In 2005, Rudy von Strasser, owner/winemaker of Napa Valley’s von Strasser Winery took an enological leap-of-faith and pioneered the planting of the famous Austrian white-wine grape called Grüner Veltliner in California. Although his customers immediately raved about the quality of this new wine, Rudy wanted to see how it ranked against the top wines of Austria. So last year, he sent a sample to the prestigious AWC Vienna wine tasting (which bills itself as the largest official wine competition in the world), and won a silver medal. Not content with merely good, this year Rudy sent his newest 2010 vintage to this Austrian blind tasting: the result was a GOLD MEDAL.
Owner/Winemaker Rudy von Strasser is a first generation American citizen; his mother is from Hungary and his father is an Austria. He studied winemaking at UC Davis, and after an internship at Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Rudy worked as Enologist at Napa Valley’s Trefethen Family Vineyards for two years, and as Assistant Winemaker at Newton Vineyard for three years. In 1990 Rudy and his wife Rita started their eponymous winery in Napa Valley’s Diamond Mountain District, and quickly became famous for their age-worthy single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons.
In 2005 Rudy identified a small one-acre section of his Estate vineyard which he felt would be ideal for experimenting with the Austrian white grape. His total yield is extremely small; roughly 250 cases per year. Other than a few selected restaurants and retail locations, the wine is sold only at the winery. For further information, call 707-942-0930.
We’ve all been there. We save that one special bottle for the right time. The time comes; we dust off the bottle and pop the cork. We lift our treasured glass to inhale that luscious aroma and that’s when it all goes wrong. The wine smells like you just washed your dog or opened a can of old mushrooms. The wine has been spoiled by, what most call, cork taint. While most of us can detect it, do we really know what it is? That’s what we are here to learn.
The cause of that smell is a compound call 2,4,6-trichloroanisole or TCA. This forms when chlorophenols are turned into chloroanisole by either Aspergillus or Pennicillim. The chlorophenols (which are pollutants) come from a number of sources. It can come from the pesticides and wood preservatives used on the cork trees. It can also be from the bleaching process that corks go through. Both of these root causes of TCA are declining trends, as they can ruin the corks, and cork manufactures are becoming more environmentally friendly. The compound is formed in the air by the tiny fungi particles. The TCA will then stick to the cork bark. Since the cork is a semipermeable material, the TCA will work its way through the cork, and when the bark is turned into a wine cork, the TCA will work its way into the wine.
When the TCA hits the wine, it goes on to suppress all those flavors and aromas that we love. Yet there is not a lot in there. The human nose an detect it at 20 parts per trillion – or, the equivalent of one drop of water diluted into 20 Olympic-size swimming pools.
The corks that von Strasser uses as closures for our wine bottles come from the natural bark of a cork oak tree (Quercus Suber) grown in Portugal. The bark of these mature trees is harvested approximately once every ten years, after which the bark sheets are punched with specialized machinery, creating the a raw cork cylinder.
In Portugal, the raw corks are then sorted with state-of-the-art digital cameras according to quality and size, and put into bales of 10,000 corks each. There the entire bale is tested for TCA using an extremely high-tech gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS). The stoppers are then washed in an automated washing process which includes the use of hydrogen peroxide, dried with sterilized air, and then sorted again by manual selection to refine quality. Before the corks are counted into bags of 5,000 for shipment to California, another test using GC/MS is done on 40% of all cork bales.
When von Strasser Winery purchases corks for its bottles, it takes quality control even one step further by doing a sensory evaluation (cork soaking trial) of any bale it purchases. To do this trial, our importer chooses 10 bales for every five the winery will purchase, and from these bales he picks 15 random cork samples. These samples are soaked for 12 hours in an Erlenmeyer flask which contains 5 corks and 100 mls of wine. After this soaking, the wine is poured into a wine glass and Rudy smells each glass looking for the cleanest aromas. Only after a bale passes this last ‘human’ test will we deem it acceptable for our Diamond Mountain District wines.
While the industry standard for ‘corked’ bottles of wine used to be 3-4% percent about 20 years ago, with today’s advanced testing methods, it has decreased to about 0.7-1%. With Rudy’s additional time and attention to testing his corks, we consistently come in under industry standard.So if you’re aging your von Strasser bottles, we hope you enjoy the fruits of Rudy’s labor – not simply with his work with producing the highest quality wine, but in taking care of the bottling materials to perfectly preserve your treasure!
The only thing more satisfying than the beginning of harvest would have to be the end of harvest! As I pick my final load of grapes, I can now stop worrying about all of the potential dangers: rain, frost, birds, heat. All of the labors of the entire year are now safely inside the winery doors.
I believe that 2008 will be a very special vintage, known for its exceptionally small crop of exceptionally high quality fruit.
Why such a small crop? The year started out with a very deep, prolonged frost in late April through early May. That frost nipped off the shoots that had already started growing: shoots that contained the premature clusters which were destined to be our 2008 crop. Then to make matters worse, the vines had to navigate a vintage characterized by a third year of drought (low rainfall) and a severe heat wave in early August.
Although some Napa Valley vineyards came ripe during that early August heat wave, most of our Diamond Mountain vineyards were able to keep their sugars down until this heat passed. What came next was an unprecedented mild mid to late-summer. The majority of our grapes ripened slowly and methodically during this period, and we were able to spread out the harvest and pick each block at perfect flavor and tannin ripeness.
Although the vintage was sparse with quantity (we were down 35%), it was ultimately generous with quality. The tiny berries of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Merlot and Malbec had an unusual depth of concentration and flavors, and will in all probability be a vintage we will revere for many years to come.
We will not be tasting these wines with the public until January 2010, however, the 2006 is open right now in the tasting room, and from January 2009 through May 2009, we will be tasting the 2007 vintage from barrels. Both of these are classic vintages as well, and I would like to invite you to the winery to try these wines.