Wine Education

by Leslie Hennessy



Vineyard Report 2017

By Leslie Hennessy 
Although the harvest started out like a bang with temps at 112 degrees, it has churned to a slow halt.  Good thing!  Everyting was coming in at once.  Chardonnay and Pinot Noir always ripen first.  When the thermometer hit 100, everyone in the cool districts like the Carneros scrambled.  
In and around the town of Sonoma everyting got picked. That area seems to be the highest concentration of heat summation days in all of Napa and Sonoma counties.  Now, we wait for this cooling trend to end and the Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah vines will ripen to harvest. Again, stay tunned!


Bud Break Early?


With the most rain in over fifty years, the vines in the wine country are going nuts.  What would be a normal bud break in May has already taken place. If the weather holds we might have the best harvest since 1972.  Maybe the classic 1946?


Harvest 2016



Final harvest is over. Perhaps the shining star will be the early picked grapes- Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah. Big color on the Pinot Noirs in Sonoma. It never seems to amaze me that the wineries get backed up towards the end of the harvest. That means that good grapes ripen to high in sugar. Too high in sugar throws off the balance of the fruit to the acids. We will see some over the top alcohols with the later grapes. Those are Cab, Zin, and some Merlot.

Cabs in Napa are BIG and juicey.



Just started Aug 10, 2016 in Sonoma. Santa Lucia started August 11, 2016. These are sparkling wine grapes - Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Compared to most years this is about one week earliar than norma. I have seen temps of 103 in Sonoma the week of Aug 5! Temps now are 83 - 87 daily in Sonoma. Let's wait to see the quality.




Harvest Report 2015

We are now in our fourth year of a drought in California. And, it has finnally caught up with us wine makers. With little rainfall this winter, the soil was parched and dry right into April. With some vineyards experiencing high salt deposits on the top soil, the flowering in April was just plain bad. Then to add insult to injury there still was no rain in the Spring, Summer, and Fall. This resulted in uneven bunches of grapes. Some grapes just did not mature and ended up as dried berries.

Most grape growers suffered on the average of a 30% reduction in quantity. Unfortunely, some farmers picked no grapes! A 100% loss. Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa, Sonoma, and Paso Robles were counties most hit. As the harvest ends this week most winemakers are hailing the quality as fabulous with very low yields. Others, myself included, are taking a wait and see attitude. The most calming bit of good news for Hennessy's is that we have 24 barrels of 2014 Merlot and Syrah aging nicely at our facility in Sonoma. That should be enough wine to get us through the next year here at the store. Incidently, our 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon is tasting great!


Wine Quiz

How many clones of Sangiovese are there?

email me at and win a bottle of my new Cabernet Sauvignon.




How Do They Make Those Delicious Rose Wines?

We just had a visit from our French producer at Rive Sud winery in the South of France. He explained an all important secret to me about the pressing of a Rose wine. As the grapes fall on top of each other in the destemmer their own weight causes the skins to break and leave a slight rose color in the the must. However, you must then press the grapes one only time to extract the exact rose color. If you squeeze too little the rose turns pale and looks and tastes terrrible. If you squeeze too much the rose is too dark and looks light a cheap red wine. It is that learned exact time to stop the press to achieve that perfect color of rose. This is something you can only learn by being there!



The 2014 harvest produced thick and rich red grapes - especially in Sonoma County. followed by a near perfect 2013 vintage in Napa and Sonoma, the drought summers always make vines grow deeper for water and nutrients. Grape vines are very hardy. They will grow and grow until they find water. With the moderate temperatures though out the year and a mild to hot Fall the red grapes loved their vintage.

It is a little early to see how the white grapes faired, but I do know that Lake County and Mendocino County had a great Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc vintage. Prices remained the same except in Napa where the small amount of planted Petite Verdot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec fetched wild prices of $5,000 to $6000 per ton.


predict that the 2013 vintage will go down as one of the best since 1968. If any of you were around in the 60's and tasted the 1968 BV & Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon's they were probably as good as it gets in Napa. In checking with the sage George Linton today, he says that when he was growing grapes in Napa the Davis boys told him that the best vintages since they started keeping track were the 1950, 1958 and 1968. The weather in those years was very similar to 2013. Leslie Hennessy

A declared vintage in Oport is not a usual event. The year must be superlative. The vintage must stand up to other great declared vintages such as the famous 1963. Also, the wine must age up to 100 years! Those events have made there way into the 2011 vintage in Oporto. The great houses such as Tay;lor, Fonseca, Croft have all declared. We will see how the prices are as we taste these gems throughout the year.

