55 questions and answers surrounding general wine knowledge and the history of McGrail and Livermore Valley Wine Country
Q1: True or False: Red wines lose color as they age while white wines gain in color.
Q2: Why did French winemakers replant most vineyard in the early 20th Century?
Q3: When was winemaking estimated to have first taken place?
A: Winemaking is estimated to have first taken place in Mesopotamia in 6000 B.C.
Q4: When did the McGrail tasting room open?
A: April of 2008
Q5: What year were the McGrail Cabernet Sauvignon vines planted on our estate?
Q6: What year did Mark Clarin join the McGrail team?
A: Full time 2009
Q7: There are approximately 25 oz. of wine in a bottle, but how many pounds of grapes does it take to produce one bottle of wine?
A: 2.5 lbs.
Q8: What are the weeds growing in between rows called and what are the benefits of having them?
A: The weeds that grow between rows of vines are called cover crops. Cover crops are good for vineyards because they keep the soil from eroding and they return nitrogen to the soil that is lost over time. Cover crops are most important to have in the winter because the winter is usually when we get the most rain, which causes soil erosion. In the spring, we mow down the cover crops, which creates a mulch and encourages beneficial insects and microbial flora. We also try to keep them lower in the spring and summer so the grapes aren’t influenced by them. Having cover crops and using them to our advantage is an important part of “sustainable farming.”
Q9: What happens during fermentation in the winemaking process?
A: Yeast consumes the sugar in grape juice and produces alcohol and just a bit of carbon dioxide
Q10: When do we typically harvest our grapes?
A: Every year is different, but we typically harvest and crush between September and November. Our Chardonnay is generally harvested in mid-September, Petite Sirah in early October, and Cabernet is mid-late October. For the last two years, we have harvested Cabernet during the last week of October and first week of November
Q11: What are sulfites? Do sulfites cause headaches? Who is most likely to be allergic to sulfites?
A: Sulfites are naturally occurring sulfur compounds that can be found in food and the human body. They are often added to food and beverages as a preservative against certain yeast and bacteria. It is a myth that sulfites cause headaches for wine drinks. An estimated 1% of the population has a sensitivity or allergy to sulfites, and that 1% is most likely to be people who are already asthmatic. Still, the symptoms of sulfite sensitivities or allergies are likely to present themselves as wheezing or dermatitis, and not as a headache. The headache most people experience when drinking wine is caused by dehydration and is basically NEVER caused by the consumption of sulfites. In fact, you are more likely to consume way more sulfites when eating a serving of dried fruits than you are when drinking a glass of wine. Regardless of the fact that not many people are actually allergic to sulfites, U.S. wineries are required to state a wine “contains sulfites” if the wine has at least 10 parts per million sulfites (a very small amount), no matter if the sulfites were added to the wine or are naturally occurring in the wine.
Q12: How do we train our vines?
A: We use VSP (vertical shoot positioning/trellising) to train our vines. This is the most common type of vine training in the United States.
Q13: What are the two most popular wines in the United States, both to plant and to consume?
A: Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay
Q14: Why do we have roses planted at the ends of our grapevines?
A: Since roses and grapevines are related, roses are planted at the end of the vine rows. The theory is that roses show signs of insect or micro-biological pests before grapevines. This gives the farmer a chance to try and mitigate these things. This has not been scientifically confirmed, but they are pretty.
Q15: What are the months of winter dormancy for vines in California?
A: The months of winter dormancy for vines in the northern hemisphere are November through March.
Q16: What is Ginger McGrail’s favorite wine varietal?
Q17: How many liters does a magnum of wine hold?
A: 1.5L or 1500mL or 2 x 750mL bottles of wine
Q18: A magnum holds 2 standard 750mL bottles of wine, but how many liters does a Balthazar hold?
A: A Balthazar holds 12 liters or 16 750mL bottles of wine.
Q19: How many liters does a Nebuchadnezzar hold?
A: A Nebuchadnezzar holds 15 liters or 20 750mL bottles of wine.
Q20: What three varietals were first bottled as single varietals by Livermore Valley wineries?
A: Chardonnay, Petite Sirah, and Sauvignon Blanc
Q21: If a wine bottle lists a vintage, by law, what percentage of the wine in that bottle must be from that year for AVA?
A: At least 95%
Q22: How did our Lucky 8 Vineyard get its name?
A: It was named Lucky 8 after the eight McGrail grandchildren
Q23: How much wine does California produce annually?
A: California produces more than 17 million gallons of wine per year, making it the highest wine-producing state in the U.S. Over the past ten years, California has produced between 81% and 89% of all wine produced in the United States
Q24: What are the two clones of Cabernet Sauvignon we have planted on our estate?
A: Clone 8 and clone 15
Q25: What are the five red Bordeaux grapes?
A: The five red Bordeaux grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.
Q26: Which of the red Bordeaux grapes do we have planted in our Lucky 8 Vineyard?
A: All of them!
