Some of you may wonder what is so exciting about a label being approved or even why a label would have to be approved at all? It’s just a wine bottle label right?

Well, think again. Our good old uncle Sam, or The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, aka TTB,  wants to make sure we say the ‘right’ things on our wine label:  for example, that we state the correct appellation, or where most of the grapes in the bottle came from; that if we say the bottle contains Pinot Noir, then most of the wine in the bottle is Pinot Noir; that if we say it is a 2008 vintage, it is mostly 2008.  And that is just the beginning.

As many bloggers have documented before me, this is a real fun process, not!

We have to state the correct alcohol level. Now, as far as I can tell, this is very important to the ‘Man’ from a taxation perspective. Wines above 14% alcohol are taxed at a much higher rate than ones below.   A lot of the rules have their roots in Prohibition.

We need to have the usual disclaimer on the back about birth defects and your ability to drive a car or operate machinery.

Then there are layout rules for some labels.  Here is a doozy straight from the TTB web site:

“When using a varietal/two or more grape varietals as the type designation, the varietals [and their percentages] must be in at least 2 mm print and appear separate and apart or more conspicuous than surrounding text.  If the mandatory information appears surrounded by other text, it must be in bold print or at least twice the size of the surrounding text.” All good stuff in the name of consumer protection.

And then there are things we can’t say.  You can’t make mention of any kind of the potential health benefits of drinking a glass or two of red wine.  Nope!  Not allowed.  Never mind that for millenniums civilized people around the world have been raising a glass and toasting Salut! or Sante! or Le-Chaim! to your health.

We may have to wait another hundred years to be able to make those claims. In the mean time, we are just glad we got our labels approved.


Last night I watched a 60 minutes story about scientists that managed to put Resveratrol in a pill.  

My first thought was, this is great! Another story about the benefits of drinking red wine.  I recalled that a 60 minutes show 17 years ago titled The French Paradox, set off a steady upward trend in wine consumption, I thought, this must be a good story for wineries.

The French Paradox, the apparent French health, longevity and lower rate of heart diseases, despite a diet reach in butter and meat, was attributed to regular consumption of red wine.  One particular ingredient in red wine, Resveratrol, was identified as the magic ingredient.  The race was on to put it in the al- American convenient package, the pill.

Now the scientists would have you believe that you would need to drink thousands of bottles of wine a DAY, to match the benefits of one pill. Hmmm, I wonder how the French manage that?

Of course, any reminder that wine consumption, in moderation, is good for you, is a good thing. I’ll take that. Especially since the government makes you put the opposite claim on a label.

I do have a little problem with a pill, though. 😉

One can’t swirl and sniff a pill, you can not enjoy a pill’s aroma, flavors, body and mouth feel, nor can you admire it’s legs as it goes down and settles at the bottom of a glass after each sip. A pill, can’t make you appreciate the company of others as well as a good glass of wine can. Well at least not that pill, unless there are other ‘active ingredients’

So, take your wine in a Pill if you think it may make you live longer, however, wine in a glass will make you live happier!



Boy, was Christmas a bonanza when it comes to books! I have been reading non-stop thanks to my in-laws, Kathryn and the Berkeley Public Library.  (By the way, re: Kathryn’s and my friendly disagreement, I agreed to only purchase books I consider as reference books, or a classic must haves, and use the library for the rest.)

The books I read over ‘winter break’: 

The Billionaire’s Vinegar, by Benjamin Wallace, thank you Eric Cohen ( for the recommendation.  I could not put it down, gone in 72 hours.   The book traces some of Bordeaux’s Chateau Lafite bottles that were supposedly owned by Thomas Jefferson and were sold at record prices at auctions and privately.  It has everything–mystery, international intrigue, and obscenely rich people paying obscene amounts of money for very old wine.  There are elaborate wine auctions, multi-day wine tasting, gourmet dining extravaganzas with all the big names in the wine world–critics, writers, collectors and winemakers.  The amount of detail is mind boggling.

