners in the two regions. Each year, between two and six vintners per region travel across the planet for a week of education about the viticulture, growing conditions and wines of their counterparts, followed by five weeks of harvest work. For vintage in the southern hemisphere, participants travel from France to Central Otago in the first half of the year, then in the second half of the year, a new set go from Central Otago to France to work harvest in the northern hemisphere. In the last 11 years more than 80 stagiaireshave participated in the exchange.

Confuron originated the idea of the exchange itself while visiting Nick Mills and his mother Lois at their home at Rippon. The two families had an ongoing friendship which formed the original connection. Confuron explains that the exchange has grown to mean more than just friendship. She says, ‘I think it is very important to go to a young producing country because they have no rules. Here [in Burgundy] it is very strict. Everything is ruled, in ways you cannot change. Over there [in Central Otago] they are totally free to experiment, and not stuck in legislation, so that is very interesting.’ As she explained, the opportunity to see a region that has such room to make wide-open decisions about winemaking and viticulture does not change the rules established in Burgundy, but does open up perspectives on how one might work with those rules differently. Additionally, she has been impressed with the level of experience and knowledge shown by those stagiaires traveling from New Zealand, saying that their know-how has helped provide another level of skill for those who host them in Burgundy.

Earlier this year, I spent harvest in Central Otago to study its unique vintage conditions and began my travels accompanying the French stagiaires during their education week. I was then able to check in on the progress of their harvest experience over the following five weeks. This year, six stagiaires from France participated in the exchange, all students early in their winemaking careers. Each student was placed individually with …

To keep reading this article, head on over to JancisRobinson.com where you can read it as a Free-for-all piece. Here’s the link: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/where-burgundy-meets-new-zealand

Skydiving Over Wanaka

Skydiving Over Wanaka

For Rachel’s, aka Jr (shown above), 18th birthday we’d made plans to skydive over Sonoma. When she was 12 or so I’d promised her we would go together for her 18th birthday. As the day approached she reminded me (shown below).

Her actual birthday hit while we were evacuated from the wildfires, and the skydive company we made plans with was evacuated too. So, we agreed we’d postpone and jump in New Zealand. (photos here alternate in order between her jump and then mine.)

It turns out too the highest commercial jump in the world is here on the South Island falling from 16,200 ft for a 15,000 dive with a 60-second free fall. Skydiving regulations don’t allow commercial jumps over 16,500 ft. The jump is so high you have to use oxygen to do it.

To be completely honest, the free fall part was awful. I mean, it’s also awesome, in the literal sense of that word – serious awe. It’s a remarkable thing, no doubt, but it’s also terrifying, very cold, and the air gets sucked from your mouth both because there isn’t much oxygen at 16,000 feet and the speed at which you’re falling makes breathing a challenge (see my blown up cheeks three photos up sorting out how best to manage the air pressure).

Rachel said that for her the free fall portion of the jump was so intense she doesn’t remember most of it. The guy she jumped with actually had them do flips and twists too (shown above).

Mine just liked to spin. For me the free fall felt like eternity. It was an experience of being hyper aware, and as a result time extending. For a split second I honestly thought, so if the chute doesn’t open the whole thing will feel like this, but then quickly went back to the experience of the jump.

The tandem jumpers were fantastic. There are so used to this they made the whole thing really comfortable and easy throughout, plane to ground.

Once the parachute came out it was easy to relax and enjoy the experience. That portion of the jump lasted five minutes and felt like what I call floating on a sky couch – super easy and comfortable.

Central Otago is one of my favorite places in the world and I especially love the Clutha River (it appears in a number of these photos) so it was pretty remarkable to jump from so high that we had complete 360 degree views of the Southern Alps, Lake Wanaka, the Clutha River, and the Cromwell Basin.

Rachel has been repeatedly struck by the beauty of the region as well. It was disappointing to deal with postponing her birthday celebrations last month but gratefully she felt the opportunity to jump here in New Zealand instead made up for it.

I seriously feel no need to skydive again but spending the day with Rachel like this, and at her request, is pretty killer really.

Happy birthday, Rachel! I hope you have a fantastic year being 18!

By the way, it turns out after skydiving feels kind of like coming off a work out. The perfect thing to eat is pie.

Copyright 2017 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

A Day with Michael Brajkovich at Kumeu River

Kumeu River

looking at the clay-heavy soils of Kumeu as the rain starts

It starts raining as Michael Brajkovich and I step out of the car on the top of Hunting Hill vineyard. Hunting Hill serves as one of the vineyard designate Chardonnays for legendary Kumeu River, located just a bit outside of Auckland. There is only enough time to glance at the vines and soil, then jump back into the car, and already my notebook is dotted with smudges of wet black ink. We drive through the vineyards instead to avoid the rain.

