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...

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

All Whites Are In, Reds Begin at Peju Province Winery

Yesterday, we processed the last of our Chardonnay. All of our white grapes, both Sauvignon Blanc and Chard., have now been plucked from their vines and have begun their journey to becoming delicious white wine.

The first bit of Sauvignon Blanc that we picked on September 6 and inoculated on September 9, allowing a few days for the lees to settle out, is dry! (‘Dry’ in winemaking means that all of the sugar in what was once juice has been converted to alcohol in what is now wine. In wines with what we call ‘residual sugar’, not all of the sugar was converted to alcohol, and the wine remains ‘off-dry’ or slightly sweet. There are a number of reasons that this will occur, some intentional, some not…) With much of our Sauv. Blanc dry, this means that technically, we have 2011 wine!

But it’s not quite finished wine. It’s baby wine. Born and alive, tangible and functional, but so fresh off the boat (out of the womb/off the vine and the lees) that it hasn’t really come into itself yet. Foregoing a discussion (monologue) on nature and nurture, suffice it to say that wine and humans make for amusingly comparable subjects for consideration. The point is that you take what ‘God/Nature/Insert-Name-Here gave you’ and then you take advantage of what Life throws your way. You try to cultivate your best self and you enjoy pondering how you got to be that way. Wine lacks the ability to introspect, of course, so we have to ponder its constitution for it.

Our 2011 Sauvignon Blanc has been born tasty, bright, and fresh. Soon a small percentage will hang out in neutral oak barrels for complexity, flavor, mouthfeel and structure. Then it will be time for Sara to work her magic, blending from the different tanks of S.B. separated by vineyard blocks and ripeness-levels-at-crush, to create what we are proud to call Peju Sauvignon Blanc. Forgive the shameless self-promotion, but it really is delicious!

The first Zin to come in (hill-side vineyard block - less water retention in the soil)

Oh, and also, we brought in our first red grapes on Friday, which was very exciting, as it has been a long time coming. The reds still aren’t quite there yet, however, in terms of ripeness. And the rain yesterday and today has everyone feeling a little nervous. As long as we get sun after the rain though, all should be well. Friday, we brought in the little bit of Malbec and Petit Verdot from our Rutherford property. Yesterday, it was Zinfandel grapes from the Persephone Vineyard. Friday, I’ll be working crush with the crew so stay tuned! Can’t wait!

- Britt Starr at Peju Province Winery

Click on me to read this blog in its context.

Pablo, Lony, Juanito & Frankie wave 'Hello!' from the sorting table

Flora Springs Winery: Harvest Superstitions

Monday, October 3, 2011

Night Harvest: 4 a.m. Boyd Vineyard Syrah in Oak Knoll

We like night picks at Cornerstone as the best way to bring the fruit into the winery as cold as possible. This helps preserve the fresh fruit flavors and aromatics. As the reds first get a cold soak and the whites and rosé are fermented at very cold temperatures the cold fruit gives us a head start getting the must to the desired temperature. As usual with this vintage, the quantity of the fruit we got from this vineyard was low, but the quality was exceptional. We may not make much wine this year, but what we make will be wonderful.

Craig Camp, Cornerstone Cellars