Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Napa Vintners Announce Partnership with UC Davis

We are proud to announce that the NVV is partnering with the University of California at Davis to host a unique, professional development course for winemakers and enologists to be held in the Napa Valley focusing on topics relevant to commercial winemaking.

The Wine Flavor class is structured with tastings coupled with discussion, taught by UC Davis faculty. The inaugural class will be held on January 13, 2012 from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm at The Culinary Institute of America, Greystone in St. Helena. The cost is $150 per person (including lunch) for NVV members and $225 per person for non-NVV members. Topics will include the recognition of common microbial off characters including sulfur taints, ML/bacterial taints, fermentation-derived taints and spoilage organisms, among others. Please contact Connor Best at the NVV at 707-968-4225 or email for more information or to sign up for the class.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

No More Monkeying Around in the Cellar for Me at Peju Province Winery

Today, I write to you from my brightly lit desk in the very tame upstairs offices. Actually, ironically, I just heard a cacophony of high-pitched hollers from the other end of the offices. Sounds like a big sale came in, woo-hoo! The holidays are an exciting time for Patti, Jess & Christina who take care of phone sales. Anyway, it is the first Friday in two months that I've had to iron before clothing myself presentably, and that I've come to work to spend the day wielding the almighty mouse and keyboard. Slightly different strengths required than those for wielding the heavy hoses and 20-gallon buckets of juice in the cellar. I am in the office today because finally the seasonal work requiring so many extra hands has come to an end. There is still much going on for the full time cellar workers, but they've got that under control. We drained our very last tank yesterday to press and barrel down today- Cabernet Sauvignon from one of the later-ripening blocks on our Persephone Vineyard. Almost all of the leaves have fallen off the vines, which are now dormant and will remain so until spring when the weather warms, rousing the vines out of their winter stillness to begin again to do what they are meant to- to photosynthesize, to pull nutrients out of the ground to create leaves and eventually to flower and to bear fruit.

'Dormancy', as defined by Wikipedia, is "a period in an organism's life cycle when growth, development, and (in animals) physical activity are temporarily stopped. This minimizes metabolic activity and therefore helps an organism to conserve energy." ( My organism can relate to that.

Dormant Vines on Peju's Rutherford Estate

Next week Winemaker Sara, Assistant Winemaker Joe, and Production Planner Sheri will begin tasting through the 2011 whites to see how the now two-and-a-half-month-old wine is tasting, and to start thinking about how they'll want to blend it in a month or two. Blending involves systematic tasting through barrel-aged versus tank-aged lots, lots in French versus American and new versus neutral oak, and then blending varietals with any combination of these variations. Love how winemaking involves doing science with your taste buds.

Most of the work that's going on in the cellar these days is to take care of the older vintages of reds that were laying low in their barrels while Harvest's new crop, like a needy newborn sibling, took all of the attention. Mostly, it's the topping I mentioned in a a recent blog post that the crew is busy with now. On a monthly rotation, the crew will bring all of the hundreds of barrels in our Estate cellar out to the crush pad to make sure the headspace in each barrel is at a minimum, lest the wine breathe too much oxygen and lose its youthful vigor.

Naked Vines Soak Up Some Winter Sun

And as the vineyard rests for winter, the sales team springs to action for the most wonderful time of year for us humans! It is certainly true that some of the best gifts in life are free. But wine is always a great gift too. Cheers!

Brittany Starr for Peju Province Winery

View from Peju, December 6, 2011

VIADER has been busy!

Forgive me bloggers, it has been over six months since my last confession...

I'll give you an update through photos.

Back in April, our winemaker Alan Viader was teaching his young son about pruning in the small section of Syrah & Shiraz that we have growing on our estate.

We also applied our annual allotment of fresh compost at the beginning of the year, using the mulch from our leftover grape skins & seeds from the 2010 harvest. Delia a.k.a. Mom, does not appreciate having the compost site right next to her home at the top of the vineyard, but Alan swears we don't have any other place to put it! NIMBY!

Springtime flew by, and we enjoyed warm evenings and beautiful sunsets, without the threat of frost up on the mountain. A typical saying is that if you make it to Mother's Day without a big frost, you're in the clear. Although we have great sun exposure and constant breezes, I try not to mention the "F-word" (frost) for fear of calling it over! Just like "R-word" (rain) around harvest time... Call me superstitious.

In the summer, we were all things "Auction Napa Valley," preparing our "Black Label" Barrel Lot and participating in multiple events. Alan took a little creative license to decorate our barrel for Friday's Marketplace event, which was a special blend full of "black" fruits. We had all hands on deck for the Marketplace event, with Alan and Cante, our hospitality director pouring at the barrel. Delia was out front pouring our current release of the VIADER "Black Label" and our signature VIADER Proprietary Cabernet Blend, and I was out promoting the E-Auction with my iPad and fellow "E-Squad" volunteers.

