Category Archives: Viticulture

Harvest 2018 Update

This has been an insane year.  I haven’t had much time to post at all which I’m incredibly disappointed by.  However, the 2018 harvest is shaping up to be a very interesting one.  Over the summer, my family and I relocated back to Napa, California but we are keeping our brand, Trestle Thirty One, from the Finger Lakes in upstate NY.  This requires me to keep on top of harvests on both coasts.  I’ll try to catch everyone up on what has happened so far.

Napa

It’s so similar to 2010 it is scary.  In 2010, the summer was mild with very few hot days post veraison with the one exception of right before labor day when all the Pinot Noir I was working with decided to jump 4 Brix over the span of a few days.  The color development was phenomenal and the whites and early ripening red vineyards had such incredible finesse, high acids, and intensely chunky tannins.  Early rains in October changed the mood and late ripening red vineyards struggled to reach maturity.  2010 was also when Brian and I bought our house in Calistoga and started renovations which would last 5 years.  We moved in around mid October and were harvesting and trying to get unpacked at the same time.

So here we are in 2018 with a mild summer with few heat spikes (minus the labor day heat that 2010 had), amazing whites with fresh acid, elegant Pinot Noir, and early Cabernets are showing color that is off the charts, low pHs, and lots of flavor and tannin stuffing.  We had almost 1.25 inches of rain last week however which soaked the vineyards and made me thankful I had brought my muckboots with me.  Ripening has slowed considerably and after an early run of fruit, the season has been achingly slow although quality is still amazing.  Just like 2010, the first rain was not really an issue.  It’s the second rain now that could cause problems.  It may be that mother nature will smile on us with a long and calm season.  Today was spectacular in Napa with plenty of wind to dry out any remaining wet spots.  With the heat tomorrow, I expect to see a wave of movement in maturity and predict the week of October 15th and 22nd will be VERY busy in the valley.

We are also unpacking from a move again, but unlike 2010, we didn’t have to do any immediate renovations on our new home which has been a welcome respite from home demo and remodeling.  Our 1885 house in Geneva, was finished only a week before we left NY and was sold to its new owners who were super excited to not have to do anything to it.

Finger Lakes

The Finger Lakes have had a very unusual growing season as is usual in the area.  I’m not sure if we can even say that upstate NY has a “typical” growing season.  Every year comes with its own surprises.  About the only thing you can count on in the Finger Lakes is you will come to a point where you have to gamble your crop and suddenly I think of Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry.  “Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”

2018 has been no exception.  On August 14th, 5 inches of rain fell over much of the area with some localized rain up to 9 inches.  Many homes were devastated and erosion was a problem in many vineyards in the worst hit areas.  Luckily for most of the varieties it was still early enough that the fruit wasn’t compromised.  The next wave came from Hurricane Florence remnants which dropped around 1 inch of rain around mid September but was no where near as bad as it could have been.  This caused some botrytis issues, particularly in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  We picked our Trestle Thirty One Chardonnay on Monday, September 24.  The hand crew did a fantastic job of sorting in the field and we ended up with a small but delicious crop of Chardonnay with beautiful chemistry.  It is currently bubbling away during fermentation and should be finished within a few days.

Then we turned our attention to Riesling.  The almost continuous daily showers have made this a challenging year for winemakers and growers alike.  Everyone has their own way of dealing with this type of season but we are taking the gamble and hanging the fruit.  The vineyard managers have done a great job of sending in crews to drop the fruit that has turned sour and leaving only the clean fruit.  I anticipate another pass close to harvest and then the hand harvesting will clean out whatever compromised fruit the first two passes may have missed.

At this point, I am doing my normal stalking of all the online weather information and have accuweather pages up for both Napa and Geneva, NY.  The main goal, realistically the only goal, is to make the best wine possible from both regions.  It’s been a fun harvest so far and I’m sure the best is yet to come.

