Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween pics from Freemark Abbey!

Horror in the vineyards, dark clouds championing a horrendous rain, followed by days of humidity…and Riesling grapes succumbing to that creepy, sporulating, gray, parasitic mold called botrytis cinerea, the “noble rot” or “Edelfaule” of German fame. Oh no…scary mummies in the vineyard (insert scream!). But wait, you may recall an earlier blog of mine totally predicting this situation. (Sigh of relief)

Freemark Abbey makes a dessert wine from this stuff… called Edelwein Gold (noble wine). I know, it’s hard to imagine. When the rain hit a couple of weeks ago, the White Riesling was at 21.5 degrees brix (percent sugar), and ready if we were to make a dry style Riesling. But thank goodness for the rain. (this is one time I can say that) With the ensuing humidity, the individual grapes started to turn purple…then to shrivel....then to mummify and start to grow hair. Hair? Yes, think back when you were in biology class and looked at bread mold in the microscope. It is an advanced colony of mold that is growing palm tree like structures called sporangiophores, it is part of the sporulating process. Okay, enough about biology, how do we get wine out of this mess?

As you can see in the pictures, these vines were picked with micro shears, and the …fruit?...was dumped directly to the press. It takes a very patient, long pressing to get the juice out of these mummies. For us this year, the juice concentrated from 21.5 to 36 degrees brix…wow, what a sticky mess, and the yield was 60% of what we would expect for a dry Riesling style. The Edelwein Gold will be bottled in February or March. With this preamble to the process, what does the growth of botrytis do for the wine?

You may know what a lovely dry White Riesling tastes like. It typically is very fruity with spicy floral notes that resemble it’s cousin Muscat, with that hint of flint, or sometimes leechee nut with a bit of citrus. With the advance of botrytis cinerea, much of the Riesling flavors are concentrated in the remaining juice, and new flavors are created. After a long cold fermentation, with no barrel aging, the wine is bottled with flavors of apricot, peach, dried apricots, honey, honey suckle, I could go on but needless to say….it is an amazing transformation, with a long flavorful natural sweetness. I liken it to making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear…

I hope I didn’t SCARE you away from trying our delicious Edelwein Gold, the 2008 is waiting for you.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Martin Estate Harvest 2009: Quality Trumps Quantity

It was a long, late harvest in the Napa Valley this year, thanks to back to back bouts of early autumn storms that took many growers in the valley by surprise. While we anticipated the first round of rain that hit in early October, the quarter inch expected from round two quickly accelerated to several inches in some spots, although only an inch fell here at our Rutherford estate.

Martin Estate has many factors working in its favor when challenges like these arise. We have long been advocates of hand harvesting, and our commitment to this delicate, intimate style of farming served us well this year. When dirt softens into mud, human feet are much more adept at maneuvering between the vines than machines, and at Martin Estate, the rainy days didn’t cause harvest to come to a halt. We were able to patiently wait for the acids and sugars in our grapes to come into balance before we began to pick – in both rain and sunshine.

In addition, we use small 30-pound picking bins throughout the harvest. Because this method allow us to assert quality control right there in the vineyard, the micro-bins are essential to maintaining the premium standards for which we have become known.

Before the second rain drenched the Napa Valley, vineyard manager Josh Clark dropped all of Martin Estate’s fruit that looked compromised, including a few bunches in our sunnier southern exposure that had started to shrivel – as full-time winemaker Frederic Delivert says, “We are growing grapes not raisins!” When picking finally commenced, we started with the most delicate varieties – Merlot and Petite Verdot – and finished with the thicker skinned Cabernet Sauvignon.

Only the very best berries went into the bins, which were literally walked to the winery, where they were hand sorted and destemmed in yet one more step to remove any inferior material. The Cabernet was brought in last, and thanks to our new, state-of-the-art crush equipment, Frederic was able to process the remaining fruit in less than two days. In other words, the risk for this year’s crop was minimal – but any risk keeps the blood pumping and energies high.

We are finally in the last stage of harvest, with separate whole berry fermentations in 500-litre French barriques focusing the specific characters of each lot before being pressed in a small basket press. Frederic monitors the process without interruption, allowing him to make press cuts at exactly the right moment.

This harvest is one of the lowest yielding in Martin Estate’s history. Clone 6, which is the foundation for the Martin Estate Reserve Cabernet, came in at less than one ton per acre, justifying its reputation as a winemaker’s dream and a grower’s nightmare!