Red White and Drunk All Over, by Nathalie MacClean.  Loved it. The woman loves wine and it shows.  I mean, not just the whole lifestyle nonsense with the semi-euphoric fruit bowl descriptions you get from some wine writers.  She is funny too.  Check out her instructions on how to properly open up a bottle of  Champagne.  And her lovely recounting of her experiences in Burgundy, starting with a Domaine De La Romanee Conti private tasting; thru her experiences as a sommelier and finally to a ‘damn the torpedoes’ dinner with Jay McInerney.  Reading this book is like listening to a good friend telling entertaining stories.   Part way through the book I had a nagging suspicion that Ms MacClean has been snooping around my house. How else could I explain that I have just about every book she mentions?  I can almost understand the references to several of the wine books I own and Kermit Lynch etc. etc., but, when she mentioned the Long Tail by Chris Anderson,  I knew something was up! Fess up Nat!

The Emperor of Wine , by Elin Mccoy ,a fascinating tale of how an unknown lawyer from  Monkton, Maryland, Robert M. Parker Jr., became the most influential wine critic in the world.  Creating an almost religious following, he changed the way wine is made and eventually created what appears to be a backlash movement (see The Battle for Wine and Love)  against his preference for big, fruit forward, high alcohol wines. Very detailed and thorough writing by McCoy who used to be  Mr. Parker’s editor  at Food & Wine magazine and hence had unprecedented access to him. Regardless of which side of the Parker debate you fall, this book is a must read.

The Battle for Wine and Love, or How I Saved the World From Parkerization, by Alice Feiring; I had high hopes as I walked down to Kermit Lynch and bought the book (I missed the book signing in August, darn!)  While a good read, I came away slightly wanting.  Given the ambitious title, I was hoping for some convincing arguments to be made.  Instead, most points came down to a difference in taste preferences. Based on the title, I had hopes that Ms. Feiring would use the opportunity to make a good case against the homogenization of the wines currently underway, in her opinion, to impress the mighty palette of Mr. Parker.  I was hoping she would make a logical and convincing case against the creation of McWines and in support of diversity of wine styles.  She didn’t in my book.  For me, the book was also too diluted by anecdotal stories of her love life. Maybe that was the point of her approach, that wine is like love—you may encounter many disappointments before finding your one true love.  Not sure.  But it seems the search is still on for someone to save the world from “Parkerization.” 








From time to time, I like to observe other people’s method of wine tasting.

Most practice the age old ritual of see, smell, taste, spit, or, the more American way:  see, smell, taste and swallow.  I started writing this post and then saw that The Wine Tasting Guy has a good post on the Ritual. I think this method works for many wines that are consumed young. Depending on the situation and the wine at hand, though, I may change the order.  I don’t mean spit first. Then what order, you ask? A very old bottle or a delicate varietal may not give you very long to smell the aromas, so I do that right away. For the most part, the color is not going to change very quickly during the tasting, especially for old bottles, so no need to waste precious time and inspect the wine immediately.  But, the bouquet of an old Pinot Noir can be fleeting and change from one moment to the next. One of the biggest pleasures I derive from wine smelling is observing the changing aromas throughout the course of the bottle. Changing taste and body, or mouth feel, comes next and color last. Try tracking these changes once and you will see what I mean.

One last smelling exercise. Kathryn makes fun of me when I do it, but then I caught her doing it herself once (she tells me it was only to make me laugh).  Vacu Vine wine pump

A Vacuvin is (picture at right) a pump device used to create a vacuum in a partially field bottle of wine in order to eliminate oxygen contact.

When we end up with a partial bottle, I pump it until I feel the vacuum pressure build up, indicating all the air is out. At that point I quickly lift it to my nose and then push on the pump handle to release the trapped wine aroma straight into my nose. An Aroma Bomb! The small pleasures of life.

Maybe you’d rather just be pressing with your friends.  I just came across this fabulous photo of our great friend Ann embracing the wine she makes with us–literally.  She and several other friends are partnering with us on our 2008 Las Brisas Pinot Noir.  I hope she doesn’t mind if I put a photo of it here.  

Many of us feel very affectionate  toward  wine at some point or another. But imagine for a moment how you might feel about a wine you had handcrafted yourself AND you really enjoy drinking.  Ann epitomizes our feelings here:   

that's amore

that's amore

No time to explain why the wine is in such a container, my point is that it is so rewarding to make wine and it is even more so to do it with friends.  

zap, paul and mark pressing; uzi tasting

zap, paul and mark pressing; uzi tasting

‘Tis the season to appreciate great friends.