Planning for Unified

Courtesy of unifiedsymposium.org

This week the entire country decends upon Sacramento, CA for the 2018 Unified Wine and Grape Symposium. This is, by far, the largest wine focused trade show in the US. All the suppliers for anything having to do with grapes or wine are in attendance and one can easily just attend the exhibit halls and not see the entire show space. I like to attend the talks though. It starts on Tuesday with the Keynote luncheon. These talks are separate from the show itself which starts Wednesday but it never fails to be inspiring and full of good information. Tomorrow’s speaker is Gina Gallo of the winemaking giant Gallo. Gina is known to have been one of the driving forces behind repositioning the company towards higher end wines so her insight into the industry I’m sure will be interesting. After last year’s luncheon with wine writer Eric Asimov, I walked away with close to 10 pages of notes. To save my hand, I’ve brought my SurfacePro this year and fully anticipate getting some good information again.

Another one of my favorite highlights is the “State of the Industry” talk which kicks off the main part of the symposium on Wednesday morning. Having any one of the speakers present their information to you would cost you well beyond the price of an admission ticket but the panel of people that they assemble for this gives a very detailed look at the state of the industry in California. Although global issues are touched on it is a CA driven talk but there are always good parallels to be gleaned. Since CA makes up 90% of the wine industry in this country, knowing where CA is going gives good insight into where the market is going.

The rest of the day is split into “tracks” with multiple sessions being held at the same time for viticulture, winemaking, and marketing. It never fails that I end up wanting to go to two or three talks the happen at the same time and need to make a game day decision.

Thursday tends to be a lighter talk day with less in depth subjects so that usually ends up being my trade show day. You MUST go to the trade show with a plan. Inevitably, one will run into a bunch of friends and colleagues and it will take three times as long as you expect to cruise down each aisle as you find people to catch up with you haven’t seen in years.

The social aspect of the show cannot be discounted either. Planning one’s dinner and after party schedule is almost as hectic as planning what you want to see at the show itself. The bars at the two main hotels, The Sheraton Grand and the Hyatt Regency, are guaranteed hang out spots for after late night activities. I have often wondered if they prepare for this week like generals preparing for battle. Getting a room at one of these hotels is a feat in itself since they are snapped up within seconds of being released. I felt it was a major accomplishment to have gotten a room at the Hyatt for this year’s show. I’ve never been on top of it enough to have booked one of these rooms before without being a speaker.

However you look at it, Unified is one of the key meeting of the minds of the US wine industry. Regardless of your geographic location, there is a wealth of information here for anyone who wants it.

Photo from UnifiedSymposium.org

Winemaker 2 Winemaker: David Parrish of Parrish Family Vineyards

David Parrish at his winery on the Central Coast of CA.

David Parrish at his winery on the Central Coast of CA.

This month’s Winemaker 2 Winemaker interview focuses on David Parrish of Parrish Family Vineyards on California’s Central Coast.  His story began with vineyard trellis work for icons of the Napa Valley such as Robert Mondavi, Bob Steinhauer and others. Parrish spent decades tending to vines and today holds 24 patents for trellis design. He is recognized as the industry expert in knowing how to work with trellises in order to get the most from the vines, and from them, great fruit. Thirteen years ago, Parrish decided to return to his grandfather’s roots of vineyard production. Parrish planted 40 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon on his Creston, California, ranch in 1995 and in 2004 made his first vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon. Seven years later he opened a tasting room in downtown Paso Robles and expanded his vineyard holdings into the Templeton and Adelaida Districts.

NC: What originally attracted you to vineyard development and trellis systems?

DP: Viticulture has been in my blood since the time my grandfather started growing grapes in Atascadero, which was before Prohibition and the Great Depression.

I graduated from University of California, Davis in 1974 and started a vineyard trellising company which I’m still involved with today. I currently hold two dozen patents for trellis design and have worked with partners all over the world. I’m also excited to see more and more developments around my shade cloth technology which is allowing further ripeness of the fruit without scaring or burning. I’ve been selling it to other wineries that are also seeing great results.

I worked in Napa for several years, but, my heart always wanted to come home to the Central Coast and grow my own grapes. I decided to take my grandfather’s passion a step further opening my own winery, which is slated to open in early 2018.

NC: You’ve stated that your passion is Cabernet Sauvignon. In your opinion, what are the key vineyard practices which are essential to growing great Cabernet which would be applicable globally?