Frederic, however, observes the small lots in his winery with a smile, because while the yields may be low, the fruit is high caliber. Small but spectacular! Quality trumps quantity every day in Fred’s book. And that makes the last few weeks’ early mornings and late nights filled with punch downs, hose hauling, draining, and pressing more than worth it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Harvest is (not) over.

'I have only leaves and apples. Take my apples, Boy, and sell them in the
city. Then you will have money and you will be happy.' And so the boy
climbed up the tree and gathered her apples and carried them away.And the tree
was happy.
--"The Giving Tree", Shel Silverstein

It is finished.

--John 19:30b

I once worked with a curmudgeon who said harvest wasn't over until the last lot was finished with malolactic fermentation.

Well "fudge that"! I'm drinkin' tonight!

All the grapes are in! That doesn't mean harvest is over...but at least it's more under my control. I will be posting more in coming days about the indoors fun of harvest...but for now...phew@!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

far too long

HI! Miss me?

We have neglected far too long
Assuming far too much
--"Far Too Long", Anacrusis

When I agreed to guest blog here, I said to myself, "twice a week? No problem."


Even though this has been a fairly lengthy harvest, things came to a head a few weeks ago and I've been scrambling at full speed. So...what follows is a series of micro-blogs...thoughts I scribbled down but never typed up. The only common thread really...I thought of them.

Viticultural Insanity

When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide
Where I stop and I turn and I go for a ride
Till I get to the bottom and I see you again.
--"Helter Skelter", The Beatles

I can't seem to face up to the facts
I'm tense and nervous and I
Can't relax
I can't sleep 'cause my bed's on fire
Don't touch me I'm a real live wire.
--Psycho Killer", Talking Heads

The heat spell a few weeks ago pushed things along quickly. Or, shall I say, it pushed sugars up quickly. The acids stayed high, and the flavors did not develop. We chose to hold our cards and waited another ten days...during which time, sugars actually came down and the vine started to metabolize that acid downwards. Finally, time to pick!

Many wineries make a big deal about how many layers of sorting they perform. I say, it starts out in the vineyard. Here is a link to a quick video I took on our first big day of Cabernet harvest. One important thing you'll see is our method for getting rid of loose leaves...before they can fall into the picking box. We believe we pay our pickers well more than Napa Valley average. However, they are all trained in what is acceptable, what is not. If the fruit has any raisins or rot, they drop it. As they dump each box, they sort it out in the vineyard, right then and there. This time of year, our elevation gives us very cool mornings, often cooler than night time lows, and staying that way through mid day. One cool thing we observed during these pick days...moon set and sunrise at the same time!

We run a tight ship around here. On pick days, dad is out helping the guys sort the fruit while I get the morning punchdowns completed. Then dad and I take turns shuttling tractors from vineyard to winery...a great thing about our setup...the winery is in the middle of the vineyard...always a short drive to deliver. Between loads, I'm weighing and destemming the fruit. I have two helpers in the cellar, me and myself. We get along great. The three of us all have the same taste in music and almost never argue. With all the fruit coming in, the hours got longer...mornings filled with eight punch downs, tanks to drain and press, fruit to's no wonder we don't go a little insane this time of year.

Heavy clouds...

Cause I'm never gonna stop the rain by complainin'
Because I'm free
Nothing's worrying me.
-"Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head", Burt

Yep, right there at the end of our big push...rain. Wait, I don't think I spelled that right. RAIN. In Islam, it's spelled, "the mother of all rainstorms'. 4.5 inches of rain to be exact. Last Sunday and Monday were crazy here in the valley with everyone trying to get ripe fruit in. At noon on Monday, our winery was filled to the gills with ripe fruit...but, everything that was ripe was in. Am I done? Nope. There's still about 20 ton of Cabernet out there, but it is nowhere near ripe. Even without the rain, it wouldn't have been ready for another few weeks. This rain could spell trouble for vineyards that were just about ripe and delayed for a few extra would have been the first day to really be able to get out in the vineyard with tractors...but guess what...another quarter inch of rain yesterday! Thankfully, the thick skinned Cabernet is holding up well.

Break time

"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."
--typed by Jack Torrance, "The Shining" by Stephen King

Gotta get a break...Saturday I hit the wall. Came in, did my AM punchdowns, drove home, loaded the family in the car and went off to play with The California Repercussions for the day. Drove home, back to the winery for PM punchdowns. Some fun video of us playing located here and here.

As I write this, I'm finishing my last press load for a few days. I've got some barrel work ahead of me...and more fruit possibly coming in next week. Things look like they'll be calming down shortly...I've got more I want to talk about...of punchdowns, mountain fruit...or as the walrus said to the carpenter, of shoes and ships and sailing wax. But...that will come soon enough.