Despite the weather, we had a wonderful Auction Napa Valley and raised $7.3m for our community. Mom had a fun interview with her buddy Jean-Charles Boisset and Gavin Newsom under the tents at Meadowood on CRN Radio's "What's Cookin' with Mike Horn." I'm not sure how much of the conversation was actually centered around the wine auction, but I know it was interesting nonetheless!

Fast forward to Harvest 2011. Here are the highlights:

Happy Holidays everyone!


Janet Viader, Sales & Marketing at VIADER

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

GI Status Approval in Thailand

The Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) non-profit trade association representing more than 420 wineries in the appellation announced today that the country of Thailand has recognized Napa Valley with Geographic Indication (GI) Status that will protect the American wine region from misuse of its name in wine labeling in that country.

The NVV worked directly with Thailand's Department of Intellectual Property on the registration which reads, "The combination of Napa Valley's unique geography, climate, geology, and the winemaking traditions as well as the human skills of the Napa Valley vintners give Napa Valley wine its distinctive taste and unique characters."

"This is a terrific accomplishment for our trade group in protecting our appellation's name from fraudulent use in yet another high-profile, emerging wine market," said NVV Executive Director Linda Reiff. "We have been able to achieve this and other GI recognitions by working directly with these government agencies, such as our successes in the EU and India, which is important to building our export channels for Napa Valley wines."

"It's necessary to know that consumers of Napa Valley wine in Thailand will be able to trust that if it reads 'Napa Valley' on the label, that the wine in the bottle is indeed from California's Napa Valley," said Pat Stotesbery of Ladera Vineyards who chairs the Napa Name Protection Committee for the association.

Read the full press release.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

With All Our Grapes Safely in Tank and Barrel, We Begin Our Descent Into Winter Calm at Peju Province Winery...

With the number of work orders diminishing each day, the cellar dance has changed from a swift and sprightly Viennese waltz to the more moderately-tempoed American variety. I watch the team work now and I imagine the cellar like one giant music box with the song coming to an end and all the players slowing simultaneously to a halt as the box lid closes us inside the dark, quiet of winter. We can no longer celebrate (or commiserate in) the craziness of being ‘in the middle of Harvest’, yet there is still work to do. Interns and temporary workers are starting to prepare for their migration to the other side of the equator for the next one. The high of Harvest end’s cheer and festivity gives way to the realization of what will pretty immediately follow: a cold, wet winter with less time in the day and less people in the Valley. But whoa woe, it is now the Holiday Season! Americans’ favorite time of year! A time when opportunity abounds to spend quality time with family and friends. A time of reflection and joy and thankfulness and snuggling in tight. A time of cooking up old traditions, of getting inventive with those that have gone stale, and a time when red wine never tasted so good. 

Much of what is now 2011 red wine in the Peju cellar has been drained and pressed, though a handful of ferments are still finishing up. When a ferment finishes, Peju Winemaker Sara usually lets the wine mingle with the skins in the tank for a bit before pressing off the skins and putting the wine into French and American oak barrels to age. This prolonged contact of the wine with the skins at the end of fermentation is called ‘extended maceration.’ Maceration is simply the name given to the process by which all that good stuff in the skins is extracted by the juice. This occurs naturally upon contact with one another. Phenolic compounds give color to what would otherwise be clear(ish) juice and tannins give structure/body to the wine, which also give it the potential to age. Sara does a cold maceration at the beginning of each ferment, too, to allow the pre-fermented juice to extract water-soluble components. The water-soluble components are less likely to be extracted once alcohol is produced in the juice during fermentation. It is all of these numerous steps taken to ensure that the wine maximizes complexity, concentration and integration which distinguishes ‘fine wine’ from the rest, and makes it so-o fine.

Below is the mouth of a tank that has just been drained and sent to press and then barrel. What you don’t see is that in order to empty the tank to the extent it appears here, a member of the team has to climb into the tank through this very opening to shovel out the skins, all the while attached by a harness to a fellow crew member outside the tank in the event of a Carbon Dioxide overdose, which is an actual cause of death during every harvest!!! Yet another example of just how much goes into the production of a bottle of wine.


Quality Control Lab Tech Nick presses the last truck samples for testing.

The last yeast inoculation.

A truck takes away the last of the fruit-carrying bins.

And resourceful, winemaker Sara sabers a bottle of bubbly with a draining-valve clamp to honor a Phase-One well done.


