Tag Archives: Pinot Noir

Harvest 2014: Week 4 – The Earth Shakes

I suppose every vintage has its challenges. This one just happened to include a 6.1 earthquake with the epicenter a short 4 miles from Robert Mondavi Winery’s Napa Barrel storage warehouse. We have canceled the blocks we were going to pick tomorrow. The warehouse is a mess. We are not sure what was lost yet but it is a true miracle this quake happened in the middle of the night. If it was during the workweek I’m sure we would be missing more precious assets. The winery itself was largely unharmed minus 4 stainless tanks that decided to take a bit of a walk. I went in earlier this morning to help clean up. It was far less dramatic than it could have been. All the lab chemicals were unaffected. The equipment was still on the counters. My office was shaken up with the computer monitors tossed around and knocked over just like most everyone else’s. I spent some time cleaning up the winemaker’s vault with our lab manager. Most of the bottles on the floor were intact and just needed to be replaced.

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The actual quake was very surreal. The massive boom woke Brian and I up first, then a full 20-25 seconds of intense rocking as if a giant was shaking the house back and forth. I waited, frozen, waiting for the crashes of broken glass I was certain would shortly follow. We had found the light by the time the shaking stopped and turned it on just in time to see the ceiling can rocking precariously above our heads. My first words? “That was BIG! If we felt that here then it was major!” I immediately turned to Twitter to see who else had felt the shaking since our house seemed to be intact for the time being. This was my first earthquake, which now rounds out my list of natural disasters. As someone who has experienced tornados, hurricanes, blizzards, Ice storms, floods, volcanoes and now an earthquake, earthquakes are at the top of my least preferred list right above volcanos and tornados. Granted the volcano that I experienced was not up close and personal so that would probably make a difference in the rankings.

We’ll see what the rest of this week brings. If you are interested in what I was worried about before the earthquake keep reading.

I can’t believe that it is Week 4 of harvest 2014 already!  We’ve made great progress on the Sauvignon Blanc which will probably be finished by the end of this week.  Pinot Noir started coming in last week with our first blocks and will move steadily along this week with a constant stream of Pinot every day.  Last week’s weather was perfect for grapes to ripen with cool nights and moderately warm days however this week it is supposed to warm up a bit.  The fog is forecasted to lift early tomorrow and bring warmer weather.

I always get nervous with potential heat spikes while picking Pinot Noir.  It is a delicate variety and usually does not ripen at a constant pace the way Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon does.  It has a reputation for being fickle and no where is that more prevalent with watching the Brix numbers on Pinot Noir.  It will stall for a week, sometimes more, then jump rapidly over the course of 2-3 days.  Anticipating these jumps is more an art than a science.  It’s a gut instinct where you have to take the numbers with a grain of salt and trust your tastebuds in the field.  Heat spikes exacerbate the wild swings and can turn what is a reasonably restrained Pinot block at 23 Brix into a raisined, jammy monster at 26 in the blink of an eye.

We’ll see what this week brings us but so far we are doing well and catching the jumps when they happen.  Anticipating what the Pinot is doing is also keeping my mind off of the fact that in 2 weeks I get the results from this year’s MW exam on September 8th.  I’m still in that happy world of possibilities right now where anything could happen and I can’t imagine that I failed yet again.  Having failed the same part of the exam 4 times does lead me to believe, just out of habit rather than real proof, that a 5th time is unlikely to change. However, I have a hope that this time might be different (Add in Liza Minelli singing “Maybe This Time” from Cabaret here!).  I can’t bring myself to actually prepare for another fail, not when I’ve spent the past 6 years thinking that I was going to be an exception to the rule. Common sense says I should, but deep down I’m a dreamer and the dreamer in me wants to believe that if I put enough time and effort into something I will achieve it regardless of the evidence to the contrary.

In the meantime, I’ll continue focusing on the Pinot Noir. Maybe glance at the Merlot and Cabernet (that are chasing the heels of the Pinot) at 22-23 Brix already and keep my mind occupied until I have to face reality, whatever that may be on the 8th of September.

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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.

Week 3- Pinot Tails

Right now I’m tooling around Napa Valley, listening to Mumford and sons, and walking vineyards. Specifically Pinot Noir vineyards. One morning, Genevieve and I tracked our steps and realized we had walked over 5 miles in 3 hours. It’s great exercise and also a wonderful way to see what is happening with the fruit. This year, now that I’m at Mondavi, I have the luxury of being out in the vineyards every morning. I’ve already memorized all the blocks of Stanly Ranch and the locations of our other family owned vineyards for Pinot Noir. I’ve never been able to learn vineyards so quickly before and the little discoveries that I’ve found about them are so exciting. This hill has more flavor, that slope has better color, the tannins smooth out when you cross the rise. All of these things are discovered by tasting the fruit. I chew the skins to determine the potential color extraction, taste the pulp, and look at the seeds to determine ripeness and readiness to pick. That, together with the lab analysis, help us determine the date of harvest. We’ve decided to pick about 23 tons of Pinot Noir next Monday to start the red wine season so the harvest is here for the red wines at Robert Mondavi! This is earlier than normal but as I said before not that abnormally early. I still see about 1 week ahead in most vineyards. I’m still cautiously optimistic about being able to enjoy Halloween this year!