Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Just Another Day in Paradise

This is my favorite time of year in the Napa Valley. Beautiful sunsets over the acres of vineyards changing colors from green to gold, with hints of red and brown. Once all the leaves hit the ground, you know the vines are peacefully sleeping, dreaming of the great vintages to come.

Underground in the cellar, all the VIADER wines have been pressed and moved to barrel to quietly undergo the usual secondary fermentation (malolactic). The only evidence remaining from the chaos of the harvest time is a great heap of grape must which will be taken to use in compost. Delia and Alan have tasted through the different lots and are looking forward to the further development of this enticingly aromatic and balanced vintage.

Amidst all this quiet, I can't stop thinking, finally we can have a social life! With the endless hours of harvest time coming to a close, I now see much more of my family (which is a good thing)! And at this time of year, we spend most of our time enjoying the "fruits of our labor" over dinner.

Happy holidays to all,

Janet Viader
sales & marketing at VIADER

Friday, November 12, 2010

I'm not dead yet! I feel happy...happy!

“What? Over? Did you say "over"? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!”
--John Belushi as Bluto Blutarsky, Animal House
A few weeks ago, after some heavy rains, a few bloggers and the media started to declare the Harvest of 2010 over. Fortunately for all of us, they couldn’t have been more wrong. It is somewhat hard to believe, but here I am, almost mid-November, with Cabernet still hanging out in the vineyard. Grape growing, heck, farming in general, after all is much like gambling.

So I handed him my bottle
And he drank down my last swallow
Then he bummed a cigarette
And asked me for a light
And the night got deathly
quiet And his faced lost all expression
He said, "If you're gonna play
the game, boy
You gotta learn to play it right

You've got to know
when to hold 'em
Know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away
Know when to run
You never count your money
When you're sittin' at the table
There'll be time enough for countin'
When the dealin's done

Every gambler knows
That the secret to survivin'
Is knowin' what
to throw away
And knowin' what to keep
'Cause every hand's a winner
And every hand's a loser
And the best that you can hope for
Is to die in your sleep"
--The Gambler, Kenny Rogers

The Cabernet we left for now was “ok” by most standards a few weeks ago, but it
still needed more time to develop the incomparably beautiful color and intensity
of flavor that is expected of a Spring Mountain District Cabernet. After that
first rain, it was tempting just to go out and bring it in. After all, we were
already sitting looking at a “good hand”. The quality of this vintage has been
great, with intense colors and aromas…why not wrap it up early. After looking
hard at the long range forecast, we chose to “double down” and let it hang. Our
canopy still had mostly green leaves to it, so, we “let it ride”.

“Reverend, you've got balls as big as church bells.”
--Dabney Coleman as Jerry Caesar, Dragnet

Well, patience is definitely paying off. With temperatures at the top of Spring Mounain District in the upper 70s off and on the past week, and going into this weekend, more of the same, we have been dealt that magical fifth Ace into our hands. Sunday, we’ll start and finish our Petite Sirah (in all of 20 minutes…this is goes into a small wine club exclusive blend) and then move onto our Cabernet Sauvignon. Dad and I have observed no mildew in the vineyard, the sugars and acids are nicely balanced, and the color…did I mention the color? It’s been a long, drawn out harvest that definitely required careful farming and patience, but I believe, once it’s all in…in its own time…it is going to be a vintage to remember.

Until next time...


Andy Schweiger, Winemaker, Schweiger Vineyards

Follow me on Twitter: SchweigerWine

Monday, November 8, 2010

Fall 2010 on Spring Mountain!

Photo by Greg Wright

The 2010 grape harvest at Vineyard 7&8 officially finished on October 22nd with a fever pitch that many in the Napa Valley were also experiencing. It was a week of eighteen hour days, coordinating picks both on the Estate as well as from our growers on Spring Mountain, crews being pushed hard and fast.

Now that all the grapes have been happily fermenting away in tank, and the early morning picking days are behind us for another year, time now allows for reflection on the 2010 harvest.

While there is no denying the challenge of the weather this year, as our fruit came in this year, our Winemaker Luc Morlet and I continually looked at each other with satisfaction with the quality being received. We noticed much less shriveling than in years past, more moderate sugar levels, and a quality of tannin in the Cabernet both from our Estate vineyard and growers vineyards on Spring Mountain that was superb.

Originally we had thought our yields would have had to be down overall compared to last year due to the amount of thinning
we did in the vineyard around veraison, but the finally tally shows us actually being about even if not slightly higher. There were some vineyards where we noticed yields being down almost 40% but others where the crop was significantly higher than last year.

Photo by Greg Wright

Now as the fermentations near completion, we continually taste for the right moment to drain the individual tanks to barrel to begin their nearly 2 year life of aging.

With the holidays approaching, and the days growing shorter, we are pleased to say the harvest on Spring Mountain this year was a great success, and should deliver another vintage of premium quality wines not only from Vineyard 7&8, but from our friends and neighbors as well!


Wes Steffens
Vineyard 7&8

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

"Rollin' with the Puncheons"

Good Afternoon All,
It has been almost three weeks since I was able to take the time to sit down and give everyone an update on how things are going this harvest. My apologies for being incommunicado but my lack of correspondence is a reflection of how busy the wine production staff has been the last 20 days. Since my last update we processed 108 tons of red fruit here at Round Pond Winery and 40 tons at our custom crush facility. On October 19th we broke the RP record for tons processed in a day by crushing 18.7 tons. We smashed that record the next day by processing 30.2 tons. I am sure that you are all aware that the rains that we had during this period played a large roll in necessitating this frantic schedule.

This year was somewhat of a déjà vu experience from last year in that we encountered two large rain events back to back. The vineyard and winery team learned a few lessons from last year on how the fruit would respond to two such rains so we picked out blocks according to fruit ripeness and the ability of some of the Cab grape clusters to hang through the rains. I think that we played the hand that we were dealt perfectly and achieved the best possible quality out of the vineyard that was attainable this year.

