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Posted by bruce-bradley on April 14, 2015 at 7:00 PM Comments comments (0)




Often, when talking about wine, the subject of sulphites come up. People will say, “Oh, I’m allergic to sulphites. It gives me a headache, or makes me sneeze, or sometimes maybe grow a new arm… (okay, I’m joking here)” I always say, “Oh, alright.”—then move on to whatever might be pertinent. To me, saying that they’re allergic to sulphites is kind of like saying “Oh, I’m glucose intolerant”. Everyone is, these days. It’s a popular malady.


Most likely, the thing that is causing their symptoms (where the wine is concerned—except for the new arm…) is histamines in the wine. We do use sulfur—people have been using sulfur in wine for more than six thousand years—but the amounts are pretty tiny, and we monitor them very closely.


When working with wine, there are two types of sulfur that we look at—free and total. When we add sulfur to wine, the “Free Sulfur” is the sulfur that blends in with the wine and floats around, fighting bacteria and oxidation. Over time, the sulfur molecules bind with the wine molecules and you’re no longer getting any value from them. Those molecules still need to be monitored, and that’s called “Total Sulfur”. Most winemakers tend to keep their wines at about 25 parts-per-million free sulfur while aging and will want to keep the total sulfur under 200 parts-per-million. Over 200 parts-per-million total and the sulfur begins to become detectable on the palette, especially in white wines. No winemaker wants you to taste sulfur in their wines.


I did get a headache one time from sulfur in wine, but it was my own darn fault. I was working swing shift at Inglenook Winery and I was sent up to the big barrel room in Rutherford. I got there in time to take over from a cellar worker who was loading a tanker truck with wine that was being taken to bottling. It’s a common practice to “bump-up” the free sulfur in wine right before bottling, and I knew that. I also knew that if one makes a sulfur addition to wine and doesn’t do a good job of blending it in, the sulfur goes straight to the bottom of the tank. But I kinda forgot those things at that moment…


Well, I finished filling the tanker and sent it on its way. I was about to wash out the tank I had emptied, when I noticed there was still wine dripping out of the open gate. I decided “What the heck—it’s going to get washed down the drain anyway…”—so I saved myself a glass and drank it with my dinner. Bad move. The wine tasted great, but it gave me a headache that lasted three days.


Thank God, I didn’t grow a new arm.:)


Here are my picks for this week:




2010 Merlot

Columbia Valley

$8.00 at SPD Market in Nevada City, CA


Vanilla-Blueberry-Black Currant Aromas. Ripe, cherry-berry fruit. Good mouth feel, good balance and finish.




2011 Cabernet Sauvignon


$6.99 at CVS Pharmacy in Grass Valley, CA


Concord grape nose. Dusty red fruit. Good balance and mouth feel. A hint of licorice. Smooth finish.




The Original


Cabernet Sauvignon

California – 2013

$7.99 at Safeway in Grass Valley, CA


Rich aromas of dark red fruit—blackberry and vanilla. Doesn’t disappoint the palette. Rich cherry-berry fruit, a little tart in the finish. This is a wine that will improve over the next 3 – 5 years at least.





Posted by bruce-bradley on April 7, 2015 at 11:55 AM Comments comments (1)

I've been fighting a bug for the past several days, which has kept me from feeling creative, so I'm bringing back one of my earlier blogs, originally posted on July 12, 2012--

An Immigrant Barber Makes Good.

In 1852, German-born Jacob Schram arrived in the Napa Valley. At twenty-six years of youth, Jacob had little with him when he arrived, other than his skill as a barber. He immediately began plying that trade, traveling up and down the roads of Napa and cutting hair. One of his clients was winemaker Charles Krug. When Krug learned that Jacob came from a winemaking family in Germany, he urged Jacob to make his own wines.

Taking Krug’s words to heart, Jacob purchased a plot of hillside land just south of the town of Calistoga. In those days hillside land was considered useless, so Jacob was able to get it for next to nothing. He cleared the land himself and planted some grapes, all the while still plying his trade as a traveling barber. From his first vintage, he took samples of his wine to a San Francisco wine merchant named Gottlieb Groezinger. Groezinger became so excited by Jacob’s wines that he went and built his own winery—an enormous brick structure in the town of Yountville, which was completed in 1870.

