Tag Archives: Grapes

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.

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!