Andrew T. Schweiger, Winemaker, Schweiger Vineyards
Follow me on twitter:
Learn more about us at:

Friday, October 16, 2009

Did I Mention We're Done?

Well, we're almost there. We're waiting for a few tons (1 ton = 145 gallons, and a barrel is 60 gallons) of Cabernet Sauvignon from Howell Mountain. Monday, October 5th was our last harvest day for the VIADER estate fruit (See post about "Alan's Got Some Major Skills") -- well before the rains.

This past weekend was quite eventful at the winery. On Saturday our crew finished the pump-overs by noon, and we hosted our annual "Futures" Gala & Casino Games in the caves (read: glorified harvest party). With 42 people we were quite cozy in the tank room, and we later moved into the caves on the other side of the curtain to barrel taste our available futures from vintages 2007 and 2008 as we hit the casino tables. My brother Alan even gave people a taste of our two-week old 2009 Cabernet Franc pulled directly from the tank. It's quite a different animal before malolactic fermentation is completed, but it was showing so well.

Occasionally there's a slightly less glamorous side to owning a winery. Today, I had to wash our vineyard dog Lady, because she decided to get sassy with a skunk. (I forgot to mention we have those critters around here too). The weather was perfect today, but a dog never likes a bath...

This Sunday we're having our annual "family day" at the winery where Alan gives our employees the day off and we take over the cellar responsibilities. My little brother Alex, who is just in town for the weekend is going to be put to work processing the Howell Mountain fruit that will just be coming in. I volunteered to help too. What jeans go best with rubber boots? ;) Here's a picture from a couple years ago showing Alex covered in grape juice, with Mariela (Alan's wife) and Alan looking on.

Happy Friday,
Janet Viader
sales & marketing at VIADER

Regional "Best of" Wine Tourism Winners Announced for 2010

San Francisco Napa Valley Innovators Receive International Spotlight

Each year, the Great Wine Capitals Global Network's (GWCGN) "Best Of" Wine Tourism Awards offers hospitality leaders throughout San Francisco and Napa Valley the unique opportunity to showcase their best practices in a competition with other wine tourism businesses from around the world. There are seven categories in which to compete: restaurants; accommodations; architecture, parks and gardens; art and culture; innovative wine tourism experiences; wine tourism services; and sustainable wine tourism practices.

The regional winners of the 2010 San Francisco Napa Valley "Best Of" Wine Tourism Awards were announced October 15 at Domaine Chandon, last year's global winner in the restaurant category:

Accommodations: Auberge du Soleil
Wine Tourism Restaurants: The Napa Valley Wine Train
Architecture, Parks & Gardens: Chateau Montelena
Art & Culture: Clos Pegase
Innovative Wine Tourism Experiences: St. Supery Vineyards & Winery
Wine Tourism Services: California Wine Tours
Sustainable Wine Tourism Practices: Quintessa

More than 50 entries were submitted for this year's contest for the seven categories of merit making this Napa Valley's most successful regional Great Wine Capitals "Best Of" thus far. Local judges included writer Paul Franson, Gourmet Magazine's San Francisco Director, Greg Silvi, Napa County Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht, and Napa Mayor Jill Techel. Contest entrants were required to be members of either a San Francisco or Napa County chamber of commerce, The Napa Valley Destination Council, the Napa Valley Vintners, or the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"Congratulations to the 2010 'Best Of' winners!" said Clay Gregory, president and CEO of The Napa Valley Destination Council. "The 'Best Of' Wine Tourism Awards is a very important opportunity for wine tourism innovators to receive the recognition of their region and elevate their images even further on the international stage."

Regional "Best Of" winners will now move forward to compete in the international awards, which will be judged by an international panel of respected wine tourism professionals and presented at The Great Wine Capitals Global Network's Annual General Meeting being held this November in Bordeaux, France.

"Auberge du Soleil is thrilled to be selected as the Accommodations winner for the Great Wine Capitals Best of Wine Tourism award. Auberge has always focused on the most inviting experiences and truly embodies the world of hospitality to each guest that passes the threshold of the resort and restaurant," commented Kara Adamson, director of marketing and public relations.

"We are so thrilled to be chosen for this award. The Napa Valley takes its food very seriously, and there is some really tough competition for top honors in this field. To be so recognized for the work we do is humbling," stated Kelly Macdonald, executive chef of the Napa Valley Wine Train.

