• South Africa: Country of Cool

    By Tamra Bolton

    One of the most exciting things about a trip overseas is getting to explore and investigate the different animal and plant life.  Knowing some of the trees, flowers, birds and mammals you might encounter only enriches your total travel experience.  While I was searching for things to see and do in South Africa, I discovered some amazing things I didn’t know and I definitely don’t want to miss.

    The Cape Floral Region in South Africa is one of eight World Heritage Sites located in the country and it boasts spectacular mountain scenery and jaw-dropping ocean views.  It also contains some of the richest plant biodiversity in the world. Table Mountain National Park alone has more plant species than the whole British Isles or even New Zealand, which was a big surprise.

    Another surprise for me was finding that Cape Town ranks #2 in the world for best beaches, according to the National Geographic Travel Magazine.  Cape Town was only edged out Barcelona, Spain’s eight gorgeous white sand beaches!

    Not only is South Africa blessed with breath-taking scenery and beautiful beaches, but it is one of the top birding destinations in the world.  The Cape of Good Hope National Park is an excellent viewing area.  You have the opportunity to see many of the 850 species that have been recorded in the region, if you time your visit with the annual migrations. November is one of the best times to see the most bird species and the breeding numbers are at their peak during November through March.  Cape Town has the best wader bird watching in the country.  Around fifty of the bird species recorded in South Africa are native to the area and found nowhere else in the world.

    Cape Town has earned the nickname “Capital of Cool”, but I think the entire country of South Africa, with its biodiversity and element of adventure deserves the title “Country of Cool”.  I can’t wait to visit!

  • Bud Break in the Vineyard

    Bud break is underway in the vineyards of California, Oregon and Washington.  In the vineyard bud break signals the beginning of another vintage.  A time where vineyard workers return to the long days of toiling and tending the vines, that will eventually translate into the bottle of wine to be enjoyed and savored.  Bud break begins in California’s vineyards in March.  In Oregon vineyards this process begins in March and is complete by early April.  Washington vineyards see bud break beginning around mid-April.  Bud break depends on many different factors like, amounts of rainfall during the winter, age of the vine, the micro-climate of each vineyard, the elevation of the vineyard, the variety of grape planted and many other factors.

    West Coast vintners have their vineyards perfectly pruned and tied, ready for the warmth of Spring to bring forth new growth and signal the beginning of a new vintage.  The tiny dormant buds along the fruiting cane begin to swell from the exchange of the vines last bit of stored carbohydrates. Now ready to push the new leaves from swollen bud and break free with these new leaves to start photosynthesis. Vineyards can see this change happen quickly.  Vines can see growth of 2 – 3 inches in a day depending on how warm it gets.

    Some of the most beautiful times in the vineyard can be found in an early Spring morning as the sun cascades light that glimmers off the morning dew that covers the new leaves that have sprung.We raise our glass and say cheers to the vintners!

    Written By: Scott Krauger

  • Dreams of Africa

    By Tamra Bolton

    Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve dreamed of visiting Africa.  Watching Marlin Perkins on Wild Kingdom every week only fueled my desire to see herds of elephants, wildebeests and zebras thundering across the African plains.  Now that I’m older…I still love to dream about watching brilliant sunsets through the flap of a canvas tent and going to sleep listening to the distinctive night sounds of an African night.

    Recently, I discovered the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve near Cape Town, South Africa…it fit the bill for my safari adventure. The Reserve is perfect for experiencing the thrill of the Big Five of Africa – lions, elephants, rhinoceros, Cape buffalo and leopards.  It also has plenty of other wildlife to enjoy and offers some of the best lighting a photographer could hope for. My experience in volunteering with archaeology also makes me excited to see the Khoisan tribes’ ancient rock drawings in the isolated and stark Karoo ravine.   I was delighted to find out that I didn’t have to suffer discomfort just because of the isolated area; the beautiful Dwyka Tented Lodges provide all the amenities you could hope for in the middle of the African landscape.  The camp itself is a treat for the eyes…the tents are arranged in a horseshoe and when lighted at night, they resemble an ancient camp of the Khosian that once roamed the area.  The atmosphere is enhanced by the dramatic rock formations that envelop the camp. When I imagine this trip, I can see myself…just like I did years ago…leaning out of the canvas flap, taking in the velvety night sky dotted with brilliant diamonds of light and smiling as I hear the roar of a real African lion.  This is a trip of a lifetime…maybe you would like to come along?