 Stay tuned because there is work left to do and words left to write for Harvest 2011!

Until next time, 
Brittany Starr for Peju Province Winery 

May you always have cheer in your cheeks and great wine in your glass!

The Napa Valley Designated Official Wine Region of the 34th America's Cup

Legendary Napa Valley Wines and Tourism to be Exclusively Featured at 34th America's Cup Events in United States

The Napa Valley has been named the official wine region of the 34th America's Cup. In partnership with The Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) and The Napa Valley Destination Council (NVDC), America's Cup events in the United States through 2013 will exclusively feature Napa Valley wines, while the Napa Valley will be the only wine region featured as a getaway destination for attendees of the San Francisco-based America's Cup events.

"The America's Cup is a fantastic way to showcase the wines of Napa Valley. This high-profile, world-renowned sporting event's stature perfectly aligns with the high quality and world renown of Napa Valley, America's premier wine region. We are delighted to bring our wines to the table in celebration of this great partnership," said Napa Valley Vintners Executive Director Linda Reiff.

"Many of the America's Cup enthusiasts love the same things that the Napa Valley is known for--great wine, food, arts and wellness activities. We are very excited to have the opportunity to invite them to experience our beautiful region while they are in the Bay Area, and we look forward to sharing the best we have to offer," said Clay Gregory, NVDC CEO and President.

The Napa Valley is home to the founders of America's fine wine industry--legendary entrepreneurs who showed the world that the art of winemaking had crossed continents--and the region is prized for its natural beauty, 14-Michelin Star culinary scene, world-class hotel accommodations, robust arts community, and one-of-a-kind wellness experiences including the region's famed spas, mud baths and healing geo-thermal hot springs.

Over the next two years, Napa Valley wines will be poured and tourism to the region will be promoted, beginning with the America's Cup World Series event in San Diego this November 12-20, as well as at the AC World Series Newport and San Francisco events in 2012, and in San Francisco during the 2013 Louis Vuitton Cup--the America's Cup Challenger Series--and America's Cup Finals.

"We are very pleased to partner with the Napa Valley on our America's Cup events in the United States, as it is one of the world's premier wine growing regions," said Craig Thompson, CEO of the America’s Cup Event Authority. "The 34th America's Cup is focused on creating a one-of-a-kind experience for every fan, so we look forward to showcasing the bounty that the Napa Valley has to offer to our guests."

Click here for the press announcement on the America's Cup Website.

Watch a video on the America's Cup Preview in San Diego
, currently underway through November 20th.

Fourth and Final Harvest Update

The winemaking team has been furiously busy since I last wrote on Tuesday, October 11th. As you may or may not remember, that was the day after the final rains of this growing season. That Monday was supposed to be dry, and if the weather models had played out as predicted, the pace of this harvest would have been more leisurely. When this vintage is looked back upon in two or three years, as its wines are being released, many people will refer to October 10th as the fulcrum point that tipped the vintage towards its close.

Harvesting started in a panic as many winemakers, this one included, realized the scope of the challenge that the mold pressure presented; a block with trace amounts of botrytis could become completely enveloped in twenty four hours. The thin skin, tight cluster varieties were the first to succumb to the fungus. Petit Sirah and Petit Verdot were particularly hard hit and were triage priority when making pick calls. The Round Pond Estate however, has the fortunate ability to harvest any block any day that’s needed or desired—a resource that proved particularly crucial this year. Throwing courtesy and convention aside, I called many picks the same day I walked out into the fields and realized that another block absolutely must come in. For that I would like to extend many thanks to the vineyard team for their flexibility, and my cellar crew for their tenacity.

Following the rains, we had a string of warm, windless days that were perfect for fungus growth. On the valley floor, the sun heated the saturated soil, which raised the relative humidity in the fields. Those vines trellised in curtain forming fashion trapped the evaporating water and created a sauna-like environment, which further exasperated the tendency for mold to spread. When temperatures fell at night, the surface of the grapes cooled and the trapped moisture below the canopy condensed on the fruit so that by daybreak, the clusters were dripping with dew. Vines trellised in a vertical fashion did not suffer the “sauna effect” and fared better against the mold. Also of note, the more gravely sections of vineyard blocks dried out more quickly, and were subsequently less susceptible to mold pressure.

Winemaking, like any science, is an exercise in observation. Walking the vineyards, it was critical to understand why some blocks were more affected by botrytis than others in order to make decisions on optimizing fruit quality and harvesting efficiency. Having learned from our early picks, it was apparent that the benefit of a few extra days of ripening was negated by the sensory influence the mold had on the wines. As such, I tended to pick at the first signs of mold development, which I believe preserved the fruit character in the grapes and has given us the foundation for producing wonderfully elegant and seductively aromatic wines.