2010 will be the first year that we have made Malbec and Petit Sirah at the winery. I will use these as blenders but early tastings show these wines to be very interesting independently and we may do some small varietal bottlings of these. The Petit Verdot, which always impresses me, has done so again this year. I imagine that I will use a healthy dose in both our Estate Cab as well as the Reserve Bovet Cab. Currently the Sauvignon Blancs are finishing fermentation and they also taste great.


Brian Brown

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Napa Valley Harvest Nearly Complete

Last week the Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) and the Napa Valley Grapegrowers reported on the wine grape harvest to date at the annual report to media and trade held in San Francisco. As of that time, with fewer than 10% of grapes remaining on the vine appellation-wide, winemakers across the region reported excellent quality and flavor in the developing wines of vintage 2010.

See the 2010 Harvest Report.

As predicted by the National Weather Service, a Pacific storm system brought anywhere from 1-5 inches of rain to the Napa Valley floor, and in even more in some higher elevation areas throughout the region. Working literally around the clock, winegrowers, by in large, raced to get the final push of grapes to the wineries. Most vintners are reporting as of this week that their grape deliveries are complete.

Some hillside districts, which account for a fraction of the region's overall production, are either bringing in their final tonnage between this week's storms, or are riding it out awaiting the break predicted for later this week and into next week. The goal is to achieve optimal ripeness and have safe conditions in the field for crews to bring the grapes to the wineries.

"Interestingly we were in almost the similar pattern as 2007 and 2009 at harvest--heavy rains when the last of the hillside districts had some fruit remaining. We survived to make spectacular wines. There is a lot of Armageddon-like chatter out there, but still, from every winemaker I've spoken with, everyone is delighted with what they are tasting in these young wines--all across the board," said Bruce Cakebread of Cakebread Cellars whose family has a 38 year history in winegrowing in the Napa Valley.

Tom Ferrell, executive director of the Spring Mountain Appellation said, "Given that we're up on Spring Mountain, the rain we received last week was quick to run off and our grapes, smaller and tougher than those on the valley floor, stand up well to inclement weather. I've spoken with member wineries throughout the district and am hearing that winemakers are really encouraged about this vintage and excited about what they have in their tanks. Those still with grapes hanging are getting very close to picking."

Jac Cole, of Spring Mountain Vineyard, said "We're seeing great flavor development in what's left on the vine and have great anticipation about what we'll bring in over the next one to two weeks. This year is going to produce some really lovely, balanced wines."

Andy Schweiger of Schweiger Family Vineyards on the Napa-side of the county line said, "The grapes we've brought in thus far are looking fabulous. What's left on the vine is right on the cusp of being ready to pick. Looking at the long range forecast, over the next week or so we'll get 1-2 inches of rain and maybe some drizzle. Then we're looking at 70-80 degree days in early November, which will be just the little push we need to finish this year's harvest."

Wesley Steffans, of Spring Mountain District's Vineyard 7 & 8 Winery said, "We're actually finished with this year's harvest and to be completely honest, this vintage could be fantastic. We've seen less dehydration than in other years and wineries have been diligent in their crop load. Everything we've brought in is at moderate sugar levels and is tasting incredible. Even though it's been a difficult harvest, that doesn't mean that great wine can't be produced."

"Though every harvest has its challenges, we're savvy farmers and respond to what Mother Nature throws our way--if we thought it was going to be easy, I don't know how many of us would be in the business," Cakebread said.

At Trefethen, all the grapes are off the vine!

This past Tuesday, October 26th, we picked the last of our grapes at Trefethen Family Vineyards. Of course, the work of Crush 2010 is hardly over given the number of active fermentations we have right now. But, there is a perceptible sense of relief all around the winery. We are relieved not just because we are done picking but because we are thrilled with the young wines.

This morning, we tasted through some of the Chardonnay lots that are already dry. See photo of winemaker Zeke Neeley and winemaker emeritus Peter Luthi. The acids seem nicely balanced and the range of aromatics is fantastic. Many other lots, both white and red, are still fermenting.

There was one Petit Verdot lot that was ridiculously tannic, a good reminder of the major effect this “minor” variety will have on a blend. The Malbec lots are, as usual, inky in color and very fruity. Cabernet seems to have exceptional color this year, ripe black and red berry flavors and ample tannins.

It was certainly an exciting, and exhausting, vintage in the vineyard but it’s great to see that our hard work paid off. In this mostly cool season, we paid particular attention to our Cabernet Sauvignon, a very noble but very late variety. After a May that was our coolest since 1977, we were concerned that we might be picking well into November. Wanting to wrap up sooner than that, we opted to thin the crop more aggressively than usual, down to under 2 tons per acre in some areas. The net result of our swift action and some beautiful weather in early October is that we got fantastic ripeness and finished picking a full ten days earlier than last year!

I have heard the saying “it takes a lot of beer to make a little wine” and I’ve certainly enjoyed a lager or two over the past couple months. That said, when I went home Tuesday night after our last pick, I opted for a glass of our 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and believe you me, it had never tasted so good!

If you are in the Napa area this weekend, come on by our winery for some frightfully delicious wines as well as haunted winery tours. Our 19th century winery is all decked out for Halloween. Come check it out!

Cheers to vintage 2010!

Jon Ruel
Director of Viticulture and Winemaking
Trefethen Family Vineyards

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

2010 Vintage Exceeds Expectations for Martin Estate

The photos above show Martin Estate’s full-time winemaker, Frederic Delivert, hammering out the top of the last new French oak fermentation barrel here at the estate.

Yes, Harvest season is in full swing at Martin Estate and as Frederic observes the small bins of grapes being walked into the cellar every morning, he gets more and more excited about the quality of his 2010 vintage.

“I’m truly thrilled with the actions we took this season,” Frederic says.

This is great news for a Napa Valley growing season that proposed challenges for some vineyards. What did Martin Estate do differently to take its 2010 vintage to the next level?