Q27: What is the first name and professional title of the McGrail team member who starred in our Richard Simmons and Tiger King videos?
A: Cris, Assistant Winemaker (as of April 2020; Cris left in October)
Q28: What is the secondary fermentation process called that is almost always used in red wine production, but is usually only used to give white wines, like Chardonnay, a rich, creamy or buttery flavor?
A: Malolactic fermentation
Q29: What are the three estate-grown Cabernet Sauvignon wines we produce that are each barrel-aged in 100% new, different kinds of oak barrels? Which wines are aged in what kind of oak?
A: A Jo Elet, “The Good Life” Cab is aged in Hungarian oak. The Patriot Cab is aged in American oak. The James Vincent Cab is aged in French oak.
Q30: We know California produces more wine than any other state in the U.S., but what are the remaining four of the top five wine producing states?
A: 1. California (~84%), 2. Washington (~5%), 3. New York (~3.5%), 4. Pennsylvania (~1.54%), 5. Oregon (~1.47%)
Q31: What is the difference between enology and viticulture?
A: Enology is the study (or art of winemaking) and viticulture is the study of winegrowing. Or 4 letters
Q32: Which of our wines contains all five Bordeaux wines?
A: Shamus Patrick Red Blend
Q33: How many ounces are defined as a standard drink for wine in the U.S.?
A: A 5 oz. glass of wine
Q34: Which McGrail grandchild is the oldest? Which is the youngest?
A: Peyton is the oldest and Colton is the youngest
Q35: How many 750mL bottles of wine does a standard 60 gallon barrel hold?
A: 300 bottles
Q36: What are the WHITE Bordeaux grapes?
A: Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Muscadelle.
Q37: Which of the white Bordeaux grapes do we have planted in our Lucky 8 Vineyard?
A: Sauvignon Blanc. Next month we will be releasing the first vintage of Sauvignon Blanc that was produced using only grapes from Lucky 8.
Q38: What are the 5 basic steps of (red) winemaking?
A: (1) Harvest and crush, (2) fermentation, (3) aging, (4) fining and blending, (5) bottling and storage
Q39: What is brix?
A: Brix measures sugar levels in wine grapes that ultimately determines how much alcohol a wine will have.
Q40: What tool is used to measure brix in wine grapes and how do you use it?
A: A refractometer is used to measure the degrees brix of a grape. To use the refractometer, you simply crush a grape and depending on how light is bent when passing through, the refractometer tells you the sugar content of the grape you have crushed.
Q41: What are the two ways to produce Rosé?
A: Saignee (red grapes crushed and left with skins for 4-12 hours, the pressed), or through bleed-off, and blending red and white wine together
Q42: Which process do we use to produce our Kylie Ryan Rose?
A: Saignee–red grapes crushed and left with skins, then pressed
Q43: What is our Winemaker Mark Clarin’s favorite varietal?
Q44: What is our winemaker’s mother’s favorite varietal?
Q45: What is the most common form of vineyard irrigation in the United States? Hint: We use this.
A: Drip irrigation/dry farming
Q46: During what year were we awarded the Red Sweepstakes at the San Francisco Chronicle?
Q47: For what vintage of what wine were we given this award?
A: 2008 for Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
Q48: What other two Livermore Valley wineries have been awarded the Red Sweepstakes award since our winning in 2012?
A: 3 Steves Winery and Las Positas Vineyards
Q49: What are the differences between Hungarian, American, and French oak?
A: American oak tends to be more sweet with vanilla overtones, costs ~$300-$600/barrel, and comes from Missouri. French oak lends notes of clove, coconut, and spice, costs between $1000-$1500/barrel, and generates silky and transparent tannins, which transmit a sensation of light sweetness combined with fruity flavors that persist in the mouth. Hungarian oak adds a spicy finish or pepper, is very similar to French oak, and costs between $700-$800/barrel.
Q50: What does it mean if a wine is fortified?
A: A fortified wine has brandy or another spirit added to the wine base. It is usually a wine that is meant to be an aperitif or a digestif (consumed before or after a meal).
Q51: We have one Rhone varietal planted at our Lucky 8 Vineyard, but we have yet to produce any wine using grapes from these recently grafted vines. What variety is this Rhone grape? Hint: It’s a white grape.
A: Grenache Blanc
Q52: What is veraison and when does it happen?
A: Veraison is the visual ripening of grapes (esp. red grapes), when they change colors from green to purple and it occurs between mid-July and early August
Q53: What does “sláinte” mean and from what language is it translated?
A: In Gaelic, sláinte means “cheers to good health”
Q54: What varietals make up the most recent vintage (2017) of our Sláinte Red Blend?
A: Touriga Nacional (31%), Cabernet Sauvignon (23%), Souzao (21%), Tempranillo (21%) and Petit Verdot (5%)
Q55: What are the five top wine producing countries in the world?
A: 1. Italy, 2. Spain, 3. France, 4. United States, 5. China