     Dwyka Tented Lodges DWYKA TENTED LODGES
    Cape Town South Africa is the Best Bottle Destination of the Month. Check the itinerary at:http://www.winebestbottle.com/best-bottle-experiences-cape-town-south-africa-winelands-safari

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  • Terroir

    By Tamra Bolton

    Whenever you are around a group of wine enthusiasts, the term “terroir” eventually comes up in the conversation. What exactly is terroir?  It is a loosely translated French term meaning “sense of place” and the effect it has on wine.  The soil, atmosphere, environment, sunlight and rain patterns, etc. all affect the way a wine will taste.  The same vine, grown in several different locations will have its own unique characteristics and flavors, based on the terroir.  This is true of just about any crop, even onions. Those grown in one part of our state taste sweet and mild, while the same onion grown in another area will make you wince and weep.  All crops, whether they are grapes, corn, oranges, etc. are affected by the soil, weather and location, but wine growers seem to take the term more seriously.

    Many times the comparison of “old world” (European) wines and “new world” (everything else!) wines is when the term terroir enters the conversation.  Most old world vineyards are relatively small when compared to new world vineyards, so the terroir is more easily compared in the old world wines, than in the new world wines.  For example, the region of Bordeaux in France is about 250 square miles and has about 6 different soil types, so the variations in the wine produced is small compared to the Barossa Valley in Australia that encompasses only a little over 100 square miles, but has about 30 different soil types!

    So, whether you feel that terroir is important enough to consider when making your wine choices…the main thing is to choose a wine you enjoy. Try different wines from a particular region and develop your palate. Broaden your knowledge of wines in general.  Being well-versed in “wine language” is not really necessary to enjoy the experience, but it can make you feel a part of the conversation when these terms are introduced.   Cheers!

  • Deep in the Heart of Texas

    By Tamra Bolton

    Texas is a long drive from Oregon.  I know…I’ve made the trip, more than once.  They are two very different places, but they have one thing in common…outstanding vineyards and amazing stories!  Over the last several weeks, I’ve taken you on a tour of the awesome wineries that surround the Portland area.  They are known for their Pinot Noir…some of the best in the world.  Texans (I can say this because I am one!) like to think they have the biggest and best of everything…which in many cases is true, but I’ve got to hand the Pinot Noir prize to Oregon winemakers.  We do have some bragging rights though…Texas is the home of some of the first vineyards established in North America.  Vine cuttings were brought here by Franciscan priests back around 1662 and although the early ones are all gone, some of those first vineyards were probably not too far from where I live now.  I’m just down the road from the El Camino Real or the King’s Highway, otherwise known as the Old San Antonio Road.  Missions were settled all along this road into the wilderness that would one day become Texas.  The early settlers also found our native wild grapes, the muscadine, could produce an acceptable wine with a distinctive taste.  Today, many of the winemakers along the Piney Woods Wine Trail make use of these abundant and easily grown grapes.  If you ever taste muscadine wine, you will never forget the bouquet of this unusual variety and its lingering sweetness on your tongue.

    Today, Texas has over 4,000 acres planted in several varieties of grapes with eight recognized American Viticulture Areas. We are also America’s No. 5 grape and wine producer, according to Texas Wine Industry and contribute almost $2 billion to the state’s economy.  Amazing when you consider that most of this growth has happened in the last ten years!  We will probably  never produce a top quality Pinot Noir like Oregon, but we have some pretty good table wines and some unique specialties like jalapeno pepper, peach, blackberry, and tomato to name a few.  We Texans like to have fun, especially with our food and drink, so we’re always trying something new.  Our motto is, if we can’t be the best at something…at least we can be the weirdest!

    Try something new this week…wine should be fun!

  • It’s All Farming…

    By Tamra Bolton

    Growing up in rural East Texas around farmers and farming, I learned a great deal about living close to the land and respecting the mercurial nature of the weather.  When my Dad was growing up here in the 1920’s and 30’s, this area had a reputation for growing tomatoes, peaches and grapes.  While we still grow a lot of tomatoes and peaches, the vineyards are rapidly gaining predominance in the local market.  Every year, more and more acreage is dedicated to viticulture in Texas and this trend is happening all over the United States.

    Vineyards are often regarded as a separate crop…a cultured crop, if you will.  People tend to think of them as “a step above regular farming” and in some ways, I guess that is true.  But, all farming deals with tilling the soil, producing a crop and handling the process of harvesting and marketing.  The length of time it takes to produce a crop and the special knowledge required by vineyard owners is very similar to the orchard owners in Wisconsin, the organic farmers in Florida and the wheat farmers in Kansas…they all have an intimate knowledge of their particular crop and its needs.  What makes the vineyard owner/operators different is the process of follow through in the product and marketing.  When the wheat or corn farmer harvests his crop, it’s sold and forgotten; all that’s left to remind him if it was a good or bad year are the numbers in his bank account.  That’s where the vintner is different – he’s invested in a much lengthier outcome.  He oversees the harvest, then the processing, the minute details of making a unique and desirable product, one that might take years to accomplish.

