Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Midway at Miner

Now that we are well into the 2009 harvest, here is a run down on grapes we've brought in thus far at Miner Family and a quick assessment.

Day 1 of harvest came after Labor Day (a rarity for us) with the arrival of just over 5 tons of Sauvignon Blanc from Oakville Crossroad Vineyard. We will produce 350 or so cases of SB, which is down from the 800 cases we made in 2008. Also during week one, we brought in some Tempranillo and Grenache from Mike Naggiar's Vineyard in the Sierra Foothills. Beautiful, ripe, and tasty, these two reds were pressed off skins and are now in barrel (See Miner's first post, our amateur video of Tempranillo going to barrel).

All of our Viognier from Simpson Vineyard has been brought in: 75 tons this year and down from the 100 tons in '08. Fueled by Rutherford Grill ribs and cornbread, our fierce night shift crew (Wes, Ben, and Gabrielle) pressed Viognier until the wee hours (think 3am) for six consecutive nights. We barreled down some of our Viognier but the majority is slowly fermenting in tanks. After being kept at finger-numbing temperatures, our Rosella's Vineyard “777” Pinot Noir has now started to ferment in half-ton bins in our warehouse. A whopping 325 cases worth of Carneros Pinot Noir from Sunset Vineyard came in this year - an indication that vineyard yields would be up,and indeed yields look like they are up across the board for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Case and point, our first block of Chardonnay to come in from Stagecoach Vineyard yielded 33% more than last year and Hudson Vineyard Chardonnay in Carneros also came in with yields above average. We will have plenty of top notch Chardonnay to go around this year and we're planning on doing 3 vineyard designated Chardonnays: Hudson, Hyde and Genny's Vineyard.

We brought in just over 5 tons of Marsanne from Stagecoach Vineyard last week for our La Diligence bottling (a partnership with Domaine Francois Villard/Rhone Valley, France). As for Napa Valley reds, it's looking like they will be ripe soon and we will be prepared for an onslaught in the next week as Cabernet Sauvignon yields are likely to be high.

The winery is starting to smell good as we approach the harvest '09 half-way mark with around 250 tons in so far. Until next time, when we come up for air... or beer

Gary Brookman
Winemaker, Miner Family Winery

Monday, September 28, 2009

We're Not Alone

At VIADER, the mountain is filled with wildlife. I spotted a few tracks this morning while walking through the vineyards.

Wild turkeys! This is the time of year when they strike wherever and whenever they can. The result is massacred clusters, with whole berries missing, or berries with punctured skins ultimately leading to the demise of the individual berry... These bird brains travel in large flocks, hiding out in the nearby forest. Besides the threat of being chased by our Dalmation, Lady, and other predatory critters, this is a turkey's paradise.

Here's another critter siting from our neighbor's property, Burgess Cellars, taken in late January. But I also found large cat prints this morning in our vineyard.

This is not your small feline friend, but a bobcat. The bobcat seems to still be actively chasing those jack rabbits, ground squirrels and gophers that rule the underground here.

Raccoons, rattlesnakes, black bears, mountain lions... There's no doubt that Deer Park, CA is the country. Last year, the same neighbors called us last year to warn us: "Hey, we chased a black bear out of our property and it went into yours!"

Luckily, we haven't yet faced the dark furry darling. We can just sit back and enjoy the view.

Best regards,
Janet Viader
sales & marketing at VIADER

Friday, September 25, 2009

Zahtila Vineyards - In The Fray

Finally, we've actually picked some fruit! Now, for me, it's officially started as we've received our first small lot of cabernet sauvignon.

And, to show some girl-power, please see the photos of yours truly, in the green sweatshirt and Maundra, the wife of one of the part time workers, in the hat, as she and I cut clusters from the vines in Rutherford early this morning. The green netting was used to dissuade birds from helping themselves to the luscious, ripe berries.

The fog didn't lift until we were done, so the two hours from 7am to 9am were just cool and wonderful - great, grape picking weather.

Now I feel like I have a right to be tired!

Happy Harvest!


Our total, .92 tons of cabernet which will make it into the Bentley program (not even the 2007 vintage is released!).

How to Survive a vintage...

When you're smack bang in the middle of vintage and your supervisor laughs as he finds you on your feet leaning against a tank fast asleep at 3am you really do start to wonder what it's all for. That was my second vintage when I learned that night shift was just not for me, no matter how much candy, red bull, coffee or cheese toasties I consumed.

Every vintage I feel like I learn a heap of things in such a short space of time. This is my fifth vintage so far and I feel like I should be blowing out candles and cutting cake! Well, I did just celebrate my 23rd Birthday so I must be just still in the mood but I think it should be celebrated when you get to your fifth vintage and still feel the itch for fruit to come in and the excitement of the first load of fruit pulling up on the back of a flat bed.

The more I learn about wine, the more I don't know! After 3 years of studying it for my Bachelor's degree back home in New Zealand, and 5 years in the industry abroad, I still feel like a spring chicken intern. I know I could setup a pumpover in my sleep, and often have the odd haunting nightmare of broken hydrometers scattered around the cellar. I asked my boss Sally if she could interpret the dream for me and I think she was spot on: "I think you're bored and itching for vintage to start."