In January, Frederic made the decision to prune his vines ahead of the normal schedule to encourage an earlier budbreak, flowering and veraison. While early pruning risks exposure to frost, as Frederic says, “we have all the state-of-the-art tools here at Martin Estate – a wind machine that acts like a custom overhead heat fan and extensive sprinkler systems – to protect our vines from low temperatures.”

Two other key decisions took place during the growing season. First, because the 2010 season experienced abundant rain until almost June, Frederic allowed the natural grasses growing between the rows to flourish. These grasses soaked up extra moisture in the soils, which ensured the grapes still struggled early in the season to find deeper, natural water sources.

And, when the early summer in the Napa Valley remained wet and cool, ripening and veraison occurred slowly – but was right on target at Martin Estate due to this pro-active approach. Some vintners decided to open their leaf canopies early to allow extra sunshine to speed their veraisons. Frederic, however, was content with the long, slow and even ripening process and his second key decision was to allow the Martin Estate vine leaves to remain thick and heavy. When several heat waves struck the Napa Valley late in the season, Martin Estate’s plump, healthy grape bunches remained protected from sunburn by the cool shade of their canopies. “I knew you could always remove the leaves,” Frederic says, “but once removed, you wouldn’t be able to put them back on.”

As with every Martin Estate vintage, Frederic worked with vineyard manager Josh Clark to green harvest the vineyard just as veraison, the period where the sugars really develop and the grapes go from green to purple, occurred. This ensured that the grapes were perfectly, uniformly ripe. Frederic and the vineyard crew have started arriving before daybreak and are hand-picking every block into small 30-pound bins, which are carried into the winery for hand-sorting.

Now, as a mild, 70 to 80-degree semi-Indian Summer sets in on the valley, Frederic sighs with delight. Soon all the grapes will be fermenting in individual lots in French oak casks, small, brand new French oak barrels and custom-designed concrete tanks. Then each lot, which is fermented separately, will go into 100% French oak barrels, where the wines will refine and age for up to two years before bottling. Frederic will continue to hover over every barrel, sampling each lot throughout the year to monitor the wines’ progress. But with such great fruit, he anticipates nothing short of a stellar vintage for 2010.

In like a lamb, out like a lion!

We have been waiting patiently for harvest to kick into full swing, and this week it has. As of this morning, Raymond has harvested approximately 60% of total tonnage. The Raymond crew is putting in long hours, and our sorting table is clocking in 14 hours a day. In the cellar, our "dream team" comprised of Sabino, Joel, Adam and Russell are busy preparing tanks. With 46 red fermenter tanks, and a turnover rate of 2.25 times per tank, last year the team drained and pressed 100 tanks.

Yesterday, we harvested 22 tons of organically-farmed estate Merlot at 23.5 Brix, our first estate red grapes to be picked this year. The vines were planted in the mid 1990s by the Raymond family, and continue to be the primary sourcing for our Reserve Selection and District Collection Merlot wines.

Cuvaison Estate Wines sorting 2010 Pinot Noir on new state-of-the-art Pellenc Vision

Watch a short video of Cuvaison Estate Wines sorting 2010 Pinot Noir on the brand-new state-of-the-art Pellenc “Vision.

This de-stemmer/sorter machine features a high speed camera that sorts roughly 1000 berries per second. The winemaker teaches the machine what to keep and what to get rid of, and it does so by learning the shape (round berries) and color (black berries), etc.

Then the machine excludes (through a well directed micro blast of compressed air) any berries or stems that are not wanted.

Visit us online
Cuvaison Estate Wines here
Brandlin Vineyard here

Cuvaison Estate Wines
Brandlin Vineyard

Cuvaison Estate Wines

Brandlin Vineyard

Friday, October 15, 2010

"On the Road Again" with Michael Honig & the NVV

Just flying back after another great Napa Valley Vintners Taste Napa Valley Tour!

This week we stormed TX and OK with over 70 vintners pouring their wines to a mass of buyers and consumers. As usual, the staff did a great job putting the trip together and I kept hearing what great events the Napa Valley Vintners host.

The first event was at the Minute Maid baseball park in Houston. Not only was it a cool venue with lots of room, carpet on the floors (makes for less fatigue on the feet), but our guests were able to hit baseballs on the field - I don't believe that's something any other wine growing area has ever offered!

The next day we were off to Dallas and our tasting in the sky (actually the 42nd floor) of City Center. The Dallas event was also very well attended and our guests were able to bungee jump of the building (well...maybe next time we will offer that experience). It was a great space and we had some of the top trade in attendance.

The finally day was Oklahoma City and the city rolled out the red carpet for Napa! The venue was the Cowboy Museum and it was a HUGE room - it seemed like the whole state joined the festivities! Oklahoma may not be the biggest wine market in the country, but they love Napa and made everyone feel like kings and queens. Not only did the vintners pour at the three tradeshows, but there were numerous consumer events that were very popular.

It was a amazing week and I think Napa was able to show Texas and Oklahoma why we are the best!

Michael Honig
Honig Vineyard & Winery

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Journey of a Generations Grape

In 1994, the Raymond family introduced “Generations” into the market, a wine that quickly became an icon in the wine industry and remains the flagship of the winery today. “Generations” pays homage to the five generations of Raymond family winemaking that dates back to Roy Sr’s beginnings at Beringer Brothers. The wine is consistently 100% Cabernet Sauvignon that typically blends grapes from three key regions including Oakville, Rutherford, and St. Helena.

Today is not only the first day of harvest for Cabernet, it also marks the first day of harvest for the 2010 Raymond Generations Cabernet Sauvignon. This morning, grapes were picked at Grech Vineyard in St. Helena, an historical site for the winery. In 1981, Nuias Depina, one of Raymond’s first employees and current Cellar Master, tore out the existing vines in Grech Vineyard, so that Roy Sr., Walter, and Roy Jr. could plant their legendary Cabernet Sauvignon. To watch today's journey of a Generations grape, click on video below.

While you were sleeping...

An ambitious Alan Viader showed up with our harvest team this morning, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 3AM. I came over to catch them while they were picking the "A-Block" Cabernet Sauvignon which is adjacent to Mom's house, so it turns out all three of us were up early!

