Tracey and I had the pleasure of trying to pair our "Recluse" with chocolate at Charles Chocolates today. Our host, Traci Prendergast, presented us with both the usual suggestions and some really unusual ones. The Ginger Chocolate Bar was the clear winner. I was shocked but it really works.
We are going to feature these locally produced chocolates at our open house. Traci will be on hand to answer all of your chocolate questions as well. I can't wait!
We will be celebrating our Spring release (Brosseau Chardonnay, Three Thirteen, The Recluse and Isabel's Cuvee) with, among other events, a winemaker's dinner at the Franklin Square Wine Bar on March 9th. The event is one day after my birthday so it should be a good celebration. More details coming soon.
Franklin Square Wine Bar, 2212 Broadway (near 22nd Street), Oakland; (510) 251-0100. Open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m, Monday-Friday, from 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
It seems like everyone has an interesting take on filtering or not. Generally we don't filter, but we haven't been unhappy when we have filtered.
We recently had dinner at Chez Panisse and were seated next to Kermit Lynch and we ended up talking about filtering briefly. Kermit is famous for saying things like:
About the 1996 Thierry Bouchard Cuvee Beauvais Bourgueil: "In 1978 I bought some 1976 Beauvais from Bouchard. It is still a dazzler, 22 years old, with a healthy deposit. Then he began filtering. Yikes. Abandon ship! Now I convinced him to stop emasculating his prizes, 20 years later, and I'm back in a Bourgueil mode again."
Our friend from New York commented that in the past, Kermit and Becky Wasserman imported the same wine with Kermit's unfiltered and Becky's filtered. Initially, unfiltered were clearly better but within a two year period, many people thought they tasted identical.
Bertrand Celce recently posted, on his highly enjoyable blog Wine Terroirs, about tasting both a filtered version and unfiltered version of Edelzwicker made by Bruno Schueller. The photo isn't surprising and I like the looks of the unfiltered one. Despite his bias towards the unfiltered one, he likes the filtered one more.
We haven't tried an unfiltered and filtered version of any of our wines. Since we rarely filter, it hasn't been practical to date. That said, at the next opportunity, we are planning on trying and seeing what happens.
Portfolio covered us and numerous other bay area urban wineries in October. While I read the article, I failed to link to it which I blame on harvest...
As the morning fog begins to burn off, winemaker Tracey Brandt punches her forklift under a large plastic container filled with syrah grapes, hauled in the day before from the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevada. She moves the grapes over to a stainless-steel chute, where volunteers pick spiders and debris from the small, intensely blue-purple fruit before sliding the bunches down into the destemming machinery.
The area surrounding the winery isn’t made up of the acres of cool, misty vineyards or gently rolling hills you might expect to find. Instead, A Donkey and Goat Winery, which specializes in sustainable winemaking, is situated in a flat expanse of weathered red-brick warehouses and sleek modern lofts in Berkeley, California. Among its neighbors are a Chinese herbal-medicine company, an organic-sauerkraut producer, a children’s clothing maker, and a manufacturer of custom-molded rubber products.
Very interesting story in the LA times today regarding wine making and trying to please the critics.
The LA Times requires registration - free.
I look at Cellar Tracker now and then to see what people think of our wine. I highly suggest doing this with a grain of salt since many of the posters have an agenda. That said, many don't.
Anyway, it is really interesting to look at user "TJaehnigen" and his reviews of our 2004 Chardonnay. Our wines require time and, in his notes, you can see this first hand. I don't know who he is - if I did, I would offer him another bottle of the 2004 in year or so. Would be interesting to see what he would think then...
It is the time of year when we get Parker's reviews of our wines. As always, we are thrilled that he reviewed them and liked them. Highlights include be called "innovative" (perhaps he likes the ver jus or the puncheon fermentors) and having our 05 Fenaughty called "silky-textured" while he moved the score up from 88 to 90. Our Chardonnay is again called "Chablis-styled". Parker also increased our old vines score from 87 to 89. I hope he has the chance to re-taste all of these in another year or two - I would expect the scores to go up again.