Jeff Adams, marketing director for Chateau Montelena noted, "We are incredibly delighted with this honor. We take as much pride in our place as we do our wines, so it is especially nice to be recognized for it."

Jan Shrem, owner of Clos Pegase, had this to say about the award: "My wife Mitsuko and I created Clos Pegase to be a temple to wine and art, where we could not only make great wine, but also share our personal art collection with others to enjoy. We are delighted to win in the Art and Culture category as this is our passion and we are dedicated to further educating people about wine and art and the enhancement of culture in our community and the world."

"We are thrilled to be honored with this award. St. Supery strives to showcase the best of the Napa Valley in an approachable, friendly way. People are learning about wine destinations in new ways and we hope to share what Napa and St. Supery have to offer through new media channels," said Cooky Logan, special events coordinator at St. Supery Vineyards & Winery.

"I am honored to have California Wine Tours recognized as a true leader in the wine tourism world. Over the last 24 years, we have invested much in our diverse fleet and most importantly in training our drivers to create top notch experiences for each and every visitor," explained Michael Marino, founder and CEO of California Wine Tours. "We are also the first transportation company to be certified in the Bay Area Green Business program, which further illustrates our commitment to excellence and sustainable business development."

"Quintessa is honored to be recognized for our sustainable practices and to be in the company of some truly great wineries," commented Gwen McGill, director of marketing and public relations for Quintessa.

Members of this year's delegation representing the San Francisco Napa Valley region at the Annual General Meeting in Bordeaux include: Napa County Supervisors Bill Dodd and Mark Luce; Dave Whitmer, Napa County Agricultural Commissioner; Clay Gregory, CEO of The Napa Valley Destination Council; Joe D'Alessandro, President and CEO of the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau; Ian MacNeil, representing Napa Valley College; Katherine Zimmer, Director of Marketing for the Napa Chamber of Commerce; Mike Fisher, representing the St. Helena Chamber of Commerce; Rex Stults, Industry Relations Director for the Napa Valley Vintners; Sharon Harris, Owner of Amici Cellars; and Linda Viviani, Owner of Viviani Destination Management/California Style.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rain, rain, go away. Come again another day (like November).

Severe rain all day yesterday! Our first major storm of the season brought us anywhere from 2.5 to 5 inches, depending on where in the valley. Merryvale's estate vineyard in St. Helena had just under 4 inches.

Even though our ecosystem and watershed need the water, most wineries would have preferred if the rain came in November. Fortunately, Merryvale has the majority of our fruit already harvested and in the winery. We only have approximately 10% of our grapes still ripening on the vines, and it is mostly well-drained hillside Cabernet. All of our estate vineyards have been completely harvested, and we just finished harvesting our St. Helena Estate vineyard on Monday with the final pick of Petit Verdot.

Driving around this morning, I stopped at a few of the blocks where we have grapes remaining on the vines. Although there is some standing water on the vines, the weather is forecasted to clear up, and they will dry out. Brix may have decreased slightly, but the few blocks I tasted still had nice flavors and concentration.

The rain would be an issue only for vineyards where the fruit is already damaged, and then the water would cause rot and mold to form, or for vineyards that have yellowing leaves and will not see much additional maturation despite the forecast for sunny weather.

Tomorrow, we will sample all of our remaining blocks to determine if Brix have decreased, and to confirm or postpone any remaining scheduled picks. The majority of the fruit will be harvested Friday, Saturday, and into next week.

Wow…what a rain storm!

We knew that we had a chance of rain for Tuesday, so we started to wrap up the picking of Chardonnay last week. We had been holding out for that last little bit of flavor development and on Saturday, finished the Chardonnay pick at Wood Ranch in Rutherford. On Monday we brought in Syrah from the Mt. Veeder district and finished the Merlot from Atlas Peak as well as Howell Mtn districts. We have a little bit of Petit Verdot left on Wood Ranch as well as the Cabernet Sauvignon. I’m not worried about the Cabernet Sauvignon because it has loose clusters and thick skin, which helps protect it from bunch rot. However, the Petit Verdot has a tight cluster, and I think we should pick it as soon as we can get in there. We have a little Mt. Veeder Zinfandel, which should probably come in as well. So what am I not worried about and hope that it succumbs to bunch rot…..WHITE RIESLING!