A very wise woman said to me recently: Be patient, and enjoy the beauty of it. Patience is a virtue; one that I clearly am lacking. We have been waiting patiently for these grapes to peak to their tastiest, and its already officially Fall! I'm reading all the blogs about crazy long hour days and juice splattered interns. Right now I feel like I hardly even deserve my beer at the end of the day.

But to be patient, is to spend a lifetime in the wine industry, knowing I will never know all there is to know about wine. Which is exactly what I intend to do. On my vintage experiences around the world I have learned that in order to survive a vintage:

  • Look after your feet

  • If you're hungry - EAT something!

  • Always find time to laugh

  • Why try harder when you can try easier? Keep it simple... stupid.

  • Even if you're a 23 year old girl from New Zealand, don't feel like you have to prove yourself.

  • The best way to earn the trust of your new work mates... is to feed them.

  • Do not underestimate the value of communication!
Here at Pride within a couple weeks I have learnt how to rescue someone inside a confined space wearing a SCBA tank, the do's and dont's of forklifting, how to weigh fruit (as of today I am an official WEIGHMASTER!), how to run a press, a pumpover and free sulphur all at once, and how to make a delicious steak marinade!

I intend to keep you updated on my experience of this wonderful winery so stay tuned. You most definitely need to check out Daniel Orisson's amazing blog entries for Chateau Montelena and I also have my own personal blog called Eno Files - everything you don't want to know about wine! at http://harvesthopper.blogspot.com/

Photos are to come!

Buona Vendemmia! (Have a good vintage in Italian)

(Little Kiwi Intern)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Race Horse Runnin'

Time goes by like a race horse runnin', open up the gates, she takes off
--"Race Horse Runnin'", The Nickel Slots

Everybody, everybody, let's get into it.
Get it started, get it started, Get it
--"Let's Get It Started", Black Eyed Peas

The horses are at the gate...and they're off!

Today we finally got things REALLY under way. I've got to keep this post brief as it's 6pm and I still have to press 7 ton of Chardonnay fruit tonight.

I'm ecstatic with the quality of the Chardonnay we picked today. Tomorrow we jump into Merlot and will probably finish Merlot for the season. Cabernet is not far behind.

We celebrated a blessing of the grapes today, officiated by long time family friend and minister, Pastor Ted Muller. The sound is a little low, and it's typical Andy Shaky Cam, but video below.


--Andy Schweiger, Winemaker, Schweiger Vineyards.

The first grapes are in...now what?

Harvest 2009 officially kicked off for Paradigm Winery last Thursday, with just over two tons of Cabernet and a shy ton of Cab Franc taking the lead in the 2009 vintage. Though just a small percentage of what we’ll harvest this year, it’s enough to get us back into the familiar pattern of early mornings, rounds of punch downs and pumpovers, perennially sticky hands and soggy feet, and grape shrapnel turning up in every odd place.

The Zinfandel will be our next project, hopefully ready to harvest by the start of next week. Zinfandel can be infuriating – uneven ripening will have some berries puckering into raisins while others in the same cluster still taste tart and bland. We watch the canopy and sigh with forced patience as we wait for the slowpokes, worrying over dehydration and willing the vine to get its act together. It always does, eventually.

The mornings are growing progressively colder, there are more oak leaves in the driveway than there were last week, and the valley glows in that special way made possible only by slanted autumnal sunlight. The other morning I arrived at work just in time to watch the sunrise. The pale sky above me was dotted with hot air balloons at staggered altitudes, some close enough to see small faces peering over the edge of the baskets. Though I sometimes wonder if what I do for a living is the best or the worst way to enjoy my favorite season, at that moment the answer was unquestionably clear.
Molly Lippitt, Paradigm Winery

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The People Who Pick

I was dreaming in Spanish, at least I was dreaming I was dreaming in Spanish. As I slowly woke and came back into reality it occured to me I could not be dreaming in Spanish for obvious reasons. Then the lyrical strains of the harmonious Spanish language again floated through my bedroom window. The vineyard outside my bedroom window was alive with pickers in the pre-dawn glow and their happy chatter filled the air. How anybody can be that happy before dawn and facing hours of backbreaking work always amazes me.

That was about ten days ago and those crews were the first wave, picking grapes bound for sparkling wine. However, now those first ripples are getting ready to turn into a tsunami of harvesting as the Napa Valley gets ready for the main event: the Cabernet Sauvignon harvest. There has been scattered activity around the valley as first the grapes for sparkling wine and then some of the white varieties were harvested. We picked the grapes for our Cornerstone Sauvignon Blanc early last week, in perfect conditions. This was our first harvest of Sauvignon Blanc from the Talcott Vineyard just outside of St. Helena (not too far from Taylor's Refresher), so I was out there at first light to watch the pick. It never ceases to stun me how hard the picking crews work. None of what we do could be possible without them. Every time I watch a harvest crew in action I realize that few of us could survive a half-hour, while these crews work at breakneck speed hour after hour until the mid-day sun forces the picking to a merciful end.

