Monday, August 31, 2009

Blackbird Vineyards | Ma(i)sonry Napa Valley

As we conclude the last day of August 2009, the harvest moon is almost upon us, signalling the "beginning of the end" of summer and the slow creep of fall. This transition period is the most invigorating for Napa Valley vintners as the fruits of a year's labor come to fruition.

If the current weather patterns hold true, Blackbird Vineyards will harvest its Bordeaux grape varietals (Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon) in early October. Most of the winery's grape sources, including its estate vineyard in the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley are located in the southern end of the Napa Valley, allowing for more moderate daytime temperatures. This will (hopefully) lead to greater balance in the fruit at harvest time with sugars, acids and physiological development all coming together. Mother nature will have the last comment here though...

Next posting, we will discuss the emerging wine program for Ma(i)sonry Napa Valley.

More to come...

Paul L. Leary
Blackbird Vineyards | Ma(i)sonry Napa Valley

Zahtila Vineyards Ramping Up for Harvest 2009

Zahtila Vineyards, located in Calistoga at the top of Napa Valley, is busy preparing for this year's harvest. We are permanently installing a propane based generator to provide power to all of the crushing equipment. Zahtila Vineyards was originally built as a residence, not enough to run a working winery. Each year we bring in a temporary generator, this year it's being made permanent.

Zahtila Vineyards purchases 90% of the fruit we use to make our delicious chardonnay, zinfandels and cabernets. This year, your author, Laura Zahtila, has been visiting the contracted growers in anticipation of this year's harvest. Cabernet from Rutherford for the Bentley program (the first vintage of 2007 to be released next year), Dry Creek zinfandel, Napa cabernet and Napa chardonnay growers are all a part of the extended Zahtila team.

More will be shared about those grapes as harvest gets closer. We are still a couple of weeks out from picking the first crop. Chardonnay and Dry Creek zin will be first!

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Oh baby don't it feel like heaven right now, Don't it feel like somethin' from a dream...The waiting is the hardest part, Every day you see one more card. You take it on faith, you take it to the heart, the waiting is the hardest part.

--Tom Petty

We can never know about the days to come, but we think about them anyway...Anticipation, keepin' me waitin'

--Carly Simon

Harvest always comes a bit later for mountain top vineyards than on the valley floor. Cooler day time highs, and warmer night time lows produce Cabernets of intense color and structure, but on a very different time line. Many years I'm just getting started as other winemakers start their Thanksgiving vacation...which can create a bit of nervousness in a rainy year.

As a high altitude winemaker with a low altitude home address, patience becomes more than a virtue, but a keeper of sanity. I wake up to hear tractors starting up for night time harvesting, laying in my bed wondering..."maybe it's time to service the Kubota." Sometimes I'll walk out and watch their pickers for awhile, then go home and force myself back to sleep.

It looks like my waiting will be over soon. I do grow some valley floor Sauvignon Blanc which may come in the end of this week. I was walking that vineyard this morning and the flavors were really starting to show a lot of ripe melon, citrus, and gooseberry. I'm hoping the acid will drop a bit more in the next few days...only time will tell. After the Sauvignon Blanc comes in, there is often a bit of a lull for me...but that gives me time to get the Sauvignon Blanc juice settled, inoculated, and down to barrel to ferment. Another few weeks, then I can start thinking Merlot and Chardonnay.

Until next time,
Andrew Schweiger
Winemaker, Schweiger Vineyards

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Pinot Noir at Trefethen Family Vineyards

Another warm day in the valley... it's already 85F at 10:00AM, having gone up a full 30 degrees since sunrise. This late season heat is sure to accelerate the ripening process after a relatively cool summer so far.

Here at Trefethen Family Vineyards, in addition to growing all the grapes for our estate wines, we also grow grapes for sale to about a dozen other Napa Valley wineries. These winery clients include a few sparkling wine producers and theirs are always the first grapes to come off. They pick at lower sugars to ensure great natural acidity.

We started the sparkling harvest last week and this morning we continue with a block of Pinot Noir going to Domaine Chandon. There's a lot of action in the vineyard right now but we'll be out of there by noon, before the heat really kicks in.

It will likely be another couple weeks before we begin harvest for our estate wines - with our ripest Chardonnay blocks still only around 20 brix. Having just finished bottling the 2008 white wines, that should give us just enough time to prepare the winery for the first load of grapes!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Merryvale continues harvesting Sauvignon Blanc

Harvest began for Merryvale on August 20th with Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Musque from Juliana Vineyards. Since then, we have also picked Juliana Vineyards Semillon, and additional Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Musque from the Oakville appellation, all crushed at Starmont. On average, we have been harvesting Sauvignon Blanc around 23 or 24 Brix and it has nice natural acidity. We are optimistic about the quality as the vines have shown beautiful melon, citrus, and floral flavors, and yields have been average or slightly below average. We will finish harvesting our warmer climate Sauvignon Blanc early next week, and two Oak Knoll blocks of SB will continue to ripen on the vines.

We anticipate beginning the harvest of Pinot noir at Stanly Ranch in Carneros near Labor Day. Some of our blocks of Chardonnay are also close.

We also have Merlot in Calistoga that is now at 23.5 Brix, with nice early berry flavor development. This block will likely begin the harvest at the Merryvale facility in St. Helena, and we also anticipate harvesting this near Labor Day.

Harvest has begun at a nice pace, with moderate weather. The forecast is for some warming this weekend, and then a return to average temperatures next week. Harvest will really kick into full gear for us after Labor Day, as we currently have Chardonnay, Pinot noir, Merlot and even some Cabernet between 20 and 23 Brix.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

UNFILTERED: 50 Vintners Talk Harvest 2009

Crush is upon us! It is both an exciting and exhausting time of year for most folks in the wine business, especially those with production jobs. Our goal is to get you as close to the action as possible. A sort of fly-on-the-winery-wall point of view, so.....