Freemark Abbey makes a late harvest Riesling called Edelwein (noble wine) Gold. Imagine you are the winemaker. You are diligently walking the White Riesling vineyard, taking samples and appraising the degree of ripeness. You have been observing the vineyard for weeks, watching the green hard berries turn to yellowish green, softening to the touch and developing the ever so pleasant spicy, fruity Riesling flavors. The degree of sugar is around 21.5 degrees brix ready to pick and then, we get a dousing rain storm, leaving everything soaked, including the soil. This scenario happened yesterday. We had a relatively warm rain that is going to be followed by a few days of warming weather, creating the perfect conditions for the parasitic mold botrytis cinerea to grow on the berries. This is the “Noble Rot” or Edelfaule of German fame. After a week of warm weather, following the rain, we will probably observe that the greenish golden berries are turning purple and slightly brownish purple. While this can be a disaster with most wine grapes, often called “bunch rot”, we know that we can make our famed dessert wine “Edelwein Gold”. With a dose of patience, we will let the grapes stay out there longer.

I’ll be walking this vineyard diligently over the next few weeks, to see if the botrytis grows.

Stay tuned…

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Art of the Triple Sort

At Signorello Vineyards, we have been "triple sorting" our red varietals for over six years. We triple sort the grapes to make sure no raisins, stems, rotten bunches, leaves, jacks or anything else besides berries make it into the fermentation tanks.

The grapes are picked at night into 30 lb trays (champagne boxes) which are then dumped one by one onto an elevated conveyor where the crew begins the first step of the process. Crew members stand at the side of the conveyor picking out the leaves and rotten bunches before the grapes are dropped into a destemmer where they are destemmed, not crushed.

From the destemmer, the berries move to a vibrating table (le trieur) where the raisins and green shots (non polinated berries) are removed.

From the vibrating table, the berries move to a third, flat conveyor where the rest of the crew tediously picks out the little pieces of stem, jacks and any remaining leaves. On average, we have at least six to eight crew members working the flat conveyor to make sure the crop is pure before entering the fermentation tanks.

From there, the whole berries, skins and juice are pumped into the fermentation tanks for a 25-30 day maceration period. During this maceration period, the tanks are pumped over and pressed down twice a day to give the juice the best possible flavor and color.

This process is very slow going (about 1.5 tons per hour), but is worth it because the final quality of the wine is so good. We wouldn't have it any other way!


- Pierre Birebent, Vineyard Manager & Winemaker, Signorello Vineyards

One good storm and the cellar's full

So as of 10:30 this morning our trusty Picovale weather station out in G-block here at Montelena had recorded 1.99" of rain, the station at our Chardonnay vineyard just north of Napa showed 2.03", and it is still dumping out there. We all saw this comming and were part of that great scramble that Molly Lippit spoke of in her most recent post. This past Saturday we harvested all 44 tons of our remaining Zinfandel and Primativo in anticipation of today's storm. Here at Montelena we're all about taking our time and waiting for optimal ripeness, but sometimes the correct course of action is to go go like crazy and get the fruit in. The other consequence of this is that the winery is now full, at capacity, and we're having to put wines to barrel as soon as they go dry in order to empty tanks just so that we have that volume to press into. This space crunch isn't surprising though as we are on track to set a record for the largest harvest in the modern history of Chateau Montelena. We were expecting a slightly above average size harvest... Just goes to show that you never know what you're going to get until it is in the tank.

My recommendation for a grey day like today is a warm fire, a good book, a close friend, and a bottle of Chateau Montelena Zin!


Cameron Parrry - Winemaker
Chateau Montelena Winery

Monday, October 12, 2009

Battle of the Palates Winners announced!

Napa Valley Vintners' Battle of the Palates Winners

Congrats to Eddie, Gillian and Yvonne from PlumpJack Restaurant Group who took top honors at our Battle this morning in SF.

We had about 25 trade and media in attendance and sounds like a good time (and challenge) was had by all. The tasting was quite a challenge, but a great education experience. Nothing like trying to identify grape leaves and juice!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Rain Dance

There's no better way to see an entire industry scramble than to mention a threat of rain while most of the valley's vines are still bearing fruit. Consult the National Weather Service, and we're getting a solid 5-8". Consult and we've just but a 40% chance of showers. I walked a block with a winemaker who purchases grapes from the Paradigm estate earlier today, and her exasperation seems appropriate to mention here. "I like to imagine all those meteorologists sitting around throwing darts at a board. 'Gonna rain? Sure. How much...well, just hit a number and we'll tell them that.' They have no idea how insane it makes our lives!"