Tonight our new Sauvignon Blanc is slowly bubbling away in a cold stainless steel fermemter, while the pickers themselves sleep the sleep that only exhaustion can bring as they prepare to hit the vineyards tomorrow before the morning light illuminates the seemingly endless rows of vines waiting for them. Today we scheduled the pick of our Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon for this coming Tuesday and our Oakville blocks will be right behind. It's going to be a busy two weeks for us, but it's nothing compared to the ultra-marathon our pickers have already embarked on.

Pumping out those Pump-Overs

Our estate fruit is coming in at a steady pace. About one-third of the vines still have fruit, and within the next week we expect to pick the remaining lots of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon for our VIADER proprietary red blend, and Petit Verdot which is the main component in our "V" petit verdot blend.

Currently we have several fermentations going. To keep things fresh and for style, we use a variety of fermentation vessels including the more traditional stainless steel, concrete, and even single barrels. To ferment in the barrels, the heads need to be popped out, and the bungs tightly wedged in. Shown here is our Malbec, from young vines that produced barely 15 gallons this year.

The pump-overs and punch-downs are now a part of daily life in the cellar, and are even part of the "nightlife." Alan was here until at least 10:00pm last night! Why he didn't call his little sis' to come help is beyond me...

I've also attached a small video of our cellar assistant performing a pump-over of the Syrah. Look at that beautiful color. And it smells and tastes delicious. The caves are whirling with the "intoxicating" (for lack of a better word) airs of primary fermentation.

All the best,
Janet Viader
sales & marketing at VIADER

P.S. At the end of the video I ask Maurilio to "sonrei te" which means "smile" in Argentine Spanish. Who knew he was camera shy! :)

Harvest continues at Merryvale

Harvest is moving at full speed in Napa now. Due to hot weather all week, we have accelerated picking Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet. By the end of next week, we anticipate finishing our Chardonnay harvest. This week, we have really begun to harvest the Bordeaux varieties, particularly Merlot and early Cabernet blocks.

Fortunately, the heat was not as intense as originally forecasted, and the highs are only sustained for a short part of the afternoon. Forecasts are for a return to seasonable or below average temperatures beginning early next week. That will likely slow down the ripening in the remaining Cabernet blocks.

This morning we harvested small portions of two blocks of Cabernet from the Schlatter Family Estate in St. Helena. Attached is a pic of a few lug bins in the back of the truck.

Remi Cohen
Merryvale Vineyards

Finally, we’re off and rolling!

We started with Sauv. Blanc 18 days later than last year which is about where we think we are for the whole harvest, though this heat we’re living through is trying to force our hand. The photo is a shot of Leigh Meyering, our Associate winemaker, Ron Rosenbrand our vineyard manager, and me yukking it up because we have something to ferment.

The grapes looked great and since the 18th we’ve brought in some more Sauv. Blanc and a bit of Chardonnay, and everything is looking and tasting great. Reds are now our next target with Pinot Noir leading the way; yes I said Pinot Noir, it’s a small project we do from grapes we grow at about 1600 feet elevation that surprisingly produce some lovely Burgundian like Pinot. We’re also looking at some Merlots that are on the edge of being ready.

The winery is getting that wonderful CO2 fermentation aroma which means harvest is really under way so stay tuned as the fun has just begun!

Jac Cole
Spring Mountain Vineyard

ZD's First Day of Harvest

The first day of Harvest!

We have officially joined the Harvest hum that has been buzzing around the Valley for a few weeks with our Pinot Noir. Picked in the wee hours yesterday morning at the deLeuze Family Vineyard in Carneros, our incredible team hand-harvested the small, tight clusters of perfectly ripe Pinot Noir grapes.

Walking among the vines in the cool hours of early morning, spirits were up as the vineyard crew expertly snipped the grapes and added them to bins attached to our biodiesel tractor. Once the truck began delivering the grapes back to the winery in Rutherford, the cellar crew got to work in the unrelenting heat of yesterday’s mid-afternoon sun.

As the grapes were loaded off of the truck, ZD staff gathered around to bless the grapes and give thanks for another terrific growing season while raising a glass to the Harvest ahead. We toasted with 2007 Founder’s Reserve Pinot Noir in memory of our Founder, Norman deLeuze, an incredible wine and the perfect foundation for the Pinot Noir grapes. Then it was time to test out the new crush equipment. Chris, our Winemaker, did the honors as he gently dumped the first bin of Pinot Noir grapes into the waiting machine.

Like clockwork, the grapes were deftly sorted and destemmed before being pumped directly into the stainless steel tanks for fermentation. Once in motion, a second truck delivered the remaining 8 tons of grapes and the scent of fruit hung heavy in the air.

Meanwhile, the deLeuze family decided to combine tradition with technology and soon enough a grape stomp was under way! The three siblings stomped, taunted, teased and stomped some more as they battled to see who could make the most juice in the shortest amount of time. With juice flying and stony looks of determination, the race to juice superstardom was neck and neck. Suddenly Robert was ahead by a few milliliters, he stomped faster, pounding those grapes into oblivion, and victory was his.

Looking from feet to juice and back again, he decided against drinking his victory libation, but satisfaction could be seen from ear to ear.

Elyse Chambers, ZD Wines

The Nighttime…Is The Right Time….

…For picking Chardonnay!

