Harvest 2014: Week 7- Bring on the Bordeaux

This past week’s heat wave has really kicked things off in the Bordeaux world. We started bringing in a significant quantity of Merlot and some Cabernet Franc last Thursday and it will only continue through the next few weeks. So far we are seeing good quality but very high Malic acids. At harvest the pHs and TA’s look great until you factor in the loss from the ML conversion. That reveals a different story. We had a similar problem last year resulting in higher than normal pHs. Our average was around 3.8 which probably seems normal for many Napa winemakers but is a bit high for our house average which tends to be lower. We are true to the vintages however, and both 2013 and 2014 have very clear personalities. Overall extractability seems lower this year than last year and the colors don’t seem as dense although I have no color numbers to back that up this year. It’s more gut feeling based on what I’m seeing in the fermentations. What does that mean for winemaking? We are having to work the skins harder to get the same amount of material (color and tannins) out of them than we did last year when the skins just threw color at you. That means cap management is critical this year and controlling the rate of the fermentation is important. The faster the fermentation, the less time you have to extract positive attributes. So far the yeast seem very happy and willing to ferment quickly. Even a few tanks of Pinot Noir wanted to go native so we allowed them if the fruit was clean.

The whites have seen similar good fermentations with speedy drops and healthy yeast. Chardonnay is about 1/2 finished and we brought our last Sauvignon Blanc in this past week. We have also picked our first Muscat from Wappo Hill for the Mocasto d’Oro.

I’ll start sleeping better once all the Pinot Noir is dry but so far so good. It’s too early to tell if the Bordeaux varieties will be as nice to us.

Harvest 2014: Week 6 – Do or Do Not. There is No Try.

As you may have guessed from the title this week’s post is less about harvest and more about the significant weight that has been in the back of my mind for the past 3 months; awaiting the results of my Master of Wine exam from June.

We are receiving our last Pinot Noir today for the season.  So far the quality looks amazing.  My native ferment went dry last week and we have started pressing off the first tanks that we received a few weeks ago.  All in all it was an extremely smooth, although extremely early, Pinot harvest.  Chardonnay looks like it might be wrapped up in 2-2 1/2 weeks and the Bordeaux varieties are coming on so strong that people are starting to joke that harvest might be finished by October 1st!  The weather has been perfect for ripening.  Warm but not too hot days followed by cool, slightly chilly nights.  The acids are staying relatively high on the Cabernets which points to an exciting vintage so far.  It is still too early to say however.

But enough about harvest…

For those of you who know me (or those of you who have been following my blog for the past 4 1/2 years. Thank you by the way if so!) you are up to speed on my long struggle to pass the Master of Wine exam.  At the time of writing this blog post, I do not know if I passed or not.  I had considered writing two (a pass and a fail post) until I realized I would be saying much the same thing so I am writing this post prior to receiving any results to try to get all my thoughts down in writing prior to my emotions taking control once the results are announced.  If you would like to see my last three posts regarding MW exam results Fail 2, Fail 3 (on which I also passed theory so not entirely a fail), and Fail 4 click on the links.

This time is different.  There are only two options for me.  I passed and can move on to my research paper or I failed and am out of the MW program completely.  It makes me queasy at this point just thinking about it.  It is the feeling you get when you have 3 numbers of a mega millions lottery and are just waiting for another one to fall into place multiplied by 1000!  It’s excitement, dread, second-guessing, hopeful optimism, reasoned pessimism, self-doubt and confidence rolled all into one tangled ball of emotions.  At no point in the program did I ever, even for a second, allow myself to think that I would not make it.  That is until this past summer post exam.  At this point I felt that it would be mentally healthier to prepare for another fail than to maintain the hopeful optimism of a pass.  That way I could be pleasantly surprised when the results came out if a pass was what I received.  In the moments after I finished the last paper in June, I was struck by an acute sense of sadness.  I looked at my fellow students and realized that we would never again share the camaraderie that comes from studying for the MW.  I also realized that if I had not passed, I would also not be able to enjoy the company of my fellow students and the MW’s as much as I had over the past 6 years and I came to realize I would regret that more than not getting the initials if that were indeed what happened.  So in this post I would like to try and thank as many of the people that have helped and supported me to this point as I can.  It is by no means an exhaustive list but here it goes…

First of all, my amazing husband, Brian, for putting up with the crazy weekend tastings, my roller coaster of emotions over the past 6 years, financing a horribly high expenditure for wine every month not to mention the tuition and exam fees, and taking care of our son when I had to be at tastings, events, and the exam itself.