Jacob, meanwhile, planted more grapes. He hired Chinese laborers to dig what became the Napa Valley’s first wine caves. That gave him two “firsts” —he planted Napa’s first hillside vineyard and dug its first wine cave. Jacob’s wines were very well received, with a good deal of them being shipped to Europe. In 1875 he built a mansion near the winery, which survives to this day.

In 1880 a young Scotsman named Robert Louis Stevenson was residing with his wife and stepson in a cabin that sat just below the Silverado mine, on Mount St. Helena. In his first published work, “The Silverado Squatters” Stevenson describes a visit to Jacob’s winery, where he whiled away the afternoon, sampling Jacob’s wares in what reminded him of “a smuggler’s cave.”

Jacob died in 1905, but the caves, the mansion and the winery he built, Schramsberg, are still there and are available for touring. The huge, brick winery that Gottlieb Groezinger built in 1870 is still there, too. It no longer operates as a winery, but is home to numerous shops, restaurants and art galleries, and is called “V—Marketplace”.

Schramsberg, meanwhile, continues to produce some of the finest sparkling wines that California and the Napa Valley have to offer—

Here are my picks for this week:


2011 Merlot

Vintner’s Reserve

Sonoma County

$8.99 at SPD Market in Nevada City

Subtle aromas of ripe red fruit and vanilla—needed a little time to open up. Middle of the road fruit and acid, definitely not a fruit bomb. Drinkable, but not too exciting.



Founder’s Estate

2012 California

Cabernet Sauvignon

$6.00 at CVS Pharmacy in Grass Valley

Slightly smoky, with red fruit in the nose, rich blackberry and black cherry flavors. Decently balanced.




Cabernet Sauvignon



$8.99 at SPD Market in Nevada City

“337” is favored root stock among Cabernet Sauvignon wine growers—

Blackberry and a little funk in the nose—the funk blows off quickly and leaves the fruit. Cherry-Berry fruit; good mouth feel; nicely balanced.





Posted by bruce-bradley on March 31, 2015 at 2:15 PM Comments comments (2)


A lot of people seem confused whenever I mention ML, or malolactic in wine. Malolactic is a secondary fermentation that wines go through after primary fermentation is complete. Unlike primary fermentation, which is caused by yeast consuming sugar in the grape juice and converting it into alcohol, malolactic occurs when bacteria consume the malic acid in the wine and convert it to lactic acid. All red wines go through ML, but for white wines it is a more stylized decision. Malolactic conversion makes whites rich and buttery and somewhat less crisp. In the 1980’s it was all the rage to make big, buttery and oaky Chardonnays—what we called in those days “soda-pop” wines. Those wines were responsible for getting a lot of people who weren’t wine drinkers to switch over to wine. As tastes refined, however, smooth and buttery chardonnays became less popular. There’s still a place for them—Rombauer Vineyards in Saint Helena has a huge fan base for their very buttery, oaky Chardonnay.

Winemakers have anxiety attacks for different reasons. Some get anxious about bottling, others about harvest. The one thing that has caused me sleepless nights has been ML. In the old days it was easy. You would inoculate your wines with ML during primary fermentation. By the time you pressed your wines out and barreled them down, both primary and secondary fermentations were done. By November your wines were barreled down and put to sleep for winter.

Current winemaking practices call for higher sugars and, therefore, higher alcohols. That means you need to wait to inoculate your wines with ML bacteria, until primary fermentation is complete. Otherwise, you run the risk of causing a “stuck” fermentation (where the yeast die off before completing their work and you are left with sugar in your wine—a bad thing). It’s also a much slower process. Often, you end up adding the ML bacteria after the wine is already in the barrel. Then it can take months for the bacteria to do their work. Remember how I said that everything used to be done by November? Not so any more. Many times I’ve awakened in mid-July worrying about wines that weren’t yet finished with ML. The reason for my worrying was that, while the wines are going through ML they are producing CO2 gas. The CO2 blankets the wine and protects it from oxidation and bacteria. Once that process is complete, the wine no longer has that protection and it needs to be adjusted so that it doesn’t go bad on you.

