Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Vintage of the Century!

Harvesting Oakville Station Cornerstone Cellars Merlot
It's the vintage of the century!

The hype machine is on for the West Coast. Unfortunately, the noisiest wine press is no longer the one that separates the juice from the skins. Hopefully someday we can get back to the fact that in agriculture there is no perfection, only personality.

Each vintage the weather and soil combine to create a once in a lifetime experience. As with people, the personality you prefer is, well, personal. In the Napa Valley, the weather could not have been kinder to grape growers. Mother Nature’s largess to grape growers and winemakers is not always equal. There’s not an empty fermenter or barrel to be found in the Napa Valley right now due to the bumper crop of grapes bestowed on the Valley this year. More is not necessarily better when it come to winemaking. The growers are already celebrating and headed for some sunny beach. Winemakers still have plenty of work to be done in the cellars with most of the red wine harvest still in fermenters.

It was a vintage Goldilocks would have loved. Not too hot and not too cold, just right. It started with a gentle spring that allowed for textbook flowering and fruit set. Then they just started to come, one after another. Warm sunny day after warm sunny day. Rarely did we hit 100° F for the high and just as rare was the day it did it not hit at least 85° F. The nights were cool dropping down to the low fifties, even nicking the forties. Up and down the temperatures swung wide each day in that dance that makes the Napa Valley such an exceptional place to grow wine grapes. 

September arrived and harvest began. First pinot gris and then we started picking sauvignon blanc, almost on the same date we’ve picked the last two years. Then they started to fall like dominos, coming in just the order you’d expect: first the merlot and then the syrah followed by cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon. The even weather allowed us to pick at a deliberate pace able to wait until the flavors arrived at just the right point. By the middle of October we’d picked almost all of our vineyards. The first real forecast of rain arrived at the same time. On Sunday, October 21st we picked our last fruit. At midnight it started to rain.

By our standards at Cornerstone Cellars we’re very, very happy and optimistic about the wine that is fermenting as I write this article. What makes us happy? Wines with freshness, life, energy and, most of all, personality. We were able to pick truly ripe fruit at moderate sugar levels, which means moderate alcohol levels with crisp acidity that will make the wines sing. I love it.

So the journalists will want to know if this was a great vintage. Of course it was, just like it will be next year and was last year. It’s not a question that anyone who has grown anything would ask. It is the experience of growing the fruit and making it into wine each and every year that makes for greatness. Letting that individuality speak in the wine every year is what makes wine so fascinating. The greatness of wine is in how it speaks to you. Each of us can rate a wine or a vintage 100 points, but we can only do that for ourselves. No one can do it for us.

There is something to love in every vintage. Every vintage is the vintage of the century, even if just for a few minutes. Andy Warhol said everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes. Each vintage should at least get that.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Natural Landscape of Harvest

Sunrise on Harvest Morning at Marston Family Vineyard
With all the pomp and circumstance of harvest related activities complete, and the majority of our neighboring vineyards finished, I’m thrilled to report that we have officially begun harvest at our estate on Spring Mountain. On a pristine Friday morning on October 19th, the first blocks of Cabernet Sauvignon were picked at Marston Family Vineyard

Harvest Bins
In what has quickly become routine, or perhaps quirky superstition, I enjoy walking amongst the fruit at dusk the evening prior to harvest and reveling in the efforts of the past growing season. In this day in age it’s particularly rewarding to witness the fruits of our labor, and feel a strong sense of pride in the quality of our grapes. Make no mistake, as important, or critical, as we may think we are to the vines, our abilities are secondary to the mercy of Mother Nature and her natural landscape, and to that end we are extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to grow grapes in the beautiful Napa Valley.

Barrel Fermentation
Perhaps it’s become a common misnomer, but “harvest” by no means signals the end; rather, it marks the transition from grape grower to winemaker. Whereas our viticulturist has traded his weather reports from Saint Helena for Lake Tahoe, our winemaker has replaced his golf clubs with a clipboard and calculator. Led by the remarkable Marbue Marke, our cellar team is buckled down and full steam ahead. Our first fruit came from four different hillside terraces on the property, and each block will be fermented separately in oak barrel to complement its character. Each year we employ the use of both oak and stainless steel tanks for fermentation depending on the vineyard location, fruit quality and growing season. Fortunately, 2012 has been a relatively predictable year, and has allowed us to follow our winemaking program with only minor variation.

