Sunday, May 19, 2013

Aglianico or Ugly Hanako? Help Us Name That Wine.

2009 Aglianico wine. Label from
a 2001 portrait.
The grape is called Aglianico and it's originally from Italy where it's a noble grape and you can find Aglianico wines on wine lists at Italian restaurants in and around New York City that typically sell for $75 or more. We planted Aglianico vines in our vineyard when we couldn't get Nebbiolo the king of Italian grapes.  Sam from Nova Vines (the vine nursery that supplied our certified vines) recommended it and we had tasted Aglianico from Baja Mexico which was good so we said why not.  It's not something that everybody grows and there's nothing wrong with having a niche when it comes to marketing. The Aglianico grape produces a very deep dark rich purple juice, one of the thickest, purplest, chewiest wines you'll every see, at least as it grows in our vineyard in San Diego County. Sam at Nova Vines had it on a moderate root stock that would in theory control vigor because the soil where we were planting it looked pretty fertile and we wanted to slow down the vine's growth. It turned out the soil was not that fertile; it was sandy decomposed granite without clay and water doesn't hold and since the root stock is not aggressive the Aglianico vines have not matured fast.  On the other hand the Aglianico block at the top of the hill is the most tame part of our vineyard and we like the vines which is more than I can say about some of the Tempranillo vines planted over the leach field which are growing out of control into a jungle.

Because it would be several years before our vines (planted in 2007) matured, in the year of our Lord 2009 we decided to purchase Aglianico grapes from Guadeloupe Valley in Baja Mexico because the wine we had tasted from that region was pretty good and this would allow us to begin producing and marketing Aglianico wine. When the grapes arrived I tasted them and detected salt and we discovered I was a super taster for salt. To me, the grapes from the git-go were salty and the wine was salty and I never liked the wine and we contemplated throwing it out but one day at a wine tasting I had it out there and Coyote Karen tried it and said "this is the best wine you ever made" and she said it was "very earthy" and I learned that day she likes earthy wines. I had given a couple of bottles to my ex-boss John from my daytime job who had opened one when a company president he's consulting was dining at his house and I got a phone call from the CEO who said he wanted to order a couple of cases immediately over the phone and he gave me his credit card.

This is proof that what I like is not necessarily what you like when it comes to wine and that's a good thing because instead of dumping this wine we've been selling it and people who like "earthy wines" love it.

The Princess in May, 2013.
The TTB gave us trouble when we tried to design a label for this wine. We wanted to call it 2009 Aglianico but they wouldn't let us call it that because the grapes came from Mexico.  So, we added the appellation Guadeloupe Valley to the label and that wasn't approved. Getting desperate for a label that the Obama Administration would permit I submitted a design for "Ugly Hanako" that was approved. Before there was a TV show called "Ugly Betty" there was an Ugly Hanako and we must now tell you that our daughter, aka the Princess of this blog, is named Hanako which is the most popular girl's name in Japan and means "beautiful flower child."  The vineyardista my wife decided early on to put the princess in charge of the Aglianico vines and she quickly called those vines "uglyhanako" which rhymes with "Aglianico" and reminds us of the frown she made every time we asked her to help us in the vineyard. To make the label, I took a snapshot of a portrait done of the Princess when we were in Paris in 2001 which is the time she had her first flower and was becoming a woman and the artist drew her how she would look when she was 21 although she was only 11 at the time.

How does she feel about having her picture on a wine label called "Ugly Hanako?"  I'll let her answer that. But as there was no harm meant and we know she is a beautiful person we as the parents see no harm and it's worth a good laugh and she's a good sport and seemed to enjoy pouring the Ugly Hanako in the tasting room when she came back from Africa and even autographed bottles. The label reads: "The wine is beautiful and complex just like our daughter" and that's a compliment.

The salty, earthy, briny 2009 Aglianico is almost sold out and in a French oak barrel is aging wine made from our 2010 Estate Aglianico (15 gallons of our first harvest on 4th leaf vines which was a little high in acid), 2011 Estate Aglianico (30 gallons produced from 2011, which is quite good but not enough to fill a barrel). And how did we fill the barrel?  I uncorked and poured wine from bottles and cases of the 2009 Aglianico which I didn't like and which I was ready to through away but I thought it would add some complexity to our estate grown grapes and it did. So those wines, combined with a new French oak barrel and topped with a few bottles of  rich, dark 2012 Aglianico, we have quite an interesting, powerful wine with fruit and acid and body and nose and beginning and middle and finish and it's tasting pretty good and we're getting ready to bottle it and the question is what should we call it: Aglianico? More Ugly Hanako? Something else?

Normally, I would offer to send you a complimentary bottle for suggesting a name we end up using but the last two times we did that the vineyardista ended up in the emergency room so let's just say if you have the honor of submitting a name that we use you're invited to taste it at our tasting room.  Cheers and thank you for your suggestions!

(Winemaker's note August 29 2015 - two weeks ago I opened a bottle of the Aglianico made with our "estate" grapes and my eyes were opened. It is indeed a complex wine, with fruit, acid, beginning, middle and end. At the San Diego Wineries wine tasting event this spring our good friend, mentor, and winemaking teacher Lum Eisenman had a sip, came back for a pour, then, came back for a glass. He was hooked. This wine is unique, special, good, and has grown into something that even the winemaker likes. It is living up to the same great expectations we have for our daughter - and like life itself, just as complex. Cheers!)

("Ugly Hanako" wine is produced by Blue-Merle Winery, located in Escondido, San Diego County, California. It may be purchased by contacting the winery at on Twitter @bluemerlewinery and on Instagram @blumerlewinery. As a postscript (9/22/13), the 2013 Aglianico has been harvested and the grapes were beautiful and the new wine is as dark and purple as it ever was. the grapes were harvested at 24.5 brix and we were able to cold soak the grapes for 4 and 1/2 days extracting all of those dark colors and fruit flavors, and then the wine was slowly fermented - in the cool, airconditioned winery, for another 7 days. This year, 2013, as the vines have matured, the crop yield increased. We harvested close to 1,000 lbs and pressed 65 gallons of wine, enough for a barrel. New barrels have been ordered and we will rack the wine into barrels in November, after a "battonage" - stirring up the lees -- in late September or early October. P.S.S. - the 2014 Aglianico harvest produced an amazing dark and full bodied wine. Because the yield was small - about 30 gallons - we blended it with a deep Estate Zinfandel. It's still aging, as is the 2013 as o 8/29/15.  Cheers!)

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