November 1st marked the last day of harvest on the Estate and in that twenty-two day period, the production crew broke records three consecutive times for number of tons processed in a day, and the amount of fruit received at the winery in a week’s span. These statistics do not come as a surprise to me; all vintages at the Estate are fast and furious but late ones, like this year, especially so. Harvest at Round Pond is most certainly a sprint and not a marathon.

Thanks to all of the staff in other departments who came to lend a hand on the sorting line, delivered food and libations, or simply gave a kind word of encouragement. Those sentiments never go unnoticed and are certainly appreciated. I look forward to sharing our collective efforts with everyone in the years to come, and feel the climatic challenges of this vintage will prove to be a historic bellwether for the exceptional consistency of quality achievable on this Estate.


Brian Brown
Round Pond Estate

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Napa Valley Wraps-up Harvest 2011

Challenging year in the vineyard reaps rewards in the cellar

"Although it may be stretching to compare our harvest with one of the greatest ever games in the history of baseball...but like the 2011 World Series, we had our ups and downs, and finally pulled it out. This was one of our most exciting harvests ever!" said Cain Vineyards' Winemaker and General Manager Chris Howell. And once again the excitement of the finale of the American baseball season seems to parallel that of the vintage at harvest from America's premier winegrowing region, the legendary Napa Valley. Today the Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) non-profit trade association of more than 420 wineries representing 98% of the appellation's wine production offers its annual report on harvest.

"2011 was a challenging and as well as what I am calling 'an educational vintage,' the third in a row," said Oakville Ranch Winery General Manager Paula Kornell who was born and raised in the Napa Valley wine industry. "What we found this vintage were flavors that developed at lower brix, giving us an opportunity to make truly elegant wines at lower alcohol levels."

"Harvest 2011--from tears to glory!" is how renowned vintner Tim Mondavi, owner of Continuum capsulized the year and winemakers appellation-wide are in agreement.

What began with a wet winter and spring continued with rainfall into mid-June that delayed bloom and disrupted fruit set resulting in shatter in parts of the region set the stage for a long, cooler-than-average growing season with a later-than-average harvest beset with autumn rain storms. The precipitation measuring season ending on June 30 found the region more than a third above normal in rainfall. While this is good news for water resources, the cloud cover and cool temperatures delayed vine development by several weeks at the onset of the growing season.

This timetable continued through the somewhat cool summer season where harvest for the first varieties for sparkling wines found the latest harvest start in anyone's memory, beginning August 29. Few high heat events occurred at any point this year, but growers managed more open vine canopies to ensure sunlight, warmth and good air circulation around the grape clusters. The shatter resulting from the rain events in June was variable by vineyard location hitting some locations harder with projected crop diminished by more than 30% while leaving other sites nearly untouched with near-normal crop.

New Media Resources Tell Story of Year in Real Time

New this year, wine lovers around the world were able to follow the Napa Valley harvest like never before. Twitter was a-buzz at #NVHarvest with thousands of tweets from the vineyards and cellars. Read the ongoing Twitter feed at the

Napa Valley filmmaker Bret Lyman chronicled the vintage in a series of harvest videos beginning in August with the start of harvest for sparkling wines to the white varieties, Merlot and then Cabernet Sauvignon. Check out today's release of the final chapter of the harvest videos below.

The region's winemakers and vineyard managers participated in a week-long "Harvest Live" streaming video the week of October 17 with six days of morning and afternoon live chat painting the picture in clear detail of what was happening in the vineyard and in the winery in real time. Check out U-Stream to watch the archived programs hosted by Christophe Smith of Titus Vineyards along with his esteemed guests.

And, more than ever before the vintners themselves blogged all season on their experiences in written, photo and video posts on the NVV's official blog "Unfiltered."

Click to read the full release

Click to view the all 2011 harvest videos

Friday, November 4, 2011

Night Harvesting at Shafer Vineyards

2011 Harvest Complete at Vineyard 7 & 8!

Greetings from the top of Spring Mountain!

As we close yet another harvest from Vineyard 7 & 8, I look back on what was a true test of patience. A season filled with extra efforts in the vineyards working on crop and canpy management, a couple early October rain storms, but finished up with a period of beautiful weather.

Over the last couple of weeks the sun returned, and the dry northwest winds returned, allowing us the ability to harvest what looks to be another very successful vintage.

Cabernet from our Estate vineyards and the fruit we harvest from select neighboring vineyards on Spring Mountain came in with more moderate sugar levels, beautiful acids and wonderfully refined tannins.