Even knowing that, my anxiety was unwarranted. After completing ML the wines will continue to “give off” CO2 for a couple of weeks. There was absolutely no chance that, at 3 AM on any given night in mid-July, my wines would go bad before I got to work the next morning.

But I guess it wouldn’t have been normal if I didn’t get stressed about some aspect of my job…

Here are my picks for this week:


2013 Pinot Grigio


$4.00 at CVS Pharmacy in Grass Valley

Peach and Citrus notes in the nose, more so on the palette, with a touch of pineapple. Fruity, but a little thin.



California Red Blend


$6.99 at CVS Pharmacy in Grass Valley

Hints of smoke and dark red fruit in the nose. A little veggie initially, but then opens up to cherries and blackberries and chocolate. Slightly vegetable finish.




American Chardonnay

$2.48 at Safeway in Grass Valley

Subtle notes of pear and pineapple in the nose. Bright and fruity. Decently balanced.

For the price…




Posted by bruce-bradley on March 24, 2015 at 12:20 AM Comments comments (1)

LACENICK AND OLD ARSE—Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love Idiot Bombs…

You know, you really gotta love’em, these people who have nothing better to do than to find ways of stirring up bullcrap—usually in an effort to make a dollar off the troubles of others. As a person who has spent much of his life working in wineries of every size, and having run a couple of those wineries, I can promise you flat-out, that wineries do not use arsenic in winemaking. There ARE trace amounts of arsenic in diatomaceous earth, which is used in some filtering practices, but as for arsenic itself, I’ve never even SEEN the stuff. Seriously, if any winery had something like that lying about, SOMEBODY would have borrowed a bit of it for their spouse or their lover—or their lover’s lover.

THAT would have been news, not this other horse-pucky. This is just more sensationalism, which will no doubt end with wineries having to do tests they shouldn’t have to perform. May as well test for alien space dust while they’re at it. Yup, I’m pretty sure the wine I drank last night had alien (undocumented) space dust in it…

The whole “controversy” about arsenic hinges on the fact that the “testers” used the same criteria for testing wine that they use for water. Well, guess what—wine isn’t water.

Believe it or not, there is an organization that does have guidelines for acceptable amounts of arsenic in wine. The International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV) an organization that includes every major wine producing country in the world (except for the United States), has declared that the maximum allowable limit for arsenic in wine is 200 parts-per-billion.

Sooo…French wines, Australian wines, Spanish wines, German and Chilean wines—all those wines you’ve been collecting and coveting in your cellar for years—all may have up to 200 parts-per-billion arsenic in them. Probably not, but that’s what the world has declared “safe”.

According to the new lawsuit, Franzia wines had 51 parts-per-billion arsenic in them. That’s roughly one-fourth of what the OIV (every other winemaking country in the world) says is acceptable. It probably means that Franzia just filters their wine more than some others do.

Is that a bad thing? Well, other than stripping the wine of a little color and flavor, I’d say probably not.

Here are my picks for this week:


2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

$5.99 at SPD Market in Nevada City, CA

This is where my wine career began, many years ago…

Subtle, berry aromas—a mouthful of dark red fruit—not overly oaked. Good mouth feel and finish.



Grand Estates

2012 Cabernet Sauvignon

Columbia Valley

$8.99 at SPD Market in Nevada City

Black currant aromas, with a hint of chocolate and spice. Balanced fruit and acid. Cherry-berry flavors. A slightly bitter finish takes it down a bit.



2012 Cabernet Sauvignon

$5.99 at CVS Pharmacy in Grass Valley

Cassis, chocolate, dark red fruit. Good mouth feel—nicely balanced with a decent finish.

Again, considering the price…



Posted by bruce-bradley on March 17, 2015 at 2:10 PM Comments comments (0)


Most people are familiar with the mobile bottling trucks that travel up and down the highways and byways of this country, going from winery to winery to bottle wine, but very few people know how that industry got its start. Forty years ago there were no bottling trucks. Every winery had to have its own bottling line, or else they transported their wine to another winery and got them to bottle it for them.