    Growing wine grapes and producing excellent wine is an art really, one that takes time to perfect.  It’s not a mysterious unknown art, but a hands-on; get your clothes dirty kind of process, one that is learned through patience and perseverance.

    Whether the farmer grows grapes, apples, corn or cranberries, it’s all farming and everyone depends on the same unpredictable forces of nature, making them all part of a unique brotherhood…the tillers and caretakers of the earth and her bounty.  Living and working close to the soil teaches you to appreciate the gifts Mother Nature offers and to respect those things beyond your control.  This week, take time to thank a farmer.  Remember their hard work and sacrifice the next time you buy food or your favorite bottle of wine.  Without the farms and the dedication of farmers, we could not survive.

  • Autumn In The Air

    By; Tamra Bolton

     

     

    Since Chaucer first used the word in 1374 A.D., people have been referring to this “in between” time of year as autumn.  Derived from the Latin word autumnus or auctumnus, autumn is often used interchangeably with the word fall.  This word came into common usage around 1545 A.D. and means “the fall of the leaf”.  This is the only season with two names…and it is my favorite.  I love everything about fall…the changing colors of the foliage, the smell of damp forest floor covered in leaves, the first fire in the fireplace,  bright pumpkins and gourds of all shapes and sizes and the feelings of warm nostalgia that wrap around me like my favorite flannel shirt.

    For wine lovers, the season brings with it the culmination of a yearlong anticipation…the grape harvest. In the Northern Hemisphere where we live, the wine harvest traditionally begins in late summer and runs through the fall, depending on what type of grape is being harvested and the location of the vineyard.  My favorite merlot grapes are harvested around mid-September to mid-October, while my second favorite, cabernet sauvignon grapes, are generally harvested from the first of October through the first of November.  Of course, the exact timing changes from year to year depending on the weather.  Temperature and rainfall affect the sweetness of the grapes and it is up to the vineyard managers to decide when the optimum time to harvest begins.

     

     

    Autumn is a wonderful time to get outdoors and experience wineries at the height of their annual activity.  Picking, sorting, crushing and tasting the freshly harvested grapes is one of the most exciting times for vineyards everywhere.  So this season, celebrate the changes, the cooler weather and the beginning of the new vintage of 2015.

    Cheers!

  • Summertime Conversation

    Tamra Bolton

    As we approach mid-summer and we inevitably begin to hear conversation around the campfire turn toward getting the kids back to school and falling back into a routine, sometimes the carefree spirit starts to sag a bit.  Just the mention of school obligations, extra work loads, endless carpools and sporting events seems to dampen even the most enthusiastic partier.  Here is where this little list I’ve complied might come in handy…something to help change the subject to a lighter note and steer the conversation in a new direction.  After all, we’ve got to make the most of these wonderful days of summer…

    Next time the conversation lags, try one of these:

    Plato believed that once a man reached forty years of age, he may drink as much wine as he wants to cure the “crabbedness of old age”.

    Red wine represents 55% of restaurant wine sales.  (Hmmm….)

    The first known illustration of wine drinking is found on a 5,000 year old Sumerian panel known as the Standard of Ur.

    The most expensive wine heist ever committed was carried out over a four year period, when a swindler, George Osumi gradually swapped over one thousand bottles of fine Bordeaux and replaced them with “Two Buck Chuck” wine, a label sold at retailer Trader Joe’s for two dollars a bottle.  Estimated value of stolen wine was one thousand dollars a bottle or three million dollars total!

    Women tend to be better wine tasters than men because they have a better sense of smell.  (Only employ this one if you want some heated debate!)

    In the whole text of the Old Testament, the book of Jonah is the only one without any reference to grape vines or to wine.

    California is the fourth largest wine producer in the world, after France, Italy and Spain.

    One ton of grapes make about sixty cases of wine or about 720 bottles.   One bottle of wine contains about 2.8 pounds of grapes.

    Red Burgundy is made from the Pinot Noir grape and is so difficult to make that winemakers all over the world see it as some kind of “Holy Grail”.

    The world’s oldest bottle of wine dates back to A.D. 325 and was found near Speyer, Germany inside one of two Roman sarcophagi.  It is on display at the town’s museum.

    Oenophobia is an intense fear or hatred of wine.

    Hope these help liven up your next party and make you look like a real wine expert!  One thing I know for sure, I will never suffer from oenophobia!   Have fun!

  • Thoughts of Napa Valley

    by Tamra Bolton

     

    Beginning with wild grapes, the Napa Valley has always had a penchant for growing the flavorful fruit, even before George Calvert Yount homesteaded there in the 1830’s.  He was the first to plant Napa Valley grapes and was soon followed by pioneers John Patchett and Hamilton Walker Crabbe.

