Monthly Archives: February 2015

California Drives U.S. Wine Exports In 2014

Even with a drought, port slowdown, an elongated recession and a state that is hurting rather than helping, the overall wine production in California was strong in 2014. And hence it helped lead the United States to its second highest dollar value ever for exporting wines, according to the Wine Institute.

Even though revenue was down slightly from a year ago, U.S. exports have trended upwards over the past several years, led by California which produces 90% of the countries exports. In total, there was about $1.5 billion in wine export revenue from the U.S.

Worldwide, consumers are clamoring more and more for California wines even if Europe has slowed in its desire for American vino has waned. Excluding China, exports to East Asian countries are up.

Oddly or not, there’s a budding patronage with the single biggest increase by any country for importing U.S. wines: Nigeria. The Wine Institutes numbers show the oil-rich nation saw a 172% increase from the year before, moving Nigeria into eighth worldwide as a consumer of American wines.

Volume up

Taken as a whole, total export volume rose slightly from a year ago with nearly 117 million gallons of wine exported from the U.S. The largest total increase of $33 million year-over-year was from Canada with 5.8 million gallons more shipped to the Great White North in 2014 over 2013.  Canada ranked second overall right behind the European Union (EU) as the biggest importer of American wine. Japan ranks a distant third behind the EU and Canada.

Other hindrances that the U.S. overcame to produce such powerful numbers is a strong dollar plus heavy foreign taxes and levies. While the many obstacles that have been laid before California vintners haven’t slowed production, the fact they generated more wine and still increased the quality says volumes about the Golden State’s place in the winemaking world.

By the way, the statistic stating 90% of wine in the United States produced by California might be low, considering much of the states wine is shipped to other states who in-turn ship overseas.

Not to be outdone, the U.S. only exports about one-tenth of the wine they make. Meaning a vast majority of its wines stay within its borders, to be drank by Americans. I’ll say bottoms up to that!


Daryle W. Hier



Wine And Tabasco

What do wine and Tabasco have in common? It might surprise you.

I came upon this interesting information not because of my fervent passion for Tabasco Pepper Sauce. I love the stuff. No, actually I found out the unique similarities of wine and Tabasco because of the wine barrel business we are in.

The fact is, in our neck of the woods, used wine barrels are getting harder to find. From their use more and more with other spirits and beer, to making furniture and art out of them, along with the increased wine grape production in California, used wine barrels have become increasingly difficult to acquire. Now I found out there’s another new arrival vying for oak barrels: hot sauce companies and restaurateurs.

A century and a half of history 

Where did they get this unusual idea? From Tabasco, the king of pepper sauces. See, since 1868, Tabasco has been processing their brand of pepper sauce in oak barrels, to age for three years before it’s bottled. And not just any oak barrel, but white oak – the same exact oak that wine is aged in. Now, other hot pepper sauce brands and restaurants are making their own version using used white oak barrels.

Tabasco oak barrels aging.

Sitting on one the largest salt domes in the world, the McIlhenny Company of Avery Island, in southern Louisiana, has been producing the famous hot sauce for nearly a century and a half using white oak barrels to age their chili pepper mash. Why the use of white oak isn’t well known, but likely because whiskey was prevalent in these parts as was white oak stands, it was a marriage of convenience, using old barrels after grinding the interiors off and cleaning them. Of note, the barrels come from Jack Daniels.

Still, much like wine grapes are crushed with their juice placed in wine barrels to age, so too are Tabasco’s peppers with the addition of salt. There the red concoctions stays for up to three years (although some can age eight years), fermenting and aging before the juice, along with vinegar, is put into a jar for resale.

Like topping off for wine, the Tabasco mash is topped off with salt occasionally to allow gases to naturally escape – through a valve on top of the barrel – without letting air get to the pepper mash and spoil the mixture. The barrels of chili pepper mash are aged in warehouses on Avery Island, which technically isn’t an island but is surrounded by swamps and bogs. By the way, the salt mound that produces Tabasco’s key ingredients is the highest point on the Gulf Coast. Here’s a did-you-know fact about the chili mash: when the juice is pressed out of the chili’s, the leftover mash is sold to pharmaceutical companies for making medicines and pepper spray.

Tabasco pepper sauce mash

More similarities

While the chili pepper plants are no longer typically grown on Avery Island anymore, all the seeds are; not unlike the wine industry which has cuttings from older vines to make new stock. Another similarity, if you will, between wine and Tabasco is the aforementioned vinegar added to make the final famed pepper sauce. The distilled vinegar used is from French white wine and actually aged for about another month before it finds itself on a dinner table. McIlhenny now makes too many Tabasco products to name – which isn’t a bad thing. The intriguing if a bit unknown world of Tabasco certainly has ties to wine. 😉

Unlike other adventurous beer and spirits makers who will age their beverages in almost any kind of barrel, I’m not certain what you could use a former used Tabasco barrel for. Regardless, the renowned pepper sauce is made and aged similarly to wine with results that this particular fan is more than happy with.

