Category Archives: Vintage Notes

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 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.

Harvest 2014: Week 4 – The Earth Shakes

I suppose every vintage has its challenges. This one just happened to include a 6.1 earthquake with the epicenter a short 4 miles from Robert Mondavi Winery’s Napa Barrel storage warehouse. We have canceled the blocks we were going to pick tomorrow. The warehouse is a mess. We are not sure what was lost yet but it is a true miracle this quake happened in the middle of the night. If it was during the workweek I’m sure we would be missing more precious assets. The winery itself was largely unharmed minus 4 stainless tanks that decided to take a bit of a walk. I went in earlier this morning to help clean up. It was far less dramatic than it could have been. All the lab chemicals were unaffected. The equipment was still on the counters. My office was shaken up with the computer monitors tossed around and knocked over just like most everyone else’s. I spent some time cleaning up the winemaker’s vault with our lab manager. Most of the bottles on the floor were intact and just needed to be replaced.

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The actual quake was very surreal. The massive boom woke Brian and I up first, then a full 20-25 seconds of intense rocking as if a giant was shaking the house back and forth. I waited, frozen, waiting for the crashes of broken glass I was certain would shortly follow. We had found the light by the time the shaking stopped and turned it on just in time to see the ceiling can rocking precariously above our heads. My first words? “That was BIG! If we felt that here then it was major!” I immediately turned to Twitter to see who else had felt the shaking since our house seemed to be intact for the time being. This was my first earthquake, which now rounds out my list of natural disasters. As someone who has experienced tornados, hurricanes, blizzards, Ice storms, floods, volcanoes and now an earthquake, earthquakes are at the top of my least preferred list right above volcanos and tornados. Granted the volcano that I experienced was not up close and personal so that would probably make a difference in the rankings.

We’ll see what the rest of this week brings. If you are interested in what I was worried about before the earthquake keep reading.

I can’t believe that it is Week 4 of harvest 2014 already!  We’ve made great progress on the Sauvignon Blanc which will probably be finished by the end of this week.  Pinot Noir started coming in last week with our first blocks and will move steadily along this week with a constant stream of Pinot every day.  Last week’s weather was perfect for grapes to ripen with cool nights and moderately warm days however this week it is supposed to warm up a bit.  The fog is forecasted to lift early tomorrow and bring warmer weather.

I always get nervous with potential heat spikes while picking Pinot Noir.  It is a delicate variety and usually does not ripen at a constant pace the way Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon does.  It has a reputation for being fickle and no where is that more prevalent with watching the Brix numbers on Pinot Noir.  It will stall for a week, sometimes more, then jump rapidly over the course of 2-3 days.  Anticipating these jumps is more an art than a science.  It’s a gut instinct where you have to take the numbers with a grain of salt and trust your tastebuds in the field.  Heat spikes exacerbate the wild swings and can turn what is a reasonably restrained Pinot block at 23 Brix into a raisined, jammy monster at 26 in the blink of an eye.

We’ll see what this week brings us but so far we are doing well and catching the jumps when they happen.  Anticipating what the Pinot is doing is also keeping my mind off of the fact that in 2 weeks I get the results from this year’s MW exam on September 8th.  I’m still in that happy world of possibilities right now where anything could happen and I can’t imagine that I failed yet again.  Having failed the same part of the exam 4 times does lead me to believe, just out of habit rather than real proof, that a 5th time is unlikely to change. However, I have a hope that this time might be different (Add in Liza Minelli singing “Maybe This Time” from Cabaret here!).  I can’t bring myself to actually prepare for another fail, not when I’ve spent the past 6 years thinking that I was going to be an exception to the rule. Common sense says I should, but deep down I’m a dreamer and the dreamer in me wants to believe that if I put enough time and effort into something I will achieve it regardless of the evidence to the contrary.

In the meantime, I’ll continue focusing on the Pinot Noir. Maybe glance at the Merlot and Cabernet (that are chasing the heels of the Pinot) at 22-23 Brix already and keep my mind occupied until I have to face reality, whatever that may be on the 8th of September.

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