Category Archives: Vintage Notes

Harvest 2014: Week 3 – To Kalon I Block

I was walking vineyards this morning but it was a little like walking into a time machine.  Instead of highly manicured, neat rows, I was trudging through a jungle-like atmosphere.  The vines surrounding me are grisly and ancient with long twisting arms swirling like frozen maelstroms.  The fruit is hidden beneath umbrella-like canopies, some green, some golden, all delicious.

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I have great respect for living things.  I have even greater respect for living things that have survived on this earth for longer than I have.  I’m referring to the grizzled, time tested vines of To Kalon’s I Block.  Planted in 1945, this may be the oldest planting of Sauvignon Blanc in North America.  They are head trained, dry farmed (non-irrigated) behemoths with crusty, cracking trunks and erratically shifting arms.  This morning I had the distinct pleasure of walking through I Block with fellow winemaker, Rich Arnold.  California is in a drought; a REALLY BAD drought.  None of the vines in I Block have seemed to notice very much.  There are a few yellowing basal (leaves at the base of the canes down near the fruit) leaves here and there but for the most part this block looks completely unaware, as if to say “Drought? What drought?”  The leaves are green and happy, facing the sun this morning since the fog has cleared early today.  The fruit is unbelievably concentrated and complex with flavors of melons, spices, flowers, and fresh herbs.  That is even before more complex aromas will be unlocked and unleashed during the fermentation process.

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I Block will be picked this week.  The flavors and the acids are approaching the right balance and the sugar is along for the ride in this block.  It is usually a very restrained Brix level, generally under 23 Brix.  This year looks no different.  It seems to have escaped the stresses that the irrigated Sauvignon Blanc are showing this year lending credence to the theory that dry farmed vines are not as affected by vintage variation as irrigated ones.  I’m looking forward to working with this fruit in the winery and understanding more about how the team here brings out the amazing characters that are already clearly apparent in the fruit.

Robert Mondavi Winery 2011 To Kalon I Block Fume Blanc* 

Personality: Unbelievably Unique

Aromas of ginger, white flowers, chalk, and dry herbs. Bright acid, dry palate with full body and intense flavors of lime zest, melons, fresh peach, spices, and minerals with a long finish.  Amazing wine!

* Disclosure: For those of you who don’t know, I am one of the winemakers for Robert Mondavi Winery and generally avoid posting tasting notes for wineries that I work for however this is a very special wine and posting the note tied in with the harvest blog this week so I chose to do so.

 

 

Harvest 2014: Week 2- How to Decide When to Pick Pinot Noir

Up until late last week Brix were climbing rapidly. Then in the middle of the week we had some showers come through which has slowed the progression. We’ve now had foggy mornings and cool nights returning, finally! While at the beginning of last week it seemed certain that Pinot Noir would come in late this week, the game has changed, which it always does with Pinot. So how does one go about deciding to pick Pinot Noir?

1) Observe the Cluster and Pick a Berry

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Try to pick from different spots from each cluster you sample including the front, back, top, and bottom.

2) Chew the Berry, separating the seeds and the skin from the pulp.

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Spit out the seeds in your hand to observe how brown they are. These are getting close to ripe. I’m not a huge proponent that Pinot seeds need to be brown but it helps in determining where the grapes are in development.

3) Chew the skins to macerate them to determine color development and extract-ability.

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I normally just spit out the juice and observe the color before it hits the ground but since this takes considerable practice the easier method (although slower) is to squeeze the skins in your fingers until the juice runs out. Observe the color in the juice.

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This is fairly dark for Pinot so it looks like it will be a good color year for this variety.

4) Taste the flavors and acid balance. No pictures to assist here. Just make sure the balance is good, the acid is fresh, and the flavors are coming around. Pinot is deceiving because often flavors exist at lower Brix that are not readily apparent in the berries. Often, if you wait for fully developed flavors you’ve missed your ideal acid so I tend to rank acid development higher in Pinot than any other sign of ripeness.

That all being said, if the mornings continue to stay cool then our first Pinot will come in next Monday. However, if we lose the fog and it really starts to heat up it may still be this Friday.

The View from the Vineyard: 2014, Warmest Vintage in Ten Years??

This vintage is particularly intriguing to me for several reasons.

1) It is a drought year.

2) It is the warmest vintage in the past 10 years.

3) Flowering was difficult to say the least.

The drought issue is not news to anyone.  It’s been widely publicized.  However, I don’t think many people outside of the industry know how close we all really came to having zero water for this vintage.  All I hear from growers is how the vintage was saved by the significant February rainstorms.  Those two rain events which brought us over 15″ of rain in some areas may possibly be the only way some farmers were able to have a crop this year.  It was serious! It still is serious.  From July of 2013 to the end of May there has been 18″ of rain TOTAL easily making it the driest in the past 10 years.  Short shoots have been less of an issue this year simply because growers were prepared for it.  Last year didn’t look like a drought year but it was since we didn’t get a bit of significant rain from January of 2013 through the growing season.  The only reason it wasn’t classified as an official drought is because we got a season’s worth of rain in November and December of 2012.

Now to the warmth.  I haven’t heard very many people talking about this.  The main focus seems to be on the drought.  Over the past 10 years, 2004 has been the warmest with 1291 growing degree days or GDDs (If you aren’t sure what a Growing Degree Day is click here) as of the end of May.  This year we were at 1365 at the end of May and that wasn’t even including the two scorching days we had this past weekend of 105+ degrees F!  We are once again flirting with an early harvest similar to last year but with a much warmer overall season. We were super fortunate to have had a very mild frost season this year.  Of course, that probably contributed to this warming trend. I hope the rapid season does not translate into high sugars while we wait for phenolic ripeness to set in, but only the rest of the summer will tell.

This brings me to the third issue, Flowering.  The weather for flowering was not great this year.  It was cool, windy, and we had a rain event right in the middle.  It was classic for what you don’t want to have happen during flowering.  Shatter has been a problem, particularly in Merlot but overall the Cabernet looks ok.  My biggest concern is vines with clusters almost two weeks apart in development.  2013 was a vintage of an incredibly even flowering which translated into an even set, verasion, and harvest with everything coming ripe at the same time.  I don’t predict that same issue this year.  The variability between development on clusters on the same vine is pretty drastic.  Check out the picture below!

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This picture was taken about 2 weeks ago with one cluster at pea-size and another just finishing flowering! While this is not the end of the world, all the growers will need to be extra careful during verasion this year and pay particular attention to the green drop.  Carefully selecting and dropping the fruit that is behind will help even out the ripening for the remainder of the season.  This season will not be without it’s challenges but it doesn’t look like everything ripening at once, like last year, will be one of them.

That is the view from the vineyard.  On a personal note, I finished my last MW exam last week and am now starting to figure out what life is like post-MW preparation.  I found more free time and a slight reduction in stress although waiting for the results for 3 months definitely has it’s stressful moments.  The good thing is, the next 3 months will fly by because harvest will be here before we know it.

Author’s note: Weather data sited is for the Oakville, CA weather station.
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