News and Notes from the World of Wine


No one has ever accused California winemakers of being a dour bunch. In fact, it's just the opposite, and their collective joviality has been reflected over the years in a number of clever wine names and all sorts of idiosyncratic label art and slogans.

Frog's Leap in the Napa Valley coined the phrase "Time is Fun When You're Having Flies," while Randall Grahm and Mat Garretson (of Paso Robles) have frequently chosen names for their wines based on literary or esoteric influences from outside the wine world, like Grahm's Le Cigare Volant Rhône-style red and Garretson's Glimigrim Syrah (from Gulliver's Travels).

ek Valley in Sonoma County, it has been Doug Nalle who has been carrying the torch for quirky label backers everywhere. For the past 15 years, Nalle has teamed up with Bob Johnson, the crown prince of wine industry cartoons, to come up with witty and wacky labels to adorn his Zinfandel bottles. The 15 vintage-specific works entail "zinfully" poignant and humorous takes on just about everything—all including deft references to wine (Nalle Zin, of course).

For example, the sketch for the 1998 label (pictured above) proclaims "Four Out of Five Fruit Flies Surveyed Prefer Nalle Zin." An earlier label drawing portrays a patient in a hospital hooked up to an intravenous drip of Nalle Zin. The saying? "Zintensive Care." Yet another depicts a rhinoceros with a pair of blackbirds and a bottle of Nalle Zin on his broad shoulders. The caption: "Zin-Biotic Relationship."
To celebrate a decade and a half of commitment to the bizarre, Nalle recently hosted a vertical tasting of all of his Zins going back to 1984, with Johnson's illustrations framed and displayed. All the guests received a poster designed by Johnson that shows all 15 works. Johnson says brainstorming for the topics usually occurred during trips he and Nalle took together to see San Francisco Giants baseball games at the old Candlestick Park.

Nalle, a reserved, low-profile veteran of the Sonoma wine scene who is committed to low production and high quality, says the idea to adorn his labels with a little something different stems from his early years growing up, when his older brother would make homemade wine and then write "wine makes you smart" on the sticker/ label. The work with Johnson has been geared toward stripping pretentiousness from wine. "With Bob, what started out as a professional relationship has developed into a very good friendship and an understanding of the nuances of the infield fly rule," he says.

A limited number of the posters are available free by calling the winery in Healdsburg, California. —Michael Schachner

Wine To Trade On Paris Bourse

Bored with trading agricultural futures in pigs, soybeans and corn? The Paris Bourse plans to launch a futures market for unreleased wines by the end of the year.

The premier Bordeaux chateaus—such as Lafite-Rothschild, Haut-Brion and Cheval Blanc—will likely be the first properties to place their wines on this new futures market, though the door is being left wide open for the trading of futures on lesser wines, including bulk wines, and wines from other regions of France and even other countries. Details are yet to be determined, but the market will be called, in English, Winefex, or the Winery Futures Exchange.

Since wine is one of France's biggest agricultural products, there is no lack of possibilities for this market. Paris Bourse officials say that whatever shape the wine futures market ultimately takes, it will not be merged into the more traditional agricultural commodities exchange.

Though early in the game, there appears to be interest among the Bordeaux chateaus, which already sell their wines as futures. Vintages will be sold in 32-month contracts, from March of the harvest year through to release of the wine. Thus, in the event of a catastrophe, the chateaus will still get their money. But if a certain year turns into a great vintage, holders of the futures contracts will be able to profit by selling either the contracts or the actual wine at a premium. The contracts for the top wines will be insured by a second level of wine to cover any losses.

Unlike a commodities exchange where contracts and not soybeans end up in the hands of the trader, these wines—at prices that the promoters hope will rise through the length of the contract—can potentially end up in the cellar of the contract holder.
—Roger Voss






Mike and Kendall Officer, owners of Carlisle Winery and Vineyards in Santa Rosa, California, know what they like to drink: "I have a fruit-driven palate," says Mike, "wines with a focus on fruit. We probably drink Shiraz five out of seven nights a week." And their preferences are amply reflected in Carlisle's debut-vintage wines, whose full bodies and rich textures bring Barossa Valley Shiraz to mind.

Despite the couple's love for Shiraz, they've concentrated on Zinfandel for their first commercial releases. "Our old-vine Zin is somewhat equivalent to old-vine Shiraz in Australia," asserts Mike. "And there's romance associated with old vines. That's really what we're about." This love and respect for established old-vine vineyards has resulted in Carlisle's releasing of five separate bottlings, all under 250 cases, from the 1998 vintage, including three separate Zinfandels: Sonoma County ($23, 180 cases; a blend of several old-vine parcels), Russian River Valley ($29, 110 cases; from vines planted in 1926), and Dry Creek Valley ($29, 232 cases; from vines planted in 1889).

"I thought about blending them together, but when I tried it the net result was inferior; the wines really lost their individuality, and we want the wines to reflect where they come from," says Mike. Even smaller quantities were made of a Dry Creek Valley Petite Sirah from vines planted in 1889 ($20, 73 cases) and a Russian River field blend called Two Acres ($36, 78 cases). "We think the vineyard was planted around 1910. I just stumbled across it when out cycling one day, and talked to the owner. A while later I got a call asking if I'd like to take over the vineyard management."

Officer immediately accepted, despite not knowing what grape varieties were planted. "It was pretty overgrown. We pulled out 40 or 50 small trees, brush, blackberries, and lots of poison oak. We started work in the fall after the leaves had dropped so it was hard to avoid—I was on prednisone a few times," he admits ruefully.

Once the two-acre property was cleaned up, the Officers went through the entire site, color-coding and labeling the intermingled vines by variety, though some cuttings had to be sent to U.C. Davis for identification. The results? Mostly Mourvèdre, with smaller amounts of Petite Sirah, Valdepeñas, Refosco, and Alicante Bouschet. Having the vines coded meant the Officers could identify and harvest each variety at optimum ripeness, and their care has been reciprocated in the Two Acres table wine, which successfully synthesizes complexity and grace with heft. Despite weighing in at more than 15 percent alcohol, there's not a hint of heat to be found.

Mike, a software engineer, caught the winemaking bug 12 years ago when he made five gallons of Alexander Valley Zin from purchased grapes. Before long it was a barrel in a corner of the garage, then five, then ten. "I'm just a grape junkie," he says. "You need to get bigger to have more options."

While Carlisle, which carries the name of Kendall's family, is still practically microscopic by commercial standards (670 cases in 1999), total production will near 2,000 cases by the 2001 vintage. The increase will be driven by fruit from a roughly 10-acre Russian River Valley Zinfandel vineyard the Officers purchased in 1998. Old-vine Zin fanatics now know it as the source for De Loach's Pelletti Ranch bottling, but our bet is that before long it will be famous as the Officer Family Vineyard. —Joe Czerwinski

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