Friday, July 30, 2010

Chardonnay Update with Winegrower Armando Ceja

As the summer weather warms up, grape grower and winemaker Armando Ceja talks about the progress of Ceja Vineyards' Carneros chardonnay vineyard.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

What dog days?

Long time, no type my we are, the end of July, the "Dog Days of Summer" (please note my use of the recently created 'sarcastic' font) What, you ask, are the "Dog Days of Summer?"

Taken from
Function: noun plural
Etymology: from their being reckoned from the heliacal rising of the Dog Star (Sirius)
Date: 1538
1 : the period between early July and early September when the hot sultry weather of summer usually occurs in the northern hemisphere
2 : a period of stagnation or inactivity

A more dire description can be found in Brady's Clavis Calendarium (1813): Dog Days were popularly believed to be an evil time "when the seas boiled, wine turned sour, dogs grew mad, and all creatures became languid, causing to man burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies"

What can I say…no (metaphorical) dogs this year! Brady makes it sound pretty nasty...especially that sour wine bit. If anything, spring and summer so far have been more like nature’s “casual Friday” around here. Not too hot, a few unseasonably cool days, dry, with minimal mildew pressure (which means much less spraying!). With the exception of our Malbec (more on that later) we exited spring with a phenomenal set. We are on track to have a slightly above average crop load than last year…which, as a winemaker, has me a bit concerned. I’ve been working closely with Sam, Juan, and Arturo who are doing a great job at selectively dropping fruit. In a year like this where there is no sign of verasion yet, getting rid of this excess crop today is going to help ensure that the fruit comes in with beautiful flavor and color…and not too late either!

Yeah, so about that Malbec. Commonly referred to as “the heartbreak grape”, Malbec is notorious for being very fragile during flowering. You sometimes hear of “shatter”; that is the phenomenon of the unpolenated pistil, dried up, and falling to the ground. In a typical year, we’ll witness 15% to 25% shatter on most of our varietals (yes, the joy of mountain farming). On the Malbec this year, it’s all over the place. There will be some vines with 30% shatter…and some with…my best guess, 95% shatter (I’m not sure how to quantify a cluster with three or five berries on it). This will present a challenge this year in determining ripeness, but that’s what makes farming fun. We’ll probably make multiple passes…a primary for the vines with minimal fruit load (get all the equipment dirty for 200 lbs of fruit…JOY!), followed by secondary and tertiary passes, based on fruit load.

Well, in other non-dog day news, my father, Fred, has been smiling ear to ear the past few months as he’s been able to re-embrace his first true love, construction. Most visitors to Schweiger Vineyards have fun with our outdoor tasting for whites, followed by a brief tour, concluding with red wine tasting in the barrel cavern. Coming soon, a new area to enjoy Schweiger Wines, our new tasting salon. One very fun feature will be a large deck overlooking one of our Cabernet blocks with the view of the Napa Valley laid out before you. This will truly be a comfortable place to sample our wines on those cool winter days…is that when the “hounds of winter” arrive to chase off these summer dogs? While I'm not crazy about Brady's aforementioned sour wine, I sure am rooting for a bit more heat in the months to come. Like all other things in farming...patience. In the meantime, let's raise a glass to whatever sort of canine you find nearby.

Andrew T. Schweiger, Winemaker, Schweiger Vineyards
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The panorama from the future tasting room deck.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Martin Estate Summer 2010: Healthy Evolution in the Vineyard

While there are those who express concern about the mild summer conditions and late rains of Napa Valley’s 2010 growing season, Martin Estate Winemaker Frederic Delivert is very excited about the Puerta Dorada Vineyard’s balanced berry set and healthy leaf canopies. We briefly visited with Frederic and Martin Estate’s talented Vineyard Manager Josh Clark to talk about the upcoming 2010 harvest and the evolution of the estate’s Rutherford vineyard.

The biggest changes this year, according to Clark, have been the trellis improvements made to several portions of the vineyard, which involved replacing the shorter wood line stakes with a metal line stake that allows the canopy to grow taller while still supporting the leafy growth and holding the vines and canopy in place.

While the extra rains and cooler than normal spring increased the risk for shatter, all signs indicate that Martin Estate made it through the high risk period in stunning fashion, with the berries setting evenly and naturally. “The soil now is drying down nicely and the berries should not get too big as a result,” Clark says. Clark will do a green harvest at veraison to further ensure that the grapes that make it to harvest are as uniformly ripe as they can be. The vineyard crew will once again hand harvest fruit into individual 30-pound lug boxes (by comparison, most commercial wineries harvest into one and two TON bins). The crew will arrive in the wee morning hours before daybreak. Picking will finish by mid-morning to ensure that they are cool and perfect for processing at the winery.

If the nice summer weather continues, we should be harvesting by early October!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sensory Garden Overload!

Round Pond may have ~350 acres of vineyards planted, but since those are no where near ready for harvest, our current focus is on our organic and biodynamic gardens! Jeff Dawson planted our sensory garden behind the winery in February of 2009. When you enter the garden, you are greeted by 4 quadrants, each designated to a different set of characteristics. The front two are Cabernet Sauvignon descriptors and Sauvignon Blanc descriptors. These are planted with fruits and vegetables that have the attributes of flavors or smells you would find in the wine. The back two are affiliates, foods you would pair with each of the the wines. The garden spralls from these center qauds in each direction, overflowing with leafy greens, flowering buds and ripening fruits.

This time of year is just the beginning of the incredible growing season ahead of us. The melons are just starting to form and the tomatoes are still bright green. But the plants, birds, and buzzing bees are hard at work, and so are the gardeners! Jeff Dawson and his son Marley work in the garden every day to make sure our winery , olive mill and the estate homes are supplied with the freshest vegetables and fruits they can offer. They practice biodynamic gardening which is a unique practice that is based on the lunar cycle. While there are several other eccentricities to this gardening practice that I do not fully understand, suffice it to say that whatever they are doing works!

The gardeners also work closely with our in-house chef to communicate what they plan to expect for harvest that week. This allows chef Hannah to prepare food and wine pairings, and our educational, interactive Garden to Table brunch that takes place on Sundays. If you are looking for an opportunity to get your hands dirty in the garden and learn to prepare a fresh meal straight from the bounty that the ground provides you, this is a great opportunity! Check out more about that on our website.
This week the garden is providing us with fresh baby lettuces, strawberries, peaches and cucumbers! I had a little sampling of warm strawberries yesterday afternoon, just to check that they were good enough for others to eat. The winery staff gave their nod of approval as well!
We hope that if you are ever in the area you will come by our winery and take a stroll through our gardens. No appointment is needed for this visit, and we encourage you to stop by multiple times throughout the year to watch as the plantings change and different items come into season. For a detailed look at our growing season on the property, you can check out our facebook page.