October 10, 2004 –
As our third harvest winds down I find myself a tad nostalgic and feeling a little lost with so much extra time on my hands to eat, shower, pay bills and begin preparing for our other “new vintage” - we are expecting our first baby in February and I can say that she is very glad the 135 hour work weeks are behind us! Even though this was Jared and my third harvest, it is special because there is something incredibly exciting and scary as hell about doing it for real and on this scale. We harvested ~9.5 tons of grapes from August 17 (the Chardonnay) to September 24 (the Mendocino Syrah’s), during which time we put ~5,000 miles on our VW Passat and we now have 20 barrels of wine!
When we were planning our harvest last spring we had expected to begin with the Chardonnay after Labor Day and run through mid October on the Syrah’s. But like everyone this year, we found our best laid plans going out the window. After an early bud break and unusually warm weather in March things settled back down with moderate to cool temperatures throughout the Spring and early Summer. All of that came to an abrupt end in late August as most of Northern California saw a one heat wave running into another that basically lasted from mid-August to mid-September. The heat had varying impacts on the grapes depending on the appellation and varietal but we made out well and are very happy with our selected pick dates. The heat did not impact our Chardonnay from the Brosseau vineyard that was picked fully ripe with wonderfully complex flavors and nice acid levels on August 17. Our Carson Ridge Syrah (picked September 5) was also not affected too much. The first wave to hit the foothills impacted the vines but with some additional water we were able to hang until September 5 and we have been very pleased with the flavor development on both blocks so far. The rest of our grapes come from cooler climates in Mendocino County which did see the heat wave but being higher and cooler still came in ripe but without much shrivel. We owe much of this years (early) success to the dedicated and quality driven growers we have partnered with and while it is way too early to make any promises or vintage predictions I will say that we are enormously pleased with all 20 barrels!
September 24, 2004 – Harvest: McDowell Syrah AND Vidmar Syrah
It is hard to believe our last harvest for 2004 is already here! Why it seems like just yesterday that we started (uh – because it nearly was!). The challenge is that we had hoped to have the Syrah from the foothills barreled down before crushing the Mendocino vineyards so we could reuse the fermenters. Sadly this was not the case so Jared (our esteemed cooper) had to scramble to remove more lids so we had enough for all of the Syrah at once. Thankfully we had overestimated and had a few extra barrels.
We lucked out on having the Vidmar and McDowell pick coincide so this would be our last trip. We tried to rent a 20’ truck as we were picking up 1 ton of each for us plus 1 ton of each for Crushpad. However Penske was out of 20’ trucks so they upgraded us to the “Cadillac of trucks” and Jared rolls up to the winery in a 24 footer! He barely fit in our loading bay the damn thing was so big. We loaded up the bins, grabbed our lunch and hit the road. Like usual we were running late and tonight we actually had dinner plans with Steve Williams (the grower who manages the Vidmar vineyard) in Boonville and we first had to run by McDowell to drop off bins. Luckily traffic wasn’t too bad and we made pretty good time. Just as we were dropping the last bin at McDowell and the sun was starting to dip I looked over to see a real live cowboy riding up on his horse. It was none other than Bill Crawford who invites us to come over and watch them rope some horses, drink some of his delicious Rosé and enjoy the beautiful California sunset. It sounded wonderful and I was in the process of saying most certainly when it occurred to me that we had reservations in Boonville in less than an hour. We will definitely have to take a rain check on that offer!
We crawled over the pass (while this truck could take the incline it was so big that those hair pin turns demanded we slow to 20mph) and managed to roll into the Boonville hotel nearly on the dot. We parked, taking up most of the parking lot and met Steve who was already enjoying a glass of Anderson Valley wine. We had a wonderful dinner (the food at the Boonville Hotel is very good if you’ve not been) and managed to get to bed before midnight. We were picking Vidmar first as it is in the Yorkville Highlands, only a few miles south of Boonville. We rolled up the hill to the Vidmar vineyard around 6:45 where we found a 21 person crew ready and waiting to pick our Syrah. Steve manages many vineyards in the Anderson Valley and Yorkville Highlands and has his own year round crew. We quickly came to appreciate their skill and speed as this was definitely one of the cleanest picks we’ve seen yet. At Vidmar we picked 2 clones, Estrella River and 877. It turned out there was a little more fruit than Steve anticipated so we took it off his hands (of course). The Estrellla was riper than the 877 but both were very nice and for Jared and me, reminiscent of the flavors and balance we experienced in the Northern Rhône. We have very high hopes for this vineyard!
With closer to 3 tons in our truck we headed back over the pass to McDowell. They were just finishing up as we arrived and our fruit was still nicely chilled. The McDowell Syrah is 90+ years old so we have no idea what the clones are. I do know those old vines can still pack a punch in their flavors and we are very excited to see these wines develop. We loaded up the truck with another 2+ tons of Syrah and hit the road. Smooth sailing until the Marin County weigh station. We are never sure whether we are supposed to stop or not but we figured with the 24 footer better to err on the side of caution. Maybe not. We pulled over the scale at the required 3mph and heard a blasting, “PULL OVER!” Uh oh. Turns out we were over weight (I knew we should not have had desert last night!) by 2000lbs on our rear axel. We were worried they would make us either unload or reload but thankfully they just wrote us a ticket and sent us on our way.