Eleven bottles of 200-year-old champagne salvaged from a Baltic Sea shipwreck will be auctioned off this week in Finland, as officials said Monday they hoped for a new record for the price of a bottle. Expectations were running high in Finland's autonomous province of Aaland, where the bottles were found in 2010, after a bottle of Veuve Clicquot from the same shipwreck was auctioned last year for a record-setting $37,400. That "encouraged us to organise a new auction," Rainer Juslin, an Aaland provincial government official, said in a statement.


US consumers were the world's top wine drinkers in 2011, while China displaced Britain to become the fifth largest wine consumer, according to new research released on Thursday.

US consumers downed the equivalent of 3.7 billion bottles of wine, while China including Hong Kong drank 1.9 billion bottles, according to data released by trade show Vinexpo and International Wine and Spirit Research (IWSR).

Old World wine drinkers in Italy, France and Germany clung to second, third and fourth places respectively but the New World and the Far East caught the limelight, showed the study of 114 consumer markets and 28 producer countries.

"China is fascinating certainly," said Robert Beynat, CEO of Vinexpo, whose upcoming show in Hong Kong is sold out. "But don't forget about America. America is and will remain the main market in the world in terms of value and volume."

The IWSR study predicts US wine consumption to grow 10 percent between 2011 and 2015. During the same period, it forecasts growth of 54.3 percent for the combined China-Hong Kong market.


Harvest report 2011

My brother Michael Hennessy and I personally visited the vineyards of Napa at the end of October. We were sad to see Cabernet Sauvignon still on the vine at only 20 % Brix! That will be a total loss for that vintner as Cabernet Sauvignon needs to be at 23.5% Bix inorder to make decent wine. However, at Corison winery just 10 miles to the West Cathy Corison reported a good to great harvest of her Cabernet Sauvignon. She picked at 23% Brix. We will wait to see what other reports we get as the grapes are pressed into must and the season really gets going!


As far as Europe is concerned I personally wanted to acknowledge this report from Rebecca Gibb in London:


The 2011 grape harvest is scheduled for an early start in France but will not be as premature as first expected. Picking in Bordeaux Harvest Bordeaux, Rhone and Champagne producers have all reported that picking will start much earlier than usual but cooler conditions and rain in late July have delayed previous forecasts. Christian Seely, head of AXA Millésimes, which owns Pauillac estate Pichon Longueville-Baron estimates the Bordeaux red harvest will now be in the early part of September. ‘A month ago we thought it might be two weeks early. May and June was alarmingly hot and dry. Over the past few weeks we have had some cooler weather and some rain and that’s why we can put the date back a bit to one week early,’ he told

In the Champagne region, producers are also anticipating an early harvest due to an unseasonably hot spring. A cooler July in the region has also slowed the vine’s maturity but Frédéric Rouzaud, president and CEO of Champagne Louis Roederer added, ‘It willl one of the earliest harvests in history due to a summer-like spring. It should start around 22 August.’

Further south, the Rhone Valley is similarly forecasting a premature harvest. Laure Vaisserman, head of media for Inter-Rhone, reported.

The Loire is the latest wine region to announce that its harvest will be one of the earliest on record this year. Anjou Loire Vignerons in Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne have alread cancelled holidays in order to manage harvests that will be starting weeks earlier than normal. Now the Loire trade body, Vins de Loire, has said early ripening, dry conditions and temperatures well above the seasonal norm mean harvest will begin at the end of August. ‘Conditions during the flowering period were excellent,’ a spokesman for Vins de Loire said. ‘This started in the Muscadet area on 15 May and in the Touraine towards the end of May - a good three weeks earlier than average.’ According to Vins de Loire, white harvests are due to start in the third week of August in the Muscadet appellation and towards the end of August in Nantes, Anjou, Touraine and Saumur. The average start time in Muscadet is the first or second week in September, in Anjou-Saumur 15 September, and Touraine at the end of September. Reds tend to come in towards the end of September or the beginning of October. This year the Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc are predicted to hold out until around 10 September. The spokesman added that vignerons were optimistic about the condition of the vines and the health of the fruit itself, but as always, the weeks leading up to harvest are crucial. oximately 18 to 25 days on 2010.’

Domestic Wine Sales Up 7% !