Starting this week we have deputized 50 Napa Valley winery professionals as Harvest Reporters to upload their UNFILTERED impressions and experiences of the 2009 harvest season. Our reporters span the gamut. Winemakers are well-represented but we also have vineyard managers, hospitality and marketing staff, and operations managers sending updates. Participating wineries range from micro-producers with a few backyard vine to larger wineries utilizing fruit from throughout the valley. The blending of these individual stories should result in a complex and layered view of Napa Valley's winegrape harvest, just like the resulting wines of this legendary appellation.

We invite you to join us in this most energizing of annual experiences. And, of course, your comments and questions are welcome and encouraged!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Harvest 2009: Game On!

Harvest season is a contact sport. Game on!

If wine growing/making were a sport, this past week would have been the start of playoff season. The "regular season" typically begins in March for most varieties grown in Napa Valley, with bud break.

Sticking with the sports season analogy, you can think of bud break as tryouts where the crop of hopefuls make their intentions known. Some make it, some get cut. Strength training of the selected vine shoots constitutes the spring routine, progressing into the season opener: bloom. Bloom, typically in May for most of Napa Valley, is when the young grape clusters flower and things get a bit more serious, and vineyard folks start keeping score. A good bloom is akin to an impressive, winning-streak jump start. A good start gives you momentum and options. A bad start (foul weather, like high winds or rains) can interfere with pollination and cause poor fruit set, meaning that the vineyard team will need to run a tight ship the rest of the season to produce a profitable harvest. Veraison is the mid-season progress report, when the grapes color and analysts weigh in with opinions. And then, five or so months into the season we get to this past week...the first round of regional playoffs.

The sparkling wine houses always go early, as evidenced in this video. Close behind is Sauvignon Blanc, with reports from both Honig and St. Supery that they've begun receiving grapes. Over the next 2-4 weeks the other varietals will start coming in from the fields, too, as the season ramps up to a traditional state of semi-mayhem for most of September.

There you have it; harvest = playoffs. It's sleeves up, head down, dig deep and push hard time. You just have to love this time of year!

For Napa Valley vintage recaps and super-informative harvest charts going back to 1990, click here.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Vintner Office On Track With Vineyards

Oh, so many fun puns in that header...IF you know that the new NVV office is flanked by railroad tracks on one side and vineyards on the others. It is also a nod to the fact that our construction schedule is roughly mirroring the annual winegrape timeline: ground broke on restoration of the old Jackse Winery in March, before vine bloom, and is on schedule to complete by end of the year, relatively soon after most of this year's grape crop will have finished their tenure in fermentation tanks and moved to oak aging barrels.

Below, NVV Board of Directors tour the work in progress. Pictured left to right are: Rick Jones, Jones Family Vineyards; Paula Kornell, Oakville Ranch Vineyards; Kathleen Heitz Myers, Heitz Wine Cellars; Pat Stotesbery, Ladera Vineyards; Rachel Wyckoff, Auction Community Board Member; Ray Chadwick, Duckhorn Wine Company; Linda Reiff, Napa Valley Vintners; Bruce Cakebread, Cakebread Cellars.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Five W's of Social Media

On Tuesday, August 13th, more than 200 winery owners and staff turned out for a half-day training on the growing importance of social media and the most popular tools of engagement.

An esteemed line-up of industry consultants and vintner practitioners contributed to the workshop, which was the third in a series of programs hosted by the NVV on the topic of social media. Thank you to our guest speakers, listed here in order of appearance:

Vintners Pour for SF Foodies

Viader and V. Sattui were two of the 60 Napa Valley wineries which participated in the inaugural San Francisco food & wine celebration known as SFChefs.Food.Wine. The four-day tented event, held in Union Square August 6-9, attracted thousands of attendees.

A portion of event funds went to help support four San Francisco charities: San Francisco Food Bank, Meals on Wheels, Project Open Hand, and The Golden Gate Restaurant Association Scholarship Foundation.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Softball Bragging Rights

Woo Hoo! Slow-pitch softball was the excuse; beer, hotdogs, and friendship were the real reason for the 5th Annual Napa Valley Grapegrowers vs. Napa Valley Vintners Softball Challenge. Result? A good time had by all!

Click to see more pics.

Congratulations to the Vintners' pitcher and MVP Tom Bracamontes of Mi Sueno Winery, and to the rest of the NVV team:

  • AJ Fairbanks, HDV
  • Bob Torres, Trinchero Napa Valley
  • Cante Swearingen, Viader Vineyards & Winery
  • Hugh Davies, Schramsberg Vineyards
  • Jackie Diaz, Joseph Phelps Vineyards
  • Jeff McBride, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars
  • Keith Hock, J Davies Vineyards
  • Paula Schweiger, Schweiger Vineyards
  • Peter Godoff, Castello di Amorosa
  • Richard White, Mumm Napa
  • Robert O'Malley, V Sattui Winery
  • Sheryl Stillman, Sterling Vineyards
  • Taylor Bartolucci, Madonna Estate

Monday, August 3, 2009

We Aim To Please, Responsibly

Seminar on Responsible Beverage Service

More than 65 winery tasting room and hospitality staff attended our ongoing "Responsible Beverage Service" (RBS) certification workshop on Thursday, July 30 at the Bardessono in Yountville. As part of the two-year RBS certification, attendees learned

  • Best practices for responsible beverage service
  • Tips for dealing with intoxicated guests
  • How to prevent service to minors.

    The course -- taught by Jerry Jolly, former Director of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), who spent 31 years with the California ABC -- is part of the Napa Valley Vintners' broad effort to encourage sustainable business practices in the Napa Valley.