Having just finished tasting through our 07 barrels (over the last month)and feely giddy of the quality of this vintage, I am sitting here enjoying a lovely bottle of our 06 Tamarindo. We have opened several bottles over the last few weeks to see how it is doing and are afraid it may be entering a dumb stage. Roussanne is known to do this and the best Roussanne we have experienced went through this stage.
Our natural wine making may have made this stage emerge sooner than expected. Being our first vintage of Roussanne, we aren’t sure how long it will last. That said, if you open a bottle and are not happy with it, just let us know. We will take care of you!
If you do have one and open it over the holidays, we recommend your decant it for a least 2 hours before serving. We learned this trick at Beaucastel while tasting through several vintages of their Vieilles Vignes Roussanne and it worked.
Today is the day where I think most of America has the time to read the paper. I read both yesterday's and today's sipping on our Roussanne. More about that later. Two articles caught my attention. One on shopdropping, the other on the Rockettes.
Shopdropping is the term for taking stuff to the store that doesn't belong and placing it on the shelf. The NYT has a great photo from Walmart with the cashier trying to ring up an Anarchist action figure. We shopdropped inadvertently in 2005 when working on our label. We took a bottle of our 03 Syrah with the new label to Wholefoods in San Francisco and placed it on the shelf to see how consumers would react. Several people looked at it and then it disappeared into a shoppers cart. We never did figure out if it got rung up.
The other article that struck a chord with me was about the Rockettes. Perhaps in April (we will be selling wine in NYT), we will go see them. I never have.
The Rockettes dance the American dream in wondrous synchrony — row upon row of long legs and glittering teeth. As an anti-depressant they could put Zoloft out of business. I like them especially with their antlers on. They can pull my sled any day. Only a young country could produce the Rockettes, and we should be very proud. - Bernard Holland
It is the time of year where I wake up in the middle of the night and wonder what Robert Parker will say about our wine. We don't make wines that fit his style (or at least what many people think is his style) but, each year, he finds pleasure in our wines and writes positive reviews.
We also watch the wine boards and see what vocal wine drinkers think. Wine boards are an interesting beast. Users of the wine boards are not subject to the standards that critics are. One of my favorite posts, that seems to keep coming back, is about a winery that was great in the 90s but has recently faltered according to Parker. The owner/winemaker is a great person and these supposedly non-biased board members write endlessly about how the wine hasn't changed. Those in the industry know that Parker is right - the owner/winemaker stopped making the wines a while back and the current releases aren't reflective of their ability.
All of this is in context of what science can teach us about wine. Several well written studies have linked knowledge of the wine before tasting/smelling to what is experienced within the brain as viewed through a MRI machine. The classic study in this field was done with Coke/Pepsi. In a nutshell, tell the drinker what they are going to drink and, if they think they like it, their brain will process the experience differently. These influences can be color or perceived value (e.g. when tasting wine that a user thinks should taste good because of cost, the brain behaves differently).
So, do the board members who taste the wine and expect it to be great, experience something great? If so, is taste purely subjective? And thus, if one user likes our wines and posts and other follow does it mean anything?
Anyway, Parker's review are Friday. I look forward to sleeping again.
It is the time of year where we want to get a better handle of the new wines. We do this two ways - the fun one is tasting each barrel. One or two nights a week, we taste through barrels. Usually somewhere between 7 and 14. (No special reason on the number except that our maloactic testing is limited to 14 barrels a night.) Last night we tasted through the Fenaughty Vineyard Syrah. This was the first wine we made in our 4 ton open top oak fermentor. The wine was showing well - across all 7 barrels. (We didn't get 4 tons of grapes.) Our notes include: pepper, basil, BBQ/smoked meats, graphite, fresh off the tree cherries, medium to look finish and good balance. The wine tasted like it was just finishing up malos - will know more today.