OK, I know it doesn’t rhyme and isn’t as much fun as what the blues standard refers to, but it sure makes good wine. Night harvesting the chardonnay ensures that we receive cool and plump fruit. The cool temperature is important for minimizing extraction of any bitter flavors, helps the settling process, and means that we use less energy chilling the juice. The more humid night air allows the grapes to recover from any dehydration the previous day, and the firm berries transport better than hot mushy ones – they don’t breakdown as much in the bins, which gets back to the extraction point above.

The other important and too often overlooked aspect of night harvesting is that the conditions are much better for the people doing the harvesting. I know that if I had to run up and down the rows 50 times in long sleeves and pants while carrying a 40 pound box of grapes on my head, I’d much rather do it in the cool morning air rather than the mid-day heat.

Now, I’ve been talking an awful lot about Chardonnay in these last few posts and I don’t want you to get the wrong impression, so you’ll be happy to know that in the last week we brought in the first Cabernet Sauvignon from here on the Estate. We’ve got three little tanks full of some of the blackest Cabernet I’ve ever gotten my hands into. Tremendous color and plenty of great ripe berry flavor to go with it. The first full crop of our Takahashi Ranch Merlot – a blending component for our Napa Valley Cabernet – also came in this week, and it also is showing fantastic color along with some of the best flavor that we’ve seen from Merlot here at CM. If these first few tanks are any indication, this will be a fantastic vintage.

This week we will continue bringing in Cabernet from our Estate vineyards as well as from our Napa Cab growers, and we should be finishing up the Chardonnay within the next 10 days. The first of the Estate Zinfandel is on deck today, so come on by and have a look!

Until next week – Cheers and may you “be with the one you love.”

Scroll down for our intern Daniel's latest post.

Cameron Parry - Winemaker

Chateau Montelena Winery

Harvest Simple Joy

By: Daniel Orrison


Legs, back, arms, mind… tired. Hands, shirts, shoes, socks… stained. Harvest is officially in full swing. Grapes are coming at a faster pace than ever expected while the room for storage is quickly running thin. But away from specifics and onto experience…

I meet a man on my day off (first in 7 days), who took one look at my hands and asked first, ‘how’s harvest going?’ and second, ‘dead yet?’. I laughed at the later part of the question and replied with a modest but accurate… ‘almost’. He then went on to tell a story from his first harvest (he has now worked over 20), and it went something like this: He was young, out of college, ready to take the wine world by storm (sound familiar?), and his boss at the time said “son… this line of work is not pretty, you won’t be tasting wine all day, meeting women or having fun. You will be working, on call, always. Every part of you will hurt at one point and you will wish you were dead, this I promise, especially here.”

Quite a first conversation with your boss if you ask me… Cameron’s first words were much more welcoming.

The boss then said: “Because son, I’ve seen kids like you come and go, and here’s how it’s going to work. After the first week you will think you are tired. After the second, exhausted. And by the third… dead.” I can now honestly say this is a very accurate description of the harvest lifestyle. Days run together, the workload seems impossible, and the word tired takes on new meaning.

However, I feel the old man’s boss forgot a few parts of this story. He forgot to say how much fun you will have along the way (the laughs and memories), how rewarding it is to look back on everything you accomplish each day, how special it is to be a part of a tradition much larger than yourself, and how educational the experience is for anyone who loves wine. Sure, at points we’re tired, but in my eye that’s what makes it so great! The understanding that everyone is tried, everyone’s hands hurt, everyone could use a day off… but still, day after day, year after year, people all over the world wake up to celebrate the ups and downs of harvest. For instance, he didn’t mention that at 10pm, while cleaning presses in the pouring rain, listening to your cellar master, Gilberto, sing ‘life is beautiful’ you will laugh harder than you ever have. He left out how wonderful a feeling it is to put your feet up on a couch after working an 18-hour harvest day (something you can only understand after doing). Or how calming the feeling that surrounds a winery at midnight can be. The small joys, the subtle moments, and the silent “thank you” wine constantly offers its maker that reminds us of how worthwhile what we are doing is. This area, he most certainly forgot to mention. Because harvest, simply and unexplained, is about truth, hard work, discipline and tradition. These words are not to be thrown around, but respected. And while some days may be hard, tough and stressful the final product is worth every scrape… this, exactly, is what makes it so great. It’s not easy and because of this its rewards are not plain -- but amazing, incredible, and transcending (think 1973 Montelena Chardonnay). Or, in my eyes, what makes the industry move round. What excites us each morning to wake up and work hard.

Tasting on my day off. Life is good. Respect the small stuff.

God bless from Napa.



Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Barrel Fermenting Tempranillo

Mia Fassero
Miner Family Winery

Still Waiting In Calistoga

The picture is of zinfandel growing in Calistoga. As you can see, the clusters are very full and the grapes grow up against each other. This is what makes zinfandel such a challenge to grow. Moisture can build up between the grapes and in the interior of the cluster, promoting mold. We combat this by thinning the canopy, pulling leaves from the eastern face of the vineyard and making sure the "shoulders" or "wings" of the cluster are removed. It's a painful day, the day we have to drop the shoulders, but a necessary step to ensure the health of the crop.

These grapes are still growing in my vineyard in Calistoga. Last brix measurement was about 25, but seeds and pulp of the grapes still lack maturity. We'll continue to irrigate and let the fruit hang until we see the pulp turning more clear, less green and the grapeseeds become brown.

