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When grape growers search the skies with apprehension, it isn’t always about the weather. They may be scouring the horizon with a wary eye out for birds. Entire harvests have been decimated by massive flocks of fruit-eating avians.

Aggressive eaters, they prefer grapes that have reached about 15% sugar. The fruit may be perfect for birds but not yet mature enough to make wine. So the fruit must remain on the vine a bit longer, until it reaches at least 21% sugar.

The time gap equals about three weeks — twenty-one days of feasting for such birds as the European Starling, the most prevalent vine vulture in our West Coast wine country. (A nasty bird with obnoxious habits, it is known for stealing the nests and discarding the eggs and young of other birds, including song birds.)

In some vineyards, netting the vines meets with some success. But some birds, Mockingbirds especially, seem to find a way under the nets, which spells doom for that portion of the grape crop. The nets are also easily damaged (needing replacement or repair) by birds that become entangled, and by the tendrils of the vines that weave into the netting.

Shiny objects that move in the wind and are noisy are a deterrent, but most birds are smart enough to realize at some point they pose no threat. Sporadic sprays of water and even loud speakers have met limited success against attacks by Mockingbirds, Bluebirds, Waxwings, Catbirds, Tanagers, Grossbeaks, Finches, Robins, Towhees, and Woodpeckers.

At the very least, the birds owe grape growers some entertainment in lieu of the damages. This happens when our feathered friends feast on fermented fruit, and literally slur their songs! It’s true!!

In findings recently published by PLOS ONE, captive finches were offered spiked juice (i.e.: fermented grapes) to help researchers learn more about human speech. Birds songs and human speech rely on the same genes, enabling both humans and birds to communicate.

With blood alcohol levels of about .08 percent, the finches were clearly under the influence, and obviously unable to enunciate. Zebra finch songs have specific syllables with acoustic structure. In some instances, the buzzed birds slurred, sang more quietly and forgot the pattern structures – but not always. Researchers believe this means not all parts of the brain are affected by alcohol in the same way. The research will continue. Growers think the birds owe them more than a few laughs.

CHÂTEAU GRIVIÉRE — MÉDOC CRU BOURGEOIS  (Vintage 2011, Red) Country: France  Region: Médoc in Bordeaux  Grapes: Merlot & Cabernet Sauvignon 

The Médoc, a well-known wine region of Bordeaux, is on the left bank of the Gironde River, north of the city of Bordeaux. The region is home to approximately 1,500 vineyards. Though the geography is not ideal for grape growing, it is generally believed that the soil is responsible for the wines of outstanding quality. Although the terrain is flat, it has excellent gravel drainage, allowing heat to be retained, which encourages fruit ripening and extensive root systems to flourish. The Château Griviére Estate has a long history dating back to the 17th century. It was owned for many years by the Château Lafite-Rothschild, who completely restructured the vineyards in the 1980’s. Today the Charloux family owns it, and they continue to make changes and upgrades.

Grown on vines that average 30 years of age in vineyards approximately 90 acres in size, the selection from Château Griviére is made of 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. The Estate follows sustainable agricultural practices, elimination of excess buds and leaf thinning in growing the fruit needed to make this beautiful deep ruby red wine.

It is delicate but has definite aromas of red plum and cherry, paired with a soft palate typical of a Médoc in a good year. It possesses gentle, well-integrated, satin smooth tannins. This wine of harmony and balance is ready to enjoy now, or may be carefully cellared for up to five more years. Decant and allow the wine to breathe before serving at room temperature with grilled lamb chops, prime roast beef, steaks, game or pasta.

Château Griviére Médoc:

MERLOT GRAPES — Producing wines soft in fruit, grand in color, and rich in flavor, Merlot grapes are invaluable in fruity lusciousness and velvet quality.  Merlot grapes are key to wines that are fresh flavored and vibrant. France is home to some of the finest Merlot grapes grown worldwide.

CABERNET SAUVIGNON — Widely planted, this is a prolific grower, small, dark, thick skinned and late-maturing. Makes tannic wines with black currant/cassis aroma and flavor.

TABLE LANDS — PINOT GRIS, SINGLE VINEYARD (Vintage 2013, White) Country: New Zealand  Region: Marlborough  Grape: Pinot Gris

An extremely diverse wine-growing nation, New Zealand has a long history of producing wine beginning in the 1830’s. Most regions are defined as Maritime. New Zealand is known to be one of the “greenest” wine producing nations on earth – with 94% of her wine being certified sustainable in 2013. There is a strong focus there on organic and Biodynamic farming. The region of Marlborough is New Zealand’s flagship wine region, putting the country front and center on the international wine stage.

Sourced from a single vineyard in the Awatere Valley, the Pinot Gris, the lone ingredient in this month’s selection from New Zealand, comes from one of Marlborough’s pioneer growers. Handled gently at all stages of production, the wine was lightly fined, stabilized, filtered and bottled — a pale gold with green tints in the bottle and glass.

This 100% Pinot Gris wine has a delightful nose with aromas of pears and honey. A touch of sweetness leads to a rich, smooth mouthfeel to the wine that combines with a balanced acidity and a lovely finish. Enjoy it tonight, chilled, as an aperitif or with canapés, grilled shell fish, fish stews, grilled trout, and broiled lobster tails.

Table Lands Pinot Gris, Single Vineyard:

PINOT GRIS GRAPES — Also identified with the names Pinot Grigio and Rulander, this white grape with a hint of lavender is capable of producing rich, complex wines of superior quality. Its spiciness is seldom encountered in other varieties. This grape is responsible for many grand flavored, sweet fortified wines produced throughout the world with hues from white to slightly pink in color. The skin of this grape is more hued than most other whites, but be assured the grape is a true white, in spite of fruit colors that range from yellowish to bluish-violet. It originated in France as a mutation of Pinot Noir.

