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