Soon, but not yet!

Laura Zahtila,
Zahtila Vineyards

Honoring Ed Debartolo, Jr in San Francisco

It's late September and I've only harvested 15 tons of fruit - 9 tons of Chardonnay and 6 tons of Pinot noir, most of it for my client, Schoolhouse.

So, what better way to enjoy my unexpected down time than to head to the Palace Hotel in San Francisco to join an all-star cast of pro-football players, rock stars (MC Hammer joined me for a quick photo) and politicos (including Willie Brown and Diane Feinstein) in honoring legendary owner of the SF 49'ers Ed DeBartolo, Jr over the weekend? DeBartolo, Jr was inducted into an internal Hall of Fame created by the 49'ers to honor the numerous legends that have emerged from their organization.

Pride Mountain Vineyards, along with a few other exceptional wineries, was invited to pour our wines for the group, which included Steve Young, Ronnie Lott and Jerry Rice. A ceremony was held to induct DeBartolo, Jr, featuring tributes from many luminaries and a serenade from his good friend Paul Anka, who had re-written the lyrics to his classic song, My Way, to commemorate DeBartolo, Jr having done it "Your Way."

All in all, it was a night to remember, and we were thrilled to share our wines with the guests. As my husband and I watched the team trounce Seattle on Sunday, we were relieved to find that the team was in excellent form, even after their night of celebration.

More information about the event can be found on the 49'ers website.

And now, back to the grapes!

Sally Johnson
Winemaker, Pride Mountain Vineyards

Children of the Valley

Clark-Claudon began our harvest this week and here Laurie Claudon shares her thoughts:

Each harvest represents a collection of stories; stories of the season & the people who made it happen. This, my 36th Napa Valley harvest, has filled me with memories of all those stories. Best of all, watching my grand children “working” & playing in the vineyard & the winery has made me reminisce about my children doing the same. What a wonderful way to raise a family as well as the next generation of grape growers & winemakers!

Our valley is full of second & third generation kids who have been raised the same. For all of the adults, harvest, though joyful, is also a time of chaos, hard work & finger crossing. Yet, for the children it is a magical time of getting up before the sun, having a breakfast of ripe grapes, playing in the picking bins, joking with the vineyard workers, & running through the vines.

Many of the top winemakers & grape growers in the valley today initiated their passion with these early experiences.

Laurie Claudon,
Co-Owner & General Manager

Photos by Briana Marie Photography (daughter of Laurie Claudon)

Everybody is out there waiting for harvest!

One never knows, here at Chateau Boswell, who is going to get first pick but usually it is the wild turkey. Wild turkeys are the great bane of the growers in the Napa Valley, but I am also blessed with resident Pileated woodpeckers, kit foxes, and deer and I would not have it any other way.

As I spend each dusk and dawn patrolling our estate vineyard I am on the search for all of these wonderful creatures enjoying the fruits of our labor. As my husband says who could blame them!? Organically grown grapes from an owner who is willing to share to keep nature’s balance by employing only distress bird noises, irri tape, fencing and radios to deter these stealth creatures from taking more than their share!

Seriously though...this is going to be one of the Napa Valley’s finest vintages; a long growing season with phenological ripeness and for many varietals ripeness without high sugar indexes.

However...as always this is another vintage where quality wines will be made in the vineyard first followed by precision and lack of further compromise in the winery. This was a year of paying close attention to powdery mildew issues, in fact one of the most challenging years for growers...proper timing and a reduction in unnecessary spraying was of the essence. Suckering and leaf thinning were primary and if close attention was paid to just the right balance between canopy management and irrigation conservation the rewards will be significant this year.

What is happening in our facility thus far? A small amount of Chateau Boswell Chardonnay, some Arietta Sauvignon Blanc and Morlet Family Vineyards Pinot Noir and Realm's Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier.

Did anyone notice that we did not have the annual blast of high heat on Labor Day weekend?...and how crazy is it that we had rain last week and incredible high heat today. Maybe the sun will get to my hillside fruit before my dear resident poachers?

Happy Harvesting to all and to all a good wine!

Susan Boswell, Owner
Chateau Boswell Winery

6:20 am. Wake up little Pinot. Time to ferment.

Scott Chafen, Winemaker
Dutch Henry

6:00 am. Where's your Zin?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Quintessa Harvests First Red Grapes

Thursday, September 17th marked the start of the red grape harvest at Quintessa with about four tons of Silverdale South Merlot.

A multi-national crew, including our picking and crush crews, many of whom have been with us since we started harvesting in 1994 and crushing at the winery in 2002, assembled to kick off the 2009 harvest. With the experience of our team, including Crush Forman Hugo Hernandez, who has been at Quintessa since the Huneeus family purchased the property in 1989, and Assistant Winemaker/Cellarmaster Benjamin Ochoa, the first few tons came in without a hitch.

The eastern half of the Silverdale South block, just in front of Quintessa along the Silverado Trail, is typically one of the first blocks harvested each year. Saturday, we will move to the interior of the property and pick Lake Terrace Merlot. Our usual 10-14 days between the start of Merlot harvest and Cabernet Sauvignon harvest will be more compressed this year because of the late start and the next few days of high temperatures we're expecting. We'll start Cabernet Sauvignon harvest begin by the end of next week.