MÜENZENRIEDER — GRUNER VELTLINER NEUSIEDLERSEE  (2013, White) Country: Austria  Region: Burgenland  Grape: Gruner Veltliner

The Neusiedlersee is a wine-growing area situated on the eastern shores of Lake Neusiedl, a large, shallow lake. Here the vineyard stretches from the town of Gols in the north down to the Seewinkel area, adjacent to the Hungarian border. The Müenzenrieder Estate is located in the town of Apetlon in the Seewinkel National Park. It consists of roughly 57 acres which spans two vineyards. Through natural cultivation methods, rigorous harvest scrutiny, and controlled cellar operations, winegrowers Johann and Johannes Müenzenrieder produce potent wines marked with regional characteristics and tremendous intensity. The lake itself, as well as the numerous small marshes of the area serve as heat reservoirs, providing ample amounts of air moisture. This, coupled with the special microclimate of the sundrenched Seewinkel area, is responsible for producing fresh white wines full of fruit and dense, robust reds.This wine selection is 100% Gruner Veltliner, a natural offsrping of the Traminer and St. Georgen varieties. Pale straw in color, the nose is distinctive and inviting. Aromas of black pepper combine with gooseberries and baked apples. Medium bodied, it has a well-balanced acidity with loads of fruit in the finish.

Enjoy it right now, as this wine will not benefit from further bottle aging. Serve chilled with appetizers, sauteéd lake perch, veal cutlets, roasted chicken or light meat dishes of any variety you choose.

GRUNER VELTLINER GRAPES — This white grape variety is the most important wine grape in Austria, and accounts for about one-third of Austria’s total viticultural area. It produces fresh, well-balanced wines with a light, fruity and sometimes slightly spicy flavor. Grown in some areas, there is a distinctly penetrating pepperiness to the Gruner Veltliner fruit. Other areas lend their own distinctiveness. This offering from Burgenland offers a hint of that pepperiness and shines with fruit.

LA PUERTA — MALBEC (Vintage 2014, Red) Country: Argentina  Region: Famatina Valley  Grape: Malbec

Famatina Valley enjoys an ideal microclimate for grapevine cultivation; hot and dry summer days and cool nights combine with the clean air and desert-like topography of the valley to ensure outstanding ripening conditions for grapes. Rain is scarce (4-8 inches annually), requiring irrigation from 200 meter-deep wells. The south-north orientation of the Andes mountains provide both adequate sunlight exposure and protection from adverse weather.

The Valle de la Puerta Vineyard, established in 1994, consists of 10,000 acres, with 370 under vine. Situated between two mountain ranges which branch off the Andes, the unique valley offers well-drained topsoil as well as magnificent views. The winery was built in 2002, and is one of the most modern and technologically advanced wineries of its type in Argentina.

The recipe is simple – 100% Malbec – but the care of the vines, the fruit and the resulting brilliant and intense red wine is anything but simple. Violet highlights dance in your glass as aromas of ripe red fruit and violets greet your nose. It has smooth tannins and tasty flavors of ripened plums and cherries. This well-balanced Estate Bottled wine with a long and persistent finish is ready to be enjoyed now. Serve at room temperature with grilled meats, roasts, and medium cheeses.

La Puerta Malbec:

MALBEC — This red-fruit grape is traditionally used for both color and significant tannin. Notably grown in Mediterranean regions, it has a thick skin rich in color pigments. Small amounts of Malbec are traditionally used to color correct and balance the acidity of blended and assemblage wines. Outstanding as a stand-alone wine.

FINCA EL MONEGRILLO — NOVIEMBRE, V.C.P.R.D. MANCHUELA (Vintage 2007, Red)  Country: Spain  Region: Castile-La Mancha  Grapes: Shiraz & Cabernet Sauvignon

Manchuela is a lesser-known Spanish wine appellation in the Castile-La Mancha region. There growers find long, hot, dry summers and cold winters, influenced by the nocturnal, moisture-bearing winds from the eastern Mediterranean, helping keep annual temperatures down to 25°C. In winter there is rarely frost. Humidity is low with virtually no rainfall between May and September.

Finca (Estate) El Monegrillo consists of 1500 acres, 270 of which are vineyards. This Noviembre selection is made of 60% Shiraz from their El Hocinillo Alto Vineyard blended with 40% Cabernet Sauvignon from vines of their Cerro de las Liebres vineyard. In true Old World fashion, the fermented, stemmed, whole-bunch grapes are foot-trodden in small wooden vats repeated over a period of several days before being transferred to barrels for further aging.

Dark cherry with violet tones, the resulting wine is elegant and expressive with complex flavors and aromas of ripe, rich red fruit, supported by soft and polished tannins. Hints of spice and black liquorice culminate in an elegant and persistent finish. Enjoy this authentic wine now, at room temperature, with grilled lamb chops, prime rib roast, steaks and aged cheese.

Finca El Monegrillo Noviembre: CABERNET SAUVIGNON — See above description.

SHIRAZ/SYRAH — Winemakers have discovered the versatility of this beefy black grape, used in blends and in solo recipes. Vines are found in Spain and Australia, where it’s called Shiraz, and in Argentina and South Africa where it’s called Syrah. Shiraz wines are full-bodied, long-lived and fruit filled with some of the most intense, distinct flavors and aromas of any red, including those of peppers, berries, currants and even chocolate.

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Tracie Burket
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