San Rafael, Calif.-Symphony IRI Group latest data about domestic wine sales showed growth in dollars at 7% for the year to date compared to a year ago, and the same 7% rate for the four weeks ending Aug. 7. The numbers are based on check stand scan data from major U.S. food and drug stores. With sales topping $2.8 billion so far this year and reaching 41 million 9L case equivalents, domestic table wines showed ongoing sales strength, especially against imports, which have grown less than 2% year to date.

Symphony IRI (SIRI) has reported positive sales growth for domestic table wines every month since Wines & Vines began reporting SIRI's data 18 months ago. As has been typical, the Chicago-based market research firm found that its highest priced wine segment-$20 and more per 750ml bottle-enjoyed nearly the fastest dollar growth by package size and type, increasing 25% year to date over a year ago. Growth through early August 2010 was 22%, so stacking another 25% on top this year is especially impressive.

Only premium domestic boxed wines at $3.50 to $4.99 per 750ml grew slightly faster than the highest tier: 26% year to date. In dollars, that category is about 40% smaller than the $20-plus wines. The biggest dollar category of domestic table wines is priced at $5 to $7.99. This group grew at a more modest but still-healthy 5% in dollars for the year to date, moving 9.6 million cases.



Interesting Napa Valley facts:

Just 4 percent of California's wine grape harvest is from the Napa Valley

95 percent of Napa Valley's wineries are small, family-owned enterprises

2011 continues a decade-long trend of cool growing seasons with later harvest


Americans Drinking More Wine Than the French

Raise a glass and celebrate: For the first time ever, Americans collectively consumed more wine than the French. Americans not only drank more wine last year, they were also spending a bit more per bottle—after briefly venturing into the cheapo $6 territory during the pit of the economic crisis.
France has a much smaller population than the U.S., and the French still drink much more wine per capita than Americans. That won’t change until Yanks in large numbers trade Budweisers for Chardonnay at barbecues and ball games around the country. In other words: That won’t change ever.
But 2010 marked the first time ever that more wine was consumed in the U.S. than in France,

New Statistics Worldwide Wine Sales



Fastest-Growing Wine Markets Worldwide1
(millions of nine-liter cases)







United States












United Kingdom


















South Africa






Czech Republic


















Other Markets






Total World2






1ranked by 2010 volume
2addition of columns may not agree due to rounding
3average annual compound growth rate
4based on unrounded data



Total U.S. wine sales rose 4.1% to $9.32 billion for the 52 weeks that ended December 11, 2010 according to Nielsen Co. The fastest growing categorey was wine at $20 and up. That category gained 11%.

White House Holidays

What wines are they pouring at the White House this holiday season? When asked First Lady Michelle Obama’s press secretary, Katie McCormick Lelyveld. Ms. McCormick Lelyveld demurred to describe what the Obamas would be drinking during private dinners reputed Presidential favorite but she did offer a few details as to what would be publicly poured:
“All the wines are domestically and available in quantity locally,” the press secretary stated, though her statement sounded more like a clue, “All wines selected are also price-conscious.”
As to specifics, there were two wineries she could name: Landmark Vineyards and Pride Mountain winery, chosen because “both offer great stories of women who developed a passion for the industry.”
That’s certainly true enough - Mary Colhoun is the public face of Landmark and Carolyn Pride is referred to as “Ranch Mama” by the staff,  though there have also been some pretty talented men working at those  wineries too

Ampelography, Eonology, and Viticulture

What these terms define is pretty much the total wine industry. Ampelography is the study of grape origins. Eonology is the study of wine making. Viticulture is the study of grape growing. All three sciences are PHD departments at such prestigious universities as the University of California at Davis, the same college at Fresno , as well as Sonoma State. Details of each science will be discussed further in this column

Harvest Report 2010

Of most import are the grapes from Napa and Sonoma. Both counties were hard hit with rain in the Spring and the coldest September I can remember. September and October need to hit 95 degrees for at least 10 day in order to bring the grapes to maturity. Only two days hit that mark in 2010. Alas the Cabernet Sauvignon might be the worst ever. The Pinot Noir is the light in the dark cloud. Because it matures first it was fabulous in it's best areas of Carneros and Sonoma. San Louis Obispo and Santa Barbara had great weather patterns. So, look for great Syrah, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay from there. I will give an update of the 2010 harvest as I travel to the Napa and Sonoma vineyards in 2011.