And what wine does Tabasco go well with? I’m not an expert, so my answer is everything, but a cohort told me Sauvignon Blanc can pair well with hot flavors like Tabasco. Rieslings and Viogniers pop up often when combining hot and spicy foods with wine. In other words, white wine is best, but it’s suggested not to pair Chardonnay with foods tinged with Tabasco. If you want to try a red, a close friend once told me spicy foods and Zinfandel or Barbera can mix well. Of course, beer always goes good with spicy hot foods so maybe a barrel-aged beer? You never know.

And now we can partake of a some barrel-aged wine and Tabasco! What’s for dinner?

Additional source:

Salootie Patootie,

Daryle W. Hier






Is Cork A Good Idea?

What does the public really think of cork closures? The answer is overwhelming, at least as far as this Nielson Company report states.

First, it should be noted this information is supplied by a press release put out by the cork industry. Still, the answer was a definite yes for cork.

Huge positive for …

Five major leaders in the wine business advertised over the holidays using cork to promote and endorse their product. These wineries saw a 6.4% rise in sales due to the cork marketing engagements. Conversely, 200 other major wines who advertised during the same period without any acknowledgement of cork, saw their sales drop 5%.

The reason they did this comparison and research was due in part to a report last year that stated:

“93% of U.S. wine consumers associate natural cork with higher quality wines, while only 11 percent believe wines sealed with a screw cap to be of high quality.”

Since wineries weren’t informing the public about their use of cork, there was an unknown. Therefore to prove the research correct, the advertisements were placed and the cork usage significantly made a difference with the consumer.

We’ve discussed the cork and screw cap debate and it is apparent the cork versus screw cap battle is ongoing and becoming more fierce everyday. With this latest campaign stated by the cork industry would suggests that more vintners will be letting folks know they are using cork over screw caps or other sealable containers.


Daryle W. Hier



Wine Barrel Stave Ideas

Along with being ideal for wine-making, some of the many attributes of white oak is it’s strong, dense and durable. It’s also, rot-resistant while being beautiful and relatively easy to get a hold of. Because of its versatility, a new trend has been pushing us at Paso Wine Barrels and it’s no wonder folks have incessantly asked us if we sold just the barrel staves. We do now and thought we could offer some ideas for what can be done with the easy-to-work with hardwood.

Candle holder - click on pick for a closer look and a link to make your own.

Candle holder – click on picture for a closer look and a link to make your own.

The structure and quality of these unique pieces of oak are remarkable. The used wine barrel stave is distinctive for their curves and tapered ends. This allows making almost anything with them, ever-so inimitable and different. Staves made into furniture is becoming all the rage, but one of the most popular and simple ideas is as a candle holder. You can find these products already made, but they may set you back at least $50 or more online and in specialty stores, they can run up to $100. I’ll not go into the how-to’s here, however, click on the picture to find out how to make your own candle holder.

Simple, fun idea

Wine_Barrel_SignsAnother idea is a stave as a sign. The ideas for a sign are too numerous to consider, but regardless, the exclusivity involved in using a barrel stave as a sign, offer any quote, name or whatever you’d like as an example of matchless signage that will always be the talk of friends, family or colleagues.

To get a bit more involved but staying simple for the most part, coat racks are something that can be useful as well as distinguishing. While it may be a bit eclectic – not a bad thing – coat racks are surprisingly easy to put together yourself. And for your viewing pleasure, because I know some of you relate to videos more than written instructions, here’s a video on how to make a simple coat rack from a wooden barrel stave.

Cool-looking chairs

Still one more way of many that has gained popularity is using barrel staves for creating a chair. Whether it’s a stool, a rocking chair, possibly a Adirondack patio lounge or even a bar table, the look is extraordinary. The natural curves of the staves allow for an almost innate design that is comfortable and stylish at the same time. The burgundy tone on the insides of the staves offer a one-of-a-kind look that can’t be imitated. Even white wine staves offer a golden hue not easily duplicated. Here are some examples of stave chairs, if you’re not into making it yourself.


If you want to go to the extreme of buying your own used barrel and take it apart for use in multiple arts and crafts, although the information is a few years old, this site gives you the inside scoop for disassembly.

White oak’s wear-resistance is exceptional, so these products can be used inside or out. If you’re going to sand and stain them (which probably includes a sealer), they will last that much longer and indoors, that could mean indefinite.

Whether it’s staves for furniture or the many other ideas including such items like foot stools, end tables and wine racks to mention a few more, you can’t go wrong with this hottest trend. I’ve only touched on suggestions for what barrel staves can be used for or made into, but I hope this helps. Now get your used wine barrels staves!

And hey, do you have an idea for used wine barrel staves? Let’s hear it.