September 16, 2004 – Harvest & Crush: McDowell Grenache Gris
Our Rosé was by far the quickest and easiest of all. We combined the harvest trip with vineyard visits for our other two Syrahs’s (Vidmar in the Yorkville Highlands and McDowell, from the same vineyard as the Grenache Gris). We were not able leave the city early enough to check out the Vidmar vineyard before sunset on the 15 th so we stayed in Boonville (at the charming Boonville hotel) and headed over to the Vidmar vineyard that morning to see how things were going before climbing the pass over to the McDowell Valley. We arrived around 9:30 (our rental truck wasn’t geared as well as the Freightliner and climbed ever so slowly in first gear) to find our fruit waiting for us. We simply picked it up and off we went back to San Francisco. It was so fast it almost didn’t feel like a harvest!
September 5, 2004 – Harvest: Carson Ridge Vineyard Syrah
Choosing the pick date for Carson Ridge was tricky this year. On August 15 we went up for a visit and were very pleased to see things developing steadily but slowly. The skins were still quite tough with all green seeds and tart flavors. The brix were between 21-22. We thought if the moderate weather would hold we could easily be picking the 2 nd or even 3 rd week of September. However the heat wave that rolled over Napa and Sonoma headed north east and Fred Schaefer (the grower) called us around August 26 to say things were rapidly progressing and we should get up there. On August 28 we headed up and were amazed to see how far things had moved in 2 weeks. However the flavors were not quite there so we decided to give it another week. On the 3 rd Jared went up on a very hot and windy day. The heat was only going to worsen over the next week according to the forecast and the last week’s worth of heat had seriously accelerated maturation to the point we were starting to see some shrivel. The good news was the flavors were there! Now we just had to scramble to get a crew. Unlike Napa, Sonoma and the Central Coast the picking crews are scarcer up in the foothills and we were approaching the Labor Day weekend. Fred called back to say he had rustled up a 6 man crew for Sunday September 5 th, we rented a truck and off we went. For the Carson Ridge Vineyard we stay with Jared’s uncle, George, in Sacramento who generously helps us harvest this vineyard each year. Saturday afternoon we packed the truck (this time with Gibson) and headed to Sacramento for the night. George remodeled his kitchen a few years ago and it is always a treat to experience what he throws together (seemingly effortlessly). We ate by the pool (while Gibson swam) and got to bed before it got to be too late. Fred had told us to meet them at a reasonable 7am so we got to sleep in until 5:30! We arrived nearly on the dot to find Fred, his wife Marjorie and 2 pickers. We looked around and wondered where everyone else was (perhaps getting coffee?). It turned out there was some confusion or trouble and our 6 man crew was a 2 man crew for our 3 tons of Syrah! With no choice other than to roll up our sleeves and pick we headed out into the vineyard. By 8:30am we had made some progress but the sun was now over the ridge and we were starting to cook. And the likelihood that we would be on the road by 9:30 as planned looked mighty slim. The trouble with us serving as the crew is that we are no where near as skilled or fast. Plus I learned in France that picking is hard work and fun for about 5 minutes and that was before I was pregnant! Well we did manage to pick it all and not too slowly. We rolled out of the vineyard around 11:30am and while I was exhausted we were very pleased with the fruit and with the winemakers doing the picking the field sorting was nearly perfect (we sorted out almost nothing at the winery).
August 17, 2004 – Harvest: Brosseau Vineyard Chardonnay
I love starting harvest with our Chardonnay. For one thing, making white wine provides an immediate sense of the season and harvest ritual as the grapes are picked and pressed together (as opposed to red wines that ferment with the skins before pressing). Plus harvest at the Brosseau vineyard is like stepping into a Norman Rockwell painting. The Brosseau vineyard stretches across rolling hills that are literally in the shadows of the Pinnacles monument and from the vineyard you can see the fog rolling in from the Santa Lucia Highlands. It is truly a breathtaking vineyard. When we pick a vineyard we head up the night before to drop bins and make it more reasonable to be in the vineyard at 5:30 a.m. (a 5:30 arrival in the vineyard from San Francisco is too ugly to contemplate). We usually stay at a local hotel but at the Brosseau’s we get the royal treatment. Jan and Jon also operate a beautiful B&B on their property and they are kind enough to offer us a room for the night that includes one of Jan’s wonderful dinner’s on the patio watching the sun set AND a gourmet breakfast after the pick. It is a great way to kick off harvest and completely spoils us for the year.