Harvest Report 2009

I have never seen all of the grapes come in at the same time like this before. Usually there is a break in the weather after the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay first come in. However, this year the Merlot arrived within days of the Chardonnay ending. Then the Cabernet Sauvignon came in immediately thereafter.

As for quality the Carneros Pinot Noir is exceptional as well as Napa Merlot. The Cabernet is yet to be determined.

Along with this unusual harvest is the fact that there just are too many grapes. This is causing the prices to plummet. I have been offered grapes that used to go into Silver Oak Cabernet for a 75% discount over the high of $5,000 per ton. Chardonnay grapes that were $1500 per ton last year are going for $300. It's a great year to make wine and buy open market juice.

Have you often wondered just what exactly Organic wine is?

Here is a list of the best web sites for everything you may want to know:






(biodynamic certification)

Washington Wine Grape Estimate
The Washington wine grape industry has estimated this year's crop will be 142,056 tons this fall, breaking last year's record harvest of 127,000 tons.

Crop estimates, however, tend to fly on the high side. Last year, for example, the crop estimate was 136,447 tons. Based on this, one could expect the Washington wine grape crop - the second largest in the nation after California - to top 130,000 in all likelihood.

Not bad considering a cool spring had many wondering just how big the 2008 crop would be.

According to the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers, which conducts the pre-harvest crop survey, the increase in grapes is because of the abundance of new plantings. Because of higher production and labor costs, the price of wine grapes is expected to stay level or even increase this year.

According to the grape growers, harvest is expected to start a week later than usual.

Speaking of Washington State wines you should check out our Barnard Griffin Cabernet Sauvignon and Fume Blanc.


To my esteemed friend Tony, I say bravo on your editorial of The Tasting Panel. You hit two home runs. One is that I totally agree with you on California Chardonnay's. They are bland, bland and bland. I can't remember when I had one that even came close to a white Burgundy. Also, a big ditto with Pinot Noirs. There are 200 clones of Pinot Noir on this planet. We have probably isolated 23 or so that work well in Northern California. But, there been few that rival the great 1938's and 1947's of Burgundy. Maybe the last great Pinot from California was the 1976 Hanzell ?

Your friend
Leslie Hennessy


Pinot Grigio on the Water

There is next to nothing better this summer than arriving back from a great sail or cruise, washing down the boat, cleaning up a bit, and settling down to great, very cold glass of white wine. And, the best wine for that occasion is the Pinot Grigio grape. We may have heard it most advertised by the Italians- most noticeably Santa Margaretta Pinot Grigio. However, you do not need to break the bank for that 'brand' wine and simply ferret out some sister brands.
Pinot Grigio is originally from France under the correct name of Pinot Gris. It is most prolifically grown and made into a very delicious white wine in Alsace by the name Pinot Gris. Grown in Alsace it takes on a very spicy, oily flavor that is great with shell fish. However, once transplanted to Italy (probably by the Monks) it takes on a very melon, honeydew quality. And here are the best attributes on Italian Pinot Grigio- it is very inexpensive and very low in alcohol.
There were about 3,500 hectare/8,600 acres of the grape in Italy in 1990. It has nearly tripled since then. The reason it is lower in alcohol is that the vignerons tend to pick Pinot Grigio early to capture its rapid loss of nerve at full ripening. We usually pick most of our white grapes at 23.5- 22.5 Brix (sugar). Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Viognier are typical examples of fully ripened grapes at harvest. In the Fruili region of Italy they pick at a lower brix. That renders a lower 10 -11% low alcohol white wine. That is just perfect as a great quaffing wine on the boat.
And, most importantly you can get well made Pinot Grigio for $10- $20 per bottle. I especially am fond of the 2006 Cortaccia Pinot Grigio at $15.99. We are also very lucky to be able to go into almost any restaurant in San Francisco and the Bay Area and ask for a glass of Pinot Grigio by the glass. It's the hot new grape varietal and it's quite comfortable to ply your boat mates with. Serve very cold with light cheese such as French Brie or Bucherondin.


Sauvignon Blanc 2007

As I am writing this article I am heading up to the Sonoma winery Robledo to work on our next wine project- the Leslie Hennessy 2007 Sauvignon Blanc. The wine is in a stainless steel tank at their winery awaiting the refrigeration to be turned down to 38 degrees. Left at that temperature for about two weeks the cloudy state that the wine is in now will precipitate to the bottom of the tank. That will render the Sauvignon Blanc clean and ready for bottling. We may run the final wine through a millipore filtration to render it . That is to be seen after the Sauvignon Blanc has finished its clarification. Many thanks go out to Jim Charleston our colleague on this cuvee. Stay tunned.