Cabernet Sauvignon
With roughly 50% of our grapes harvested and undergoing natural fermentation, the balance of our fruit is still hanging in the vineyard. The microclimates and location of the remaining vines combine to make them later ripening sites, and we made the decision to allow the mountain skins to continue to ripen ever so slightly to complete the ideal flavor profile. We did experience light rains that dropped roughly 1.22 inches over a 4 day period, and as expected the fruit held up remarkably well. In fact, walking the rows suggests that the rain actually cleaned up the clusters of any dust and made them shine with their beautiful purple hue. The forecast for the next few days is promising, and we anticipate finishing harvest just in time to don our Halloween costumes and trick or treat our way through the vines that provided us with yet another exceptional vintage.


Finishing Strong at Raymond Vineyards

Winemaker Stephanie Putnam describes our efforts as harvest comes to a close and discusses dealing with these late October rains.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Harvest Napa Valley 2012 coming to a finish

A great finish to a fabulous season...now on to the work in the winery!

Merlot is in the tank!

We pressed out our 2012 Oakville merlot yesterday and I must say it was fantastic!  Beautiful color, big fruit, nice structure... and this is merlot!

Three generations of Spoto's were on hand for this task making this truly a family endeavor.

Henry, Stuart & Ari Spoto

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Spring Mountain Vineyard’s Harvest Mantras

Before each harvest, I order t-shirts for my crew. For this harvest - my 10th at Spring Mountain Vineyard (SMV) - the shirts read:

“VAMOS AVER” (We will see) and “SI SE PUEDE” (Yes, we can!)

In the world of winemaking, and as it applies to my great crew, both are appropriate.  We are always waiting, watching and evaluating a vintage, a vineyard block or a newly fermented wine.

To date, we have harvested all varieties except for some Cabernet Sauvignon, a late-ripening, sturdy variety that we often harvest after valley floor Cabernet is picked. I am not worried about the recent rain because our vineyards are located on steep slopes where the air can circulate freely to dry out clusters. 

As for the new wines in the cellar, they are gorgeous.

I couldn’t be happier with the 2012 vintage and harvest. Like other recent great Napa Valley vintages - 1997, 2005 and 2007 – this vintage is bountiful as well as beautiful.

Come see us on Spring Mountain.  There is still plenty of harvest activity here!


Jac Cole, Winemaker
Spring Mountain Vineyard

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

It's a Grind

Harvesting the Cornerstone Cellars Oakville Station Merlot during harvest 2012.

It's a grind. Another half ton bin of grapes is loaded onto the dumper on the sorting line. Another truck arrives and another twenty bins are added to the twenty or so already there. At our top speed it takes an hour to process four tons or eight bins. We rarely hit top speed. Best guess is another five hours to get through these bins. That's on top of the five hours already in.

Its like that every day. It's a grind. It's harvest. The term "romantic" does not enter your mind: at least until it's all over. The only times when the romance of it all fills your spirit are the first day, the last day and the rest of the year. The first day it’s all about the potential, the last day you are a bit awestruck by what you have accomplished. In between it's a blur as you grind through each day. It is very simply the next bin, the next fermenter and the next day.

In the picturesque harvest in the wine magazines it's all about bountiful lunches with happy workers eating hardy meals and quaffing wine from carafes. In a real world working winery its cold cuts, colds, cold wet clothes and hot, sweaty rubber boots. Most of all you are sticky. Head to toe splashed with super-sweet grape juice, which makes you a yellow jacket's dream lunch.

Then there is all that gleaming stainless steel equipment that looks so efficient and high tech. The reality is more like a Rube Goldberg invention as the whole process is a patchwork of things that don't play well with others. Something always seems to break at just the wrong moment, which makes winemakers the champions of jerry-rigging as equipment is forced to behave with beatings and duct tape. For a winemaker knowing how to convince everything to work in the winery is just as important as knowing when to pick. Let's just say that OSHA would not approve of many of these solutions.

The day comes to an end with the best beer (or two) you ever tasted in your life quickly followed by an all to short, but very sound sleep. Then you wake up and do it again, and again, and again until one day the last bin arrives.

Then, as the last bunch of grapes from the last bin drops into the last fermenter the romance hits you again. Instantly harvest is once again the best and most exciting thing that happens to you every year. It is the concentrated essence of everything you believe in and the fuel that fires your flame for the next vintage. It reminds you how lucky you are to be working as hard as you can to accomplish something you love.

We finished the last bin at about 5 p.m. last night. Winemaker Jeff Keene and I shook very sticky and very tired hands. Harvest 2012 was done at Cornerstone Cellars. 

What a grind. I can't wait until next year.

Craig Camp

Friday, October 19, 2012

Chinese menu selections for Napa Valley wines

The recent receipt of Geograhic Indication Status in China, a landmark protection which will safeguard the use of the Napa Valley name on wines bought and sold in the country, has us thinking about really important issues - like, what Chinese fare should we be whipping up to celebrate?