So scramble we will. Our Merlot is ready to harvest, and was a pick that, pre-storm warning, we'd earmarked for a Tuesday arrival. The rain will apparently besiege the valley Monday evening. Alright then, we say, we'll harvest Monday morning and be happy. But the other two producers who take our Merlot, and the one who takes some of our Cabernet, want their grapes now. Tomorrow. Yesterday. So early today we sit down with our vineyard manager, query him with the robustness and staying power of the picking crew he's assembled, and wonder how we can make this happen. Done, he says.

Within an hour, the winery was a cluttered mess of picking bins, frenzied winemakers, and energized pickers, all awash in the melodic timber of excited Spanish. The luxury of a methodical harvest has left us. What we're faced with is the art of intelligent compromise - what needs to come in, what could come in, and in what we have the confidence of allowing to ride out the storm.

A big rain is a legitimate concern - moisture on the fruit can exacerbate mold concerns, canopies that have already begun their gradual decline might not bounce back, and, above all else, the rain makes working outside just a trifle more challenging. Dusty dirt quickly becomes sticky mud, and your feet will never, ever forget the chill of a cold, wet October morning.

Our Merlot buyers will get their fruit this weekend. For both producers, this means processing in one weekend what they would normally process in one week (since we are, without a doubt, not the only grower they are harvesting this weekend). Crews will work overtime, double-time, whatever time is needed to carry the grapes from picking bin through to tank. This is the beauty of what we do. Harvest flirts with routine, it alludes to control, but at its essence we are all at the mercy of the sun, the clouds, the wind. I have yet to meet anyone truly dedicated to this industry who would have it any other way. We are an agricultural society, and as such we are all loyal disciples of the church of Mother Nature.

The upside here is that the wines we've made so far, and the fruit that we're picking this weekend, are stellar. Consolation prizes, perhaps, for the frenetic dance we've been forced into to prepare for the week's precipitation. The grapes left out hanging have strong canopies, and should tolerate the rain well. Forecasts for the days following the storm are clear, and truthfully, a little rain does nothing more than wash the dust off those late-ripening varieties.

When everything is picked, when tanks are dry and barrels are topped and buttoned up for a cozy winter's nap, this week's drama will be an interesting talking point in the grand story of the 2009 vintage. But for the moment, the adrenaline of knowing where we need to be and what it will take to get us there is enough to remind us that we are all but pawns in a much larger game.

Molly Lippitt
Paradigm Winery

Friday, October 9, 2009

Well it’s really fall and really harvest now; almost on the dot the weather broke from excessive heat to beautiful autumn Napa Valley weather and all the grapes say thank heaven! We brought in the little bit of Pinot Noir we make, come by the winery and I’ll explain, and we started on Merlot and one small tank of Cabernet, but none the less we’re really into harvest. We were hopeful that our yields would be a bit up from last year, a dismal 1 ton an acre, though there is incredible concentration and intensity, we were hoping for a robust 1 ½ tons an acre which would be close to normal. The drought still is in effect and Mother Nature is still a bit tight with her water.

We’re all done with whites except for a late harvest Sauv. Blanc we’re doing this year and the reds in the tanks look great. Aside from a little rain coming next week we’re looking very good and hope to be all in by Nov. 1. We should see a landslide of Cab starting by the end of next week, so hold on to your hats and I’ll let you know how it’s going. If you’re in the neighborhood, come on by and I let you sort some grapes.

Ciao for now,

Jac Cole
Spring Mountain Vineyard

Waiting for "Just So"

It's a waiting game. We're waiting for "just so." Simple ripeness is not enough. Everything has to be just right - sugars, acids and phenolics all have to be "just so." It's a tough balance to achieve and in many vintages, like Godot, it never arrives. Because nature rarely offers perfection harvest is usually a battle of nerves—ours vs. Mother Natures and Mother Nature always wins. For small production wines like Cornerstone it's all about precision harvesting. We focus all of our attention on small blocks of vineyards and strive to harvest at the moment of perfection when everything is "just so." This year it seems that Godot himself has actually arrived as each of our vineyards has been coming in at the perfect point. Picking at perfection is only attained by being in the vineyards and knowing your vines. Pictured above, Cornerstone's winemaker Jeff Keene (left) and consulting winemaker Peter Franus walk our Hardman Road Block in southern Napa near Silverado Country Club. We've picked half of our Cabernet Sauvignon now, but this block, a cooler site, is perhaps a week or more away. Indeed things are looking very, very good in Napa.