Back in 2004, we posed for a KQED photo shoot. At that point, I had a good friend who worked there and we made our wine across the street at Crushpad. (Tracey helped start the company and we rented space from them until they grew to big and needed the space.) Anyway, we posed and today, we are pack on their home page. They are a great radio and TV station which we listen to every day. Check it out at www.kqed.org.
Our daughter is just getting up from her nap and we will head over to an old friends house for a feast in a bit. In the mean time, I have been enjoying this wonderful day thinking about our great harvest. We made 68 barrels of wine this year - a record for us. (67 in barrel, one in tank that will go to barrel shortly.) More importantly, across the board, this year has treated us exceptionally well in terms of great wine and new friends.
As usual, the Southern Rhônes took off quickly in the winery. For some unknown reason, this year it was the Mourvèdre that went first. The Grenache and co-ferms all started next with the Vieilles Vignes taking their time. (No surprise there, old vines are used to taking their time.)
Everything looks great in the winery. Pressing in another week or so.
When time permits, I read customer reviews. With our wine making style, I don't expect that everyone will love our wine but, of course, I take great pleasure in reading reviews where people do.
Tasted by Steam67. In light of the spritziness I found in my previous bottle, I uncorked this, poured out an ounce (into my mouth), and then upended the bottle with my thumb over the mouth and shook that sucker a few times. I then left it open in the fridge for 40 minutes. This procedure made all the difference. The wine revealed lively strawberry and red fruit notes in the nose, but it really shined on the palate. Strawberry, blood orange, rose, and other pretty floral notes came through with a slight minerality to the finish and great acid balance. Although I enjoyed the first bottle I tried, this one really was fantastic and more interesting. - Tasted 4/25/2007. http://scrugy.com/...Isabels-Cuvee-McDowell/117242
We bottled the Rose using CO2 which increased the spritziness as the CO2 dissolved into the wine and took time to dissipate out. Next year we will try Nitrogen in an effort to protect the wine and limit this short term issue.
With the rain on Friday, we decided to pick our Vieilles Vignes and the rest of our Grenache, Mourvèdre and Counoise. We did manage to get the fruit picked before the rain and processed it on Saturday with the help of 21 friends and friends of friends.
The Vieilles Vignes was, as usual, full of spiders and other creatures. We caught a total of 5 lizards - very small ones. After being admired by numerous children, our daughter released them into our garden. We hope they are doing well.
The last two weeks have been hectic to say the least. We spend every waking hour checking the weather. We have had three significant rain storms and so far have lucked out. Next up, old vines tomorrow morning and then, if the weather holds, some more Roussanne, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Counoise. If you are around Berkeley, come give us a hand.
We picked the Grenache Gris this morning - 4,700 pounds worth. I think the quality of the fruit is the highest it has ever been. The morning started slowly - I made my coffee at 4:30AM with hand ground beans from Isabel (the name sake of the rosé). I didn't think it was strong - turns out she only grinds decaf.
We got at the vineyard around 7:20 and started immediately. The crew quickly picked/filled all 160 of our bins. In my sorting, the first of two for this wine, I only found two clusters with rot. Very usual for these vines which were planted long before I was born.
By 8:30, we were back on the road headed for Berkeley. The grapes are cooling off - going to 8 degrees (Celsius) getting ready to be sorted a second time.
Tomorrow morning, Fenaughty Syrah and our first use of the four ton fermentor.
Tracey and Tom spent the day fighting our over flowing Grenache. At the end of the day, I went over to do evening punch down. The sweet, cherry smell of Grenache fermenting is in the air. It is wonderful.
The winery has finally found its rhythm and the weather has improved. Over the last week, we harvested the second batch of Syrah and all of the Grenache from Lightner. After a 2 day cold soak, we moved these to the winery and they have started to ferment. The whole cluster puncheon seems to be the slowest moving of them - it didn't soak up as high in Brix as the others.
With the weather finally working for us, we will harvest Fenaughty Syrah and Grenache Gris this week and then probably have a final push the last two weeks of August. If you are in the bay area and want to help, we need sorters on Saturday.