Of course, there were a lot fewer wineries then. When Robert Mondavi purchased his use permit to build his winery in 1966, it was the first permit to be issued by Napa County in 35 years, and it was only the fiftieth permit issued there. That changed quickly. By the early eighties there were over 300 small wineries in the Napa Valley. And they all needed ways to bottle their wines.

Now, a bottling line is an expensive proposition. The machines can cost in the tens of thousands of dollars and you need four of them—a sparger (which blows the dust out of the bottles and fills the bottle with nitrogen), a filler, a corker and a labeler. These are all tied together by conveyor belts and it all has to be timed so that the bottles go from one machine to the next without getting jammed up. The whole setup requires constant maintenance to keep things running smoothly.

It also requires space—a room that is dedicated for bottling only. These machines are bolted to the floor. Once you get them all working in concert with one another, you don’t want to mess with them and move them about.

Now, if there are two things that small wineries are almost always short of, it’s extra money and extra space. Even more frustrating is the fact that most small wineries would only bottle one or two weeks out of the year. The rest of the time, their very expensive bottling lines would sit around collecting rust and dust.

With the dawning of the 1980’s, Bill Harrison felt he had a solution for all that. He put a business plan together to build a mobile bottling line—a van with all the machines inside, that could be transported from winery to winery by a tractor-trailer. The idea was brilliant in every sense—wineries could save $100,000.00 (or more) on machinery costs and save space as well. They could pay him on a cost-per-case basis, saving themselves a huge outlay of cash, and they wouldn’t be tying up valuable space with machinery that they only used for a couple of weeks each year.

Unfortunately, the banks didn’t see it that way. Some of them even told Harrison he was crazy to think he could make an idea like that work. In the end, he was turned down a total of 39 times. Luckily, he didn’t give up and his determination and persistence eventually paid off. The fortieth lender he applied to made the loan, and Bill Harrison’s Estate Bottling was born. During his first year in business Harrison traveled as far as Ivanhoe, Texas to bottle wines, but by the end of that first year, his business was already in the black—and it stayed there.

Today, there are over 50 bottling trucks in California alone. Mobile bottling is now a recognized necessity in the wine industry, and Bill Harrison’s bottling truck is still running. When he’s not out bottling for others, the Estate Bottling van can be seen at the William Harrison Winery, just south of the town of St. Helena, CA., on the Silverado Trail. Personally, I think it should be in the Smithsonian Institute, but Bill isn’t ready to stop working and give it up just yet…

Here are my picks for this week:



Family Vineyards

2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

$6.99 at SPD Market in Nevada City, CA

Unmistakable barnyard nose. Light American oak. Fruity, hint of sweetness.



2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

Columbia Valley

$8.99 at SPD Market in Nevada City

Cellared and Bottled, which generally means the same as “Vinted and Bottled”, meaning they probably bought the wine on the bulk market.

Notes of Concord grape, with blackberry and vanilla. Hints of anise and dark red fruit. Balanced fruit and acid, with a pleasant finish.



2013 Winemaker’s Blend

Delightful, fruity nose, with maybe just a touch of Brett that comes up at the end (Brettanomyces—a wine infection that can give wine off-flavors and aromas—I actually tend to like it in small doses).

Fruit and acid balance okay. This blend of Zinfandel, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon (methinks mostly Zin) is nicely balanced, with a good mouth feel and a silky finish that makes me think the pH may be a little high—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing unless you plan to age the wine for a long time. I’m giving it...




Posted by bruce-bradley on March 10, 2015 at 12:35 AM Comments comments (1)



People sometimes ask me about Box Wine—wine that comes in a box. Well, Box Wine is really wine in a bag, and the bag fits in a box, and the idea isn’t new. In the 1800’s Bill Harrison’s (Wm. Harrison Winery) great-grandfather, Giuseppe Perelli-Minetti, patented a collapsible leather bladder for transporting wine in rail cars and selling to taverns and pubs across the Italian countryside. The tavern owners would bring their barrels to the railroad station and Perelli-Minetti would fill them. As the wine was dispensed the bladder would collapse, allowing no air to get in. No air meant the wine did not oxidize and go bad, so the idea worked.