What does all of this rain do to the grapes? It really is just fine.We are at the exact amount of rain to date. Compared to last year we are right on schedule. This is the dormant time for grape vines. As they hibernate through this winter time the ground is storing up this needed water for the upcoming hot season.

The 2007 Harvest in California

In the North Coast counties of Napa , Sonoma, and Mendocino the following grapes are down in quantity as follows:
Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay down 10-20%,

Pinot Noir down 30%
Cab, Merlot down 10%

In the Paso Robles and /Santa Barbra areas -down 15-30%

Monterey County - just plain erratic

The Barrels

The cask of wood is a Gallic creation used to keep barley beer about 2000 years ago. From IIIrd century, its use became widespread throughout the Roman Empire where it was used to stock and transport wine. Barrels were made of different woods, especially acacia and oak, two strong woods, which could be curved and transported. Hooping was made of chestnut, a wood more flexible and very ligneous. Later, iron replaced wood for hooping.

Thanks to this purely practical use of the barrel, we discovered its aromatic and founding properties. Acacia wood which is less rich, has been replaced by oak. However, the use of the barrel for its aromatic properties dates only back to XXth century.

About wood, there are different types of oak:

-Type sessile french oak (Quercus Petraea) is predominant in center of France, Vosges, Allier and particularly in the exceptional forest of Tronçais, planted by Colbert. Those extremely dense forests favor a slow growth of the trees, which produce fine-grained wood, a guarantee of quality. It gives oakyness and subtle aromas to the wine, with spices and vanilla nuances.

-Type Robur or Pedonculated french oak (Quercus Pedunculata), called “Limousin” because of its predominance in that region. Its wood is more tannic and used to age brandy.

-American oak (Quercus Alba), native of Missouri, Minnesota or the Appalachians, is quite rich in aromas but quite poor in tannins. It will be used in weak proportion only to increase aromatic complexity of the wine.

-Eastern oak comes from Hungary or the Caucasus. It is a type of sessile oak but its affect on the wine is lighter.

The cooper chooses woods according to his markets, then he makes stavewoods which are dried for 2 years in open air to eliminate coarse tannins of young wood.

For cooperage, barrel heating is an essential stage. The first one, known as “bending toast” which gives the barrel its special shape: water and fire give flexibility to the wood. The second newer one, known as “burning toast”, helps to develop aromatic potential of the barrel and favors creation of toast aromas. During heating, the barrel is put on a brasero and gets calorific supplies: radiance (especially for white wines) and convection (red wines).

From the XXth century, the barrel is used for its 3 major interests:

1.Mecanical supply: refining, cleaning, thinning of the wines; separating the layer of sediment with the braumnian movement generated by the shape of the barrel. Natural and slow micro-oxygenation: flexible and so porous, the barrel is breathing.

2.Tannic supply: tannins of wood (ellagitannins) help to fix anthocyans and structure wines by pushing fruit intensity and by making the finish in the mouth more persistent (especially for cabernet sauvignon which is less tannic than merlot). The polymerization, which “fuses” wood tannins with fruit tannins, makes them rounder in mouth by increasing the molecules size. And with barrel heating, the deterioration of the wood tannins gives wine an intense color (brown tints).

3.Aromatic supply: wood is naturally rich in aromas as for instance vanillin, but aromas generated by the barrel depend on intensity of heating. A medium toast will reveal aromas of vanilla, coconut, spices and fresh oak, whereas a heavier toast will favor more mineral overtones, put together under the term “toasted”: toffee, toasted bread...

An additional contribution to the quality of the wine is the well-known “angels share”, this natural evaporation of alcohol and water which concentrates wine is also a qualitative element.


