Tag Archives: Winemaking

Harvest 2014: Week 9 – So Where Are We Going to Put That?

After the events of last week, my thoughts are that we are pretty much finished with the normal ripening process for this harvest.  We had another rain storm that dropped an additional 1/2 in of rain on Calistoga and thunderstorms on Friday that brought a massive hail storm and lightning to the valley.  Luckily it doesn’t seem that any fruit was severely damaged from the hail but all the moisture in the air has started to take its toll and some of the green mold that comes with rain is starting to show up.  The canopies look tired and the vines have fully lignified signaling their start towards dormancy.

When one looks around the valley more often than not the vineyards are picked now and slowly turning to the beautiful yellow of fall.  Harvest now becomes a logistics game.  Who has tanks?  Who has crews to pick? Who has trucks to haul the fruit if the first two questions are met with answers.  With the rain during week 7, some of the high Brix that we had been seeing went backwards a bit so we aren’t going to be seeing the incredibly high brix harvest that I had feared.  Flavor concentration still looks good so that is a blessing.

I couldn’t help but think about anyone doing dessert wines because I bet this year would be stellar for botrytis and combined with the ripe fruit concentration that was reached before the rain, it has the potential to be a fantastic year for desserts.  I’ll have to reach out to my winemaking buddy and dessert specialist, Roger Harrison, to get his take on it.

Some growers are already seeing the end to their season while for the rest the end is almost in sight.  I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and barring any major fermentation issues this harvest should wrap up smoothly and very early.

Harvest 2014: Week 8 – What Do Harvest and Home Renovation Have in Common?

Harvest is racing along now.  With the rain last week (0.25″ in Calistoga) and the threat of yet another storm this week bringing the same amount or more on Wednesday and Thursday, we are starting to make triage calls.  This can hang, that needs to come in, etc… This may be our last week of whites, leaving only the Bordeaux reds hanging out.  Quite a few of our reserve blocks came in last week with the balance coming in early this week (planned before the rain so excellent timing on To Kalon’s part!)

At home we are still working on our Master Bathroom.  The drywall is going up today and tomorrow and the tile installation will start on Friday.  It is going to be great but with our hard work over the weekend it got me thinking about the ways that both home installation and harvest are similar.

1) Both are weather dependent.  The moisture in the air causes drywall mud to cure more slowly as well as thin set on tile so it slows down the process even if it is dry in the house.  Same is true of moisture with harvest.  Rain brings harvest to a halt completely and excess moisture slows down the ripening process and can cause rot (luckily we haven’t seen any major issues this year!).

2) Both feel like they take FOREVER! When you are in the midst of a crazy project or harvest it seems like it has been going on a LONG time and the end is no where in sight.

3) But when they are over you look back and think “That wasn’t so bad.” It seems like such a fun thing in hindsight that you forget the lost sleep, the setbacks, the sluggish tanks, the blown reno budget, and just appreciate what all your hard work has given you.  Amazing wine and hopefully an amazing bathroom!

4) Both are super exciting to plan.  I love picking out tile and vanities.  I also love selecting the next blocks and putting them on the schedule.  It is the best feeling in the world when you have a tank that stubbornly doesn’t want to finish fermentation yet you are somehow able to coax the yeast out of their funk and get it to go dry.  There is no better feeling than that!

5) Both need the little wins celebrated.  When we finished the demo of the bathroom this weekend it was a mess.  I HATE drywall dust.  Seriously! However, as my husband and I were sweeping it all up I realized that we had reached a critical point in our project.  The point where you stop tearing apart and start putting back together.  At this point, we are over 50% finished with the fruit that is scheduled to come into the winery.  That is also a tipping point.  We have started down the home stretch and while it seems like it will be a dramatic finish with the high sugars and the early rains, there is a light at the end of the tunnel now.

As to the rains, I welcome them.  We desperately need them.  We need rain more than we need a stellar vintage right now however I definitely don’t think these few small rainstorms will have a detrimental effect at this point.  We are not looking at another 2011 simply because in 2011 we were struggling to reach 24 Brix.  This year it seems like we will be very lucky if our average Brix stays at 26-27.  We could use some more hang time so bring on the cool weather and the rain! The Cabernet can take it!

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.