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

Friday, August 27, 2010

Sabers, Tiny Feet and the 'Harvest Dress:' Kicking off Harvest, Schramsberg Style

The sun was just starting to break through the fog this morning at 10:30 when I made it up to the crushpad at Schramsberg Vineyards for their official toast to the start of Harvest 2010. Keith Hock, the sparking winemaker, had recommended that I stop by and check out their unveiling of this year's 'Harvest Dress' - a long-standing tradition whereby cellar crew (Hugh Davies, winery owner included!) is required to wear a lovely, vintage frock (read: Mumu) when a mistake is made. Just a friendly (and embarrassing-photo-opportunity-laden) way to keep everyone on their toes!

With Schramsberg being a sparkling wine house, of course the morning had to start with a little bubbly. Hugh Davies, Keith Hock and two other members of the Schramsberg crew showed off their saber skills in opening bottles to share - and I must say I was impressed! All four bottle necks broke open as if on perfect queue. (Something tells me these guys have had a little practice...) Of course, no harvest toast would be complete without a little grape stomping as well - the age 10 and under crew did a spectacular job of getting things rolling with a little old fashioned footwork.

Cheers to a great Harvest!

Julie Crafton - posting for the Napa Valley Vintners

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Napa Valley Harvest 2010 Begins!

Despite temperatures that reached beyond 100 degrees (the hottest day of the year thus far!), Napa Valley Vintners braved the heat and gathered on Tuesday night at the beautiful and historic Beaulieu Gardens in Napa Valley to celebrate harvest. The timing could not have been better - we learned from our friends at Mumm Napa Valley that Tuesday officially kicked off the start of their harvest, the first grapes picked in the Napa Valley! The word on the street is that the other sparkling wine houses are not far behind - this Friday Schramsberg plans to pick their first grapes and throw their annual harvest kick-off party, and we'll be on site to capture the festivities.

As we enter into this incredibly exciting and energizing (not to mention exhausting!) time of year, we invite you to keep tuned to our UNFILTERED blog for the most comprehensive, “fly-on-the-wall” harvest updates that you will find in the Napa Valley. With over thirty “Harvest Reporters” that range the gamut from winemakers to first-time harvest interns, winery owners to front line hospitality staff, our goal is for UNFILTERED to tell the complex, collective story of a Napa Valley harvest. Follow us along as we embark on Harvest 2010 – your comments and questions are encouraged!

Fresh off the Vine: Harvest News from Martin Estate Winemaker Frederic Delivert

Although he's waist deep in harvest preparations, Winemaker Frederic Delivert took a few early AM moments to go over the “state of the vineyard” at the Rutherford, Napa Valley property.

“I did my first grape sampling of the year last week,” Frederic said, “and we are only two weeks behind last year, which is a good place to be considering the cool weather we’ve had so far. Like 1998, 2010 will be one of the two coolest years to hit the Napa Valley in the past two decades.”

Because Frederic made some early viticultural decisions and took precautionary steps as early in the year as January, veraison has finished throughout the 7.5-acre vineyard, with the exception of a couple of Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 6 blocks (which consistently finish last every year). “We pruned very early in order to achieve an early bud break. We trimmed late, and even though it looks like hell not to have a nicely disked vineyard, our decision not to destroy the cover crop helped us remove extra moisture from the soil,” Frederic says.

“In fact, with the temperature rising into the 100s today,” Frederic continues, “we are doing the very first irrigation of the year. That speaks volumes about how much water was in our soil due to the late spring rains.”

Frederic hopes that this will be one of very few heat waves warming the Napa Valley. He would much prefer to continue the long stretch of mild days all the way into October, rather than have a succession of temperature spikes combined with early rain. But, he has a game plan for either outcome, and he’s exceptionally confident with the quality he sees right now in his Puerta Dorada Vineyard. After all, the r eal adventures in winemaking come from rising to the challenges nature throws before you.

In the winery, things c o ntinue to move slowly. Harvest preparations continue – equipment is being cleaned an d sanitized, and new French oak barrels are coming in. “My goal,” Frederic says, “is to be ready for September 10th. Then, if we have extra time, we’ll jump onto extra aesthetical projects like staining our new Taransaud barrels.”

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Winemaker Steven Rogstad & Facebook Fan Talk About this Year's Vintage

We try to engage our Facebook fans whenever possible - and last week we offered our fans an opportunity to ask any questions they like. We think this particular conversation between Larry (fan) and Steven Rogstad (our Winemaker) is worth sharing and hope you learn something new!

** We realize the resolution of this image isn't the greatest, but we didn't want to compromise its "realness"
by simply typing it out.

Visit us online
Cuvaison Estate Wines here
Brandlin Vineyard here

Cuvaison Estate Wines

Brandlin Vineyard

Cuvaison Estate Wines

Brandlin Vineyard

"Let the Fun Begin"

I'm excited to report that we will begin Harvest 2010 on Friday Aug 27th with Hudson Vineyards Carneros Pinot Noir. We are starting about a week later than we did in 2009. The grapes are tasting fantastic with delicious flavors and generous acidities.