Fermentation is just beginning to take shape in the tank room, and hats change from the management of the fruit in the vineyards to pumpovers and punchdowns, monitoring of tanks and prepping barrels for later in the month when the wines will go to rest.

Congrats to all fellow vintners for yet another wonderful harvest in the Napa Valley!


Wesley Steffens, Vineyard 7 & 8
Winery Manager & Assistant Winemaker

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Yeast Whisperer of Newton Vineyard

The first days of the Newton Chardonnay harvest are stressful.

We pick it, we press it, we choose the best French barrels and… nothing happens. For days, the juice is quiet, viscous, cloyingly sweet.

Nothing… No matter how much I stare inside the barrels or glue my ear to the bung holes until the side of my face shows a ring of toasted oak smoke.

It’s only when I start getting that recurring dream of hot tubs filled with bubbling grape juice, around the 6th or 7th day, that our tricky indigenous yeasts deign offer some hope. Suddenly, the whole cellar is filled with the gurgling sound of the starting fermentation and I breathe a sigh of relief.

That makes Julian laugh.

Julian Cendejas (pictured at right) has worked at Newton since 1989. Over his more than 20 harvests, he’s learned to be patient and that the fermentation will start. Some years it’s fast -just a couple of days- some years it takes up to 10 or 12 days. Once a lot of Chardonnay is fermenting, the whole cellar follows.

Julian always knows when this will happen: I have a theory that he’s somehow communicating with the yeasts that come from our vineyard. He’ll say “Tomorrow, this lot will start”. I’ll look in the barrel he is showing me, shaking my head: “Naaah, there is not even any froth.” The next day, he’ll be right.

Now, all the 2011 Chardonnay is fermenting, some lots well on their way to dryness. It was a cool growing season and even if the sugars remained lower than in the past years, the flavors are exotic and complex. There are apricot and grilled pineapple notes but no hint of the quince paste that characterizes over-ripe vintages. The musqué lots are delicately floral without being too wisteria or lilac-like.

This should be a vintage for aging. But shhhh… Don’t tell our yeasts: they are not done with their job until Julian says so!


Frederique Perrin
Associate Winemaker, Newton Vineyard

Monday, October 31, 2011

Crush is 76% Complete, and It's a Happy Halloween at Peju Province Winery!

Every year for Halloween, Peju employees furtively collaborate within their respective departments to vie for the title of Costume Competition Winner at the annual Halloween Family Meal. This year, as has been the case almost every year since winemaker Sara Fowler has been at Peju, the Production Team garnered the departmental win! Their group effort in a time of such harvest hectic-ness is inspiring. Other costume creations comprised Jersey Housewives, a couple of pirates, one Zorro, one Sumo Wrestler, and owner & founder Tony Peju delighted us all with a shockingly accurate, surprise Papa Smurf performance. 

As of today, we've brought in 76% of our total crop. Sara aims to harvest all remaining fruit by this Friday. It's all fermenting, pressing & barreling down from there! 

Sheri, our Production Planner, gave me some "fun facts" today. (Visit the 'Meet the Team' page on our blog for photos and titles of everyone on the Production team.)
These are the dates on which we had brought in the last of our fruit over the past four years:
October 11, 2007
October 28, 2008
October 25, 2009
November 1, 2010

And if all goes to plan, it will be November 4 in 2011. Not bad considering we started harvest 4 weeks later this year than in 2009. And by 'not bad' I mean 'this was one logistical nightmare' with the same number of tanks as in years past and around the same amount of fruit coming in, only this year in a much more condensed period of time. Sara and Joe had to use acute foresight to plan their tank assignments and rotations, making sure to align when to bring the fruit in (dependent on nature) with how much fruit had been predicted to come in (a tough (inexact) science) with what kind of tank space would be available at that time. Who knew such a big part of wine-making could be about the logistics of coordinating ripening with fermentations with tank space.

At the Family Meal today, Sara gave us a harvest-time update:

Signing off and wishing you a Happy Halloween! It's Trick-or-Drink in many of the small towns that line the Napa Valley. Adults go door to door with plastic, portable wine glasses and greet their neighbors over splashes of delicious Napa Valley wine. It's something one hears over and over out here, and has truly been my experience: that in Napa Valley, people really know how to live. (More specifically, people prioritize enjoying life everyday. And I think this is good.)

Halloween Cheer and Cheers!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Napa Valley Harvest Update - Merlot

Raymond Vineyards - 2011: A Winemaker's Harvest

2011 has truly been a winemaker’s harvest. From dealing with the late season rains and lack of ripening hours to trying to figure out how to make the best out of difficult conditions, rest has been elusive and the hours long. Watch Stephanie Putnam, our winemaker, and Eric Pooler, our vineyard manager, discuss how they’ve been able to make the best out of a challenging harvest.