Thai Beef Salad with Cilantro Lime Dressing and Peanuts.  

From Salads by Peter Gordon. Copyright © 2006 by Peter Gordon

As many people find it challenging to pair wines with Asian foods, we went straight to the source for ideas: the menus from the China trade trips we have led with our vintners. What better inspiration than the dishes Chinese chefs themselves have chosen to pair well with Napa Valley wines like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon?

If you're a take-out kind of person, look for similar items the next time you peruse the menu at your local Chinese restaurant. If you love being adventurous in the kitchen, click through on each item to some similar, well-rated online recipes to help 'spice up' your next meal.

Getting back to the big picture, the GI Status Napa Valley has obtained in China is a huge stepping stone in protecting the integrity of the Napa Valley name in China and beyond. Join us in celebrating by opening up a bottle of Napa Valley wine and enjoying one of these delicious dishes!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Scruffy, funky or...hunky? VOTE for your favorite harvest beard!

Submit your vote by October 31st! The winner will receive bragging rights and a $250 gift certificate to a Napa Valley restaurant on our Wine List Recognition Program.

NVV Invests Deeply in the Health and Well-Being of Napa County

The Sister Ann Dental Clinic at Clinic Ole is one of the many community health programs supported by Napa Valley Vintners.
Read about the good work of this agency here.

The Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) announced today its first set of grants from the proceeds of the 2012 Auction Napa Valley fundraising event. Beginning with these grants, the organization will invest $7 million over the coming months primarily on two strategic priorities: community health and children's education. The first awards total more than $1.9 million and are for direct medical and dental services.

"These funds are designated for providing those without other options access to timely primary, preventive, acute and emergency care; helping patients prevent and manage chronic diseases; and improving children's health," explained Linda Reiff, Napa Valley Vintners executive director. "By emphasizing preventive and intervention services, we can help residents keep health issues from becoming more serious and costly to treat."

The county's three largest healthcare providers - Community Health Clinic Ole, Queen of the Valley Medical Center and St. Helena Hospital - will receive the grants totaling more than $1.9 million. Combined, these three providers treated more than 62,000 Napa County residents, nearly half of the population of Napa County, last year. And their emphasis on prevention and early intervention programs aligns with the NVV's funding strategy.

Learn more here

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Napa Valley First International Wine Region to Receive Landmark Protection in China

In November 2010,  a delegation from the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine - the Chinese government agency that oversees GI status  - visited the United States and as part of an agricultural tour, spent a day in the Napa Valley.  
The People's Republic of China has announced that Napa Valley has been recognized with Geographic Indication (GI) status in that country. Napa Valley is the first region outside of China to be so recognized with this designation. It provides the pivotal element in consumer protection against wines illegitimately labeled as being from Napa Valley in this important and rapidly expanding market. 

The GI was published in the report by the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine which was just released.

"We are thrilled by the news that China, an economic world power and growing wine importer, has decided to grant Napa Valley this status, and we are honored to learn that we are the first winegrowing region outside of that country to achieve it," said Linda Reiff, NVV's executive director. "This is an historic milestone for the Napa Valley appellation and speaks to the global respect for our region's reputation and high-quality wines."

"Having the Chinese government's official recognition protects the integrity of the Napa Valley brand, and does so fairly early-on in our efforts to develop this tremendous market. This is a 'win' for Napa Valley and a 'win' for the Chinese consumer," Reiff said.

As was the case when achieving GI recognition from the European Union, the NVV made the request directly from the trade association to the government. Similarly with the EU, this had not been done before in China. Given the world-wide renown of brand Napa Valley, government officials saw the need and the value for this recognition.

The NVV members and staff worked for many years with the Chinese government to achieve the GI including several face-to-face meetings in Beijing. Meeting the winemakers, learning more about the unique attributes and the limited production of Napa's wines helped officials better understand the importance of this initiative.

"The Chinese market is only going to increase in importance to us in the coming years. We needed to make sure we were safeguarding our brand and its reputation. It's clear that they see the value in this from both the prospective of the producer, but also from the prospective of the consumers in China," said Cakebread Cellars' President Bruce Cakebread, who actively participated in the negotiations.

Read more here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Glorious Chardonnay

Yesterday was a beautiful morning to be harvesting 2.1 tons of this gorgeous Crosby Roamann Chardonnay from an organic vineyard in Carneros.  We are excited about what the future holds for this deliciously ripe and concentrated fruit. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sparkling harvest at Domaine Chandon

This is it!

The sparkling wine harvest at Chandon! We started on August 8 bringing in Chardonnay and finished with Pinot Noir from Carneros on September 17 — 41 days of nonstop activity.