The entire west side of the property has now been picked, and the remaining 7 acres on the east side will probably be picked on Tuesday. (All are red varieties.) So besides doing about three daily pump-overs, Alan now has time to catch up on his sleep... and Delia too!

Our crush pad has seen a lot of activity, processing several tons of fruit already. Usually towards the tail end of the picking, around 7AM, the winemaking team meets Alan at the crush pad to go through the game plan for the day. Some lots require pump-overs, and others punch-downs. All the concrete tanks are in use, with the stainless steel fermenters filling up fast, and the occasional T-bins (one-ton MacroBins) also holding exciting goodies.


Janet Viader
sales & marketing at VIADER

Slowly but Surely, the Round Pond Harvest Commences!

The thing so many people forget about the wine industry is that it is an agricultural industry. This means that first and foremost, it is a farming based business. So by nature of the business, this means we live and die by what the year's harvest brings us. This year has been a particularly challenging growing season. We had a cooler than average summer which makes it very difficult for the grapes to fully ripen on the vine. Throughout the growing season, the viticulture team went through the vineyards to perform "leaf pulling". This means they pulled leaves off the vines to make sure the fruit was as exposed to the sun as possible to achieve ripeness. Then in the late summer, we experienced a freak heat wave that was so hot, it burned a lot of the exposed fruit. Normally that fruit would be shaded and protected from the sun's harsh rays, but not this year. The heat spike only lasted 2 days, but the result was sunburned fruit.
This is not the end of hope however, it just means a lot more work for vineyard crew. When it came time to pick Sauvignon Blanc a couple weeks ago (21 days later than past years) the crew had to first make a pass through the vineyard and remove all the sunburned/shriveled grapes. They then went back through to pick the rest of the clusters that were ripe, and if there were a few sunburned grapes left on the cluster, the picking crews removed those grapes carefully before throwing them in the picking bins.
This is a textbook case of what we call "precision farming"; it can be very time consuming and expensive, but the results are worth all of the extra effort.
So as of now, we have harvested most of our Sauvignon Blanc, and a little Petit Verdot. We are still waiting on our Cabernet Sauvignon to get fully ripened, and these warm Indian Summer days are definitely helping things along. Stay tuned for more harvest updates and see more pictures on our facebook page!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Finally Kicking Off the Harvest

Last week marked the beginning of harvest for us here at Spring Mountain Vineyard. As is normal, we started with Sauvignon Blanc, but to confound the doom and gloom of what everyone knows is a late vintage, we were only two days behind the start of last year.

As you can see, (photo) we had the whole crew in to celebrate, and share a glass of bubbly to officially get the year rolling. It’s always a day full of excitement and expectation. The Sauvignon Blanc that came in was from one of our newer plantings, four years old this year, and it is a clone we are very excited about, ENTAV 376. It’s a very fruit forward, small bunch and well-balanced version of Sauvignon Blanc that will work very well in our blends.

The juice is now all in barrels and fermenting away and we are now getting ready to bring in some of our red varietals, starting with Pinot Noir and maybe a little Syrah. We’ve spent a lot of time in the vineyard of late, as you might imagine, and I must say I’m more than a little enthused about what I’m seeing and tasting. Even though this is a later than normal year, we’re already getting some great flavors in our Cabs and Merlots and I’ve got a good feeling we’ll be getting the lion’s share of the reds in before the end of October. Even though we’re hovering around 22 Brix with the Cabs, the flavors are bright and fruity and there is little to no green herbal notes, which is terrific! This could be much like the 2005 vintage, with great flavors and depth and very moderate alcohols, just ripe, balanced, and beautiful wines.

Stay tuned for more updates and I believe more good news!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Introducing Our New Vineyard Manager

Little Matthew is as excited about the maturing grapes as we are!

Last week he joined his Papa (Alan Viader) out on a vineyard check and became quite a fan of our Cabernet grapes. Since he's not even 10 months old, we can't exactly trust him to make all the picking decisions, but with a winemaker dad, and chef mom, he's sure to have a trustworthy palate. And of course, his winemaker grandma Delia would expect no less!

Harvest officially started on Monday at VIADER, located halfway up Howell Mountain on the northeast side of the Napa Valley. Picking days usually start at 4:00am, and may take several hours to process, depending on the section and quantity picked.

So far, it's been going very smoothly, as we have small lots to pick, and the weather is in the mid-70's this week. It is supposed to be warmer this weekend, so it is sure to get really busy very soon!

Here is a view of our tractor carrying the 1/2 ton picking bins through the rows. Again, there are mere inches of space between the tractor tracks and the vines, requiring precision and accuracy for long periods of time. Alan is the designated tractor chauffeur. After close to 10 harvests under his belt, he knows how to handle the tractor down the steep rocky slopes.

Tia Jani (Aunt Janet)
sales & marketing at VIADER

An Optical Illusion- Optical Sorting at the End of Harvest

Saintsbury is in the midst of its peak of harvest, and after this week only a few blocks will remain unharvested. We finished harvesting our Brown Ranch estate today, and due to this crazy season, we only harvested an average of 1.48 tons per acre. We're happy with the concentration and quality, we only wish there was a little more!

Today, we also finished harvesting our Home Ranch, the blocks surrounding the winery. We are trialing new sorting equipment today, an optical sorting device that Walsh Vineyards Management operates. The optical sorting is customizable to the winemaker's criteria and can be used to eliminate raisined fruit, green fruit or shot berries. Due to the heat wave we had a few weeks ago, we experienced some shrivel of exposed fruit on the west side of the rows at this vineyard. The optical sort is doing an amazing job at removing those berries from the line before the whole, sound berries go to the tank.

After this week, only a few lots of Sangiacomo Chardonnay remain, as well as two blocks of Syrah from our vineyard series, Sawi Vineyards and Rodgers Creek. Happy harvesting!

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Benchwarmers. Harvesting Citron Vineyard Petite Sirah.