A great wine, especially to be kept, is a wine aged in a barrel. Chips of wood and other substitute products give volatile flavoring but don’t produce wines to be kept and will never replace the virtues supplied by the oak barrel


Organic wines are a bit new to the wine scene. Very few West coast wineries are boasting about organic. The reason is that most small wineries (producing less than 10,000 cases annually) already enlist organic grape growing and wine making techniques that are considered organic. There seems to be a negative concept about putting organic on labels amongst many wineries. They think they are perceived as 'health food' department products.
The big organic conversation is about using Round Up. This is a chemical found in most garden shops and used quite extensively to kill weeds. Most small grape growers know that it does more harm than good. In fact in laboratory studies it causes cancer in rats. To get around its use most farmers simply mow their weeds and mulch them into their vineyards.
Another big subject of concern is IPM. IPM or Integrated Pest Management has been taught at all the Universities in California for many years. It basically adheres to letting nature take its course in the removal of nasty pests. For instance if your have the grassy sharpshooter attacking your vines (mostly near river beds) you are advised to plant Oliander bushes. They attract the other bugs that eat sharpshooters because they are attracted to the yearly flowering of the Oliander.
I don't see this category becoming a big marketing idea, but when it comes to what the public wants, you never know. Les Hennessy


More Pinot Noir Talk

It is absolutely true that there are 200 clones of Pinot Noir. Its no wonder that there are so many variations of it. It is perplexing to me how so many wine critics and writers are so far off the money when they comment on a wine that has so many variations.

Thankfully, that all is changing. As I walked through the two latest big Spring tasting's this week I came across Au Bon Climat Winery. As I always ask what clones make up each individual Pinot Noir that I taste, I found these guys whipped them off like baseball scores. This one 2003 Knox Alexander Pinot Noir was made of clone's 113, 114, 115 and the Swan clone. It rendered a graham cracker body with the astringent French Pinot Noir finish. What a nice wine. And, what nice comfort that the industry is starting to give us more information.

The Origin of The Zinfandel Grape

Its a great idea that Senator Carol Migden wants to make the Zinfandel the State of California Grape. The only problem is that its not from California. Recent DNA testing by the University of California at Davis Professor Carol Merideth has positively traced this ubiquitous grape back to the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. Its ampelographical name is Crjenak/Kastelanski. It is sold under the varietal name of Plavac Mali in the old Yugoslavia from restaurant to wine shops. You can find it everywhere. This humble author imported said wine in 1976. It was sold at the Price Cutters stores throughout the five borough's of New York City as Plavac Red for a mere $1.17 per bottle. That was then and this is now. No one person can really trace how it got to California because it was brought over as many other grapes such as Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and just about every other grape by either Count Harazthy from Hungary or Captain Gustof Niebaum. How it became to be known as Zinfandel is the next mystery to unravel.



The 2005 Grape Harvest

The 2005 year started with rains in the spring and early summer, creating vigorous vine growth and potential mildew pressure. New viticultural techniques and innovations in how vineyards are planted now help curb these concerns. For instance, winegrowers, working in tandem with winemakers, manage water and fertilization through drip irrigation systems and cover crops, and more handwork in the vineyards, trimming the shoots, leaves and fruit, help mitigate the vine vigor. Along with proper canopy management, new trellising systems allow more air circulation and sunlight to control mildew pressure, and vine row orientation also takes advantage of the best wind and sun exposure. The combination of cutting-edge viticulture and the artistic skills of the winemakers, allow the grapes to reach their full expression in the glass.

State Agriculture officials estimated the harvest at 3.15 million tons of wine type grapes in October, which would make it the second largest crop ever for California behind the record 3.32 million tons harvested in the year 2000.

“This year’s crop yields are generally 10-15 percent larger than normal, produced from a cool year that is being compared to the outstanding 1997 vintage,” said Robert Steinhauer, consulting viticulturist for Foster’s Wine Estates Americas who is finishing his 39th harvest in California’s wine industry this year.


Francis Mahoney

An update on Francis Mahoney. Francis Mahoney is whom we consider the Godfather of the Pinot Noir grape in the complete New World of grape growing and wine making. He was the first winery (at Carneros Creek Winery) to accept the offer of the Davis University of Cal to plant all the the then known 38 clones (varieties) of Pinot Noir. He has made 27 vintage's of Pinot Noir.


The latest on the tainted cork goes like this. A nasty microorganism named TCA or 2-4-6 tricloroanisole causes that wet wood smell in a wine. Basically, it is driving all of us nuts because no one knows where it comes from. An institute in Portugal has developed a procedure named "Symbios" that when boiled with cork bark it develops a harmless microorganism instead of TCA. Lets hope it works!