Accompanying the article on Oakland wineries, was a review by Charles E. Olken of some select wines including our Chardonnay.
2005 A Donkey And A Goat, Chardonnay, Brosseau Vineyard, Chalone ($40): Tracey Brandt told me recently that she did not expect me to like her new Chardonnay because it was high in acidity. Au contraire, madame, it is a very fine wine and I am quite fond of it.
While it is true that the wine is firm in structure with minerally, stony and green apple notes, it also has depth and refreshingly bright and brisk balance as part of it rewarding makeup.
Jessica Yadegaran of the Oakland Tribune wrote an excellent article about the Oakland (and Berkeley) wine scene. The oce:
-Winemakers: Jared and Tracey Brandt, A Donkey and Goat, Berkeley.
-What they make: About 1,300 cases of Rhone varietals and chardonnay.
-Old World education: The Brandts left their tech jobs in 2001 and headed to France to study winemaking for a year under Eric Texier, a Rhone and Macon area winemaker. A few classes at UC Davis filled in the blanks.
-Crushpad co-founder: Upon their return, Tracey and her former colleague Michael Brill launched Crushpad, a San Francisco custom crush facility. She and Jared made wine there before launching A Donkey and Goat in 2004.
-That name: In Cote Rotie, donkeys are used for organic weed control. After a long day in the vineyard, they become noticeably cranky. So winemakers bring in goats at night to keep them company and soothe them. According to the Brandts, the pairing dates back to 345 A.D.
-Their pairing: In many husband-and-wife winemaking teams the women focus on the books and marketing side of operating a winery, but Tracey is adamant about sharing the dirty work with Jared.
-Texier tutelage: In the Rhone, the Brandts followed the principles of biodynamic and traditional farming, and have incorporated some of these older and sustainable practices into their winemaking.
-Happy feet: Like famous Burgundian wineries, the Brandts practice pigeage a pied, or foot stomping. "We sterilize the feet first," Jared says.
-Why the East Bay: "Because we can afford to do what we want to do," Jared says. "We can take more risks. If we don't like the results we don't sell the wine."
Thursday morning was spent in the foothills. It was a cool, crisp morning with my car reading 48 degrees when I stepped outside for the first vineyard check. You can feel fall it the air - it is wonderful.
The recent cooler weather is allowing everything to slow down. We will harvest the rest of Lightner Syrah and the Lightner Grenache next week and possibly our Grenache Gris. Everything else needs time.
We also picked some of our Lightner Syrah this morning. The yield was below what I was expecting. We are trying two picks on Lightner this year to better understand when it is exactly right to pick this vineyard.
Last year we were only able to pick a barrel's worth. This year, we are getting more and are very excited! Steve Lightner has a great blog - On the Contrary. It is worth a read.
The fruit is in the fridge wait for an early morning sort before cold soaking. Flavors are great, sugar is perfect as are acid.
Since we have been making wine, we have never been big fans of oak. We look for subtle oak - not over the top. We rarely use more than 25% 1 year old oak for our wines and never new barrels. It isn't that we don't appreciated oak - instead, we want the terroir to show through on our wines not the cooper.
Even with our restrained approach, people seem to taste more oak in our wines then we do. I suspect it is because of our wines are more precise and always have reasonable acid levels. The acid brings out the oak? Perhaps we will have to experiment in the future and see what we think...
On Saturday, we got our first red into the winery - Rome Syrah (AKA Wylie of Wylie-Fenaughty fame.) We only get a ton of this fruit and it set a record - we have never had reds in the winery before September 1st. The very early start to the growing season allowed these grapes to achieve the required hang time for full flavor development
We tested our new elevator - photo coming soon -- which worked like a charm. Our grower always sorts in the field, so we only needed a quick sort and then into the puncheons for fermentation. We cold soaked until yesterday morning. Our natural fermentation started more quickly this year - one puncheon was going this morning.