Craig Camp

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Cabernet Harvest at Quintessa 10-14 days Behind Normal

It's the first week in October and we have finally picked our early Cabernets - mostly from the estate's south and southwest facing hillsides - Dragon's Terrace, Riviera Sur, and South Terrace blocks. We started last week with the vineyard edges and have continued to pull in more this week. It's a bit of a late season, with Cabernet Sauvignon pick dates averaging a week or more later than last year and the gap between Merlot, which is always the first pick off of the property, and Cabernet 10-14 days later than normal. Merlot has been closer to two weeks later than last year, mainly the result of delayed budbreak this spring. Why the delayed budbreak on Merlot? Another one of nature's mysteries.

The quality of both the Merlot and Cabernet is excellent so far with small berries, even ripeness and minimal berry shrivel from the hot spells in September.

The moderate weather this week is a relief from the seesaw hot-cool-hot-cool weather we had a few weeks ago. Temperatures through the end of this week and weekend look mild and skies are clear.

Meanwhile, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon fementations for our Illumination Sauvignon Blanc are finishing as projected, with bright tropical and herb aromas coming out from behind the yeasty fermentation smells. We are beginning our second round of battonage on the early lots this week.

Come visit to see harvest in full swing, it's a sight to behold. If you can't make it to Quintessa, visit us on the web and check out our harvest video at


Charles Thomas, Quintessa

Monday, October 5, 2009

Parry Cellars

Different style, different content: Today I turn my blogger hat over to my close friends, Stephen and Sue Parry. Their winery is truly a quality micro-production...they start and finish in one day. Once everything is picked, I take over up at Schweiger Vineyards, working hard to create the best wine I can for Parry Cellars. I'll have more news from Schweiger soon!

Andrew Schweiger, Winemaker, Schweiger Vineyards

So, with no further ado, take it away, Sue...

Parry Cellars, located on the Silverado Trail north of St. Helena, completed their harvest on Friday, October 2 - all 3.17 tons. Our harvest doesn’t take long since we only own a half-acre vineyard with some 1,200 cabernet sauvignon vines that we know up close and personal. It takes longer for Paul Saviez Vineyard Management’s crew to set up the previous day— hauling in the truck, fork lift, tractor, trailer and bins—than the two hours it takes for harvest! Picking began at first light when the temperature was a chilly 40° and was finished by 9:00 am. Stephen and I spent our time picking out leaves from the bins, plus a couple of comatose lizards. The grapes were then hauled up to Schweiger Vineyards and Winery on top of Spring Mountain where Andy makes our wine. After going through the destemmer—my favorite machine—they went into tank at a nice cool 42 ° . The grapes looked great and tasted wonderful with the potential of being one of our best cabernets yet!

Cheers, Sue and Stephen

The best, worst first day...

Pride Mountain Vintage '09 - It all began with a 49ers loss against the Vikings, a hangover combined with a lovely dose of Monday-itis.

Monday, September 28th kicked off our grape crush with our first official grapes from our estate here at Pride Mountain. We already had around 15 tons in our cellar but this day was to kick off the beginnings of our estate fruit. When we arrived there was already about 3 tons sitting on our crush pad - fast, efficient and reliable PMV vineyard workers were delivering our first batch of Viognier. I moved directly towards the scales to step up to my new responsibility of WeighMaster, turned the scales on only to read "Code 8." Uh oh. This meant trouble! The cords were all connected, but it was telling me they weren't. Plus, we were expecting more Viognier!

8.30am, the mastermind of "Mr Fixits," a coworker here we commonly call MacGyver, pulled everything apart as we called for the scale's engineer to come up and fix it for us ASAP. Not only that, but our must pump was giving us problems! We had to cancel picking for the day and it took about 5 hours for the scales to be fixed. A 12 hour day for 4.5 tons of Viognier! A number of other Monday-itis events occured but our spirits were kept high with a continuous shuffle of 1970s hits, a delicious BBQ and lame, cheesy jokes. Love this place!

A week later and we have processed another 40 odd tons of Viognier, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah. We have a record harvest of Viognier this year of 35 tons and theres still some left to pick! I'm just surprised at just how cold it has become, and so quickly, too! Being a vintage hopper has kept me away from brisk winters because I've literally just followed the summers, but this year my job will keep me here over Christmas - I'm a little nervous!

Renee Dale,

Forty Years of making Cabernet Bosché!