Today’s wine bags operate in the same way, except that the bags are smaller and made of plastic. These bags are specifically made for wine and do not affect the flavor or chemistry of the wine. There are some good deals out there if you aren’t too particular (Franzia sells several of their wines in 5.5 Liter boxes—roughly seven bottles of wine—for around $12.00). The problem with storing wine in bags is the same as in screw caps or synthetic corks—the wine doesn’t develop after it’s placed in them. If you want your wines to age properly, you need a bottle with a real cork.


There is a prejudice against putting wine in plastic, even though the bags were created just for wine and don’t alter the character of the wine in any way. Some years back I had the idea of developing a system for wineries, to be used for barrel topping and using wine bags to help eliminate partial containers. Partial containers are a problem that every winery has to deal with and they are a major contributor to wine spoilage. Most wineries use beer kegs or glass to store their leftover wine. Glass breaks and partial containers still occur. No matter what you do, you still end up with losses, especially in larger wineries.


I felt I could put an end to much of that. My system was coming along nicely and I was just about to start using it at the winery I worked at. One of my custom clients saw what I was attempting and insisted that I NEVER put their wine in plastic. That was the beginning of the end of my system. No one wanted their wine put into plastic, even temporarily. Oh, well… One day wineries will store their topping wine in collapsible bags—it makes too much sense. Until then, they’ll go on using beer kegs and glass.


Here are some of the wines I tried this week:




2013 Cabernet Sauvignon


$7.99 at Bonanza Market in Nevada City, CA


Blackberry-vanilla nose. A mouthful of berry flavors. Nicely balanced with a good mouth feel and pleasant finish… This wine has a hint of sweetness to it that I tend to associate with “Mega Red”, an additive that goes in right at bottling. The label reads “vented”, so that would make sense if they bought the wine on the bulk market. “Mega Red” adds color and an almost imperceptible amount of sugar that helps to brighten a dull wine up a bit.






2006 Syrah

Russian River Valley

Top Block – Estate Grown

$5.99 at Grocery Outlet/Farmers Market, in Grass Valley, CA


Diminished fruit and a little thin. A little long in the tooth—it tastes like they used old barrels with little or no new oak. Slightly acidic.






2012 Cabernet Sauvignon

Vintner’s Blend

$5.99 at SPD Market in Nevada City, CA


Another “Vinted” wine. I guess that shouldn’t surprise me. Very few wineries have the hundreds or thousands of acres of grapes required to mass-produce a wine. If the grapes were grown in a premium growing area, the price of them would be too high to put them into a wine that would sell for $5.99. Still, this wine was not bad… Good color, hints of vanilla perfume in the nose. A little thin at first on the palate, then it got better. Descent acid balance, black cherry and ripe berries and an okay finish. Considering the price…






Posted by bruce-bradley on February 26, 2015 at 8:45 AM Comments comments (1)

WINES UNDER $15.00...

You know, life really is funny sometimes. When your job title is “Winemaker” you mostly don’t have to pay for wine. Free wine (as long as you don’t abuse the privilege) is one of the perks. When you do pay for wine, you get it for half price. Other wineries will usually sell you their wines for 30% - 50% off—or will trade it with you, bottle for bottle, so it’s still free or close to it.  And if you’re a Napa Valley winemaker with wines regularly scoring in the mid-nineties, like I was, the wines you drink are usually pretty stellar.


Then, one day, things change. You leave the business, maybe move to another area where you’re not known.  And free wine is no longer a part of your life.   Especially, really good free wine. Suddenly, you have to pay—


You want how much for that?


I’ll be honest with you.  Even when I was making the stuff I couldn’t have afforded to drink wines I made on a regular basis if I had to pay for them.  As winemaker for Wm. Harrison Winery in St. Helena, CA, the wines I made averaged $45.00 – $75.00 a bottle—and they are well worth it.  However, popping for one of those wines every night was never in my budget.  Now that I’m retired from the wine industry altogether, I’ve had to lower my standards a bit.