Harvest brings many challenges - one is getting into the grove. We punch down two to three times a day and making that happen is a bit of a challenge but we are getting there.
Next up - not sure? We are going to the foothills to check our 3/13 grapes this Saturday and then off to McDowell for Rose.
We harvested 1.9 tons of nearly organic chardonnay 9 days ago and I have been meaning to write about harvest ever since them.
Harvest itself seems to follow a rhythm that becomes second nature. After a fun East Bay Vintner tasting, we drove down the the Brosseau Vineyard and spent the night at their lovely B&B. The B&B is great - we just tend to get there too late and start harvest too early to really enjoy it.
On the morning of harvest, we got up at 5:30, checked our new walkie talkies (too make life easier) and headed out in different directions. Tracey took an ATV out into the vineyard to manage the pick. I drove the truck over to the scales for loading. Picking starts at 6 am. The grapes tasted great and I think they will get better over the next few years. Bill Brosseau's commitment to going organic and his father's hard work are already paying off.
At 11, we finished with our 6 rows. Tonnage is down again this year - 1.9 tons which works out to about 1 ton to the acre. We started the trip back north and called my parents to check on our daughter and Tom, our harvest intern, to check on the winery. By 3, we are back and sorting. We sort, then foot stomp and then press. We had a great turn out for our start of harvest party. 30 people sorting, stomping, eating, drinking and letting the kids drive the fork lift. And of course, cleaning...
This past weekend, we held our summer/fall open house. Attendees get a sneak peak at our 07 Fall release.
Our Roussanne was an instant hit. My favorite comment from a wine maker I really respect - "The best American Roussanne I have tasted". When we picked this wine, we got our grapes from the coolest corner of a high altitude, north facing vineyard with granitic soil . We tend to draw more inspiration from Bergeron wines more than the Rhone for this wine and we feel the results are shining through. Next year, we will increase our production slightly.
If you haven't had many Roussannes or wines from Savoie, Tom Hill and San Francisco Chronicle have both reviewed many wines some of which we find inspirational.
A Donkey and Goat and Broc Cellars Fall Release Open House
You are invited to a rare opportunity to taste limited production wines from two boutique wineries not regularly open to the public. Meet the winemakers and growers, taste newly released wines and barrels samples, and enjoy live music while nibbling on hor d'oeurves. Admission includes wine tasting, food and a souvenir wine glass.
Saturday, August 4, 2007 1pm-5pm (no early birds please) A Donkey and Goat Winery, 2323 B 4th Street, Berkeley $20 cash only, the day of the event ($15 for Rhone Rangers members with valid membership cards)
For more information contact tracey at adonkeyandgoat.com or call 510-868-9174.
Directions: The winery is in Berkeley, between Channing & Bancroft and 4th & 5th Streets. From 4th & Bancroft, heading south on 4th towards Channing, our parking lot is the first left. The winery is only accessed from the parking lot (you will not see us from the street).
While enjoying some great wines at a Bastille Day party, we had an interesting conversation with a gentleman who had brought three great wines to the party. Perrin mentioned that some wines are technically perfect but have no soul an he believed wines need soul. We agree!
While the Ver Jus sleeps, we ran the numbers today. 6 Brix, 2.78 PH and 30 G/L TA. The Ver Jus tastes great - it makes one pucker but in a good way.
Every year, our green harvest comes around way to early. Just as summer feels like summer, we have to pick some Chardonnay for our ver jus.
Yesterday, we picked (with the help of a small crew) about 500 lbs of Chardonnay, pressed it. and this morning, it went to the meat locker in beer kegs. Our new friend, Kim, helped us at the winery. The first juice is always amazing - vivid green. I hope we have some photos...
One of the great advantages of making ver jus - we get to test all of our equipment weeks before harvest. We found a small leak yesterday on one of our press trays. It should be easy to fix and happily it is our only problem.