Yes, this is the fortieth harvest of the Bosché Vineyard for Freemark Abbey Winery. Let’s see, if math serves me correctly, that would put the first harvest at 1970. This year’s harvest started with the Bosché Merlot on September 10th, the Cabernet Sauvignon started rolling in September 19th and continued off and on through October 3rd. The vineyard is only 23 acres, however, we have it divided up into various small acre blocks to help us pin point (cherry pick) the ripening period. Differences in soil, coupled with vine age, clone, rootstock and crop size, all contribute to the rate of ripening. The Bosché vineyard is on an alluvial fan, sometimes referred to as the Rutherford Bench, that has a very deep gravelly soil. Lighter, gravelly soils will typically ripen earlier. Hence, Bosché is one of our earlier vineyards.

Not far from the Bosché Vineyard is our Sycamore Vineyard. Sycamore is typically a week later than Bosché. The soil is a clay loam, less gravelly as Bosché, yet produces very small berries and very deep rich wines. In the picture, I’m tasting and inspecting the fruit from the early morning pick at Sycamore Vineyards

Alan's Got Some Major Skills

Hey, he's my brother so I can brag about him... This morning, 7:15am they were almost done picking the Petit Verdot, but I managed to catch Alan's superior tractor skills.

Having the large bin on the rear of the tractor allows our harvest crew in the adjacent rows to just reach over and fill the bin. The alternative is to run each bucket to a large bin at the top or bottom of the row.

Did I mention we are on a slope of 32 degrees that is comparable to a double-black diamond ski run? We could probably ski if we got more than an inch of snow and we removed all the rocks, but that's rather unlikely.

Seems like we almost have all our fruit in, except for one little block of Cabernet Sauvignon. There was talk about the weekend winds causing some water loss in the berries, but our fruit was in great condition this morning. Alan was here checking the rows on both Saturday and Sunday to be sure.

Just look at that! Impressive, no?

Currently in the cellar, we have about 18 independent fermentations going on at the same time—some are in stainless steel tanks, some in concrete tanks, others in individual barrels... Thank goodness the Viaders were all born with acute attention to detail. Alan has been holding down the fort, and our mother Delia, self-proclaimed "Chief Bottleneck," will be back tomorrow after a short trip visiting the youngest Viader in high school. She has a lot to catch up on when she gets back in! She'll probably want to taste through each one. Let the games begin. :)


sales & marketing at VIADER

Full Moon Musings

I love sleep, so perhaps the most challenging thing about harvest is the lack of it! But the challenges of a sleepless ten weeks are easily overcome by the magic of night harvest. In Napa Valley during harvest, it is like an underground club. You drive up the Trail to your harvest destination and you see all the lights at all the different wineries, and you think, ‘Oh, they’re picking that block today.’ You run into the same people at Model Bakery or Starbucks as soon as they open and give each other a knowing nod, or a ‘How’s harvest?’ One of the best treats is being able to drive through St Helena with no traffic.

But my favorite part about night harvest is the moon. And last night’s full harvest moon was exceptionally lovely, and on this cold crisp night, I could really sense the changing of the seasons and I know we have only a few more weeks to go.

Last week was our busiest week, and we harvested almost 30% of our total production in one week! Merryvale finished harvesting our Chardonnay on Friday, which concluded the harvest of all of our white grapes. After today, we have only one block of Merlot left to pick, having brought in Buena Vista selection Merlot from Hyde Vineyards this morning.

We still have a lot of our Cabernet left on the vines, and we look forward to a little warming later this week to get some more Cabernet into the winery as the week ends.

We have already pressed some reds, and harvest parties are already on the schedule. We look forward to bringing in the rest of our Cabernet, and are optimistic about the quality we are seeing in the cellar so far. Cheers! Remi Cohen

Saturday, October 3, 2009

All work and no play...

Well we've been crushing everyday since the 8th of September, and we're about 77% percent complete with 585 tons processed so far this season out of an expected 760. That's a lot of long days, as Daniel has attested to in his postings, with the crew working 6 days and about 80 hours a week. The days are full of repetition, thousands of grapes going past eyeballs on the shaker table (your eyes just start to wiggle along with them after awhile), never ending early morning pump-overs and late nights cleaning the crush pit in the dark. With all this hard work and long days, the mood in the cellar tends to get a bit serious and solemn , so we like to mix it up a bit - enter Formal Day. If the office staff has casual Friday, shouldn't we have Formal Saturday? Yes it is goofy and silly, and just plain fun for everyone, the crew, the staff, and the tourists alike. This tradition goes back many years here at Montelena and is just the ticket as a mid-harvest mood breaker. Who knows, next weekend you might find us all in grass skirts and floral prints or ten-gallon hats and wranglers. You'll have to stop in to see, or at least check back for next week's blog. In the mean time, have a look at our Facebook page for more photos of our sharp dressed cellar crew in action.