I decided to go in search of a good, inexpensive bottle of red wine, never expecting to really find one.  Many wines in the under – $15.00 range are barely worth tasting.  I’ve found a number of them that taste like dry, acidic Kool Aid.  A few are okay.   A good number of them are all right if you don’t think of them as wine; just something to wash your dinner down with. Of course, I can also think of a few high-end wines I’ve had that would also fall into that category.  A high price does not always equal excellence.


With that in mind, I’ve decided to start rating the wines I try out. Now, I’ve never been a “wine writer” per se, but I have spent a good portion of my life evaluating and creating wines that were well-received (I’ve gotten back – to – back scores of 94 points, Double-Gold Medals, and one of the last of the wines I made—the 2010 Wm. Harrison Cabernet Franc—won Best Of Class in the San Francisco Chronicle Tasting), so I think I am somewhat qualified to do this. I’ll be using a star system, rather than points, to keep it simple. The results will be based, not only on wine quality, but dollar value for what you’re getting as well.  And I’ll try to not be too snobby about it.  Still, don’t expect to see many five-star wines on this list…




2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

Sebastopol, CA


$5.99 at Grocery Outlet in Grass Valley, CA


The wine label says “Vinted” which means they probably didn’t make the wine themselves, but bought it in bulk, aged it for a time and then bottled it. That doesn’t make it bad or good. There are a lot of different ways to have a wine label. You don’t always have to own your own winery or your own grapes. Here goes—


Subtle, fruity nose. Okay acid/fruit balance. Decent body for a $6.00 bottle of wine. Kind of falls off at the end.  All right for sitting around at a BBQ if you don't think about it too much.







2012 Essential Red – California


$9.49 at Safeway in Grass Valley, CA


My first sip was a very pleasant surprise. Bold oak and rich cherry-berry flavors with a hint of chocolate, nicely balanced tannins and a delightful finish. This is a blend of old-vine Zinfandel, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petite Sirah. Probably the best wine you will find for under $40.00. Amazing!  I’m eating my words and giving this wine top scores for flavor and value, and hope there’s more when I get back to the store…



Okay, that's it for starters.  Two wines--one of them a huge surprise.  I'll be back with more soon--maybe not as soon as I planned, depending on the supply of Bogle that Safeway has.  Hah!







Posted by bruce-bradley on January 30, 2014 at 12:50 AM Comments comments (2)

People often ask me about yeast and wine and I’m sometimes surprised by how little most people seem to know about yeasts, so I thought I’d write a few words about it.  Of course, knowing me, it’ll be more than a few words, but we’ll start out that way…


First off, without yeast there would be no fermentation and, without fermentation, there would be no wine. Yeasts are microbiological (very small) creatures that consume the sugar in grape juice and convert it into alcohol. We like yeasts. 

There are dozens (probably hundreds, but I haven’t counted all of them) of packaged yeasts out there, their manufacturers all telling you that this yeast is the right one for your wine.  Some are old standards that have been favorites with winemakers for decades, like Red Star or Pris de Mousse, but new ones are being developed each year. Some yeast manufacturers say that their yeast will give the wine a big, bold flavor.  Others will give you a wine that is more delicate and elegant.  There are whole catalogs of wine yeasts—this one for Cabernet, that one for Syrah, and so on.  With the popularity of higher alcohol wines came a need for even more specialized yeasts, for when the alcohol reaches a certain level it will kill off many strains of yeasts, and the last thing any winemaker wants to deal with during harvest is a stuck fermentation (well, actually, there are a number of  “last things” that winemakers want to have to deal with, but this one’s pretty high on my list).


