Tag Archives: Napa 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.



Week 11 and 12 – The End!

After a grueling 12 weeks (well really 8 weeks if you really get down to brass tacks) we are finished. A week ago we received our last fruit. It was fast, hurried and at some times very scary as we just barely squeezed all the fruit in the door. Tank space was at a premium and there were days when we didn’t see space for the fruit two days ahead of us but it always managed to work out. Now we’re just going through the remaining fermentations and macerations and deciding when to press.

In the winery, everyday there are baskets of spent skins waiting to be pressed. The basket presses themselves are working hard, a reflection, of the fast intake of fruit 25-35 days ago.

It will probably be mid-November before all the tanks are pressed and all the wines are put to rest in barrels for the next few months while we turn our attention to blending the 2012 Cabernets and beginning the blending of the 2013 Pinot Noir. A calm has settled over the winery now. One which I hope will continue for the next few months until bottling season comes next spring.

Week 8- Just Hang on for the Ride


I snapped this quick photo of one of our vineyards this week while I was quickly trying to get to see all of them. Long story short, almost all if them are ready. After the rain last Saturday, the weather turned mild and breezy which quickly dried everything out. That first rain ( 1/2 inch in Oakville) really helped dust everything off and refresh the vines. Now they are forecasting a second shower this upcoming Sunday evening. We spent this week brining in as much fruit as we reasonably had tank space for even before the threat of a second rain was realized. The quality still looks fantastic and I remain highly optimistic about the vintage. When one is in the thick of it, as we are now, there is only one thing to do. Hang on for the ride. The middle of harvest I imagine is kind of like surfing (having never surfed myself this has no basis in personal experience). You’re being pushed along by a force greater than you can control and you can either ride it or be pummeled by it. Working long hours most days of the week, I find myself running on pure adrenaline most days. Add that to the occasional rough nights that my 11 month old’s teething causes and you have one exhausting mix. There are so many details to remember at this point during the winemaking process that the only way I have found to stay organized is by carting around at least 7 clipboards and a 3 ring binder in a bag everywhere I go. It’s heavy but it works. What do I need them for you ask?
1) Binder full if vineyard maps
2) Recent Brix analysis
3) Tonnage estimates by block
4) 3 day harvest schedule
5) Today’s harvest instructions
6) Analysis and additions ordered for tanks already crushed.
7) Tasting sheets for the juices and fermentors.
In short, all the information I would need at any given point in the day. I am convinced that you can not make wine without clipboards. Surviving harvest is all about organization and I think I have a system worked out that will allow me to surf this wave if fruit all the way to the end. Week 8 is halfway!!!