Friday, August 26, 2011

A Bittersweet Time of Year..

Hello all from The Drudge at Chase Cellars in St Helena, offering a unique view of working at a winery from the bottom up! The grapes are changing from green to purple which only means one thing, harvest is near! At an instant I am both excited and anxious. I love Napa Valley during crush; you can feel the energy, smell the fermentation in the air and enjoy the sudden influx of interns from the southern hemisphere. Unfortunately that also means that I will soon be working a lot harder during some very long days.

The grand scheme of things it isn’t all that bad, and I really love the fact that I make something that people will treasure for years to come. To be a part of something that people open for a special occasion (like a bad day) is a very cool thing. So, okay I am excited for the upcoming harvest!

Chase Cellars is a pretty small place, only 1,800 cases, so it doesn’t take that much to get us ready. In the next few weeks we will begin pulling out all the equipment that has been stored for the winter, putting it back together and cleaning, cleaning, cleaning.

For now I am going to sit back, sip some beautiful rosé and appreciate the wonderful summer weather that is ripening our grapes.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Harvest Preparations at Signorello Estate

Here at Signorello Estate we are watching Cabernet Sauvignon finish up its veraison period, which started a few weeks ago, so it looks like we will be picking them in mid to late October as we did last year.

The crop is fairly small due to heavy rains during the "bloom" period in the spring. Due to this, there was almost no cropping for us beside the "green" second crop as well as a little bit in our Syrah and Merlot vineyard blocks.

Currently, the cellar crew is checking, cleaning and sanitizing all crush machinery and fermentation tanks...and our vineyard repairman is servicing all tractors, forklifts and trailers to get ready for the upcoming harvest.

So far, this harvest looks like it is going to be a good one and we are all hoping for a nice warm end to the summer growing season.

Right now, we are enjoying the summer, relaxing on the patio, drinking some great wine and waiting for the HARVEST 2011 fun to begin! Won't you come join us?


Pierre Birebent, Winemaker
Signorello Estate

Something Old, and Something Older

I don’t mean to brag but we have some pretty old Zinfandel vines, I mean really old, 108 years old, old. As far as I know these are some of the oldest vines in Napa Valley that are still in production. I say some of the oldest because the records aren’t that great from back then I and just don’t want to get in trouble!
What’s incredible about these vines, besides the fact that they have managed to stay in the ground for this long, is they are pretty much self sufficient (besides a nip here and a tuck there). Thanks to our incredibly alluvial soil the tap root has grown 35 feet down into the earth and found the water table. This is a huge plus for us because that means we don’t have to water them. Somehow they are able to pull water up 35 feet to ensure their survival.
What does this mean for the end result, the pretty little grapes? Well, just like in humans, all that hard work builds a whole lot of character! The old vines, compared the 25 year olds that we also have planted in the Hayne Vineyard, show a lot more complexity and depth in flavor. The next time you find yourself in St Helena during harvest stop in and try a grape from each, I dare you!
The Drudge
Chase Cellars

Monday, August 22, 2011

Harvest 2011 is looming!!!

It's that time of year, the time all winemakers have waited for, Harvest!!!

We've bottled previous vintages, and the winery has been prepared meticulously with the help of eager interns, ready to get their hands dirty. Harvest at Schramsberg is no different than harvest at other wineries in the Napa Valley, except that we start several weeks earlier due to our work with sparkling wine grapes.

Harvest 2011 is without a doubt going to have another late start! However, the beauty of a late harvest, especially in the Sparkling Chardonnay and Pinot Noir world, is that sugar accumulation has been slow while acidities are sky high. In addition, we winemakers like hang time for flavor development. I'm not one to count my chickens before they hatch, but,I am optimistic that Harvest 2011 is going to provide us with the goods to craft another vintage of delicious sparkling wines. If vintage 2010 is any indication, which I believe it is, I am feeling pretty good from where I sit. Although I haven't hit the dial button on the phone, my finger is getting antsy, and I can't wait to call my growers and get Harvest 2011 started.

Keith Hock

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Napa Vintners Provide Climate Change Update

Complex Topic Requires Ongoing Thoughtful Review

Amidst another cool summer, Napa Valley again finds itself featured in various media outlets as the poster child for the potential results of climate change as it relates to, not just wine, but agriculture in general. Culturally, people are drawn to the romance of vineyards and since wine grapes, among all crops, are sensitive to vintage conditions and climate, there is more interest than say soy or oats or other crops.

The Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) acknowledges the climate research published this summer by an associate professor from Stanford, as well as all of the work done in this area over the recent decades, believing that the more attention and study given to this important global topic, the better off we will all be in developing ideas and tools for dealing with the potential impacts. Clearly, this is an issue of paramount importance to everyone, especially those of us in agriculture.

It was almost exactly five years ago that the Napa Valley Vintners Board of Directors established the Climate Study Task Force, comprised of a small group of vintners that had an awareness of, interest in, and passion for climate science and its possible effects on growing premium wine grapes, as well as wine production. The focus was to look specifically at Napa Valley, with its unique geographic position and resulting climate. It was this group of dedicated vintners that recommended the NVV work with Dr. Dan Cayan and his renowned team of climate scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. That officially launched the NVV's Climate Study Project, whereupon historical temperature and phenological data specific to the Napa Valley were gathered, analyzed and reported upon.

Over the next three years, the Climate Study Task Force collected data from 12,000 points in Napa Valley--from vintners, growers and weather stations. It was from this massive, grass-roots data collection that the Scripps science team assembled the "Climate and Phenology in Napa Valley: A Compilation and Analysis of Historical Data" report (Dan Cayan, Kimberly Nicholas, Mary Tyree and Michael Dettinger). This report, released in February 2011, indicated that Napa Valley has warmed slightly over recent decades, but not to the degree that has been previously reported. The warming we have experienced, 1-2° degrees Fahrenheit has taken place only in overnight temperatures between the months of January to August.

Not only did this study prove that we are not currently "tasting" climate change in a glass of Napa Valley wine, it also demonstrated what we all know to be true: the Napa Valley is indeed a unique place. Napa Valley is neither a coastal nor an interior climate, but shares traits of both: southern Napa Valley is more maritime-like, while central northeastern Napa Valley features some climate traits similar to California's coastal valleys. Daily and seasonal temperature changes in Napa Valley are higher than cool coastal climates, but less severe than warmer inland climates. Even though Napa Valley is not considered a coastal region, it is highly influenced by the marine layer, especially in the summer. Marine-influenced morning cloud cover mitigates daytime high temperatures, even though the clouds dissipate by early afternoon.

"Climate and Phenology in Napa Valley: A Compilation and Analysis of Historical Data" report's original media release and executive summary are linked below.

Climate change can and will affect all fine wine-growing regions worldwide, but the results will not necessarily be a blanket effect, as climate change is not a "once size fits all" phenomena. This is a very long-term issue which vintners and growers in Napa Valley need to continue to pay attention to and be directly involved with.

About the Napa Valley Vintners
The Napa Valley Vintners is the non-profit trade association responsible for promoting and protecting the Napa Valley appellation as the premier winegrowing region. From seven founding members in 1944, today the association represents 400 Napa Valley wineries and collectively is a leader in the world-wide wine industry. To learn more about our region and its legendary American wines, visit

Read the executive summary of the Climate Report

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Harvest Preparations - a bit different for all of us

Having just barely broken into August and only just now feeling like it is summertime, it is difficult to really start thinking about harvest (unless you're making bubbly), especially in this later than normal year. In any case, harvest preparations look fairly similar wherever you may be - lots of cleaning, purchasing supplies, stocking the beer fridge, etc. - but for us here at Chateau Montelena "preparing for harvest" this year means something else entirely.

Not long after I was promoted to winemaker in 2008 I was tasked with the (then theoretical) task of redesigning the fermentation cellar inside our historic Chateau (see photo above left). Over the intervening time that design was refined, tweaked, and eventually finalized. This past February construction began on a complete cellar retrofit and seismic upgrade. So while we are busy ordering in yeast and sanitation chemicals for harvest just like everyone else, we are also neck deep in construction. With no tanks in the cellar currently, it is hard to start thinking about fruit... Thankfully everything is on schedule with no major surprises (we hope). So stay tuned for more updates on the progress of our construction and on our first harvest in the new cellar (see current status photo below)! There are also more details and images on our blog if you're interested.