One thing that many people that I speak with seemed to be confused about is the fact that wines don’t really need to be inoculated with yeast at all, because there is already yeast on the grapes when they are brought in.  During Prohibition the late, great Antonio Perelli-Minetti went from making wine to producing a grape juice concentrate.  He sold the concentrate in gallon cans and placed a warning on the side of the can that read, “Do not dilute this concentrate with water and leave it in a warm place, or it will turn into wine, which is illegal.”  Of course, he sold a lot of concentrate. One day a government man showed up at his production facility and said it would have to be shut down, because the facility was infected with yeast.  Perelli-Minetti said to the man, “Really…show me this yeast.”  So, the government man produced a microscope and, sure enough, there was yeast.  Perelli-Minetti then took the man out into the vineyard, where they again found yeast. Then he took the man to a spot miles from any kind of fruit production whatsoever.  Once more, they found yeast.  Perelli-Minetti told the government man, “You people find a place where there is no yeast, and I’ll go there and build a new plant.”—and kept producing his concentrate.


Do yeasts affect the flavor of wine?  Absolutely!  For most of my winemaking career I was taught that the main reason we inoculated with domestic strains of yeast was because wild yeast can give an off-flavor to the wine.  This may be true in some cases, but the opposite is also true.  In 2006 I was making wine for Wm. Harrison winery and we decided to make Pinot Noir.  Since most of the winery’s grapes are estate-grown Bordeaux varietals, we had to buy the grapes, which we got from a vineyard on the Sonoma Coast.  We ended up with three fermenting bins (enough for 150 cases) and I decided to experiment.  Using dry ice, we did a 5-day cold soak (this was cool—the dry ice creates fog, which covers the fermenting must and made punching down seem like something out of a vampire movie), and then I inoculated one bin with yeast and let the other two bins ferment from wild yeast.  The inoculated bin was my security blanket.  I fully expected the bins fermented with wild yeast to have some off and undesirable flavors.


I was wrong.  The two bins that were fermented from wild yeast were amazing and far, far better than the bin I had inoculated.


Live and learn.


Chance Meetings And Other Stuff...

Posted by bruce-bradley on January 20, 2014 at 9:40 AM Comments comments (2)

It was a Tuesday in December and I was sitting in the saloon  at Jack London Lodge, in Glen Ellen, having an Irish coffee.  At the end of the bar and adjacent to me was a Hispanic gentleman in his early fifties, eating his lunch.  At the moment we seemed to be the only people at the bar except for Leann, the bartender.  I was there to meet Jeff Hansen, owner and Grand Fromage (no, really, it says that on his business card) of Lula Cellars, in Philo, CA, for what used to be our annual pilgrimage to Jack London’s ranch.  I say “used to be”—back when we both lived in the Napa Valley and Jeff was owner/winemaker of Amici Cellars, and I was winemaker for William Harrison Winery and we came here every year.  It had been a couple of years since we had made the trip; Jeff now lives in Mendocino and I live in Grass Valley.  Curiously, Glen Ellen is almost an equal distance from both of those two towns. Our plan was to meet at the lodge, get our rooms, then head up to the London ranch to pay our respects to Jack. I arrived first, got settled into my room, then headed straight for the bar.  Jeff called and said he was about twenty minutes out.  In days past, we would always drive over together, go straight to the ranch and then fall back to the Lodge for a couple of burgers, beers, and a shot or two of good whiskey.  We always did this in December and, on our last two visits, we were there when the crew brought in the Christmas Tree.  This time, the Tree was already up and gloriously decorated.

The Hispanic gentleman was finishing up his lunch.  I asked him how his burger was and he said it was excellent.  When I happened to mention that I was meeting a buddy and that we were headed up to the London Ranch for the afternoon, he looked at me.

“The Ranch is closed today,” he told me.

“You’re kidding me.”

“No, the Ranch is closed.”

Having just driven roughly one-hundred-thirty miles to get there, I was definitely bummed, but my disappointment didn’t last long.  As it turned out, the man I was talking to (and the only other person at the bar) was named Chuy and he was the vineyard manager for London Ranch.  When I told him I was a former winemaker and that Jeff had his own vineyards and winery, he offered to take us up and give us a private tour of the vineyard, which he most graciously did.  Then he left and we had the ranch to ourselves for the afternoon. Couldn’t have planned that one better if we tried. 