--Raymond Vineyards

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Harvest Hustle & Making Chardonnay at Peju Province Winery

Finally! The cellar is cranking!!! Today is the first day that it feels like harvest is in full gear. Most other times when I’ve skipped over to the Production office to chat Sara up about what’s going on, she is excited to talk to me. She beams and expands willingly on what we’re doing and why we do things the way we do. (Always for superlative quality.) She talks about the grapes with a Science-minded mother’s balance of rational analysis and though somewhat-concealed, nonetheless fuzzy, tender babymama love. As any good mother, she knows she has little control over the laws of Nature and will love the grapes, all of them and every vintage, for who/what they are, while she guides them to realize their potential slash achieve perfection. (So there’s a streak of Tiger the name of perfect wine!)

When I ask Sara what is going on in the cellar today, I get bullets:
                  “draining and pressing,
                  “barreling down,
                  “stirring the Chardonnay,
                  “Rocking and rolling!” She exclaims. “It feels like Harvest!”

All of our Chardonnay has finished its primary fermentation, has been consolidated into oak barrels, and is now going through Malolactic Fermentation (MLF), or as it’s sometimes referred to, quite simply secondary fermentation. Primary fermentation is when yeast convert the sugar in the juice into alcohol and CO2 to produce wine (obviously a drastic oversimplification). MLF is when (via specific bacteria) we convert the Granny Smith-reminiscent malic acid into the lactic acid that is found in milk.  Diacetyl, a prominent compound in butter, is produced, which is what gives so many California Chardonnays their characteristic ‘butteriness’.  By stirring the lees once per week (lees are the dead yeast cells and un-soluble solids) for approximately 6 months in what’s called sur lie aging,  our winemaking team allows the diacetyl to dissipate a bit, resulting in the more elegant, subtle hint-of-butter sensation that you might have noticed in our Chardonnay.

Though Sara had to be concise with me today, after a few moments of rattling off the facts, she couldn’t help but gush a little over how delicious the Malbec and Petit Verdot are tasting. This is the first year that we’ve gotten much yield from those small blocks on our Rutherford estate since they’re just a few years old and it takes three years for a vine to start producing. Last year we got less than a ton of each. This year, however, we got enough fruit to put to good use, and apparently, it is tasting excitingly delicious. Sara is not sure where she will blend these lots once they are ready, but looks forward to being able to make a true Bordeaux blend with such high quality fruit in all five requisite varietals.

It’s sorting fruit, inoculating yeast, and pumping over the ferments for me tomorrow in the cellar. (YAY!!) Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Never Boring

Their shrill barking woke me from whatever dream I was having. A pack of coyotes was having a debate in the vineyard outside my window. In my sleepy stupor I tried, but could not remember the day of the week. It sounded like dozens of them, but it was probably just a few being particularly rambunctious. Suddenly the report of a rifle echoed sharply across the valley and the coyotes were silent. Just a few hundred yards from our house, in the other direction, the first crew of cooks were arriving for work at The French Laundry.

Such is life in Yountville during harvest. There is this incredible mixture of nature and urban sophistication, which only intertwines so completely in the Napa Valley. The reason I could not remember the day was simple: during harvest all days are the same. There are no regular patterns, hours or life. It's exhausting, stressful and the best thing that happens to you every year.

So what does this vintage mean to us? It means another debate with Mother Nature, much like the coyotes outside my window had last night. As winemakers we all bark at the weather, but in reality we live within it and in the end treasure what we have been given each and every year. Like a parent we don't have a favorite child, but revel in their differences and the memories of their unique strong and weak points. The critics will give this harvest a rating, but numbers have no soul and harvests, like all things in nature, do.

So what should you expect from a wine or from a vintage? I think you should expect personality. Those who rank vintages by number in the modern era miss the fundamental character of wine and truly do not understand wine itself. The question should never be what is the greatest vintage of this wine can I have with my dinner tonight, but should be what vintage will taste the best with my dinner tonight. The disaster vintages of days past are no more due to the dramatic advances in enology and viticulture over the last decades. On top of it we live in the Napa Valley where, let's face it, the weather is never really that bad. The ranges of vintages today runs more from producing earlier or later maturing wines and from bigger or more elegant styles. It's a fact of the matter in the Napa Valley an overly hot vintage has a more negative impact on wine quality than ones that are overly cool.

It often strikes me that critics want all vintages to be the same. I cannot think of anything more boring: or unnatural. Tomorrow morning at 4 a.m. we start picking our Talcott Vineyard Cabernet Franc in St. Helena. It will make a wine different from last year and from the one it will make the next. I would not have it any other way.