Daryle W. Hier



Successful Football Coach And Wine

It’s been mentioned here and in other stories, that football and sports in general have connections to the wine industry. Hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky, golf great Greg Norman and racing champs Mario Andretti and Jeff Gordon are a few of the many who have entered the world of grape-growing and winemaking.

Super Coach

The 78 year old Dick Vermeil might not be at the top of the mind when it comes to notoriety, but the man was a coaching great in the world of football for almost 50 years, along the way rebuilding programs and winning including a Super Bowl for the St. Louis Rams. He coached with emotion and vigor, taking poor teams and bringing them to prominence.

Born in Calistoga, California, in the upper reaches of Napa Valley, though wine was prominent in his life, football would be Vermeil’s biggest passion. His first significant triumph was short but successful two-year stint in Westwood as the head coach for the UCLA Bruins. Vermeil took the Bruins to the Rose Bowl where they would win for only the second time in school history defeating an undefeated and #1 ranked Ohio State. UCLA finished ranked fifth in the country for the 1975 college football season.

He made the jump in 1976 to the professional ranks as a head coach for the hapless Philadelphia Eagles who hadn’t had a winning record for a decade. Vermeil’s team struggled for a couple years before finally becoming a playoff club four straight seasons including a Super Bowl appearance in 1980 where they lost to the Oakland Raiders. The 1982 season was a strike year, which helped to drive the impassioned coach into an early retirement.

After 15 years as a television commentator, Vermeil found his way back into a head coaching job with the St. Louis Rams who like the Eagles, had floundered for nearly a decade without a winning season. His third year with the Rams brought a Super Bowl Championship (with an exciting win over the Tennessee Titans). He retired a second time, only to join the Kansas City Chiefs in 2001 and coach them to a 44-36 record over five seasons. This time Dick Vermeil retired permanently from football and indulge in his second passion, wine.

Vermeil Wines

Although he has homes in Pennsylvania and Missouri, Vermeil had always loved wine over the years, being drawn into the industry for 15 years now. His family heritage in wine goes back to a pair of great grandfathers from a century ago. Continuing the legacy based in Calistoga, Vermeil Wines has been a serious endeavor for the famed head coach with several friends and family involved in the enterprise. His partners are Paul Smith, MarySue Frediani, Jim Frediani, Jeanne Frediani and his wife Carol Vermeil. They opened a tasting room the year before last in Napa and produce top-rated wines. Some of them are pricey, but that is the result of success for the former football coaches passionate effort.

As is usual for the always excited head coach and to that end, winning with enthusiastic zeal is Dick Vermeil’s formula. As he is quoted as saying:

“If you don’t invest very much, then defeat doesn’t hurt very much and winning is not very exciting.”

Additional source: Dick Vermeil: Whistle in His Mouth, Heart on His Sleeve


Daryle W. Hier






Water Update: The Good And Not-So-Good

The three-year drought that has ravaged California and locally on the Central Coast, not only has the lack of water affected normal life, but also the politics have torn apart this otherwise quiet part of the Golden State. There are recent changes.

Legal rights restored … for now

First off, the good news is that property rights have been somewhat restored to landowners here in San Luis Obispo County. This week, the County Board of Supervisors has voted to let the temporary ordinance expire in August. The controversial law had banned property owners from drilling for their own water without an offset. This forced wineries to discontinue planting additional grapes. It also didn’t allow landowners to drill deeper when their wells went dry. Before this, they held the legal right to drill for water. Water rights restored is a start.

Nonetheless, the county is still moving headlong into forming a water basin district in the Paso Robles area. Last week, the same supervisors decided to continue proceeding with plans of creating a water district to control use of the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin, which is one of the largest natural aquifers in the country. In concert with the State Water Resources Control Board, the district is set to be formed by the summer of 2017 – this new groundwater agency will impose requirements that likely will control water usage not unlike the temporary ordinance that will expire in six months.

Rain & conservation

With that said, the California drought is still bad and although fall offered hope with more than normal rains, winter hasn’t been so cooperative. Yet, currently there is a storm heading our way this weekend and should dump a decent amount of showers over the region.

The Governor, Jerry Brown, recently announced that Californians were reducing their use of water as per a report card of sorts (source: Capital Press). The State Water Resources Control Board had instituted water restrictions last year and although Brown wanted to see more cuts than actually occurred, the state is now taking more actions to manage the water situation. In short, this doesn’t look good for farmers, jobs or Californians in general – go here for more.

The drought isn’t as bad as its been during the past three years; and, a forecast for a wet second half of winter is certainly being looked on with bated breath.

So the news is mixed. Law will finally be restored for property rights even if the water district will likely take that all away in the future. The rain totals so far aren’t earth-shattering, however, rains in February are usually the heaviest of the entire year and March can also be quite wet … we can only hope so as the wet stuff is still foremost on everyone’s mind in wine country.


Daryle W. Hier