The fun began last night with the annual Napa Valley Vintners Harvest Kickoff party - we celebrated in the heat!!! of the night at Beaulieu Vineyards’ gardens, with wonderful food, tasty older vintage wines, catching up with old friends and making new ones. Bruce Cakebread said it best, "when we get up in the morning we have to pinch ourselves because we are so fortunate to live and work in such a wonderful place."

The winery has been meticulously prepared. Our interns, some seasoned and some getting ready to experience their first harvest, have been anxiously waiting for this moment. The energy and excitement for harvest is such a rush!!!! I have been in the vineyards each morning for the last few weeks and it looks like Pinot Noir will continue to creep in over the next week to 10 days with us picking up steam after Labor day. We're not sure what we will do with ourselves if we aren't overwhelmed with fruit on Labor day, as our motto around Schramsberg is that Labor Day is a day for laboring.

The fun around Schramsberg never ends and the 2010 Harvest Dress will be revealed on Friday as we ‘toast’ the beginning of harvest. For those of you that don't know, the harvest dress is awarded to someone that makes a mistake, and they have to wear it all day at work for all to see (think Scarlet Letter). The goal is to have as few mistakes as possible, but nobody’s perfect and we all make mistakes. It could even be me that wears the dress. However, I'll do my best to avoid it. The individual that wears the dress the most is proudly rewarded by claiming ownership of the dress (and all the mistakes attached with it) and getting to take the Harvest Dress home as a trophy of their experience at Schramsberg. I'll be posting pictures of the harvest dress recipients throughout harvest so be sure to check back.

Here's to a great Harvest 2010 . It's all in good fun!!!


(Photo Credit:

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Crop Thinning 101 with James!

We were able to steal a moment of our busy Vineyard Manager's time and ask him to give us "Crop Thinning 101." We now invite you to meet James and learn a quick lesson on crop thinning.

Visit us online
Cuvaison Estate Wines here
Brandlin Vineyard here

Cuvaison Estate Wines

Brandlin Vineyard

Cuvaison Estate Wines

Brandlin Vineyard

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Summer Growth at Round Pond

Last week we reached véraison in our vineyards, which can be one of the most beautiful times of year to look at the clusters on the vines. Véraison is the time of year when the tiny green berries begin to turn color and start to fill up with juice. It is from this point that they officially start to ripen. For the vineyard crew, this is an important time to make sure the grapevines are properly pruned so the fruit is well exposed to sunlight and air. Our vineyard manager Chris Pedemonte says one of the important things to look for when you are walking through the vineyard rows is "speckling". This is when the sunlight breaks through the leaves and hits the ground. It can be a great indication of how the vines are growing and if the grapes are getting too much, or not enough sun exposure. If you see patches that are too shaded on the ground, you know the fruit needs more light. This is also important for things like air movement which can prevent things like mildew, mold, and certain pests.

While we are happy to see that we have reached veraison in most of our vineyard blocks, it has been a challenging year so far for the grapes as a whole. We have had a fairly cool summer out here in Napa, and temperature highs of 75-80 degrees have left the grapes a couple weeks behind in their ripening stages. What this means for us right now is a later harvest than normal, most likely not starting until after Labor Day. We are hoping (begging) for a late Summer heat wave to kick in any time now, and bring us up to speed. So while the rest of the country is experiencing record high temperatures, that is definitely not the case here!
As for a quick update on what's going on in the winery, the cellar crew is hard at work getting the barrel chai ready for the 2010 vintage.

They need to make space for the new wine that will come in, so this year you will see our barrels stacked 4 high instead of 2 high. It's quite a balancing act to see in action, and the crew has to be very careful that everything is level and in line, otherwise it could all topple over with one foul move! In the process of moving all these barrels, the 2009 vintage wine is being racked. This is the process of moving the wine from barrel to tank, cleaning out the barrels and removing any dead yeast sediment that has formed, then refilling the barrels with the wine for further aging. It can be a lengthy job, but it's sure easier moving empty barrels around rather than full ones!
Stay tuned as we get closer to harvest... one of the most exciting times of the year in wine country!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Clinking, Clanking, Rocking & Rolling!

This month we're bottling everything from the 2008 vintage, starting with the DARE by Viader Cabernet Franc, made from 100% estate cabernet franc. Our small bottling line can do over 650 cases (close to 8,000 bottles) a day, but today they're only doing a half-day.

Here's a shot of the boys - Maurilio, Efrain and Alan (in order of appearance). The music choice is Alan's.

We're making room for our 2010 vintage! It's ideal to have our bottling completed well before harvest when things really start getting busy. We are going to be getting a labeling machine, but until then our Quality Control manager, Blanca, will delicately hand-label each and every bottle with the cellar crew.

Teamwork makes the dream work!

Janet Viader, sales & marketing at VIADER