On August 16 we rented our Freightliner Reefer (Jared still brags about this truck and how it laughed at the steep grades, cranking up the 15% incline with 4 tons in second gear!) and headed south. After a wonderful dinner we set our alarm for 5:15 a.m. with plans to meet Jon in the kitchen at 5:30 for coffee before hopping on the ATV’s. By 5:45 the pickers began arriving and the sun was just coming up. The nets came off at 6am (we netted the Chardonnay this year to keep the fruit for us and not the birds) and by 6:15 we were picking beautiful clusters of Old Wente Chardonnay. Well “we” weren’t really picking. Jared and I were riding around the vineyard on the ATV’s, helping distribute our lug bins, monitoring the pick, weighing the bins and loading the truck. We thought we might have to wait for the fog to dissipate but this morning it hung just below in the valley west of the vineyard. Jon had 2, 12 person crews to pick our 2 tons – plus we were there to pick up the 2 tons for Crushpad. The crews are amazing in both their speed and attention to detail and each crew had 2 leaf sorters that did nothing but sort out leaves. The pick was over before we knew it and by 9:15 the truck was loaded and we were headed back to the B&B for a warm breakfast. By 10:30 we were headed down 101-South, giddy with excitement that harvest had begun, the pick went without a hitch and most important, the fruit looked and tasted wonderful.
August 15, 2004 – Harvest will begin in 2 days!
I can not believe harvest is going to begin on Tuesday August 17 this year! While we knew it was possibly going to be an early harvest after the extremely warm Spring that started the growing season 2-3 weeks earlier than last year, some part of me kept thinking it would slow down and we would see Labor Day with a quiet and empty winery. Not a chance! We will bring in 2 tons of our Brosseau Vineyard Chardonnay on Tuesday. We’ve gone back and forth (figuratively and literally as we’ve made twice weekly visits to sample for the last 3 weeks) on whether to pick Tuesday or not. The challenge in calling our date is to make sure we give the fruit long enough to develop while balancing that with our desire to not have too severe of a drop in acidity or a too high sugars. While we can correct for both we prefer not to or to not have to correct too much. So with the last samples we have decided that even though we are about 3 weeks earlier than last year (we made Brosseau Chardonnay as amateurs) the flavors are fully and richly developed, the seed are brown, the brix are likely to come in around 24 and the acids have held up at a respectable level too – obviously this could change between now and the 17 th but hopefully not too much.
To be honest I am nearly giddy with excitement. There is something different about doing this as a full fledged bonded winery (in our name) as opposed to participating in other wineries or as an amateur. Maybe a little like the dress rehearsal versus the premier.
July 11, 2004 –Green harvest in the Brosseau Vineyard
After 2 days and closer to 1200 miles we arrived back in San Francisco late Saturday. We ran by the winery to prep for tomorrow as this will be our first harvest this year and the first harvest EVER at the new facility which means the first run on the press. After all of that driving we decided to not kill ourselves getting an early start. I mean we only plan to pick 300 lbs – how long can that take?
We arrive at the Brosseau Vineyard around 11 and it is nearing 90 F in the vineyard. I am now 7 weeks pregnant and extremely nauseous. Picking grapes in 90 F weather was not the best decision I’ve made recently. Thankfully Jared is a much faster picker so in about 1.5 hours we had our 300 pounds loaded up in the Passat. After a nice lunch with Jan and Jon we headed back to San Francisco to crush some grapes in July. Thankfully everything went incredibly smoothly – especially considering this was our first run. The new press worked like charm and we yielded nearly exactly what we predicted – 56.7 liters or 15 gallons. Now we wait until harvest.
July 8, 2004 – Preparing for our first 2004 harvest – IN JULY!!!
One of the many things we love about winemaking are the possibilities for experimentation and innovation (although often innovation is a misnomer in that we are really just bringing back techniques used hundreds of years ago!). In this case we decided to try a technique we learned in France when making wine from the Mâconnais. We find it challenging to harvest ripe California Chardonnay, with complex flavor development that ALSO boasts bright and zippy acidity that we love and can find in most Burgundian Chardonnay’s. In France we learned a technique for creating a natural acidifier (as opposed to the additive tartaric which is widely employed to acidify wines and that we have also used) that is commonly applied throughout the warmer Burgundian regions as well as in German Rieslings.
The idea or hypothesis is that by creating a natural acidifier (from the very same vineyard) the resulting wine will taste better, perhaps more integrated, and that the acid will hold better (tartaric can drop out). So our objective this year was to experiment with a trial. The technique is really quite simple. Pick pre veraison grapes (the TA goal is ~30g/l ) which are going to be very hard. Destem and crush, press and filter out the large solids (the pulp is still rock hard so the yields are low and full of solids) and then refrigerate until harvest. The idea being to store the green juice where it won’t ferment until it is ready to be used. When harvest rolls around simply add the juice to the must instead of tartaric to acidify. Because the sugars are so low a secondary impact is that the sugars (or resulting alcohol) will decrease a little. However we prefer lower alcohol wines so we consider that to be a little bonus!
The only downside is that we are currently in Wyoming at Jared’s family cabin and have 1200 miles of driving between us and our first harvest in 3 days. But then again, it will be a good warm up for things to come as we anticipate at least an additional 5,000 harvest miles on the Passat before the end of October!