Clay dominates the rolling hills through this area while deep underneath sandstone forms the bedrock. The rain is no surprise. It tends to travel the region, which sits in the skinny spot of New Zealand’s North Island, the Tasman Sea to the west, the Pacific Ocean east. The combination means Kumeu River vines are dry farmed, and predominantly Chardonnay. Here on Hunting Hill they also grow a small parcel of Pinot Noir.

In the mid-1940s, with only a half-acre planted, two generations of the Brajkovich family started what would become one of New Zealand’s great wineries. A decade prior, Mick and Katé, and their son Maté moved to the Antipodes from Croatia to work as gum harvesters on the North Island. Together they saved the money to purchase what is now Mate’s Vineyard, the family’s top Chardonnay block. At the time, hybrid varieties dominated New Zealand’s wine industry for the production of fortified wine.

In the 1970s, under Maté and his wife Melba’s lead, the family would be among the first in the country to shift from fortified to table wines. Their goal was to make one high quality white, and one high quality red. So, they planted Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc to see what would work there. Today, among the original plantings only Chardonnay remains. By the 1980s, when the third generation – Michael, and his siblings, Paul, Milan, and Marijana – would help lead the business, Kumeu River was recognized internationally for quality wine.

the lyre system in Hunting Hill Vineyard

To make him part of the business, Maté and Melba sent Michael to Roseworthy in South Australia to study oenology and viticulture. There, Michael worked with renowned viticulturist Richard Smart. Though the wine world today has outpaced Smart’s work in many ways, at the height of his career, Smart’s notions of vine training and canopy management helped launch viticultural knowledge to a new, important level of insight. It’s an influence that still serves as the basis for managing vigor and shading around the world. Returning home to the Kumeu area, Michael began rethinking elements of his family’s vineyards.

The region’s clay content and rain mean vines rarely struggle for water. Clay gives implicit concentration and a core of power to Chardonnay but in wet years vigor can create imbalance on the vine. To help manage vigor and harness the innate density clay brings to a wine’s flavor, Michael shifted the vines to a lyre-style training system (shown above). The idea came from his thinking on how to bring Smart’s notions of sunlight to the ultra-high UV levels of New Zealand. In opening the vines into the lyre, the fruit hangs below the canopy but is also consistently within a dappled lace effect of sunlight. It allows airflow without sunburn.

As Michael shifted his interest to the winemaking, his brother Milan stepped to the fore in the vineyard. There he further refined the winery’s focus on sustainability, and integrated newer technologies for tracking weather and vine health with traditional hands-on farming. As sales for the winery broadened internationally, brother Paul took over sales and marketing. Sister Marijana serves as a sort of multi-tasker helping to facilitate a mix of tasting room activities, events, and general winery needs. Through it all, Melba continues to act as Managing Director. Her on going leadership of Kumeu River has made her one of the longest standing women in the country’s wine industry.

Michael standing in front of the family’s original fermentation tanks

Kumeu River stepped into the international stage at a time before New Zealand was recognized as a wine region. Until brand Marlborough seized the global imagination’s expectations for Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand had essentially no reputation for wine. The lack of stature was appropriate to the size and infancy of the industry but it also meant that well into the 1990s, Kumeu River was its own category. Chardonnay lovers looking to the brand for its age-ability and unique character didn’t need to know where it was from.

The brand’s iconic reputation has persisted. While they have expanded the number of Chardonnays by making vineyard designates as the sites show such merit, the quality and style have remained consistent. They have added sparkling Chardonnay to their program as well. The first release was last year.

They have also begun to buy land and plant in Hawke’s Bay, on the other side of the North Island. As Michael explains, the Kumeu area is getting planted to houses. As New Zealand’s economy gains, the city of Auckland expands. Today, in Kumeu, what was once far removed from city life and entirely agricultural has become a bedroom community for Auckland’s executive set. The residential squeeze on agricultural land has limited the economic feasibility of expanding in Kumeu. Establishing vineyards in a new region is a way of keeping an eye on the hopes of future generations’ involvement.

The move towards Hawke’s Bay has also opened a way to ensure not just land access but economic feasibility. The fruit from those vines currently feed a small portion of the Kumeu Village bottling, a still snappy, fresh, textural Chardonnay that gives a more affordable option for the wine lover. Where many wineries downgrade the quality and interest of their entry level brand, Kumeu Village manages to retain integrity. Releasing a wine at not-quite half the price of their Estate blend that also manages to over-deliver on complexity, freshness, and length shows too the standards for quality driving the Brajkovich family.