Well if you want to laugh a lot picking Petite Sirah, then this is your crew. We picked our Citron Vineyard Petite Sirah this morning getting a total of 1.27 tons of fruit. These guys and myself were the only ones to hang around for the picture, as the A team was off to the next pick before we could even get the camera out. I think if I had to talley it up, and maybe someday I will, our crackpot crew picked about 10% of the total fruit while the rest of the crew picked the rest for us. Thank you John Arns for arranging to get the real team in there, because although very fun for a while, I think the benchwarmers were close to going on strike. Thankfully my Dad, my wife, a good friend Andy, and the funny looking Scotsman on the left stuck it out. We were especially thankful for the other guys who did most of the work.

Overall it was a great day harvesting, crushing and now enjoying the fruits of our labors. The Citron Petite Sirah looked the best it has in years, and the flavors are intense for sure. The heat these past few weeks for some reason was gentle on the fruit and did more damage to some of the leaves, perhaps sacraficing themselves for the glass of wine that we will make from it.

Bruce Devlin

Three Clicks Wines

Monday, September 27, 2010

The 'Official' Raymond Taste Testers

At Raymond Vineyards, we have been harvesting Sauvignon Blanc for just over a week. Today, we visited a vineyard on the east side of the Napa Valley, and the decision was made to pick the block early tomorrow morning. This decision was made by both our winemaker, Stephanie Putnam, and our 'official' taste tester, Winston. Click on the video to watch our taste testers in action!

With this harvest, Raymond has transitioned to predominately harvesting at night, as the cooler temperatures help the fruit retain its natural flavors and acidity, a characteristic particularly important with Sauvignon Blanc. The fruit from this vineyard will be blended into our Reserve Selection Sauvignon Blanc, a wine that sources from both cooler and warmer regions in Napa and is 100% stainless steel fermented, resulting in a refreshing wine with layers of crisp citrus and lush tropical fruit flavors.

'Sorting it Out' at Merryvale!

Today is the beginning of the Cabernet harvest for Merryvale. Although we have been harvesting our Pinot noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and some of our Chardonnay, today is the first pick of Cabernet Sauvignon!

We harvested three small sections of our St. Helena Estate vineyard, which is an early site for Cabernet and normally gets harvested shortly after Labor Day! We picked a tiny block of Cabernet Franc, and two lots of Cabernet Sauvignon.

All of our St. Helena Estate Cab gets picked into 25-pound boxes and transported down the hill in these boxes. Then the grapes go through a gentle but rigorous sorting process and are gravity fed into tiny 2 to 5 ton tanks that were designed for this vineyard.

Since Merryvale remodeled the cellar in 2006, we have the fortune to not only have beautiful tanks designed for the vineyard, but we also have the latest in sorting technology. The bins are gently unloaded onto a table conveyance, where we have four people to remove any leaves and any clusters with shrivel or other imperfections. Then we de-stem, but do not crush, most of our Cabernet.

After the destemmer, the grapes pass along the Le Trieur sorting table. This table removes raisins, shot berries, and pieces of stem by shaking the berries along the table over a screen that causes undesirable material to fall below and be removed from the process before the fruit gets to our third sorting device.

The final sorting device is called Le Mistral, named after the famous strong, cold and usually dry regional wind in France, coming from the north or northwest, which accelerates when it passes through the valleys of the Rhone and influences the ultimate character of wines from this region. Le Mistral sorting device uses the force of air currents to separate the good grapes from material other than grapes (MOG) and imperfect berries. A stream of air, an air blade, blows away light debris including pieces of leaf and stem, and shot or raisined berries.

The outcome of such a slow and thorough process is pristine whole-berry fruit in the final bin that then gets gravity fed to tank in a very delicate manner. We believe that his helps deliver the purest expression of our vineyard. Cheers!

Schramsberg Harvest Dress Report #2

Harvest 2010 had been progressing at a steady pace, with us running 24hrs per day and then it all stopped!!

We have received about 80% of our grapes. This equates to 17 days of picking, about 76 press loads of various sizes and 228 hours of pressing. That said, this has been a very relaxing harvest. The peculiar thing about harvest 2010 thus far is that the ripening of the grapes has not been normal; the question must be posed what is normal? The true answer is we don’t know, its agriculture and we must take what Mother Nature throws at us - although we like what she has thrown so far, a long and cool growing season, with the grapes taking their sweet time getting ripe.

We had the big push at the beginning, and the pressure was building in the cellar with the overwhelming feeling of too many grapes and not enough tank space. This is a problem we encounter each and every harvest, at the beginning of harvest there is lots of money in the bank per-se, as all the tanks are empty with ample space to receive the freshly pressed juices . As the days add up and the ATM machine of empty tanks is depleted and we are definitely running in the red trying to keep up.

The 3rd week of harvest was about to begin when out of nowhere we had this cooling trend and slight rain incident - fortunately the rain was negligible. Due to the weather we took a one week hiatus from harvesting grapes; this is unheard of at Schramsberg, and truthfully it was a relief. Many of the juices have now made the transformation from juice to wine, and the cellar crew was able to catch up on barrel work, wine movements and most importantly sleep. The winery has also benefited from the break as the crew has made fewer mistakes, meaning less people wearing the harvest dress, although the dress is awaiting its next victim.

Harvest is on again, with some of our best chardonnay and pinot noir vineyards on the cusp of peak ripeness for sparkling wine. The Schramsberg harvest is long, due to the diversity of our cool climate vineyard sources. It takes patience, dedication and hours in the car to visit our 90 + vineyards NUMEROUS!!! times for sampling and tasting grapes prior to making picking decision, especially this year as the grapes are taking their time getting ripe. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, however the tunnel is long and the remaining 20% of the grapes to come in will likely take twice as long as the first 80%.

Till next time here's some photos of our most recent recipient's of the harvest dress.


Violaine Henry, our French intern accessorizing the harvest dress

Dan Blakley, taking charge of the essential tool to a successful harvest, the grill!!

