Varietal or Variety? July 13, 2016 15:26

Varietal or Variety?

Talking wine. Here is some insight into wine terminology of VARIETY and VARIETAL.  These words sound close and are often incorrectly used.

  • Definition of Variety is a kind of grape. Syrah, Viognier, Grenache, Cinsaut.  So grapes growing here in Owl Hill Vineyard are of the SYRAH VARIETY.
  •  Definition of Varietal is a WINE named after a grape variety. The wine I make from the syrah variety and label Syrah is a SYRAH VARIETAL.

You see many varietal wines. Even ones I don’t make like Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay.... By law these wines must be 75% of the grape variety stated on the label. My Varietals are 100% of the grape variety stated on the label.

Say “varietal” when you are referring to a wine.

Say “variety” when you a referring to a kind of grape.

Summer Time and a Shipping Moratorium June 18, 2016 11:23

Shipping Wine in Summer. Why a Summer Ground Shipping Moratorium? Update 5/26/18

Ground shipping across the country takes a 3-7 days in transit. This is too long a time for wine to be exposed to the elements during summer. The moratorium is during hot temperature months of roughly May to October, depending what part of the country.

To CA, OR, WA coastal areas it is possible to ship overnight during cool spells in summer by Golden State Overnight (GSO). Because of moderate temperature and  less time in transit. 

If you are outside of CA, WA and OR you should order online now for fall shipment. This guarantees you access to wines that may become sold out. Your selection is reserved for you and stored in a cool place until shipment is safe on fall.

Option: To have wine shipped now the new option to the moratorium is "Summer Solution". With this program 1-12 bottles will be shipped UPS overnight with ice packs for only $85 all inclusive.

The Story

Now until fall summer heat is a problem for wine sitting in a truck for days. Prolonged exposure to high temperatures can damage wine. Therefore until cool weather returns I hold and store wine orders that will require more than a few days of transit time.

Wine is a real living thing and is delicate. Think about this when you transport wine yourself anywhere this summer. Take care to insulate bottles. Don't leave it in a hot car. Ideally carry your wine in a cooler just like you would for potato salad.

Most my shipments are packed in insulating styrofoam, a good way to protect wine from the elements. (See past Blog Post - Packaging for Wine Shipping. What is the best?)

Bloom May 19, 2016 10:00

BLOOM is a major event in the vineyards. It is happening now.

 Grape berries begin as tiny buds.

When all goes well the buds bloom into small unimpressive flowers. If you get close to a vine in full bloom you will detect a delightful subtle aroma. The flower self pollinates and you get a small green grape about this size  

Bloom is an important vineyard event because it creates the entire crop for the vintage. Thus some lore has developed around this event. Like -

Stay out of the vineyard during bloom.

Do not talk loudly around blooming vines.

Hope for dry weather during bloom because rain can wash pollen away.


Perfect “set” is when you get a full complete cluster of berries.

 But in some vintages you get “shatter”.

Grape shatter is when buds don’t pollinate evenly or when the small green grape falls off the cluster. Heavy rain, extreme temperatures, timing and unknown things can cause shatter. After shatter you end up with less berries in a cluster and a smaller crop.

  When all goes well. Three months later. Plump clusters ready to harvest.

Cinsaut is Back April 12, 2016 10:34

Cinsaut is no longer sold out.  Here is a story about this wine.

Cinsaut has been in California for centuries known by a synonym Black Malvoisie. It was blended but probably never used as a stand alone varietal. This is not unique to Cinsaut, because varietal wines were uncommon before the 1970’s.  Most varieties were blended.

My grapes grow on 60 year old head pruned vines (no trellis) in a 2 acre Dry Creek Valley vineyard. Without irrigation the vigorous tendency of the vine is natural subdued. Clusters have juicy, distinctively oval berries that are dusty purple color. These gnarly old vines represent classic California grape growing at its best.

Total Cinsaut plantings in Sonoma County is 7 acres compared to 11,490 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon.

  Lovely Cinsaut cluster.

The wine is pleasing. I say "wonderful". It approaches you with lush fruit aromas and a sip brings on complexity of more red fruit flavors. Soft restrained tannins lead to a long soft finish with a little nutmeg spice. Its character allows you to pair the wine with a wide range of foods, from vegetarian to fish to steak.

Pair with: roast turkey, summer fruit salad, cambozola cheese, pasta primavera, BBQ chicken, eggplant parmigiano, hummus, halibut, squab, quail, guinea fowl, duck comfit, margarita pizza

I have been making single vineyard varietal cinsaut for 24 years so it is an old friend.  Every vintage has been consistently spectacular because the grape has flavors and balance and that are compatible with my traditional hand winemaking practices.

 Cinsaut Spelling Story

You may see the grape name most commonly spelled two different ways; Cinsaut and Cinsault. Labels for my first bottling were rejected because of the Cinsault spelling. I was lucky and got a one-time dispensation, but told not to use this spelling again.

I now use the spelling "cinsaut" based on requirements of TTB the federal agency that governs wine in the USA. Every wine label in the country must be approved and certified by this agency.

TTB has a comprehensive list of allowed grape variety spelling. This is the section of that list that includes cinsaut. 

No matter what the spelling this grape makes a marvelous wine.

Owl Hill Vineyard March 1, 2016 08:53

Owl Hill Vineyard. One of my unique estate vineyards.

The soil here is made with Dry Creek Conglomerate. Millions of years ago a volcanic eruption created flow of clay, gravel and rocks that moved across Dry Creek Valley like a wide deep river. The flow stopped and left 40 feet of this mixture that has broken down into the soil here.. The rock and gravel controls the natural tendency of grapevines to produce too much fruit.

 A variety of exposures make micro climates that create complexity. Here on Owl Hill there is a blend of hot south facing hillside and cooler north sided hillside. This gives the grapes a mix of rich ripe grape flavors and complex acidity.