At around 9 a.m., we stopped to take a moment to recognize the ritual of the Napa Valley Harvest. Father Brenkle from the St. Helena Catholic Church blessed the grapes and we raised a toast with the entire Quintessa family. As they say, it takes a village...

To get a picture of what harvest around here is really like, take a look at our Harvest Film on www.quintessa.com for a look at picking, crushing, winemaking that features the people and passion behind every harvest season at the winery. Or better yet, come for a visit and see it up close and live. Off we go!

Charles Thomas, Winemaker

The Grapes Are Good

At Cakebread Cellars, we began our 2009 cabernet sauvignon harvest this morning with a load of night picked fruit from our Maple Lane Vineyards.

So far we are very happy with the condition of the fruit that has come in, especially with our whites (sauvignon blanc and chardonnay). The cool season has left the vines in prime condition and the fruit is in remarkable shape with very little disease pressure or sunburn. Overall, we are seeing good flavors at very desireable chemistry as we have been able to reach a high level at maturity at very modest brix levels.

Looking forward, we expect this trend to continue as the phenolic levels in the red grapes look very good as does the weather outlook. We have spent the last few days assessing our vineyards with regards to their ability to weather the upcoming heat and we are confident that we are well prepared and any impacts will be minor.

Toby Halkovich, Viticulturist
Cakebread Cellars

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Oh the Glory of It All!

St. Supery's cellar is in full swing as we are bringing in the last trucks of our white grapes: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Semillon and Muscat Canelli.

Our grapes started coming in the beginning of August and the scent of fermenting juice permeates the cellar (and the office, too!). We all know what happens to the juice but what about all the other stuff? Stems, seeds, pulp, skins and goo (collectively known as pomace) that is collected in the large dump bins situated outside the winery?

On a busy day in the vineyard, our crew can pick enough grapes to fill four bins with pomace. Each black "bin" contains about 40 tons of pomace.

What do we do with it? Because St. Supery practices sustainable farming, we try to reduce and reuse everything we take out of the vineyard. These black boxes are trucked back to our family-owned estate vineyard and its contents emptied into our compost 'mini-mountain'. On an average year's harvest, we can turn almost 800 tons of pomace into compost. It takes about 10 months to fully decompose the waste into nutrient-rich compost that is tilled back into the vineyard.

This past year, our vineyard manager, Josh Anstey, brought 2 bins to our adopted school, Valley Oak, to replenish their learning garden. Valley Oak, a continuing education high school is part of the NVV sponsored 'Adopt-a-School' program.

Onward and upward! Looks like some of our Dollarhide Cabernet Sauvignon is coming in early tomorrow morning. More pomace!

Tina Cao, PR/Marketing Manager
St. Supery Vineyards & Winery

Hurry up and Wait!

The season started back on September 1st with some Sauvignon Blanc followed by one block of Chardonnay and some Pinot Noir from the Las Amigas Vineyard in Carneros over the next week. However, patience has been the name of the game for the past week after the valley received some rain and cooler temperatures last Saturday and Sunday.

If we look at the report from last year, we had already picked all of the above grapes, but we had also brought in Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Viognier and even a block of Cabernet Sauvignon by this time. Waiting is okay, but the danger for the near future could be that everything will be ready all at the same time...meaning the Brix and Acidity levels are at the perfect point we desire for our wines. That can be an issue because there just are not enough hours in the day to pick everything at once.

Hopefully the waiting game will be over by this weekend and we can start picking again. First up...Merlot!


Pierre Birebent
Vineyard Manager & Winemaker
Signorello Vineyards

I Love The Smell Of Fermenting Chardonnay In The Morning...

From Daniel Orrison - Intern at Chateau Montelena

Things around the winery sure are picking up. Over a 160 tons of Chardonnay has been crushed in the last week alone and several tanks have started fermentation. Workdays have gone from 8-hour shifts to an average of 13... and our (the interns) long weekends spent wine tasting and relaxing around the Valley are officially over. I know, the tragedy! This aside, though, life is good-- actually, life is great. The experience we are gaining is priceless and the work is incredibly rewarding. Our responsibility level has also been greatly increased – which means no more babysitting, constant monitoring, or safety tutorials as the amount work at this time of year simply wont allow. But on to a few things I’ve been surprised by thus far.

I’m amazed at how quickly the circumstances of any particular day can fluctuate. There is absolutely no formula or set of guidelines one can follow if he/she wishes to live the harvest lifestyle. Anything can happen! This week alone two presses have broke down, grapes have shown up late, more have come in than expected, rain has been in the forecast (followed by extremely high temperatures), new machinery needs to be adjusted, and the interns are asking about everything… which undoubtedly takes up precious time. Flexibility is key to any great wine we have been told.

I think it’s safe to argue that the winemaker is today’s version of a Renaissance Man… that is, he/she has to do and know a bit about everything. He must be an engineer (who can fix a press when it breaks on the spot… well done, Cameron), a scientist (concerning the who, what, when, where, why, and how to pick the grapes), a romantic (naturally, due to the nature of the business…), an artist (as a wine is most certainly painted), and a craftsmen (for there is always something’s around the winery that must be adjusted by hand). The position is truly interesting as making wine is the perfect mixture of exactly that – craft, art, and science.