What is remarkable about the Estate Chardonnay proves consistent across the family of vineyard designates, a harmony of natural concentration with restraint, freshness, and energetic drive. It built the iconic status of Kumeu River. All barrel fermented – 20% new – with indigenous yeast, and full malolactic conversion, it marries textural acidity, to a mix of fresh fruits and savory flavor. Most of all, the Estate is a wine that simply gets more attractive with age. It’s well-honed in its youth but becomes deeper, more sophisticated, more satisfying with time in the bottle, many vintages easily achieving 15 years of age. Where the 2016 shows notes of apple, and sweet citrus with just a hint of biscuit and cream, the 2014 has deepened into a savory undercurrent with just a bit of smoke on the edges and a bright, firm close. 

The Coddington vineyard served as part of the backbone of the Estate Chardonnay until 2006, when vine age and experience with the site led to it becoming its own vineyard designate. The site consistently shows riper flavors with more stone fruit notes compared to the orchard and citrus fruits of the Estate blend. The fuller character of the fruit allows it to carry a touch more new oak as well – 25%. With smokey accents, nose and palate, overlaying a hint of sweet, ripe summer fruits, and all spice, the Coddington Chardonnay offers a silken texture, and a bit more weight on the palate compared to the Estate. Even so, it has plenty of drive and fresh acidity. Like the entire Kumeu River portfolio of Chardonnays, this wine is built to age going from fresh, spry, restraint upon release in the 2016 vintage, to a richer palate of baked apple pastry without sweetness in the 2012. The 2012 vintage was a bit wet, showing swifter age than its neighboring vintages but it has also clearly been made with clean fruit.

The Hunting Hill Chardonnay, from the vineyard where we started the visit, delivers a balance of both high tone lift and a savory underbelly. The 2016 is fresh, with pure, mouthwatering fruits and a flinty accent through snappy finish. When we taste the 2010, I am almost embarrassed by how much I enjoy it, wanting to keep drinking it alongside lunch. It has deepened into a mix of late spring flowers and birch bark on the nose, with richer character on the palate including a sweet apple finish, and accents of sweet spice. The natural concentration and restraint on the palate carry consistently through a long finish into a firm, still snappy, clean close. The 2010 vintage started with a difficult frost that took half the crop but the weather following was perfect so that the fruit that did last to harvest was of good quality and natural concentration.

Mate’s Vineyard includes the oldest vines of Kumeu River. It’s also a wine known to show nice evolution in bottle after the first few years, gaining in intensity and concentration as it ages. There is impressive density to the core of the wine here offering both crisp length and savory, palate stimulating presence with a balance of freshness and rich potential. Apple notes accented by a refreshing saline element on the 2016 transform in the 2007 into creme brulee and caramelized apple with still lots of life left in bottle and an ultra long, firm close.

Made with 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir, the Kumeu River Cremant began in 2012, made in a non vintage style. Though the first vintage (which we tasted) is predominantly 2012 fruit, 2006 wine was used for dosage. The wine offers pleasing crispness with fresh apple notes and just a touch of caramelized apple alongside hints of white birch bark.

photo courtesy of Dave Nash

The 2017 vintage was known as difficult through much of New Zealand due to a series of rain storms at harvest. However, for many producers everything was showing beautifully prior to the storms. In traveling the country now tasting just-bottled and still-in-cellar wines from the vintage it is clear that there are plenty of very fine wines from 2017. Quality expectations can be judged, at least partially, by known producer reputation and reliability. Producers known for consistently delivering quality wine chose to either leave fruit in the vineyard, or not bottle wine that doesn’t meet their standards. Expectations can also be put in relation to  variety. Varieties that ripen on the early side tend to look good. Most of all though smart farming without excessive crop loads seems to have been the savior for producers. Barrel tasting the 2017 Chardonnays with Michael proves exciting – they have all the elements to lead to a very good vintage.

Copyright 2017 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.




The Rise of Chardonnay in Central Willamette Valley

The Rise of Chardonnay in Central Willamette Valley

“We started with pinot noir,” says Erica Landon of Walter Scott Wines. “Historically, you couldn’t get any money for chardonnay. In Willamette Valley, it was treated like a slightly higher-end pinot gris.” In 2008, when Landon founded Walter Scott with her husband, Ken Pahlow, “there wasn’t a whole lot of great chardonnay fruit out there,” she recalls, “and few wines from it to be taken seriously.” Then Evening Land released their inaugural vintage of La Source Chardonnay from the Seven Springs Vineyard in Eola–Amity Hills. With a mouthwatering wash of brioche and bay laurel, lime leaf and pear, the 2007 was energetic, crystalline and high-toned. The landscape for chardonnay began to change.