Slowly - sometimes fermentations go at their own rate with natural wine making. Our Roussanne is slowly fermenting. It is legally dry and has been for several months but it keeps going. Every day it moves a little bit more. You can hear it going but tasting it is harder.
We are hoping it finishes sometime soon - it is tasting great and we want to bottle.
Having just finished The Science of Wine; From Vine to Glass by Jamie Goode, I am now wondering how one tests for Ketones. α,β-ionones are responsible for the smell of violets in wine. I wonder if the compound is present in our Broken Leg and thus responsible for the violet aromas.
Searching around online to learn more, I quickly found that you can purchase the compound from the Good Scents Company. While not interesting for me, I wonder if those that claim wine making is 90% science have considered adding aromas. (We claim that wine making is 90% art...)
On Wednesday, we picked up our new 4 ton fermenter. It is an open top Rousseau that our friend Jérôme Aubin helped us find. (Jérôme is the owner of Artisan Barrels, a great resource for barrels, and the wine maker/owner of Aubin Cellars.) We especially like the shape of the Rousseau's - it is slightly narrower at the top. This helps keep the cap moist.
It has only been used for Pinot Noir to date - we plan to make two lots of Syrah in it this year.
On Friday, we spent an hour in the Broken Leg vineyard. It is an incredible place - as steep as Côte Rôtie with a similar climate. Côte Rôtie means roasted slope - it is about as far north as Syrah will ripen in France. (There is or will be some Syrah further north in the Beaujolais but that is another story.) Broken Leg is also a roasted slope. Very cool area but a pocket of warmth.
The vines look good. They have just barely begun to flower. We expect it to complete in the next few weeks. We are beginning to understand the vineyard - seems like it takes us about 3 years to really get it. This will be our third year and we are very excited.
We spent the day in Anderson Valley seeing Broken Leg and Hog Pen vineyards.
Hog Pen will become a great vineyard. Last year and hopefully this year, we will get upper Hog Pen. It is planted with a variety of Syrah clones. Much more exciting, we went and saw lower Hog Pen. This vineyard, planted with Merlot in 1995, is being grafted over with Syrah - 877 and 174 and will be ours for the next five years at least. It is located in Mendocino Ridge Appellation tucked near the top of a ridge.
Lower Hog Pen won't produce fruit until next year. Upper hasn't flowered yet.
The only downside, it is beyond the Prius' reach. We were supposed to meet the grower at the end of the paved road. Due to the lack of cell phone coverage, we missed him. Wanting to see the vineyard, we ventured down the steep road with our little Prius. The Prius is great for vineyard visits - we often get 60 MPG on the road. We made it to the vineyard. It look great and we are very excited!
Only problem, the Prius didn't have the traction to make it our of the vineyard. We got about halfway up the hill and no go - we started to spin. We had to be towed - oh well, all in a days work.
As noted before, we will be pouring our Chardonnay tomorrow evening in Walnut Creek at Prima. We have heard it is one of the three best places to eat dinner on the far side of the hill and are excited. Hope to see you there!
Reservations should me made directly with the restaurant: 925-935-7780. For more information: www.primaristorante.com
Jared will pour our ‘05 Brosseau Vineyard Chardonnay along with 6 other Chardonnay producers. Guests can compare and contrast while enjoying an array of culinary delights that are meant to compliment Chardonnay.
Tuesday, June 5th at Prima Restaurant in Walnut Creek, CA
Reception 6:30, dinner 7pm
$130 per diner, all inclusive of tax and gratuity
Reservations should me made directly with the restaurant: 925-935-7780. For more information: www.primaristorante.com
Imbibe recently published a great article about several of the East Bay Wineries including us.
On the asphalt outside Berkeley’s A Donkey and Goat winery, 35-year-old owner Jared Brandt is scooping grapes out of a 500-liter wooden barrel. His wife, Tracey, is moving more barrels around with a forklift, and several friends are helping out. Today they’re pressing their 2006 syrah, an elegant, medium-bodied wine made with grapes trucked in from Broken Leg Vineyard, a remote plot located in Anderson Valley, 100 miles northwest of San Francisco....