The movie 'Sideway's" could not have come at a better time. Winemakers and vintners have been seriously researching this ubiquitous grape for years trying to get to the perfection they have achieved today. You have to thank Francis Mahoney from Carneros Creek Winery for his undying experiments with the 20 separate clones of Pinot Noir. Unlike Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay that have just three types of grape clones, the true French Pinot Noir has over 38 separate and different clones. With the help of the University of Davis Viticulture Department Francis planted and experimented with 20 clones in 1974 on his property in Sonoma. The results of those first three years of growth have somewhat cleared the differences between the clones. Add to this confusion are the new root stocks that have been planted to relieve us of the dreaded Phyloxera disease that wiped out most Napa vineyards in the 70's and 80's.

The 2004 harvest in Bordeaux was huge. Look for some values to FINALLY arrive as the Euro still continues to ride a high wave. Barsac and Sauterne 2004 look to be very limited in quantity. This will inevitably raise Sauterne prices.

Mondavi Corporation sells to Constellation and Chalone Group sells to Diageo of Great Britain. These are BIG changes in our industry. The Chalone sale means that Chalone Wines, Acacia and their boardroom of other wineries will now be available in numerous international markets. The Mondavi sale is a bit more complicated. First and foremost Michael Mondavi has landed at Hambrecht and Folio selling Belveder wines. As to the 300 layoffs at Mondavi in Napa this month, look for a lot of people looking for work in Napa. Stay tuned!.

The 2004 harvest is under way. Pinot Noirs are just picked and about finished, while Napa and Sonoma Valley floor Cabernet Sauvignon are just about to start.


Prices Per Acre Soar

Its official, vineyard land in Napa has just sold for over $350,000 per acre. In a bold move Francis Ford Coppolla has just paid that sum per acre for the most premium Cabernet Sauvignon acreage in Napa to date. Also for sale is a 5 acre parcel just behind Sequoia Grove for $2,000,000!. At $400,000 per acre for planted Cabernet land it will take 10 years to pay back that amount. There seems to be lots of money out there paying new prices that are unheard of. 7/28/04



In visiting with John McKay, a consulting eonologist at The Napa Wine Company, he just turned me on to this new wine making process enhancer. There are two types of oxygenation- structuralization and harmonization. The general rule of wine making is that after the primary and secondary fermentation , its a good idea to age wine in oak barrels. The only problem is that barrels have skyrocketed to $800 a barrel. With a three year usage, you can see how a $10.00 Chardonnay can become a $12.00 Chardonnay overnight. The reason we age wine in barrels is to allow some oxygen into the wine. This allows the wine to throw off unpleasant odors and just plain bad flavors. By keeping the wine in large stainless steel tanks, winemakers can trickle 60 PPM ( parts per million) of oxygen into the wine, thereby achieving the same oxidation results as barrel aging. In the early stages of oxidation one is changing the structure of the wine. This is called structurization. Once the wine is stable and you have pretty close to what you want, there is a 6-9 month harmonization of 1 PPM of oxygen trickling. During this time oak chips may be added to add just a dash of wood flavor to the wine. Oxygenation- just another tool the winemaker can use to save a few dollars and produce a well made wine.

I just came from a winery in Northern California that seems to be indicative of the upcoming fallout in this industry. This guy has dropped $5.5 million into a beautiful 40- plus acres and is in Chapter 11! This is only the beginning. I also talked to two very prominent wineries in Napa and Sonoma, simply looking for extra wine in bulk to feed our private label program. Both wineries said "plenty of extra juice, how much do you want?" Look for prices to continue to fall.


Who were the great wine people of the past that founded our industry? The most prominent one person that really pioneered the industry was Alexis Lichine. As Eisenhower Aide d Corps he was able to visit and help save the wine regions of Burgundy and Bordeaux, France from the Germans. After the War ended he started importing wines into the US under the name of "An Alexis Lichine Selection" That business prospered. But, his most important contribution to the wine world was his book- Alexis Lichine Encyclopedia of Wines & Spirits. This book is an absolute for the serious wine collectors.

If your had ever wondered what terms we use in the wine industry like wet dog, sulphur, blackberry's, we have the perfect web site for you. Professor of Oenology (study of wine making) A.C. Noble at the University of California Davis has spent her career teaching all of the multitude of terms to explain those sometimes strange and sometimes wonderful bouquets and tastes. Go to Then type in the Aroma Wheel, send professor Noble $6.00 and you are on your way to becoming wine connoisseur.
A Votre Sante!
- Leslie Hennessy

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