Joann, our visiting Winemaker from New Zealand, going for the super hero look

And finally, as previously mentioned Julian, just enjoying the dress while racking a tank

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A view from the Mountain

I'm taking a break from my normal style of blog lyrics or movie quotes, no photos, no silly jokes. In fact, most of this post will have not been written by me (blogging made easy!). A few weeks back I participated in the authoring of a press release from the Spring Mountain District Association. Much of it was relevant to the Napa Valley Vintners blog, so, I present to you, with no further ado...

ST. HELENA, Calif.-- Despite concerns expressed by others in the wine industry, high above the fog line on the sunny slopes of the Mayacamas Mountain range, Spring Mountain winegrowers are excited about the prospects for the 2010 vintage. In late, cool growing seasons like this one, many growers fear under ripe grapes which offer green flavors or rain damage. But on the slopes of Spring Mountain on the northwestern border of the Napa Valley, winemakers welcome and celebrate the differences between vintages.

Winemaker Andy Schweiger of Schweiger Vineyards pointed out several reasons for this:
“Mountain grapes have more color and character, with less tendency toward green
characters in all types of growing conditions. Even in a cool late year, we
expect dark color and bright berry aromas in our wines. Mountain grapes have
smaller berries with tougher skins that stand up better to rain. Water drainage
and air circulation is different on the hillsides, and with sunny mornings,
mountain vineyards dry out quickly from a harvest storm. In the mountains,
problems caused by rain are extremely rare.”

Spring Mountain wines are not the only ones that might prosper in a cool year. There are growing regions in California that are often a bit warm for the grape variety that grows there. Warm years are not always their best years. But in unusually cool years, wine quality moves inland away from the fog or rises above it.

Viticulturist Ron Rosenbrand of Spring Mountain Vineyard explained the role altitude plays in his mountain vineyards:
“Whether it is foggy or clear at night, inversion conditions make the mountains
significantly warmer allowing mountain vines to continue to “work” at night. In
the morning, mountain vineyards above the fog line wake up to early sunshine and
continue the work of photosynthesis. Combine that with our warm, shallow soils
and eastern exposure; a cool and late season can work in our favor.”

Beyond obvious weather conditions, a vintage in California is often categorized by the performance of one grape variety, Cabernet Sauvignon. This ignores that California has diverse plantings. Beyond weather and different growing conditions, a vintage is not about a single varietal. Because of its complex terrain, soils, and microclimates, a number of grape varieties excel in the Spring Mountain District.

“We grow Merlot which ripens earlier than Cabernet,” points out Sheldon Richards of Paloma Vineyard. “On the steep slopes and in the stressful soils of Spring Mountain, Merlot welcomes a year that is a bit cooler and wetter. If we get a storm, the strong breezes we get afterwards on the mountain dry things out quickly.”

Steve Pride of Pride Mountain Vineyards echoed the sentiments of many Spring Mountain winegrowers:

“Although the year got off to a late start, up here at 2100’ we have been
enjoying nearly ideal growing and ripening conditions all summer. We managed to
get the shoot growth stopped weeks before veraison and the balance between fruit
and canopy has never looked better. Although the late spring start means our
harvest will be late, we have extremely high hopes of 2010 being an outstanding

Talking with the winemakers on Spring Mountain, it’s hard not to sense their excitement and enthusiasm for the approaching harvest. They know that no matter what Mother Nature brings during the next two months, it will be recorded and savored in their wines. And judging from the past, they expect this year to deliver well-balanced, age-worthy wines.

Spring Mountain, officially established as an American Viticulture Area in 1993, was described 25 years ago by a prominent wine writer as “probably more responsible than any other Napa hillside for creating the mystique of mountain grapes.” The appellation lies above the town of St. Helena on the eastern slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains that separate Napa Valley from Sonoma Valley. Encompassed within its bounds are about 8,600 acres, of which only 1,000 are planted to vineyards. Currently the region has just over 30 vineyard / wineries.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Blessing of the Grapes at Chateau Montelena

It was turning into a perfect (if a tad bit hot!) day today when I ventured up to Chateau Montelena Winery for one of their harvest traditions - the Blessing of the Grapes. As I walked up the stone staircase that links Jade Lake to the historic Chateau, the sun was just starting to creep behind the winery, offering some welcome shade for the friends and family gathered to participate in this old tradition.

After a short welcome from Jim & Bo Barrett (which even included a little song and dance!), the two Priests in attendance said both a Catholic and Jewish blessing, followed by a sprinkling of Holy Water on the grapes as well as the attendees - after all, the Blessing of the Grapes not only asks God to watch over the grapes that will form the foundation of this year's vintage, but includes a prayer for the people who will be working many, many long hours over the next few months to turn those grapes into wine!

At the close of the blessing, Placido Hernandez, vineyard foreman and a 26-year veteran of the Chateau Montelena team, broke out his incredible operatic skills to sing a beautiful rendition of Ave Maria. I could not have imagined a more perfect ending to the ceremony.

As Jim Barrett put it, here's to "another opening of another show" - Happy Harvest 2010!

Julie Crafton, Napa Valley Vintners

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Chardonnay Progress Update from Ceja Vineyards

With great anticipation, Armando Ceja, Winegrower at Ceja Vineyards, awaits the 2010 Chardonnay harvest on Las Amigas Road in Carneros, Napa Valley. Join him as he shares this year's progress, just a few weeks before harvest.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Berry berry good!

This year, we're slicing and dicing our vineyard blocks even smaller - picking smaller sections of the vineyard separately - which now requires a bit more berry sampling than years past (37 to be exact). I'll give a more detailed report at "Crush Time" about how many individual fermentations we get going. It will definitely beat last year's 22!

Our cozy lab is nothing to write home about, but it gets the job done. Here Alan measures the sugar levels (degrees Brix) in the berries, and also can check pH, TA (titratable acidity), sulfur (free SO2) and the fancy microscope is used so Alan can get a closer look at any bugs to determine if they are harmful pests or beneficials.

For berry sampling, individual grapes (or berries) are collected from different clusters to get a sense of ripeness in one area. The grapes are then stored in little sandwich baggies and lightly pressed to allow the juice to run.

