Friday, August 31, 2012

Checking sugar levels in Oakville

Ari Spoto is helping her dad check the grapes in Oakville. The fruit is maturing nicely and it appears to be on track for a late September early October harvest. Stay tune for more updates.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Social Elements of Harvest

Before skipping to the fun "social" events surrounding Harvest 2012, I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on the activity happening here in the vineyard first.

MFV Winemaking Team
This year will be our fourth harvest of Sauvignon Blanc for our proprietary white wine, Albion. As with most varietals this year, our rows of Sauvignon Blanc had a great set and are maturing beautifully. The heat from the past few weeks accelerated ripening slightly, and we’ll continue to monitor the grapes more closely as we approach harvest. Whereas 2010 and 2011 were more concerned with ripening and fruit profile due to the cooler temperatures, this year we will focus on acid development to maintain an elegant balance for Albion. A few neighbors have begun harvesting Sauvignon Blanc, but we’re likely 10 days away from bringing in the first lots for crush. On the flipside, our Cabernet Sauvignon continues to soak up the sun and enjoy this beautiful weather. We walked the vineyard on Wednesday and were pleased with the progress. There are a few minor adjustments we’ll make in select blocks to maximize uniformity, but at the moment we’re content and optimistic! (A rarity).

2012 NVV Harvest Party
On to the harvest celebrations. This week was especially exciting as the Napa Valley Vintners hosted their annual harvest party at Bale Grist Mill in Saint Helena. Personally, I’d never been to the mill, only passing it en route to visit the McCrea’s at Stony Hill, and was looking forward to something new. Roughly 300 of our fellow vintners gathered to celebrate the growing season, and imbibe in the fruits of our collective labor. Long banquet tables were arranged under the backdrop of the mill, and Silverado Brewing Company prepared a fantastic meal. I always enjoy these events because of the people, and this year was no exception.

America's Cup Trophy
The perfect complement to our harvest party was a brief trip to San Francisco to celebrate the 161st Anniversary of America’s Cup. The Napa Valley is the official wine region of the 34th America’s Cup, and fellow vintners put on quite a party at Club 45 to welcome the AC World Series to the San Francisco Bay. Team members mingled with vintners and exchanged sailing adventures for winemaking tips. Although this doesn't necessarily qualify as an official harvest party per se, the setting was superb and the wines of the Napa Valley helped set the stage for a great week of racing, complete with a slice of anniversary cake!


Next Week: Harvest STOMP! and Preparations for White Wines

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Electric smiles: Napa Valley VIP Reception at Club 45

Amelia Hardy with Russell Coutts. Photo credit: Greg Rodeno
Electric.  That's what it was like tonight at the Napa Valley reception at Club 45.  From beginning to end, the place was buzzing with excitement. The atmosphere in Newport last June was wonderful, but it was nothing like this.  

Attendance was impressive, as were those attending.  I met Russell Coutts, who has a perfect win/loss record in 20 match races over the course of four victorious America's Cup campaigns, and I spoke to Bob Fisher, who has written more (and knows more) about the America's Cup than anyone else alive (or not). Everywhere I looked I saw the faces of sailors who have distinguished themselves in San Francisco Bay racing for decades.

The guests crowded round the tasting counters, talking at length with the pouring vintners, clearly enjoying the opportunity to learn more about the Napa Valley and its wines.

Electric smiles.

Lester Hardy

Lawyer by day, author by night, Lester is the husband of Janet Pagano, Managing Partner at Ovid Vineyards.  An avid sailor, Lester crews for vintner Eric Sklar on Spindrifter at the Sausalito Yacht Club's Tuesday night races, and is currently working on a biography of San Francisco sailig legend Tom Blackaller, who competed in three America's Cup events. You can reach Lester at, or visit his blog at

Friday, August 17, 2012

Dog Days of Summer on Spring Mountain

It’s official, Harvest 2012 has begun in the Napa Valley! Reports of the first bins of Pinot Noir have been crushed at Mumm Napa Valley, and the season has commenced. Although this may seem early compared to the 2010 and 2011 growing seasons, winemakers throughout the valley remind us that we’re actually “back to normal”. In any given year, the first grapes to hit the sorting table in mid-August are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for sparkling wines. If there were an opposite end to the spectrum, we’re it – mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.

Tucker Whitehorse Leahy
We are located along the southern slopes of the Spring Mountain District Appellation, high above the fog line and west of the town of Saint Helena. Whereas most of the valley has begun measuring brix (sugar levels), we’re only 90% through verasion and estimate a mid-October Harvest. Our vineyard manager, viticulturist and winemaker are surprisingly optimistic due to the favorable growing conditions to date; however there is one member of the team that remains unimpressed: Tucker Whitehorse Leahy . With responsibilities ranging from pheasant control to grape sampling, Tucker finds the cooler temps from 2010 and 2011 much more conducive to his management style. Always the team player, he’s putting on a good attitude in this warmer year, but vows to monitor all vineyard work from the shade.