Craig Camp - Cornerstone Cellars

NVV Harvest 2011: The Jackse Vineyard

Saturday, October 15, 2011

October 17 - 22: Harvest Live

A Groundbreaking Six-Day Webcast Combining Harvest with Real Time Q&A

The Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) non-profit trade association is excited to bring you "Harvest Live 2011," the Napa Valley's first week-long, live harvest webcast that will allow viewers to interact in real time with winemakers, vineyard managers and special wine industry co-hosts to hear and see all that's news with this year's crush in America’s premier wine region.

"These innovative, interactive webcasts will be breaking new ground in social media wine education," said Linda Reiff, NVV executive director. "It will be a terrific opportunity to have a conversation with these renowned vintners in real time, all week long."

"Harvest Live provides an opportunity for anyone, anywhere, to experience a Napa Valley harvest--even on their phone via the Ustream mobile application," explained Christophe Smith of Titus Vineyards. "This is a chance for wine lovers to connect with the Napa Valley beyond what they have tasted in the bottle and have a behind the scenes look into the 2011 vintage. We look forward to a great exchange between wine enthusiasts and those of us in the winemaking business during this most exciting and important time of year."

Produced by Christophe Smith along with David Gowdy of Dirt on the Vine, Randy Hall of VOM Productions and the NVV, Harvest Live offers participants a behind the scenes view into the Napa Valley harvest that even many locals don't get a chance to see. During the morning broadcasts viewers will be taken outside into the vineyard to learn about picking decisions and what's current in the field, then during the afternoon journey into the cellars to follow those grapes through the winemaking process. Capitalizing on the real-time webcast, viewers will have the ability to ask questions of winemakers and hosts via the Ustream webcast and receive answers instantly. For Twitter and Facebook users, questions will be monitored and answered via the #HL11 hashtag.

The interactive, one-hour webcasts will occur daily October 17th through 22nd at 9am PDT and 2:30pm PDT, and will be hosted at a different winery each day, showcasing varied winemaking techniques as well as multiple American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) throughout the Napa Valley AVA.

The winery participants by day are as follows:

Monday, October 17: Robert Mondavi Winery with Keith Horn, director of vineyards and Genevieve Janssens, director of winemaking

Tuesday, October 18: Staglin Family Vineyards with Garen Staglin, owner, along with Fredrik Johansson, winemaker and Chris Platt, assistant winemaker

Wednesday, October 19: William Hill Estate Winery with Raif Holdenried, winemaker

Thursday, October 20: Round Pond Estate with Chris Pedemonte, vineyard manager and Brian Brown, winemaker

Friday, October 21: Titus Vineyards with brothers Eric and Phillip Titus

Saturday, October 22: Chappellet Vineyard & Winery with Phillip Titus, winemaker

To access the interactive webcast, visit the NVV's Harvest 2011 website at . A detailed schedule including on-camera talent and topics can be viewed online in advance of broadcast, and sessions will be archived here as well so viewers can watch and hear all the sessions.

To read and watch all the Napa Valley Harvest 2011 videos, blog posts and photo galleries, and to take the fun and interesting quiz, find out about tasting events in celebration of October's Harvest Napa Valley month, please visit

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Mutinous Mother Nature

It’s a real nail-biter, this 2011 harvest. Or as assistant winemaker Joe says, it’s “one year that Mother Nature is not cooperating.”

The sun has come out this afternoon, and it’s almost as though the breeze that left with the rain this morning was a collective sigh of relief from winemakers throughout the Valley. It has been raining for over a week with a tease-of-a short, sunny respite this past weekend. Most of the grapes simply aren’t quite ripe yet, so it’s a gamble as to when to bring fruit in. Wait and hope the right weather comes to ripen fruit to its potential, and risk rain that’s unrelenting? Or play it safe and bring in now what you’ve already got? The fruit is not as concentrated and scrumptious as anyone would like, but picking now would pre-empt the potentially major loss of yield that would occur if these damp grapes continue to get no love from the sun and start to mold.

Luckily for us and for our wine (and it’s no accident), Sara is a unique, dynamic blend of an optimist and a perfectionist. She’s also this awesome combo of serious scientist, positive energy force, and sensory-sensitive sweetheart with super smarts, sass, and a proclivity to fun. Anyway, she believes the weather will change, that the fruit will ripen beautifully, and that the wine will be delicious as always. And she won’t settle for anything less. “We’re taking the risk!” she says. “To ensure the best quality of fruit. With ripe tannins and good sugars and all the other delicious things. Mmm…” She pauses, smiling with an excited glint in her eye. Then she continues seriously, “It will just mean an action-packed couple of weeks of harvest, as we have fewer days than ever before to process all of our fruit.” But I can’t think of anything more rewarding than busting your boots with a group of people for a common goal. I’ll be out there tomorrow!