Bergström had already been producing highly regarded chardonnay with finesse and energizing minerality from the northern Willamette. In fact, the variety was among the region’s first plantings in the mid-1960s, and producers like Eyrie, Bethel Heights, Cameron and, in the 1980s, Arterberry, made site-expressive wines driven by fresh acidity. But none had received the kind of national attention and critical acclaim of Evening Land’s La Source. Chardonnay in the United States in the 1980s and 1990s was dominated by the California trend of rich, creamy flavors cloaked under new oak. Many producers in Oregon paralleled that style but the fruit didn’t support that approach. The region had yet to articulate a clear Willamette signature for chardonnay.

With its proximity to Portland, the northern Willamette Valley had ushered in the first of the region’s vines. It was also the focus of the growth and turnover that came in the 1990s, when many growers pulled out their old chardonnay vines or grafted them to Dijon clones as a rush of newer sites were established. But the newer clones did little to change the market’s impression of Willamette Valley chardonnay, and plantings began to decline. In 1998, the Willamette Valley had more than 9,000 planted acres, including 1,600 planted to chardonnay. By 2008, chardonnay’s total acreage had been reduced by half, while overall vineyards in the region had grown to more than 14,000 acres. A few older chardonnay blocks remained, most tended by ardent farmers who were loathe to pull older vines, others in outlying rural districts that were slow to change.

Meanwhile, in what was once considered the remote south, Mark Vlossak founded St. Innocent Winery in 1988 with a focus on white wines. He had apprenticed at Arterberry, where Fred Arterberry, Jr., developed the first sparkling wines in Willamette Valley, so Vlossak was used to looking for…

To keep reading this article click over to Wine & Spirits Magazine where you can see the rest of the feature for free. Here’s the link: http://www.wineandspiritsmagazine.com/news/entry/the-rise-of-chardonnay-in-central-willamette-valley

After the Fires

After the Fires

the view from my back yard the first morning of the fires, a few hours before evacuating

I used to write as exorcism. My late teens had been marked by a series of tragedies with family members and friends dying in quick succession over several years – ten people in six years – many in startling ways. The rapidity of these deaths put me in a hard stance existentially that I held for at least a decade, as if I stood with a boxer’s posture, waiting for the next punch, even when otherwise relaxed. Eventually, writing became the means to loosen my limbs again. I’d write an experience of trauma or grief I’d had again and again until it came out complete in poem form, and then I’d let it go.

Years later, accepted to graduate programs, I had to choose between an MFA in poetry or a PhD in philosophy. I was going to graduate school with a five year old I was raising on my own so felt I had to make the more practical choice between the two. That was philosophy. The discipline required to do philosophy at a professional level I always said trained the wild dogs inside my head. It isn’t that they never howl. It is that even if they do, they now hunt for more than just their own animal appetites. This is the importance, I believe, of demanding more of ourselves and our talents than is comfortable. It’s the chance we have to harness the energy of our skills and make them something greater than they were on their own. Ultimately, philosophy also changed my relationship with writing, as well as with myself. It made me tired of my own personal narrative, as if channeling those stories to paper was mostly self indulgent. After leaving philosophy I turned instead to writing about others through the vehicle of wine. That brought me to live in wine country.

I don’t know how to write about the fires. I feel myself these weeks since we evacuated in that boxer’s stance again, something I haven’t felt in decades. The tension comes with a weird form of guilt, as if I’ve no right to the trauma of what happened when it turns out our house still stands, and as I write this I am not in California wine country. I’m in New Zealand. I also don’t know how to write about anything else until I write about the fires.

As the fires were happening I coped by reporting information. Sifting through false reports, and bastard comments online, listening for emergency announcements, following weather indicators of wind movements, and then reporting back what was relevant gave me a means to build scaffolding to hold onto while it seemed the world was falling down. Without that surely the dogs would run wild again. Others still in wine country did far more, dug fire lines voluntarily to shore up the work of embattled fire fighters, fought to save their friends’ and their neighbors’ homes, found housing for people left without any. I evacuated my daughter and her best friend, our pets, and helped evacuate some dogs from the pet rescue up the road.