Secondly, to my extended family, my parents, and my in-laws, who have always been supportive of my pursuit even though I don’t think they understood what I was trying to do for the first 3 years.  They’ve figured it out now.

Thirdly, to an amazing list of friends and colleagues, without which  I know I would not be where I am today.  This is kind of in chronological order.

Chuck and Jen Van Fleet of Vino and Friends – for searching out a Hunter Valley Shiraz in Fresno so I could taste it and write an answer for it on my MW application

Mark De Vere, MW – For being my sponsor on my application.

Mark Ebaugh – My boss at Mission Bell who believed in me enough to fund my Diploma and my first year as an MW student.

Barbra Phillip, MW – My mentor for my first 5 years in the program.  Thank you for all your faith in me and for all the advice.  I hope I worked hard enough to make all your faith in me pay off.

Bob Betz, MW – For proving to me that winemakers can become MWs!

Mary Ewing-Mulligan, MW – For giving me “You have to be and MW to pass the MW” speech.  Also the “Yoda” speech.  You are my “Yoda” for the MW program! Thanks for all the philosophy.

Lisa Granik, MW – Thank you for being so real about the program.  You scared the crap out of me the first year and that made me want to work harder to reach the bar that you set for all of us.  Thank you as well for listening to all my dissertation ideas and guiding me to develop what I thought were two really good dissertation topics.  Hopefully I’ll get the chance to execute and submit the final one.

Joel Butler, MW – For being an all around great guy and always positive.

Peter Marks, MW – For always hosting tastings that were so much more tricky than the exam.  I always thought that if I was able to pass a tasting with you I would have no trouble on the exam.

Jean-Michel Valette, MW – Thank you for all your great lectures on the wine business.  I think I finally “got it” the 3rd lecture and it helped me pass Theory paper 3!

Siobhan Turner – For telling people to think if they needed to be in the exam prep group when it was over crowded.  I did.  I think half of that room probably didn’t need to be.  Thanks for all the support over the years.  I hope I can be as supportive for you on your journey now that you are the student.

Sheri Morano, MW – Thanks for all the “Mommy” advice and for the faith and support!

Ed Killian and the entire family at Asti Winery in Cloverdale, CA – Thank you for your emotional and financial support.  Without it, I would not have been able to get this far in the program.  You guys are an amazing team and I always knew you had my back!

My fellow students including Elaine Marshall, Maria Sinskey, JP Turgeon, Maureen Downey, Luiz Alberto, and Stacy Woods - Thanks for all the great times and good conversations. Elaine, thanks for your Bordeaux notes!!!

My fellow students who achieved the dream! – Adam Lapierre, MW and Liz Thach, MW

Louise Wilson- Thanks for sharing “baby mama” space with me during the seminar!

Eric Heimer, MS, MW – Thanks for the unwavering support and the friendly trade of Viticulture and Winemaking knowledge for practical tasting knowledge.

Robert Mondavi Winery and Constellation Team – Thank you for all your well wishes and support.  Hopefully I have good news for you but if not I really appreciate all the time and effort you have taken to help me out in the last two years of my pursuit. For the Constellation Europe Group – Thank you for an amazing trip to London and Germany.  I was able to glean so much tasting knowledge from that trip.

Martin Reyes – Thanks for keeping me company and navigating on our grand adventure in Germany! I really enjoyed our conversations and I wish you the best of luck in parenthood and the MW program!

