Tag Archives: Wine

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 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 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.