Tag Archives: Grape Harvest

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.


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.


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 2011: How California became Italy

This year has had it all.  We started with heavy frost on the Central Coast, rain during bloom and spring hail.  The craziness continued with a long temperate summer which was punctuated by few heat spikes (if you can call mid 90s a heat spike out here).  Growers fought Powdery Mildew and numerous invasive insect species all summer including the European Grapevine Moth, Light Brown Apple Moth, and the Oriental Fruitfly.  For those growers who were able to get through the gauntlet of summer, everything was looking perfect until early October when the rain came back and brought with it watered down flavors, muted colors, and botrytis.  As I woke to the sound of frost fans in northern Napa Valley today I felt that we had come full circle. 


Today is the last day of harvest for Asti Winery.  We’ve survived although the last three weeks have been crazy and stressful.  It’s also a time of reflection over the wines that are fermenting away from this vintage.  The floral whites are beautiful.  Marked by crisp acid and intense white flower and spice notes, the Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer have really stood out this harvest.  The Chardonnays that were harvested before the first October rain, while lower in alcohol, are displaying elegant fruit flavors and balanced acids.  The alcohol conversions on whites this year were insanely high.  Sugars that were picked at 23 Brix are topping out in the 13.5% range showing extremely efficient yeast conversion.  Chardonnays picked after the rains look to be less concentrated than the pre-rain picks plus they are showing Botrytized characters that lean towards a bit earthy in most cases.  Luckily most of our lots are pre-rain thanks to the hustle of our vineyard crews and growers. 


It was yesterday as we tasted through pressed off Cabernets though when I came to the realization that my tasting notes were not that of a typical California Cabernet.  Aromas of raspberry leaves, black currants, and sous-bois shined through in the best examples with high acid and moderate alcohol on the palate paired with moderately high powdery tannins.  Granted these wines are pre-ML and have not seen oak for the most part but it struck me as very similar to my notes on Cabernet  from Tuscany.  As we’ve been saying all along, this vintage will be vastly different from what has become the norm in California.  There will be some bad wine out there, I’m sure, but I believe that there will also be a new style of California wine to be found this year.  All the proponents that have been wishing for lower alcohol, this is your year!  The reds had the opposite issue from the whites as the conversion rates were very low. Even the higher Brix reds (which were anything over 24 this year) are only showing in the high 13% range.  It’s going to be interesting to see how these wines develop and how each winery dealt with this challenging year.  Most of all I feel sorry for anyone who gets one of this vintage on a blind exam down the road because it’s going to be so different from what is accepted as a typical California style.


As for me, I’m looking forward to capturing the spirit of this vintage in my wines this year.  I think it will be fun!

Harvest 2011 – Week 10 – It Rains… so I make Soup!

Well, we all knew it would get to this. What we didn’t know is how much it would rain. Asti topped out at almost 2 1/2 inches of rain over last week. We’re getting more today as well. Rain during this time of year is challenging for several reasons.

1) When it’s raining there is no sun. No sun = no photosynthesis and no photosynthesis means ripening stalls for the duration of the time that there is no sun.

2) The water absorbed by the vines dilutes the sugar and flavors that you have already accumulated meaning you’ll have to wait longer to get to the same sugar levels than you would have without the rain.

3) The water on the grapes can dilute the sugar and flavor if the grapes are picked or transported while they are still wet.

4) The moisture can cause berries to swell and burst, giving way to mold and rot. The added moisture in the atmosphere will lead to mold and rot by itself if these conditions exist for an extended period of time.

So it is worrisome all the way around! We’re waiting patiently (well not really THAT patiently) to see what the weather will hold for the next week. There is another threat of rain this coming Sunday so that means any dry day this week we’ll be harvesting our little hearts out!

On a happy note, we are now in the middle of my favorite season of the year! Fall is the time that I take to bake and cook hearty dishes like roasts and stews. One of my favorite is my Fall Harvest Soup. This is one of the first things I make every year because it really makes your home smell of baking spices and roasted fall flavors. The puree is super versatile and can be used for soups, breads, and pies plus it can be frozen so if you make more than you need for one recipe you can freeze the rest for later. This soup is very thick and hearty and is perfect for those chilly evenings or rainy days during the late fall and early winter. I’ve used it as an appetizer to Thanksgiving dinner or as a quick lunch on a rainy weekend. It’s on the menu for this week at my house so I thought I’d share my recipe with you.

This recipe should be considered guidelines not actual rules since each of the ingredients are approximations. I normally look for texture, smell, and taste to guide me in my preparations.

Fall Harvest Soup

  • 2 ½ cups of Fall Squash Puree
  • 1 ½ cups of Chicken Stock (not broth)
  • ½ cup of heavy cream
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Cinnamon and roasted squash seeds to garnish

Place the Squash puree in a pan over medium heat. Immediately begin to stir in the chicken stock until the mixture resembles a uniform, thick soup. Continue stirring while adding the cream and salt and pepper to taste. Once the soup is heated completely, pour it in your favorite fall bowls and garnish with cinnamon (and toasted seeds if desired).

Fall Squash Puree

One Fall squash (acorn (large sized), butternut (medium sized), or pumpkin (small sized))

If using small enough squash to roast in halves add the following ingredients to the hollow of the squash…

  • 2 Tbs of unsalted Butter
  • 1 Tbs ground Cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground cloves

Pre heat oven to 375° F. Prepare a cookie sheet with an aluminum foil covering to bake the squash. Halve the squash carefully and remove seeds and loose pulp from the center (Seeds can be cleaned for toasting) and place the two halves on the cookie sheet, hollow side up. Divide the butter and spices between the two halves of the squash placing the ingredients in the hollow left by the seeds. Put the squash in the oven, again hollow side up, to bake for 1 hour. After 45 minutes, test the flesh of the squash with a fork for tenderness. The fork should easily slide in when the squash is fully cooked. Remove the cookie sheet carefully from the oven and let the squash cool. Once the flesh is cool, pour the melted butter and spices into a food processor. Scoop out the flesh of the squash and put that in the food processor as well. Puree until smooth with no clumps.

Toasted Squash Seeds

  • Seeds from a cleaned Squash
  • Drizzle of Olive Oil to coat
  • Cinnamon to coat
  • Salt to taste

Pre heat the oven on 200° F (Broil on low can be used for a quick toast). Put the seeds in a bowl and make sure to remove most of the pulp. Drizzle with olive oil until coated. Dust with Cinnamon and salt and mix well. Spread the seeds over a cookie sheet (cover the sheet with foil for easy clean up) and place in the oven checking and moving frequently until lightly golden. Seeds should have a light crunchy texture when eaten.