In the vineyard, the crew is busy opening the vines’ canopy, or removing leaves to concentrate the plant’s energy into ripening the fruit.

And this afternoon is turning out to be a bright blue beauty, so nail-bitten fingers crossed it stays. It’s amazing how quickly a little direct sunlight evaporates the melancholy ennui of a week of rain. Let’s hope it does the same for the grapes’ moistened skins!

Peju Sycamores with Sunshine
Clouds for a Daydream
We are indeed.

by Britt Starr for Peju Province Winery
from 10.11.11

see this post in context:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Round Pond Harvest Update #3


As I sit at my desk patiently waiting for a high pressure system to brush aside the upper level trough that has brought us this less than welcome wet weather, our Estate and Reserve Sauvignon Blancs are quietly and coolly fermenting in tank, drum and barrel. The white wines of 2011 are looking marvelous as they progress through primary fermentation. Being an optimist to the core I am hoping that the quality of the Sauvignon Blancs are tea leaves for the rest of fruit that has yet to come in.
The phrase “when will we start bringing in the Reds,” has recently been replaced with “will we ever bring in the Reds?” To that, my coy response has been, “We’ve already harvested some red fruit.” And indeed we have, albeit not for red wine production. We have picked part of the Sangiovese and Nebbiolo crops to produce Rose. While the Sangiovese was predetermined to be a Rosato, the Nebb’s fate was a bit more ad hoc.

Because the weather has been so inclement, rot has started to form in tight cluster varieties such as Nebbiolo. Faced with the prospect of losing the fruit to mold and being forced to cull it onto the ground, where it would then release more spores into surrounding vineyards, I thought it best to bring the fruit into the winery and press it in the same fashion I did the Sangio. This has the dual benefit of preventing cross contamination in the vineyard and allows us to experiment with the Rosato di Nebbiolo. I am excited about the prospects of producing another refreshing wine to serve on the terrace, and as they say, when life gives you lemons you should make Rose…

Back to the Reds, yes, we will bring them all in. At this point we are watching the forecast fastidiously and walking our vineyard blocks compulsively. From a management stand point we have applied all the protective sprays applicable at this phase in the season; we have leafed out the fruiting zone to promote airflow; we have even gone to the point of using leaf blowers like large hairdryers to dry out more susceptible varieties like Petit Sirah.

I mentioned in earlier updates that the Winegrowing team learned much from the previous two cool vintages. One of those lessons was “don’t put your eggs in one basket.” As such, we have diversified the blocks from where we pull fruit. Should one block ripen quicker than another, we can capitalize on this phenomenon. This is indeed what we are seeing and as we enter into the final phase of the growing season we will segregate each pick according to its potential to produce Reserve, Estate, and Napa Valley styled wines.

I suspect that we will be bringing in fruit towards the end of the week and certainly the week after. I will update you again in the near future with developments as they occur.

Si Se Puede,

Brian Brown

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Crush 2011: Stewart Vineyard Merlot and Davis Block Merlot and Cabernet Franc

Cornerstone Cellars

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Team That Picks Together Stays Together

We all gained a mega-appreciation for our super-skilled vineyard staff today. It took us 1.5 hours to pick 1.5 tons of grapes. According to Manuel, our Director of Facilities, in 1.5 hours, the vineyard crew of 16 guys will pick 8 tons to our 1.5. And we were 30 strong out there today. We’ll have to get a video of the vineyard crew doing their thing. It’s mesmerizing the way their fingers fly through the vines while the voluptuous grape clusters go thunk thunk thunk in their bins. Today my grape clusters went thunk…[30 seconds later]…thunk… It’s hard to get your little blade through all the intertwined leaves and vines to make a quick, efficient slice at the hidden juncture where the cluster grows, and then move on without missing a beat. For us amateurs, it was a lot of bending over, squatting down, feeling and fumbling and fighting with the vine to get to the stem of the cluster only then to try to untangle it from the vines it has grown around. The pros in the vineyard practically keep a steady walk as they pick. I don’t know how they do it.

Next week, we will begin bringing in the bulk of our fruit, and it is going to be crazy. I’m running out the door to go pour at a wine and food event in San Francisco, so more updates will have to wait until next week. I wish everyone at least one delicious and memorable wine experience over the weekend!


Employee Pick Participants, 1.5 hours and only 1.5 tons later...