In other exciting news around the winery, yesterday we crushed our first batch of Estate Cabernet. The grapes are MUCH smaller and also more thick skinned than the Chardonnay. Which, for the interns, means much easier to sweep and clan up. We also just received a new sorting table (MOG separator) for the crush pad. I’ve been told this too should make our life a bit easier. Spoiled, I know.

But as Cameron has said, the crew really is coming together as a team. Harvest looks to be picking up more so with the heat wave coming through and things should really start to get interesting. Lunches are better than ever… 2260 pounds and counting.

Up or down? What’s you call?

Best from Montelena,



Almost, Not Quite Yet - In Calistoga

So I wait and I wait and finally it's almost here. I know I sound redundant, but the sugars are still too low and the fruit isn't showing the maturity we want. This weekend's 90 degree heat will help, but I still think we're about 10 days off.

In the meantime, I had my first, pre-6am day. Let me precede this by saying I didn't get to sleep until 2am last night - I had a kitten problem that pushed last night's plan to much later, and then I couldn't sleep. I had to drive 40 miles to walk a vineyard and deliver bins: stop at the vineyard manager's, then the vineyard, then the warehouse - I had traveled about 80 miles before most of my friends got their first cup of coffee at the office. I sometimes long for those days!

I'll take sugars again this Monday and see what the week's done for us. I'm traveling to sell wine this week, getting in some sales before harvest locks me down in Calistoga.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Two Weeks In and Holding Fast!

It has been a busy week here at Chateau Montelena since the last post. As of yesterday we have processed 160 tons of Napa Valley Chardonnay! If it sounds like a lot, it is (for us). The numbers are pretty revealing – last year (2008) we harvested 162 tons of Chardonnay in a total of 11 days, so far this year we have picked 160 tons in 7 days, and we still have 6 of the 12 blocks let to pick! Now, to be fair, it is not just that yields are high this year (they are), but rather that yields were down last year across the north coast due to unfavorable weather conditions last spring. That’s farming for ya! Good news is that we’ll have plenty of great Chardonnay for sale in 2011, bad news is that we all have bags under our eyes from the long days – and it is just the beginning.

The past week wasn’t without its challenges either. We had a mechanical failure on our whole cluster press, which took it out of service for about 2 days while we were figuring out where to get the parts, which then had to be overnighted from Ohio. On a brighter note, we received our brand new custom built post-destemmer-sorter (otherwise known as a MOG separator - follow this link to see a video of it in action), designed to ensure that only grapes (no raisins or stem chips) make it into the tank or press. It is working well, but required a lot of fine tuning to get it just right – Chardonnay can be kinda tricky since it is a thin skinned grape.

The crew is holding up well and really coming together as a team – the great harvest lunches this year have definitely helped. The photo at top right is our pre-season weigh in – 2260 pounds of grape crushing force – a veritable ton of fun! We’re going to get a post season weight as well, so we’ll see just how good the crush lunches really are.

Our intern Daniel Orrison will have his post ready for tomorrow, so check back then.

BTW - Daniel is third from the left in the front row and I'm in the back with the spectacles.

Until next week, cheers!

Cameron Parry - Winemaker

Chateau Montelena Winery

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


While many vintners are busy bringing in their winegrapes, others are on the road and involved in a different staple of harvest season: the promotion of September as California Wine Month.

In the photo above, taken today on the balcony of Grand Central Station, three Napa Valley vintners (left to right: Dick Ward of Saintsbury, Kathleen Heitz Myers of Heitz Wine Cellars, and Suzanne Groth of Groth Vineyards & Winery) pour for invited trade buyers and wine media.

Napa Valley winery promotions of California Wine Month include:

So here I am wandering in the vineyard still looking for something to pick. It’s not much of a harvest Blog unless I can fine some grapes ready to come in. But never fear, we went out tasting again Monday morning and I think we have a winner; some juicy looking Sauv. Blanc grapes that will be ripe and ready come in Thursday morning. My next Blog should have a photo of us actually working, what a relief that will be!

Thanks for hanging in there (is this what they mean by “hang time”?)

Jac Cole
Spring Mountain Vineyard

Monday, September 14, 2009

Broman Cellars - barely beginning!

Driving up the valley this morning I deeply inhaled the wonderful fragrance of harvest in the Napa Valley. What an amazing time of year! The vines are heavy with fruit and anticipation is in the air for what is expected to be a fantastic harvest, both in quality and quantity.

Here at Broman Cellars we plan to produce two varietals for this vintage – Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. We just harvested some really beautiful Sauvignon Blanc last week from the Beckstoffer Melrose Vineyard in Rutherford – a whopping 6.1 tons! This is a nice amount of excellent fruit, which will translate to an increase in case production over our 2008 SB. Yippee!

The two vineyards with which we contract, Beckstoffer’s Dr. Crane Vineyard and their Georges III vineyard have some time to go. Our own vineyard on our property is looking to be several weeks away from harvest.

So now we play the waiting game and hope that the weather and Mother Nature cooperate! The rains of these past couple of days were enough to knock the dust down, but not much more.