DP: For us, it always comes back to the way you care for the land. We practice sustainable farming in many ways and have even restored a creek bed on our property to ensure the land continues to improve. One of the things I’m most passionate about is the way we care for the soil. We use seaweed that is infused into the drip irrigation adding natural minerals to our soil.  We also use a mix of worm cast and organic products, known as organic tea, to enhance the microbes. It’s not possible to have healthy vines without healthy land.

NC: There has been a lot of focus on what ripeness is in wine and what constitutes a ripened bunch. How do you personally define ripeness?

DP: We define it as when the “green” or characteristically “unripe” flavors are gone, and are replaced with more fruity flavors like black fruit and berries. We also look at the seeds to make sure that they have no more green color, and are crunchy in texture when bitten, like “Grape Nuts” cereal. The skins should be supple and velvety to the touch, and the pulp should separate readily and easily from the seeds when squeezed. We also monitor the pH and TA to make sure that they are in and optimal range, though flavor is always the deciding factor.

After that, I sit down with the winemaking team and we taste the grape samples together scoring each of the characteristics of ripeness on a scale. It’s then a group vote if we pick or wait.

NC: I’ve often heard that clone selection doesn’t matter as much in Cabernet as it does in Pinot Noir. What are your thoughts and which are some of your favorite clones and why?

DP: I think clones are important when planning and developing a Cabernet vineyard. I spent weeks planning the clones I wanted in our Templeton and Adelaida vineyards. Clones assist in creating a complex wine. For instance, Clone 337 produces dense, complex, and very aromatic wines, so we use that in our Cabernet almost every vintage. There are some years and some clones that can stand alone and for me that is Clone 6. It is my favorite clone as a winemaker because it produces such a beautiful, very dark, rich wine, but as a grower it has lower yields so it’s more of a love hate relationship. It’s worth it in the end, especially since our 2014 was rated a 94 points by Wine Enthusiast and we couldn’t be happier.

NC: In the 1970s, you worked alongside some of the great pioneers of winemaking in the Napa Valley. What was that like? Did you feel that history was being made or was everyone so focused on moving forward that it all just happened around you?

DP: I was fortunate at that time to meet a group of Napa growers who wanted to make Napa a world-class wine growing region and one of my professors, Dr. Kliewer, convinced me to accept their invitation to work with them. I moved to Napa and started working with Robert Mondavi and Bob Steinhauer of Beringer Vineyards. After a few months, I was working with most of the wineries in the Napa area on their trellises.

The experience was so meaningful because it was just a group of people working to make the most out of the land and to work in communion with each other. Today, I see that same spirit in Paso Robles. It reminds me of the early days in Napa when I worked with the family-run vineyards and wineries.  Paso Robles is still that way.  We are a pretty close knit group and a great community.

I think there is something magical that happens when winemakers live on the land they love and are able to truly give it the daily attention and care it demands. It’s uncommon and it’s characteristically Central Coast.

NC: You’ve now started your own family-run winery. How do you balance the business and personal sides to your life working so closely with your wife, daughter, and son in law?

DP: Other than my grandfather’s roots, I wanted to return to the Central Coast because of the people. I spent a lot of time in Napa and know the beautiful fruit that can be developed there but, I wanted to work with family-owned wineries just like the one I wanted to build.

My family and I have  learned a lot facing the wine business together over the last eight years.  I am glad we started in a small tasting room downtown because the learning curve was just right.  We all are involved in the day-to-day operations of the winery; even the dogs have a job. I’m lucky we share the highs and lows together. It takes a lot of work, but the rewards are so great. I can’t imagine doing anything else.

NC: Your vineyard and winery is located on CA’s Central Coast which is renowned for Rhone varieties as well as Burgundy varieties in the south. Which other varieties are you experimenting with beyond Cabernet Sauvignon?

DP: We love the progress of our Sauvignon Blanc, , Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and two Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah blends. We have four vineyards that provide us with a bounty of great fruit that’s easy to work with and delicious to enjoy.

NC: Please describe your winemaking philosophy in Haiku 

DP:

Grow it and guide it

Take care of the land you have

Drink with those you love

NC: What key piece of advice would you give to someone just starting out in the wine industry?

DP: I graduated with a biology major, but I’ve found the best way to learn is to simply study, experience as much as you can, and make sure you love it.

NC: Thank you so much David!