One of the last times that we were at the ranch, prior to this visit, was just after they opened up Jack’s house to the public.  This isn’t the “House of Happy Walls” where the visitor center is, but the house Jack actually lived in and ultimately, died in.  We were in Jack’s office, looking down at his study, with his books, his two desks, his Smoky Bear hat and an old gramophone that was complete with the old wax rolls that they used to record on.  Jeff looked at me.

“I wonder if they have his voice,” he said.

A short while later we were back at the visitor center.  I approached the docent and told her we had noticed the wax rolls, and that my friend was wondering if they had recordings of Jack’s voice.

“You know, I really don’t know…” she told me.

Fast forward to one year later.  I was meeting Jeff for breakfast at Café Sarafornia, in Calistoga.  Once again, I was there first, so I picked up a copy of the Press Democrat to read while I waited.  There, right on the front page, was a story about how they had taken Jack London’s voice off the wax rolls from his gramophone at the ranch.

Later, when I got back to my house, I called the visitor center at London Ranch and asked if we could listen to Jack’s voice if we came over.  The man who answered said no, the rolls were still at UC Berkeley, but they should have his voice recordings there soon.  When I told him about us asking about the wax rolls the year before he said:

“Oh—you’re the guys!”

Go figure…

Check out Lula Cellars for some great Mendocino County wines!



Posted by bruce-bradley on July 5, 2013 at 10:15 AM Comments comments (0)

First Posted In June of 2012


For many years, during my winemaking career, I was a purist.  Like many people I believed that wine that was 100% of a certain varietal was superior to wines that had to have (key phrase—had to have) other wines blended in.  In the 1990’s I worked as Assistant Winemaker, then Winemaker for Mario Perelli-Minetti.  Mario didn’t own his own vineyards, but I always felt that was an advantage.  It allowed me to go out and contract for the best fruit the Napa Valley had to offer, which was saying something.  It takes good fruit to make good wine.


Mario Perelli-Minetti was born in his father’s vineyard in Healdsburg, Ca. in March of 1909.  He was famous for a number of things:  He was an impeccable dresser; he was youthful—still personally delivering cases of wine well into his nineties, and he made an exceptional (if under-appreciated)100% Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Because we bought our grapes, we were able to procure some of the best fruit the valley had to offer, and we managed not to screw it up.  In the words of Mario’s famed father,Antonio Perelli-Minetti, who was considered to be the Dean of California Winemakers at the time of his death, in 1976:


“Great wine is made in the vineyard.”


Unfortunately, Mario always under valued his own wine.  In the mid-1990’s, when wines of comparable value were selling for $60 - $100.00 per bottle, Mario sold his wine for $12.00.  Public perception was that it was a cheap wine.  Among those who were in the know, however, Mario had his own cult following.


As for myself, I was sold on the idea of 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.  I’d spent twenty years working with and making Cabs and, in my opinion, nothing could be better than taking the best of the best of all the grapes and keeping it pure.  To me, anything less would be tantamount to say, taking Prime Rib and somehow combining it with Chuck Roast.  It made no sense to me to cheapen or lessen a Cabernet Sauvignon by blending it with another type of varietal. 


That opinion was about to change.


Over much of the past decade I worked as Winemaker for William Harrison Winery.  While there I worked very closely with fellow winemaker/consultant Phillip Titus (Titus and Chappellet wineries).  Now, when you’re paying a consultant, it’s a good idea to listen to what they have to offer, otherwise your money is wasted.  And Phillip is famous for blending. At Wm. Harrison we conducted hundreds of blending trials and blind tastings.  I can honestly say that not once in all those tastings did the control wine (which was 100% Cabernet Sauvignon) come in first.  It’s amazing, but 5%  of Malbec or 10% Petit Verdot or Merlot blended in will change the complexity of the wine and ultimately, improve the flavor and the aroma, and sometimes the color as well.  It happened each and every time. Again, these were blind tastings, usually with 4-6 tasters inattendance.


Sooo, there you have it. It’s all about the quality of the wine, folks.  If you want to get the best out of your grapes, you need to blend!


Call me a convert.