Harvest in Carneros (left) and Yountville (right)

The first round of fermentation is now complete and the wine has been inoculated for malolactic fermentation...so after a busy month and half receiving fruit, racking, yeasting, etc. we can now relax and enjoy weekends again!!!

This year for us, at Domaine Chandon, was a special harvest as we inaugurated our new press pad. We quickly became familiar with our new equipment and everything went very smoothly and quite well.

Overall this year, we feel very fortunate. The wines are tasting great with bright acidity and beautiful fruit. We couldn't be happier about the quality of this vintage.

Thank you to our geat team!
 This year 6 countries were represented: US, Mexico, France, Spain, Argentina and Trinidad!

Cheers to a great vintage and good luck to the winemakers still in harvest mode!

Assistant Winemaker, Sparkling wines

Friday, October 5, 2012

Hurry Up and Wait

I can’t believe it’s October. Literally, it feels like yesterday we ran into our friends at Barnett Vineyards enjoying a casual Labor Day brunch on the patio at Solage, and today the SF Giants are gearing up to face the Reds in the MLB Playoffs. In retrospect, the only explanation can be that September was better than advertised.

Marbue, Michael and James with Albion 2012
What has quickly become the theme to Napa Valley 2012, the weather continues to be perfect. Exceptional even. I continue to knock on wood, thinking that in some way that will be the underlying secret to continuing these beautiful conditions. Under a moonlight sky on Tuesday, September 11th we harvested the grapes for our 2012 Albion. Yields were back up from 2011 and the quality was ideal. Fast forward three weeks and fermentation is complete. Some lots are aging in stainless barrels, others in oak, and the subtle nuances from each will have a dramatic impact on the finished wine. Over the next few months we’ll track the maturity of what we anticipate to be a great vintage.

With the whites perfectly situated in the cellar, we’ve transitioned to focus on our estate Cabernet Sauvignon grown on the southern slopes of the Spring Mountain District. Reports throughout the valley suggest harvest for the red varietals is fully underway. Shafer has reported crushing some of the first lots of its Hillside Select fruit, our neighbor Vineyard7 & 8  has been active with Cabernet Sauvignon, and yet we anticipate being roughly a week away from our first blocks to be picked. Following the heat of Monday through Wednesday of this week (99, 104 and 101 degrees, respectively), we have a modest cooling trend upon us that will bring temps down into the mid-80s and the fruit back into balance. Samples taken yesterday and today show amazing promise, and we’re letting the fruit hang to allow the grape skins and tannins to develop ever so slightly. It’s a magical time to hurry up and wait!


Next Week: The Patience is Rewarded

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Oakville Harvest for Spoto Wines

Ari and Stuart Spoto at the early morning harvest of Oakville Merlot and Cabernet Franc.  In this photo, Ari and Stuart are field sorting the fruit prior to the crush.
The fruit was picked at 26.5 Brix (3.5pH) and more importantly tasting fantastic.  After one day in the cold room tank, the fruit is already dark in color and rich in flavor.  2012 is shaping up to be a great wine year!

Vineyard 7&8: Harvest 2012's Exceptional Quality!

Some would say that after the past couple challenging harvest in the Napa Valley, that we were due for a wonderfully "typical" year.  I would say that so far at Vineyard 7&8, that is almost exactly what we have received!

The 2012 growing season was marked by summer temperatures that were back to normal for our region, and continued into the fall with warm days and cooler evenings.  This, paired with a great fruit set in the vineyards, pointed way for what could be a relatively calm and moderately paced harvest!

That was until this past week!  It was simply amazing.  Driving to the winery this week in the early morning before sunrise, the temperatures on the valley floor were in the upper 50's, but when I made it to the top of Spring Mountain, at 2000 feet above the valley floor, the temperatures were already pushing into the upper 70's!

Those "typical" cool evenings and warm days, were replaced by warm evenings and hot days!

This was the perfect recipe for creating a "perfect storm" if you will, and setting the pace for what is currently a fast push to harvest what our Winemaker and I believe is some of the best fruit we have seen in recent years.  Flavors are wonderful, the chemistry is great, and yields are coming in at or above average.

At this point, our 2012 "Estate" Chardonnay has been picked, pressed and now currently fermenting away in barrel as seen in the photos above.  We have then moved to bringing in some exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon from one of our growers here on Spring Mountain, as well from our Estate on Spring Mountain as well!

While only 1 week into the 2012 harvest, we look to be finishing the week having picked nearly 80-90% of our fruit for the season, leaving just a few days next week to complete yet another epic adventure in the Napa Valley!

Wishing all fellow vintners the best of luck this harvest season.  I simply cannot wait to see how great the wines are from this vintage!


Wesley Steffens
Vineyard 7&8