In this photo, Alan was just starting his berry sampling in a few sections, and had nearly a dozen more to go!

Results? Wait, wait, wait. There are a few sections that passed the "taste test" and are reaching phenolic ripeness. For many other sections of our mountain vineyard we're close, but no cigar.

Janet Viader, sales & marketing at VIADER

Friday, September 17, 2010

Interns or Indentured Servants?

There’s nothing better than two fresh-faced and enthusiastic young folks coming into the winery for harvest, eager to learn about grape growing and winemaking. They’re a shot in the arm for the whole winery, adding great energy and good spirits, but the best part is they will do all kinds of monotonous and arduous jobs that come along. Everything we ask them to do - from bottling to grape sampling and scrubbing tanks - it’s all a learning opportunity for them, full of the joy of new experience. For me, it’s getting loads of tedious work done. (For our cellar crew, I suspect it’s more like hazing freshmen).

For this harvest, our two interns are Katie Rabago, a student in the winemaking program at Cal Poly SLO, and Alan Daly, a biochemist from Ireland. It is a great learning experience for them both, but we do work the heck out of them. The basic deal is: we give them invaluable experience, and in return, we work them like indentured servants, working ten to twelve hours a day, six and seven days a week when we get to the middle of harvest.

Since harvest is a bit tardy this year, we’re getting all our bottling done right now. And as you might guess, we’ve got them building boxes, working the line, and sneaking in lab analysis during the off moments. The crazy thing is, they’re still smiling! Yep, it’s the best of worlds for the winery; they work their butts off, and then say thanks for letting them do it. God, I love interns!

Stay tuned for the further adventures of Katie and Alan to see what wonderful grunt work we find for them next, all in the name of education. I believe shovels and rubber boots are definitely in their future.

Jac Cole, Spring Mountain Vineyard

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Chardonnay coming off the vine at Trefethen!

We began picking our estate-grown Chardonnay this morning at Trefethen Family Vineyards. The vineyard and winery team was joined by members of the Trefethen family as the first few grapes came off the vines. This same vineyard block was the first to be picked last year as well - probably because of the clonal selection and because the vines are among our youngest. This particular clone is a field selection of old Wente with a strong floral muscat character. As we walked the block earlier this week, the grapes were practically singing with flavor. Crafting a complex Chardonnay from our estate vineyard depends on having a diverse mix of clones. We actually have 12 different clones of Chardonnay and adding even small amounts of this Wente clone to a blend can have an amazing effect.

Each picking crew has a mascot - note the "tecolote" or owl on the flag in the photo. The tractor flags help the crew leaders follow each crew in the field and this approach has certainly increased the competitive banter during picking!

In 2009, we picked this block on September 8th, just one day earlier than this year. So, although we expect a gradual ramp-up in harvest over the next couple weeks, the timing is well within our historical range. And we continue to be excited about the prospect of fantastic quality.

Cheers to vintage 2010!

Jon Ruel

Director of Viticulture & Winemaking

Trefethen Family Vineyards

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Harvest in Full Swing - Let the Good Times Roll

Today was the official start of harvest at Saintsbury! We brought in our first lot of Pinot noir from Beckstoffer Vineyards in Carneros which came in at a ‘whopping’ 2.36 tons per acre despite the tight spacing in the vineyard! Although the yield was light, we are very enthusiastic about the lot because the berries and clusters were tiny and the flavors were fantastic.

The grapes arrived at the winery around 10:30 this morning, and we had the entire crew, interns and all, rotate on the sorting table so everyone had a chance to contribute to the first Pinot noir of the season.

We will be harvesting more Pinot noir at the end of the week, from other vineyards that have a low yield. We are about ten days behind average for most of our blocks, although some of these lower yielding blocks have matured rapidly in last week’s heat. The cool weather in the forecast will allow harvest to take a nice mellow pace, at least for the short term. We anticipate the start of our Chardonnay harvest by the middle or the end of next week.

Each morning, winemakers Jerome Chery and Chris Kajani join me in walking blocks and tasting fruit. We are looking forward to starting our Brown Ranch harvest next week!


Sunday, September 5, 2010

Schramsberg Harvest Dress Report # 1

Welcome to our second week of Harvest 2010! We have processed slightly more than 200 tons of Pinot Noir from the Napa Carneros, Sonoma Carneros and Anderson Valley. Also received a bit of Napa Carneros Chardonnay. The fruit is coming in at a steady pace. Fortunately, it hasn't been too chaotic yet. The great advantage is we have been given time to get the kinks out of the system before we have to start running round the clock. Yes! That’s going to change real soon.

As we tasted through tanks tonight, we were pleased to see that the first juices are starting to ferment. Having had all the vineyard samplings and tasting of grapes and juices over the past several weeks, it's a nice change to taste the young wines. The aromas and the flavors are so wonderful. It’s truly an exciting time and one that I look forward to every year.

As promised, I’ve attached some pictures of the first recipients of the harvest dress. I’ll admit, the crew was a little timid at first. They didn't want to incriminate their co-workers, but, with a little persuasion, I was able to get them to spill the beans on who was making the mistakes. Now that we've had a few people sport the dress, the gloves are ‘on!’ and the information is free flowing into my office. The good news is that the mistakes have been minimal and they are learning from them.We've only just started our second week and we have a long way to go! However, I think those that wear the harvest dress ‘Mumu’ early are the lucky ones, as the harvest dress definitely takes on a personality (read: stench) of its’ own as harvest progresses.

Dan knocked some bins over, and Julian racked a tank from the wrong valve.

Dan doing a little shopping at the Puerto Valarta Market

Mario, took the press lock out key home with him, it’s a good thing we have bolt cutters.

Jeff was incognito and the crew didn't know what tank they were pressing into. Julian, we decided just likes the dress. Actually, some can receive a lighter sentence of a 1/2 day wear if they report their own mistakes. Hence, Jeff and Dan split the dress for a day.

The fun continues!!!


