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!!!