    Although Napa’s first commercial winery was not established until 1861, this verdant area of California was already known for the successful cultivation of the vitis vinifera grapes.

    In the eight years from 1861 to 1869, more than 140 wineries sprung up across the region.

     

     

    The beginning of the 20th century was not kind to Napa Valley.  Due to the surplus of grapes, the prices fell drastically and many vintners were put out of business.  Then, the arrival of the destructive root louse, phylloxera, dealt a decimating blow to more than 80% of Napa Valley’s vineyard acreage.  All of this, on top of Prohibition, enacted in 1920, left the Valley’s wine industry in shambles.

    Then, in 1933, with the repeal of Prohibition, Napa’s vineyards and the wine industry began the slow process of recovery.  Napa Valley may not have produced any California gold, but the riches of the vineyards have proved to be much longer lasting and a renewable resource. Several winemakers and their vineyards are legendary:  John Daniel, Jr. with Inglenook, Louis M. Martini, the Mondavi family and Georges de Latour of Beaulieu Vineyards.  And, who can forget the lasting contributions of the revered Beaulieu Vineyard wine genius Andre Tchelischeff?

    From a coalition of only seven vintners in 1944, Napa Valley today boasts more than 525 wineries.  Today, winemakers are calling the 2015 grape harvest one for the history books.  As one of the earliest harvests ever, 2015 grapes are being lauded as “high quality with intense concentration of flavors”.  In spite of the yields being far lower than expected, the promise of an excellent vintage for 2015 makes the low yields frustrating, but bearable.

     

     

    After the summer of wildfires, many people were concerned whether the grape harvest would be affected by the smoke.  However, Napa Valley, with its prevailing southwestern winds, managed to escape the smoke for the most part.  Sadly, other regions were not so fortunate.

    Today, the “luck or blessing or good fortune”, whatever you want to call it, seems to still be hovering over this fertile region called Napa Valley.  With its rich history and storybook setting, Napa remains one of the top destinations for wine lovers everywhere.

    Plan a visit soon!

  • Fire on the Mountain!

    by Tamra Botlon

    Reading reports this year of the wildfires across the Western U.S. is sobering.  Millions of acres scorched, homes and livelihoods destroyed, brave firefighters giving their lives in the line of duty…coupled with the on-going drought, it is enough to weary the staunchest optimist.

    Not only are beautiful forests and countryside being decimated, but California’s farmers are struggling to keep their crop loss to a minimum.  Of course, I am especially interested in the grape crop, since California grows the majority of the USA’s grapes and California produces ninety percent of our American made wines.  Not only are the California vineyards suffering from the raging wildfires and smoke, but they have the extra hardship of the four year drought, heat and water restrictions.

    Heat and drought are two subjects I am very familiar with since our part of Texas suffers regularly with both.  Right now, it’s drier than the Sahara here, not a drop of rain since June and the heat index has hovered around 105-110 degrees for over three weeks straight.  August has not been kind to either Texas or California.

    This deadly combination of weather and wildfire has many winemakers and consumers a little nervous about the 2015 California crop.  According to the Napa Valley Vinters (the trade organization of wine makers), “there are no reports of vineyards being damaged by the wildfires, and most of the time, the smoke has been blowing away from Napa County.”  While this is reassuring in a way, it still doesn’t address the larger question of reduced yield, how much the heat will affect the sugar content in the grapes and if the dense smoke will alter the taste of the wines made at the vineyards close to the wildfires.  The smoke has been so thick and widespread at times; vineyard owners in Oregon and Washington are concerned about damage.

    Wine-Grapes.jpg

    Red grapes are the primary concern, since their skins are included in the wine-making process.   They are most vulnerable to the smoke’s effects during the next few weeks, when the grapes begin to soften, right before harvest.  This season is about three weeks early, making the smoke an even bigger concern.

    The Australian Department of Agriculture and Food said in one report that “smoke can cause aromas and flavors resembling smoked meat, disinfectant, leather, salami and ashtrays.”   Yikes!

    Let’s hope the California grapes have a different fate.

    Many people are predicting a rise in prices since production may be lower over the next few years because of the drought’s long range effects on the vines.  Keith Wallace, a wine expert, recommends buying good vintages while they are still around because “the quality may be dropping some”. ( If the smoke predictions come true, this will definitely affect the quality, quantity and the prices.)

    While stocking up on your favorites is always a good idea, I believe we should especially support our USA wine producers during this tough time.  While I love a good Argentine Malbec or Italian Nebbiolo, the next few years, I plan to stock my wine cabinet a little heavy on the California labels.

    It always feels good to support our American farmers, especially when they produce such an enjoyable product.  Let’s raise a glass to California wine makers and growers and the 2015 harvest!

    Cheers!

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