Stemware: Spend Your Money on Good Wine, Not Crystal

The wine industry is ridiculous. There are thousands of articles out there about how wine should be less intimidating and more open to enthusiastic beginners. Then the same people who write this tell you why you should be drinking Pinot out of a Burgundy glass, never a Bordeaux glass. Don’t put your Champagne in a flute, it should be in a white wine glass! Well, you know what? It’s all so silly and annoying, that it makes you want to just drink straight from the bottle. All these “traditions” need to be re-evaluated and then let’s get rid of the dumb ones.  Life is complicated enough, let’s make it so you can enjoy what’s in your glass, not just the glass.


Life is complicated enough, let’s make it so you can enjoy what’s in your glass, not just the glass.


I won’t delve too deeply into the sensory science of why certain bowl shapes are better for different varieties or styles.  Riedel from Austria believes you should have a different glass for each wine you drink.  Well, they clearly have a profit motive to sell you more wine glasses!  Don’t trust them.  Pick a glass or two that you like, and relax.  After all, this whole wine thing is supposed to be about enjoyment, right?


The only rule I have: don’t wash your wine glasses at the end of the night.


Broken down into your budget level, here are a few suggestions.  Oh, and the only rule I have, is don’t wash your wine glasses at the end of the night.  I promise you, you’ll break far fewer if you wash them the next morning.  Just pour a little water in the bowl and sleep tight.  Trust me on this.


Here are a few suggestions:


Still paying off my college loans…

Ok, honestly, your best bet is to go to the thrift store.  You will find tons of wine glasses, “Hey here’s one from the Catalina Wine Mixer!” but rarely two alike.  Who cares?  This way you won’t feel bad when you break them, and your friend won’t keep taking your glass by mistake.  Another great option, if you're close to a wine country, is collecting glasses from tasting rooms.

If you’re a little more Type A, or just like matching sets of things, take a look at these:

Ikea’s Hederlig, or the Ivrig if you like to BBQ or camp.  No stems means less wine spilled.  If you’re going for durability, check out these stainless ones.

A nice set of all-around glasses are the Crate and Barrel Nattie series.  I like the red wine ones most.

If you like to have parties, consider getting some small bistro-style glasses like the Marta from CB2.  They will work for big groups, wash up easily and are cheap.  You don’t get quite the aromatics out of them, but they’re nice and thin which feels nice, though they are more fragile.

How am I ever going to pay for my kids’ college…

So, you now realize the plumber gets paid better than you.  I often wish I had just become a plumber, then I could have had a really cool Mercedes Sprinter van, and…  Anyway, back to stemware.  The above glasses will do you just fine, but maybe you drink more Cava these days?  Or, you know you like having a smaller glass for white wine.  Cool, check below for some options.

I like drinking Champagne or any bubbly from coupes.  No, the bubbles don’t last as long as they do in flutes.  But, sometimes a little style is nice.  Plus, when you get into making cocktails, you already have the perfect glass for that Sidecar.

These from CB2 are a nice white wine glass, but work great for reds as well.  If you love Pinot noir, like me, I recommend a nice big glass for those delicate wines.  By no means necessary, but a nice treat. These Burgundy glasses from Schott Zwiesel are strong and reasonably priced.

I fully contribute to my Roth IRA every year…

Maybe you have some old wines that need to decanted off the dregs?  Remember your poor grades in chemistry class with this Erlenmeyer flask.  Bistro style carafe.  Or, if you want something a bit classier, this one might be for you.  Decanters are great for your youngest wines too!  The aeration really helps open them up.

Hope that wasn’t information overload.  Basically, drink out of a glass you like- be it vintage from the charity shop, or a brand new Zalto, if that’s your thing.  

Drought and Winemaking

So, it's been hot.  Hot and dry. Hot and humid.  Hot.  It seems like winter is a forgotten dream of sometime in one's past when one actually wore pants and sweaters and, oh, jackets! I remember those!  Southern California has been in drought for over four years, and the last two calendar years have been the hottest on record.  Climate change is here, and its consequences will have drastic effects on how to make wine under this new dynamic.