Lisa Broman Augustine
Director of Sales & Marketing (and everything else!)
Broman Cellars

...After the rain has fallen

"Thunderbolt and lightning-very very frightening me"
--Queen, "Bohemian Rhapsody"

"There's a threat of rain on the dark horizon and all that's left is a
quarter moon of light"
--Sting, "After the Rain has fallen."

The astute weather watcher out there knows that Napa went through a bit of a rollercoaster this past weekend. Saturday morning, 2:30 AM, I'm in my back yard in old wildland gear and boots, monitoring the fire band radio, wondering if we're going to have to deal with the "Napa Wildfire of '09". Fortunately, the dry lightning stayed well South of us.

Sunday evening had very light sprinkles, great for keeping the dust down. In fact, it was just enough to clean the dust off our solar panels, and our array is back up to 100%, no water or squegee required!

The system dropped about 0.16 inch of rain to us here at the top of the Spring Mountain District, giving our red varietals a much needed drink...we dry farm here...so this is the first sip they haven't had to work for since the springtime. This has resulted in both sugar and acid levels droping fairly uniformly across the vineyard...more waiting.

The only serious concern was our Chardonnay, which is still about a week away from harvest. Although we had no signs of Botrytis going into this weekend, we want to make sure our fruit stays clean and mold free. Fortunately, the sun was out, and a gentle breeze dried off most of the fruit quickly. Chardonnay grows in very dense and tight clusters, and these tend to trap and hold moisture...what we needed today was a really large blow drier: enter the minds of Fred and Andy Schweiger...

What you see below is something quite novel this time of year, my father, driving an empty sprayer...it's our BLOW DRIER! Our spray rig is equipped with a very large, powerful fan, producing about a 50 mph breeze through the vines. Although you can't see it in the video, droplets of water are blowing out of the clusters, providing us with clean, dry fruit.


Andy Schweiger, Winemaker and blow dry stylist, Schweiger Vineyards.

Que Sera del Syrah?

The busy bees below were picking and crushing our estate Syrah for the better part of today. I saw my brother Alan out there in his vineyard hat, driving the tractor and forklift carrying a few half-ton bins of Syrah into the crushpad area for processing.

The Syrah fruit fit snugly in one of our square burgundian concrete fermentation tanks.

Alan's next plan of attack: Cabernet Franc (pictured right).

Note his trusty chocolate lab Emma by his side. This morning she was barking and barking, hanging around Alan when he was driving the farming equipment. She also has a bad habit of running around the tractor as she yaps away...

To be continued!

All the best,
Janet Viader
sales & marketing at VIADER

Friday, September 11, 2009

ZD Wines Anticipating Harvest

Bright and early this morning the ZD Tasting Room troops met up with Chris Pisani, our Winemaker, and Rafael Llamas, our Vineyard Manager, for a taste of life in the vineyards pre-Harvest. There has been a lot of waiting and watching taking place at the winery these days as we anticipate the Harvest crush and, today, the Tasting Room staff was granted a behind the scenes look at what this waiting entails.

Pulling into the deLeuze Family Vineyards from the Carneros Highway, you are greeted by a charming old house surrounded by vineyards for as far as the eye can see. A small chicken coop near the back door filled with peeping chicks is a welcome reminder that you’ve arrived someplace special and seemingly untouched by the buzz and hum of Napa Valley, the destination. You are immediately transported back to the agricultural roots that make this location so unique.

Walking over to the vines you can see chickens in a range of colors scampering about and snacking happily on vine-loving insects. They are one faction of ZD’s sustainable farming techniques designed to harmoniously marry the art of winemaking with healthy vines and soil. Gazing at the chickens stand Rafael and Chris who are ready to lead the group through the vineyards for a closer look at the grapes that make up our wines.

First up is Chardonnay. The grapes are developing beautifully and we are anticipating Harvest in the coming week or two. Sampling some of the grapes was such a treat and we all found ourselves steeling quick nibbles of the sweet grapes, warmed and mellowed by the morning sun.

The Pinot Noir grapes are planted furthest from our starting position and, as we meandered over, the deep purple fruit looked picturesque hanging in small clusters along the vines. Chris trimmed a bunch of the Hanzel-selection grapes for the group to try. The tightly bunched clusters of smallish grapes are a point of pride for Chris and the winemaking team. The sparsely irrigated vines result in low-yielding, intensely flavored grapes ideal for our Pinot Noir.

Using a Pressure Bomb to test the stress-level of the vines (I’m hoping to try the Pressure Bomb on myself later today), we were able to witness the small droplets of liquid eked out of the tested vine, revealing how the surrounding environment has affected the plant. The Pressure Bomb measures the amount of pressure that exists in the vine between the roots and the tips and is used to evaluate how much need the plant has for water or how well it has adapted to its environment. The results? The vines are in peak condition for harvest.

Bringing samples back to the winery, Chris will test the brix and ph levels in the grapes to further forecast our Harvest date. In the meantime, the cellar is sparkling as the Winemaking Crew has scrubbed, sprayed, cleaned and prepped in anticipation of the first truckload of grapes. Hopefully we will have some more harvest news to report in the coming days! Stay tuned.

ZD Wines