Monday, August 30, 2010

Roll Out the Barrels

There’s been a lot of talk about the cool year we’re having in Napa Valley (what’s wrong with being “cool” man?) and that we won’t be harvesting until December, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get ready for harvest, no matter when we see our first grapes. And one of the biggest parts of getting ready is getting our new barrels in and prep’d, so roll out the barrels cause here comes harvest.

Well really it's roll in the barrels, and I must say I get a lot more excited seeing all those beauties rolling off the truck than my poor cellar crew, they get stuck doing all the rolling. We just received 200 new Taransaud Bordeaux barrels and they look just beautiful, and it smells even better, like wood shop on a good day. When I see the barrels all lined up so pretty it makes my heart swell, our controller just sees our bank account shrink, but to me it’s the first sign of the start of a great vintage. What Cabernet in its right mind wouldn’t want to live in such a pretty barrel for the next two years?

So we have our first shipment in with more to follow and a lot of excitement building to when we can put these babies to use, and it won’t be so long now. Veraison is well on its way and we’ll be bringing Sauvignon Blanc in sometime in September. So no worries, the grapes are ripening and they’ll come in when they’re ready and we’ll be ready for them because we’ve already “rolled in the barrels” (think oomph band playing in the background when you say that).

Thanks all, and I'll be talking to you soon.


Farming in "real-time" at Trefethen Family Vineyards

Harvest 2010 has officially begun at Trefethen Family Vineyards! At 6:20 this morning, as the sun rose over the Vaca mountains to the east, taking the chill out of the 45-degree air, we picked our first Pinot Noir grapes of the year. Growing more than we need for our estate winery, we sell about 1/3 of the grapes from our estate vineyards to other local wineries. And, as always, this first harvest is for one of our sparkling winery partners because they depend on grapes with lower sugars and higher acids.

Note the blurry hands as Eleuterio "Teo" Gonzalez cuts each Pinot cluster off with lightening speed. Eleuterio, a Trefethen team member since 1996, has always been one of our fastest pickers. And that's saying something. This morning, I checked our pick rate after a couple hours. Across the three crews, we averaged 600 pounds per picker, per hour. Considering that these clusters weigh about 0.20 lbs each, that's an incredible 3,000 clusters per hour or 50 per minute! And Eleuterio is going faster than average!?! Now, I should probably add that we can't keep this rate up during hot weather or in vineyard blocks that have fewer clusters per vine. Furthermore, keeping the pickers picking requires a strong support staff that, among other tasks, makes sure an empty box is always within reach (and offers some cool drinking water to boot). Nonetheless, I think you'll agree those numbers are quite impressive.

We expect to continue picking Pinot for sparkling wine over the next few days and then enjoy a brief break before we get into Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for still wines. Looking at the sample numbers from this morning, Malbec is already reaching 20 degrees brix and may be coming in with those other early varieties. As has been widely reported, this has been a relatively cool vintage with the notable exceptions of last week's heat spell and a nice warm forecast for this week. Here at Trefethen, we took action early in the season to accelerate ripening after seeing some delay as early as April and May. These steps, such as leaving cover crop growing, severely limiting irrigation and thinning both earlier and more aggressively than usual, have helped the vines progress nicely.

The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are running around 10-14 days late and the Cabernet, thanks to our "intervention", is only expected to be 7-10 days late. That said, I always cringe when asked if a season is early or late or if we got more or less than our average rainfall. On my office wall, I have weather data for our estate going back to 1968 when the Trefethen family purchased the property. You know what? In 42 years of winegrowing, we've never had an "average" year. Of course not. It's always wetter or drier, warmer or cooler.. such is the nature of the beast. And, because of that, we never farm for an "average" year. Instead, we farm in real-time, constantly adjusting to the weather at hand - and that's how great wine is crafted, year in and year out. Okay, time for me to get off my soapbox and back into the vineyard.. Cheers to vintage 2010!

Jon Ruel
Director of Viticulture and Winemaking
Trefethen Family Vineyards

Barreling into Harvest at Miner Family

Man, even empty, these barrels are HEAVY! They weigh in at about 100lbs each, and they’re a definite sign of things to come: aside from seeing those yellow bins standing at the ready outside Mumm, or anticipating the first grape samples to land in the lab, nothing tells us that harvest is around the corner quite like a loading dock full of our new barrels.

Miner will receive about 580 new barrels this year. Seem like a lot? Well, when we’re unloading the truck and getting them situated, it seems like a lot to us, too! But each year, our new barrels constitute just under 50% of all the barrels we’ll use.

Barrels are important – really important. Barrels offer an exchange of oxygen, time for the wine to come together, evolve, decide what it’s going to be. There’s a texture component to barrel aging as well as countless flavor components.
How do we choose barrels? There are so many ways, but it basically comes down to experience, trials, and good note-taking. Many wineries conduct barrel trials every year – testing out a couple of barrels from a new cooper or new styles from familiar coopers, and tasting/analyzing them periodically to see if they might want to incorporate these barrels into future harvests.

All barrels are not created equal! One barrel might taste delicious with our Garys’ Vineyard Pinot Noir, but may not cut the mustard for our Stagecoach Cabernet Sauvignon. How do we know? Again, experience and tasting - and of course, personal preference. Winemakers know what they can expect from a brand new Gillet barrel, for example, and from there they can determine if it’ll be a good match for their grapes. A good winemaker never ceases to search for new ways to make better wine. Every year offers another opportunity to tweak your technique using information learned from previous years. The longer you work with a specific lot of grapes, the better you know what those grapes need and – more importantly – what they don’t need. This is how we’ll determine, among many things, how much new oak to use on a wine.

So next time you pick up a glass, think beyond the butter, the “wood”. Think of the mouthfeel or texture of the wine, the possible presence of vanilla, pepper, spice – these can all come from the right oak used on the right wine.

We’ll get back to heaving these puppies onto racks and stowing them safely away in our cave. It IS the end of August, after all – we’re rolling right into harvest!

~Dianne Norton, Enologist, Miner Family