Read the article online or better yet, find yourself a copy of this months issue on a newstand near you.
Santé Magazine's May 2007 issue included our Isabel's Cuvee in its recommend new world roses.
A Donkey and Goat 2006 Isabel’s Cuvée /McDowell Valley, California 100% Grenache Light bodied with aromas of strawberry, tomato plant, rose sachet, and cinnamon; full flavored and floral driven with a spicy finish. Baked whole sea bass with lemongrass. 510-868-9174
The reviews have been published in PDF form and we are listed on page 15.
Our little winery and natural way of doing things has just been featured in Oakland Magazine. If you live in the Bay area, you can pick up a copy of the magazine at many news shops. If not, you can read it online...
Spring is in the air in Berkeley and at our little winery. Our reds have started malos and are going strong. We don't inoculate and it usually takes a little warm weather to get them going. This weeks beautiful weather has done the trick.
Laurie Daniel, wine columnist for the San Jose Mercury News, recently recommended our 2005 Brosseau Chardonnay. We had the pleasure of tasting with her a few weeks ago and are honored that she liked our Chardonnay so much.
Our old vines and yet to be named Fenaughty Syrahs from 05 are both still in barrel. It is amazing to see how much they change from one month to the next. We are thrilled with how they are currently tasting and will bottle them in May for a fall release.
WineRelease.com has recently released the results of a consumer and trade study it did on wine making enhancements. For example, 85 % of consumers who responded thought that wineries should not be able to add alcohol to wine or that they should have to disclose it. (Adding alcohol is illegal I believe.) Not a problem for us but an interesting read.
I think labels should have to indicate ingredients...
Tracey signed me up to speak at an event in San Francisco. The Commonwealth Club of California is the nation's oldest and largest public affairs forum. When we lived in the city, we were members enjoying everything from a seminar on magnetic feng shui to a speech by the president of Rwanda. Hope to see you there.
URBAN WINERIES: THE NEW FRONTIER
A not-so-new kid on the block may be challenging the North Bay's status as Northern California's pre-eminent source for wine. Soon "wine country" may be no more than a short BART ride away. People have been making wine in the rolling hills of the East Bay since the 1970s, but it wasn't until 2006 that 12 of them banded together to form the East Bay Vintners Alliance. Taste award-winning wines and hear what it's like to produce them in a busy urban environment.
Yesterday, we checked on our Roussane while topping barrels. We tasted this a few weeks backs with our grower and it was still sweet but not too sweet. It continues to drop suger.
We have had whites take up to six months before - as a result, we aren't worried as long as it keeps moving. When topping, taking the time to listen as the bung comes off gives the first clue. The little swoosh means gas. Next, an ear over the bung hole lets us know that the little yeast continue to be noisy.
We are really excited about this wine - very exotic.
We just dropped our spring offering in the mail as well as announced our annual open house and wine tasting. This year we are hosting the event with Broc Cellars who makes great wine. The event is the 24th of February. More details can be found on our events page.
Over the past few weeks, we have finished bottling our Rose - the only wine which we use an artificial cork with. We made this choice several years back to help keep the price of the wine down. Making wine by hand is expensive and even with our Rose, we don't take short cuts. We still monitor the vineyard carefully, harvest by hand, sort by hand and ferment in wood. (We have experimented with stainless but still prefer wood.) Thus, saving a significant amount on the cork made sense.
We have stuck with real corks for several reasons with our other wines. We want the wines to breathe very slowly and we like the natural aspects of cork. (Why do everything in wood only to have the wine age against plastic?) We also choose them to make sure we were saving forests - I know this doesn't make sense on the surface. Audubon Magazine has a great article in its most recent issue. Give it a read and perhaps it will make sense.
We have started to try and move our rackings around the lunar cycle. Racking, moving wine out of the barrel (either to tank or another barrel), during a descending moon helps to compact the lees and thus improve the results with less effort.