Wine has a love affair with water.  Most vineyards in California thrive only because of irrigation.  All wineries use copious amounts of water to clean what is a sticky, messy process of getting grapes to give up their goodness.  With a decreased amount of rainfall, snowpack and available aquifers in the future, the battle between agriculture and urban/suburban areas for water will get worse.  This is not an if, but a when.  Since most people are pretty clueless as to where their food comes from, they don't understand that to grow food you need water, lots of water.  Most berries and veggies are literally tiny packets of sugar-water encased in cellulose and fibers.  Now, other industries use ridiculous amounts of water, including power plants- If you want to use less water, unplug your TV.  Regardless, farmland is being encroached upon at a steadily, increasing pace, so to be good neighbors, farmers and vineyard owners need to lower their water usage. Like ripping out your front lawn, it's a sign that you are, at the least, aware of the problem.

In places with a long history of grape-growing for wine, there is a consistent theme: the rich, fertile soils of the valley floors were reserved for food production and the poorer soils or rocky slopes above were left for the vines.  Not only is this a wise use of available space, but vines make better wine in places where vigor doesn't run rampant.  If you look at Burgundy you will see this model in action for the last millennium.  Burgundy, though, is not much like California.  It has a Continental climate and abundant rainfall scattered throughout the year.  Our Mediterranean-like climate has mild temps year-round and rain almost entirely in the winter months.  We face a different set of challenges.

Dry Farming, what is this?  Well, like it sounds, certain crops may produce their bounty without additional irrigation.  Oftentimes, the berries themselves are smaller, with more color and flavor concentration, but a smaller crop overall.  Variation from year-to-year is accentuated and there is no insurance available from having drip or flood irrigation.  There are many factors to consider and one needs to plan on dry-farming at establishment of the vineyard, not later.  Winegrapes for the most part are grown on American rootstocks, with a Eurasian scion grafted to the top.  This protects the vine from native pests and diseases while still making use of the varieties of grapes that have proven to make the best wines.  Rootstocks are varied and each has its own inherent vigor, and strengths and weaknesses.  Rootstocks for dry-farming, in general, are more vigorous with deeper root systems, able to look for subterranean water.  Common rootstocks for Pinot Noir suitable for dry-farming would be 110R, 1103P, 140Ru and even St. George, good old Vitis rupestris.  Of course, rootstock selection is quite subjective and depends on the site and preferred methods of cultivation.  Is one going to rely upon a cover crop to control vigor and stabilize the soil?  What's the planting density going to be?  Organic farming or conventional?

The main reason why people don't dry-farm is economics.  One's crop size can go way up or down depending on the amount and timing of rainfall.  Some vineyards that don't use irrigation cropped at around 0.3-0.5 tons per acre this year, well below the 2-4 tons per acre that irrigated vineyards received.  This is difficult to swallow when one just spent $25-$40k an acre establishing a vineyard after purchasing the land.  Wine would have to be proportionally much more expensive to take this sort of hit, year after year.  Basically, the way it's set up now, water is cheap.  Too cheap and relatively abundant to force growers into more efficient methods.

Wineries themselves use tremendous amounts of water cleaning the facility, much, much less than breweries, but still lots of water.  Most managers have out-dated and lazy views on cleaning protocols and are unwilling to spend money to improve the facility and make water usage reduced.  You will still see many people hosing down concrete pads rather than getting a broom out.  Again, water is too cheap.  Make it expensive and then all the CFOs will start buying brooms and checking the production team on water usage.

To conclude, dry-farming will become more commonplace as aquifers go dry, like many have in the Central Valley and in Paso Robles.  Water will become more expensive to buy and then, and only then, will the majority of people start to care about conservation.  Vineyards in Southern California will have a harder time adapting to new climate conditions, as average rainfall is less and getting smaller with the passing years.  New technologies will help save water, but really it's taking the small steps now and planning for a drier, hotter future.  Grab your broom and let's get started cleaning up this mess.