James and Elizabeth
With harvest still a distant thought, the best solution is to distract ourselves with the start to the NFL Preseason. Like the majority of us in the Napa Valley, the San Francisco 49ers are a family run organization, and it just so happens the York family has an unbridled passion for the Napa Valley. They have been terrific ambassadors promoting the region and its wines for many years, and many of us bleed red and gold in support of the team and the 49ers Foundation. Seeing as the grapes are in no rush to ripen, we felt very comfortable leaving the ranch for the big city for an exciting afternoon of Football and Wine.  Even though our winemaker is a staunch Oakland Raiders fan, he was admittedly jealous we had the opportunity to catch the first 49ers Pre-Season game. If the mere fact that Harvest and the 49ers began with such excitement on Friday, August 10th, we should all look forward to a terrific year in 2012!


Next Week: Napa Valley Vintners Harvest Party and Winemaker Preparations

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Napa Valley Harvest 2012 Begins with High Hopes from Carneros to Calistoga

Harvest has officially begun in America's premier wine region and vintners throughout the renowned Napa Valley are delighted with the growing season to date, nearly all calling it a classic. Capturing the process from vineyard to glass, the Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) trade association of 430 wineries will chronicle the process in a series of entertaining as well as news-driven videos.

The Right Place and Time--Napa Valley Harvest 2012
Vintners believe the Napa Valley appellation to be the right place to grow and craft the highest quality wines and these grapes are picked only when at their peak of perfection. Throughout the harvest season, the NVV's go-to resource is its harvest-dedicated website, . New videos will be appearing about every two weeks over the coming months, following the process in nearly real time.

In addition the harvest website offers:
• The NVV's vintner-authored blog "Unfiltered" with direct-from-the-field updates and photos posted by winemakers, vineyard managers, cellar workers and interns throughout the season
• Live Twitter feed from #NVHarvest on the homepage
• Harvest Live UStream series broadcast the week of September 24 from locations throughout the valley showcased on the homepage
• A calendar of the scores of events to celebrate harvest in Napa Valley and beyond
• And in the coming weeks, ongoing contests and quizzes from innovative social media platforms

The harvest website is part of a multi-faceted effort celebrating harvest that includes 15 promotional programs and more than 30 NVV events.

Notes from the Field: Season to Date from Winemakers and Vineyard Managers
Anticipation, Excitement and Mindful that it's Early

This is the 150th anniversary at Schramsberg. We look forward to writing another page in Napa winemaking history. Mother Nature has been kind to us in 2012 as we have one of the most balanced crops in years. The anticipation and excitement for the start of harvest is overwhelming and we are eager to get the party started. Vintage 2012 is going to be Epic! Keith Hock, winemaker, Schramsberg Vineyards

This growing season takes me back to the classic Napa Valley vintages I knew as a teenager, when I worked summers at Louis Martini. The mornings start off with some fog and overcast, by midday it's burned off and the sky is vivid blue. By afternoon we've got heat in the 90s and by five or six o’clock it starts cooling down and if you eat dinner outside you need a jacket. Elias Fernandez, winemaker, Shafer Vineyards

It's mid-August and we are still enjoying a beautiful summer (cue sound of me knocking on wood). Over the past thirty days, the daytime temperature in our vineyard got over 80F on all but three days and only exceeded 100F once. These warm sunny afternoons are perfect for the ripening period. On most nights, the temperature has dropped into the high 40s--which allows the vines to recharge and keeps the grapes fresh. We are well through veraison in Chardonnay and expect to begin harvest just after Labor Day. Veraison has moved very quickly in Cabernet Sauvignon, even faster than Merlot. This may be because Cabernet naturally set a balanced crop this year. Merlot, on other hand, seems to have been a bit over-ambitious requiring us to drop a considerable amount of fruit during multiple thinning passes. Jon Ruel, Director of Viticulture & Winemaking, Trefethen Family Vineyards

So far--knock on wood--we haven't been thrown for any curves. We didn't have frost in spring, we didn't have cold weather during bloom or set, we haven't experienced extreme heat that would sunburn the fruit, and there's been no rain. And after 28 years of making Stags Leap District wines I can tell you, grapes do not like surprises--they like long stretches of consistent weather and as the season progresses, we look forward to that see-saw of daytime heat and nighttime cooling which will create a beautiful balance of sugars and acidity.

Right now we're about 95 to 100 percent finished with veraison. We're doing a little irrigation where needed--doling out just enough water to keep the grapes healthy and on track for maturation.

Our main vineyard work now is green harvesting, culling fruit that's not hitting a high mark with regard to color and ripeness. In Olympic terms, we only want to harvest gold-medal fruit, so we're pretty severe about how much fruit we're dropping to the ground.