It’s strange to have a favorite moment from the fires but I do. Mine is driving through Sonoma, with our bird and rabbit in the front passenger seat, and as many dogs as would fit in the back. As I drove away most of the dogs from the pet rescue were calm – they were in a car going for a drive, after all – but one poor lap dog was so terrified she didn’t stop barking the entire way. As we drove I was unsure if we actually had a route out as the roads in each direction leaving town by then had a fire burning on them and had been closed. It wasn’t clear as I left which roads, if any, had reopened, so I simply had to guess. The one surrounded by grassland must have burned out quickly so I went that way singing and cooing to the howling dog to try and calm her.

When we reached the exit road I’d chosen my guess was right. The earth was still smoldering right up to the roadway but it was clear. Coming over the hill all of the fields had burned. The cows were still there standing in blackened grasses. They must have moved as the fire did. When we finally reached Marin County I brought the dogs to the rescue center there that was receiving them and continued south to a friend’s house where we stayed temporarily. The five of us – my daughter, Rachel, her best friend, our rabbit, bird, and myself – slept on the floor of her living room until a couple back in Marin contacted us and asked if we would house sit.

Over a week and a half we watched in horror as our home – the region itself – kept burning. In truth, it was hard to relate to anyone that was not literally from there too – even people in San Francisco seemed somehow too far away to understand – though people outside wine country so wanted to be kind we tried. The second night after we evacuated I slept on the couch in a house of someone I did not know. There was no way for me to get back to the friend’s house we’d evacuated to and the couch had been offered. It’s remarkable what becomes reasonable when everything else has changed.

As the fires expanded utilities evaporated. Many of us couldn’t get our mail until recently. When I couldn’t reach my paychecks, it also meant little spending money. It took some time for replacement checks to be cut and sent to my parents in Alaska so they could receive and deposit them for me. A few friends realized and suddenly there was cash in my bank account unasked and the three of us could add to the only pair of socks we’d each evacuated wearing.

I also evacuated with only one bra. It’s uncomfortable to wear the same bra for a week and a half. They get stretched out. When the paychecks finally came, I bought new ones. I’m still amazed at how comfortable they are. When it came time to take the old bra off I had a little private ceremony thanking her for her devoted service, then threw her away.

Back in California the fires are essentially contained. Friends and colleagues have confirmed if they lost their homes or not. There are stories in both directions. More than 8000 buildings were burned between Napa and Sonoma counties, the highest portion in the city of Santa Rosa, though there were so many fires the damage is all over both counties. This is where I start to tense again, ready myself for another punch.

The damage to the region is so stark it isn’t as simple as exorcising the trauma out by writing, or healing quickly. A friend who was in wine country visiting me during the Napa earthquake pointed out that the difference is that the earthquake lasted 45 seconds. The fires themselves lasted weeks, and the damage will be felt for decades.

It is hard for me to admit this but I have not been able to bring myself to go back. In a literal sense I am unable to since I am currently on a work trip in New Zealand. When I was still in California the fires were advancing on the town of Sonoma and the area near my house. A week ago, fire crews pushed back the fires there. It will take a long time before all of this does not include some grief. Even as so many of us are grateful for the fellowship of friends, and for our survival, this is also a devastating change. If I am very honest, it is a relief I cannot see our home right now. By the time I return to California I will be ready. I promised that if my house survived, and it did, I’d throw a big moose meat party to cook everything I left behind in my freezer and open all those wines I had to leave behind.

Wineries have promised to rebuild. Volunteers are still reporting to evacuation centers and to fire zones to help those who lost everything. People through the region have campaigned to boost the spirits of all of us with statements of Sonoma Strong, and Napa Strong. Fundraisers are happening worldwide to help the region recover. These wine country fires have bolstered even as they have damaged our community, and they have touched people worldwide.

Grief only ever appears because of the love that made it possible. In that sense, it reveals the gift of what’s been shared. All of us together have been given the opportunity for that, to see how much we love our region, and each other, to see the community of people we have formed worldwide. In that sense, we are very lucky.

Please help the North Coast rebuild in whatever ways you can. Keep buying California wine, especially from Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, or Lake County, all of which were impacted by these fires. If you ever travel through the region, please consider buying gift certificates for your favorite locally owned businesses so they can get the funds now, and you can enjoy them when you next visit.

If you can donate directly, here are the three funds I feel can do the most good, most especially because of how the money goes directly to local needs. Each of these can be given to directly online.

For the vineyard worker community and their families, please give directly to OleHealth.org. To help communities impacted in Napa: http://www.napavalleycf.org/fire-donation-page/. To give to communities affected in Sonoma: https://www.redwoodcu.org/northbayfirerelief.

Copyright 2017 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.