Vines love a view. I do so I assume they do too.

The varieties that excel here are Counoise, Grenache Blanc, Mourvedre and Syrah.

Counoise                  Grenache Blanc                       Mourvèdre                               Syrah

Four varietals grown on Owl Hill are now available as a Special 4pack Sampler in the Club Colllection until March 7.                 

Topping Oak Barrels February 24, 2016 08:04

Fill a barrel to the rim. You come back 3 weeks later and the wine level has gone down an inch below the rim. 


A barrel does not stay full naturally. A barrel looses wine naturally. A little wine disappears every day. So an important ongoing cellar job is "topping" or refilling barrels back to the top. The goal is keep the barrel completely full so the wine is not exposed to excessive oxygen.

Where does all that wine go? The fanciful (and best) answer is the wine disappears because it is drunk by angels,  the "Angels Share".  Another answer: Barrels are oak. Oak has very fine pores, small enough not to leak. Porous enough to allow invisible evaporation.

Barrels are the best vessel for maturing wine because of this subtle movement though the wood. Some liquid leaves which concentrates flavors and a small amount of oxygen enters softening the tannins.

  This barrel has just been topped.

Verticals February 1, 2016 10:00

A vertical is a group of the same wine from from consecutive vintages. An example of a vertical is 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 vintages of Syrah from the same winery & vineyard.

Many folks like aged wine, but some folks don't like aged wine. A good way to find out is to experience a vertical to see how a specific wine changes with time in the bottle.

Having a vertical is fun and interesting. When you taste through a vertical you discover both vintage differences and effects of age. If you are able, treat yourself to a vertical.

Verticals are rare. It requires forethought and many years to accumulate a batch of wines that qualify for a vertical. I am so fascinated with verticals that I try to share wines selected form my library with my club members though special offers. 

My proudest vertical is the mega Cinsaut vertical featured in the Frick List Wine Club this month. Just seeing and reading the labels represents an amazing history.


Pruning January 26, 2016 17:53

Precise pruning is absolutely necessary in order to grow quality wines. To have a good harvest in September now is the time to set it up.  Pruning is the most delightful of winter jobs. I love pruning because it focuses your attention to look and feel the vine and to make your cuts the best possible. This is all you think about.  Pruning is a meditation. Time passes quickly without regard for anything else but the vine.


  These vines are dormant. Most of that growth from last year needs to be cut away leaving the perfect number of  buds to grow in spring. Leave to many buds and the crop is bad, take away to many buds and there will be very few grapes to harvest.

.   The cut.  

    The final two buds on a spur

  The tool.

  Most pruned canes are chopped and mulched into the soil. Some are saved for their buds to be used for grafting. A few bunches are stored by the grill for summer barbecues. In July it is delightful to enjoy a glass of cool counoise with juicy chicken grilled over counoise wood.

Steely Images. Pictorial. A beautiful thing at Frick Winery December 15, 2015 19:03

Here are pictures of my tools. It is great working with these things. Please take a look.

                                                        press basket


grape hopper screw                                                       barrel washer


stemmer cowling                                                       reducer


screen                                                                    stemmer screw


stemmer cage                                                              tank outlet


sight glass                                                               fitting clamp


tank valve                                                                   punch



One of the reasons I love winemaking is the tools of the trade.                                             

Packaging for Wine Shipping. What is the best? November 30, 2015 17:23

For shipping wine you start with a cardboard box that has inserts to protect bottles from breaking.

The three main options for the insert packaging are:

  1. Folded cardboard shapes to hold and cushion a bottle
  2. Paper pulp to cradle and insulate a bottle
  3. Styrofoam to cradle and insulate a bottle

For years I used the lay down paper pulp option because I hate styrofoam.  Cardboard shapes offered zero insulation.  Pulp served as a good padding material, but I questioned its level of insulation.

The reason I hate styofoam is that the environment is a big issue for me. Recently because of serious concerns with protecting wine shipments from temperature extremes I started using styrofoam (only during temperature extremes) thinking this offered the best for insulation. This was just an educated guess that styrofoam was best and I needed to verify this.

I set up a test. Paper pulp vs. styrofoam shippers. 

Styrofoam and paper pulp packages side by side.

I enclosed max/min thermometers inside each shipper type and set the shippers outside to expose them to night temperatures that dipped well below freezing.

Readings indicated that temperature inside the styrofoam shipper was significantly more stable and actually never went below freezing. Not so with the paper pulp.

Conclusion is that styofoam does offer superior insulation from temperature extremes both cold and heat. But I use it sparingly only when faced with the most extreme temperatures. Otherwise I prefer to use paper pulp padded layers. For the best conditions see P.S. below 

P.S. I choose the appropriate shipper based on temperature. My usual package is paper pulp. Even better, within California I am often able to ship full case orders in regular wine cases because temperatures are moderate and transit time it short

See my special Rhone style wines HERE 

This insert notice is for shipments requiring extra protection using styrofoam.:
ABOUT THIS WINE SHIPPER I hate Styrofoam. So only after much consideration & testing did I settle on this package.The environment and convenience are important issues for me. But my ultimate concern is the protection of your wine during transit.
The value of styrofoam is that it offers the very best insulation and padding of shipping materials available. My goal is for your precious, delicate wine to arrive in great shape by being shielded from the elements and breakage to the greatest degree possible. Cheers to taking care of good wine. Bill Frick



What's the Deal with One Cent Shipping November 22, 2015 12:00

California ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control) prohibits giving gifts and giving away anything for free. Free shipping violates this regulation.

Fall at Frick November 12, 2015 14:46

Bright sunny days and cold nights bring on the bright colors of this season.

Frick Estate Owl Hill Vineyard.