Next week we'll start sampling fruit and zeroing in on which blocks we'll likely be picking first. At this point I expect to start picking here in Stags Leap District by the second week in September which is about two weeks earlier than in 2011 or 2010. Elias Fernandez, winemaker, Shafer Vineyards

Apart from a handful of temperature spikes this has been a marvelous growing season with very cool nights and sunny days comfortably in the high 80s and low 90s. There's been very low mildew pressure all season which is heavenly compared to last year. I found the first bloom in our Cabernet Sauvignon on May 22nd, veraison began two months later. We're very close to full veraison this week. Right now we're still positioning shoots and pruning off extra fruit to bring the vines into harmony. In the cellar the sort, crush, and ferment equipment is getting a dusting off and annual tune-up. We're doing our final racking before harvest sets in. Julie Johnson, owner/winemaker Tres Sabores

At Schweiger Vineyards, at the top of the Spring Mountain District, we are just starting verasion. The recent heat wave has really moved things along, and it is nice to have a classic growing season. Despite record heat across most of the country, this has been a beautiful growing season in Napa Valley. Our Cabernet Sauvignon set is a little light, probably 90 percent of normal, while our Malbec and Merlot are fantastic! Cabernet Franc was heavy and required a bit of fruit drop/management pre-verasion. Chardonnay crop is normal and very promising. Right now, I'm estimating a late September/early October start for harvest. Andy Schweiger, winemaker, Schweiger Vineyards

Here at Oakville Ranch, the warm days along with the quick bloom this spring set the stage for even crop load through all the varieties. As I talk to vineyard managers and winemakers throughout the valley everyone is smiling and giggling, truly everything looks fabulous as we move into the final weeks. Phil Coturri, vineyard manager, Oakville Ranch Vineyards

The grape crop here in Calistoga is looking great! It is really nice to have a more "normal" vintage after the late harvests of the past few years. This summer's pattern of a hot week followed by a cooler week seems to have been just the ticket--all the vineyards I've looked at seem to be well acclimated to the heat and have healthy canopies. Crop levels are up from average and at this point everything is close to fully colored-up. If this is any indication, I have already started eating the Thompsons seedless from my backyard…. Shouldn't be too long now, but I have to get through this bottling first. Cameron Perry, winemaker, Chateau Montelena

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 more than 430 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 .

Watch the Video

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

It's time for the homestretch at Peju

The sacrifices we make in order to create great wine can be heart-wrenching. Take the process of thinning, or dropping fruit. A huge number of clusters were recently cut from our Merlot vines, and I must admit it is sad to see them shriveled up and baking in the dirt. But this is such an important practice because it ups the concentration of flavor in each remaining grape. Timed just a few weeks after veraison, which marks the point when the grapes begin to accumulate more sugar, thinning allows all of the plant’s energy to be channeled into a smaller amount of fruit. So from now until harvest, all of the earthiness from the soil and the ripeness from the sun is distilled, condensed, to make wines that are more powerful and refined.
These vines are pretty young, so even after thinning, the clusters are more than bountiful
On the other side of the winery, the HB Cabernet Sauvignon looks sparse in comparison. This block has seen many more years of thinning so it has a naturally lower yield--and is the source of our magically delicious Rutherford Estate Reserve.

At this point we have also stopped watering, which means the nectar in those grapes will be even more intense. All in all, it’s a rigorous time for the vines and a super exciting time for us as we wait patiently until the optimum time to pick. If the growing season is a marathon, this is about the 22nd mile. Close enough to taste, but the absolute most important part, as that last week or so of ripening will make their journey complete.    

Hillside Select in the Vineyard: Tasting, Testing, Harvesting

As harvest 2012 kicks off in the Napa Valley, Shafer Vineyards shares techniques for making Hillside Select in the vineyard.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

What is that apparatus in your vineyard?

All was quiet on the eastern front when I arrived at the winery early this morning.  It was around 6am (my circadian rhythm was disrupted by last night's full full moon), and the tranquil foggy vineyard was calling me.  There's something so comforting about the white blanket that covers up everything around us, even our magnificent view.  I started snapping pictures.  I didn't venture too far from our tasting room because I wasn't wearing proper shoes; heels actually (Yes, I'm in denial that I work at a vineyard...)  After snapping a photo of our amazing "view," I noticed a curious briefcase at the head of one of the rows of Cabernet Sauvignon.  

viader"Ah," I remembered, "It probably has to do with the water-monitor thingumabobs that Alan ordered."

Back in February under the direction of my mother Delia and my brother Alan Viader, we commissioned Fruition Sciences ( - a cutting edge viticultural support company that uses innovative technology to study the vital signs of our vines.  We are learning what makes VIADER vineyards such a unique growing environment for premium quality wine grapes, and the results are fascinating. 

In the picture you can see the monitoring apparatus is powered by the sun, and reviews two vines at once.  Those vines are shown here completely wrapped in a foil-like material.  Sensors are placed throughout inside, and a computer captures data of how much water is getting to the vine and where it is achieving the best saturation.  We conduct this survey while our irrigation system is running to get the most accurate data.  For us science geeks, it's exciting!

It has been a great learning experience for Alan, and we realized just how efficient vines truly are as an agricultural product (compared to other products like artichokes, etc.), given their extensive root structure and water retention abilities.  I'm sure my brother can explain it in a lot more detail, but he's not here today!  It was his day to survey our friends' different vineyard properties where we have future grape-sourcing contracts.  

And more importantly, it's his younger son's first birthday!  Off to celebrate!   Cheers!

Note: Fruition Sciences has its headquarters in Montpellier, France, and an office in Oakland, California.  

Happy Thursday,

Janet Viader of VIADER Napa Valley