Christian Seely and the entire AXA Millesimes group- For sponsoring such an amazing tour of Bordeaux, Sauternes and Burgundy.  Your generosity astounded me!

My fellow AXA scholarship winners – Anne Krebiehl (Freelance Wine Writer), Ray O’Connor (Commercial Manager for the International Wine Challenge), Patrick Schmitt (Editor at the Drinks Business), and Nigel Sneyd (Winemaker for E&J Gallo). You guys made that trip so much more amazing than it would have been on my own.  Anne- Special thanks for rooming with me in San Francisco this year.  I really enjoyed having the company and the shoulder to cry on.

My fellow Musketeers – Dave Forer and Matt Deller.  You guys made the journey so much fun.  All for one and one for all!  If you didn’t make it this year (and I hope you did!) you’ve got to keep at it.  Don’t give up!

Amy Christine, MW and Pat Farrell, MW – My mentors for my last year. Thanks for tag teaming me this past year and helping get me in the best tasting shape I have ever been in.  You guys are awesome!

Like I said above, this is not an exhaustive list but I hope everyone knows how critical they were in my success in the program.  Regardless of my results from the exam, I feel I have been successful.  I have grown, learned, and experienced far more than I could have ever done on my own without being involved in the program.  I am happy with my results regardless if the exam results say pass or fail.

Actual Results: FAIL. D, C, D. Worst grades I’ve had since my first exam. That means I’m out. Thank you all for reading.

 

 

 

 

Harvest 2014: Week 5 – When We Decide to Make Our Lives More Complicated

I have always been one to try to do everything possible all at one time. I had an excellent role model for this in my Mother. I am, to this day, convinced she has figured out his to squeeze 4 extra hours into every day. This weekend, Brian and I decided to tear out our master bathroom. It is the last room in our house that we haven’t gutted and remodeled and it seemed like the perfect time since our life is already crazy between both our full time jobs and raising an almost two year old. I love manual labor. There is something incredibly satisfying about ripping down walls and opening up new possibilities. I thought, as we were covered in the fine white dust of destroyed drywall, that it is a good symbol of life. Tearing down and gutting what was to bring forth something new and exciting. Change is not always easy for people but I have come to embrace change as opportunity. The “If God closes a door, somewhere he opens a window” saying is one of my mottos in life. I’m currently re-reading Frances Mayes’s Bella Tuscany, her sequel to Under the Tuscan Sun during my precious 30 minutes before bed. I’m often struck how amazing it is to have the courage to purchase a home in another country and completely remodel it. As challenging as our 4 year project has been, I can only imagine what it must be like in a different language and living at the house part time.

At the winery, we continued to have good weather for Pinot Noir this past week with several very warm but just shy of hot days. It was exactly what was needed to jumpstart some of the Pinot whose sugar accumulation had stalled. I’ve also seen the variable flowering come back to bite us again. The Brix are jumping in the tanks post crush. We call this phenomenon “Soaking Up”. It is a common problem with Zinfandel but I have never seen it this widespread on Pinot. Luckily between taking cluster samples and allowing those samples to soak overnight in a bucket (my old Zinfandel method) we have been able to anticipate the Brix jumps. We should be through with nearly all the Pinot Noir by the end of the week. Our first dry tank only took 4 days from inoculation to dryness and it looks awesome! It was our first pick at a modest and elegant 23 Brix and it rocketed down to 0.05 RS and 12.5% alcohol beautifully. It sits on skins, readily developing further tannins and flavors, waiting to be pressed when we feel it is at the most harmonious. We also have our first native (indigenous) Pinot Noir fermentation going as well. I am excited to see our results with some of our best fruit since we had not ventured into this territory last harvest. All in all it seems to be a solid year for quality regardless of the crazy flowering. We’ve just had to adapt as winemakers to be prepared for it.

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The remnants of the earthquake from last weekend can be seen readily in the Pinot Noir vineyards in Carneros. Many decent sized cracks have opened up where the earth shifted. The vines seem uninterested but it was slightly unnerving to see on my walks.