Category Archives: Winemaking

Anything having to do with wine production

Harvest 2014: Week 8 – What Do Harvest and Home Renovation Have in Common?

Harvest is racing along now.  With the rain last week (0.25″ in Calistoga) and the threat of yet another storm this week bringing the same amount or more on Wednesday and Thursday, we are starting to make triage calls.  This can hang, that needs to come in, etc… This may be our last week of whites, leaving only the Bordeaux reds hanging out.  Quite a few of our reserve blocks came in last week with the balance coming in early this week (planned before the rain so excellent timing on To Kalon’s part!)

At home we are still working on our Master Bathroom.  The drywall is going up today and tomorrow and the tile installation will start on Friday.  It is going to be great but with our hard work over the weekend it got me thinking about the ways that both home installation and harvest are similar.

1) Both are weather dependent.  The moisture in the air causes drywall mud to cure more slowly as well as thin set on tile so it slows down the process even if it is dry in the house.  Same is true of moisture with harvest.  Rain brings harvest to a halt completely and excess moisture slows down the ripening process and can cause rot (luckily we haven’t seen any major issues this year!).

2) Both feel like they take FOREVER! When you are in the midst of a crazy project or harvest it seems like it has been going on a LONG time and the end is no where in sight.

3) But when they are over you look back and think “That wasn’t so bad.” It seems like such a fun thing in hindsight that you forget the lost sleep, the setbacks, the sluggish tanks, the blown reno budget, and just appreciate what all your hard work has given you.  Amazing wine and hopefully an amazing bathroom!

4) Both are super exciting to plan.  I love picking out tile and vanities.  I also love selecting the next blocks and putting them on the schedule.  It is the best feeling in the world when you have a tank that stubbornly doesn’t want to finish fermentation yet you are somehow able to coax the yeast out of their funk and get it to go dry.  There is no better feeling than that!

5) Both need the little wins celebrated.  When we finished the demo of the bathroom this weekend it was a mess.  I HATE drywall dust.  Seriously! However, as my husband and I were sweeping it all up I realized that we had reached a critical point in our project.  The point where you stop tearing apart and start putting back together.  At this point, we are over 50% finished with the fruit that is scheduled to come into the winery.  That is also a tipping point.  We have started down the home stretch and while it seems like it will be a dramatic finish with the high sugars and the early rains, there is a light at the end of the tunnel now.

As to the rains, I welcome them.  We desperately need them.  We need rain more than we need a stellar vintage right now however I definitely don’t think these few small rainstorms will have a detrimental effect at this point.  We are not looking at another 2011 simply because in 2011 we were struggling to reach 24 Brix.  This year it seems like we will be very lucky if our average Brix stays at 26-27.  We could use some more hang time so bring on the cool weather and the rain! The Cabernet can take it!

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 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.