Many believe this also helps hold the aromas in the wine - we are not sure about that...
Robert Parker and Steve Tanzer recently reviewed our newly released wines. We continue to feel lucky that we are on the radar and amazed at how well our wines are received considering our winemaking style is not the current fashion and this is only our second commercial release.
Each year when we submit wine, it is with great trepidation. Should we submit wines we know are not made in the style that traditionally scores well? Will the critics appreciate our wines for what we are doing and evaluate them for what they ARE instead of what the are not? It is hard. Our wine making goals don’t align with the current fashion. We strive to make wines of originality and personality that express themselves, not our winemaking. We want to make beautiful wines, not over the top wines. We like balanced wines, with a strong (acid) foundation that will evolve and develop. We love minerality, especially in our whites. If oak is used, we feel it should (at best) be a part of the seasoning – not a primary flavor subduing the wine's personality.
In short, our wines do not shout from the rooftop and may not grab you with the first taste. But as they open up, and when paired with food we think they will slowly seduce you with each taste until you are enamored with their nuance and individuality. A friend suggested that relating to our wines is a love story, not an evening of instant gratification.
So I ramble. Back to scores. When we think about it intellectually, we don’t make those BIG wines the critics seem to like/score well. But yet we submit. And we, like most of us, hope to be judged favorably. While our scores are not the BIG screamers in the high 90's when we read the commentary we are very pleased because the critics do seem to appreciate what we are trying to do and think we are doing a pretty good job at it.
Parker’s review of our upcoming release:
Broken Leg: The best in the group appears to be the 2005 Syrah Broken Leg Vineyard. From a cool AndersonValley site, it exhibits plenty of blueberry, raspberry, sweet cherry, floral, and spice characteristics. Pure, medium-bodied, elegant and authoritatively flavored, it will drink well for 5-6 years. 89
Brosseau Chardonny: is a surprising light for a wine form this vineyard. Made in a Chablis-link style, it offers notes of orange, blossoms, citrus, and lemon with the oak clearly pushes to the background. Enjoy this attractive Chardonnay over the next several years. 88
Three Thirteen: An hommage to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the Three Thirteen is a blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache. The name reflects the three varietals this estate uses as opposed to the thirteen grapes permitted in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. A Rhône Valley-like bouquet of strawberries, cherries, peppers, herbs, lavender and spice emerge from this straight forward red. Consumer it over the next 2-3 years. 87
Brosseau Chardonnay: Peach Skin Color. Pear, melon, lemon ice tea, incence and a leesy nuance on the nose. Juicy on entry, then nicely concentrated and rich in extract, although the wine’s saline character and edge of lemony acidity are not currently in harmony. Finishes quite dry, with an impression of solidity. 88
With our post harvest free time (amounts to 15 minutes a week but that is another story), both of us have been reading. I am on my 5th wine book since the new year - several are from the 70s and 80s. I have learned about the 3 other grapes of Champagne, the 3 times during the first winter racking schedule of old Bordeaux and that Kermit Lynch actually imported every wine at one point or another.
My favorite quote is from of Lynch's 1982 wine mailers in Inspiring Thirst. "... there is a growing number of you wine drinkers who don't want a mouthful of oak and butter each and every time you drink Chardonnay."
Several people have asked about the approved grapes (13)in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. They are: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Picpoul, Terret Noir, Counoise, Muscardin, Vaccarèse, Picardan, Cinsaut, Clairette, Roussanne, Bourboulenc. Maybe one day we will be able to get all 13...
We recently celebrated the end of harvest among other things by eating at a house in Pacific Heights in San Francisco. The meal was excellent and several dishes were nearly perfect. Learn more at http://www.thescdsf.com/
I just discovered the blog Wine Terroirs. There are numerous stories, with remarkable photos, of many wineries, vineyards and wine bars mainly in France. Bertrand Celce has also written an excellent post about additives. It is clearly worth a read.
86 days or 2064 hours after we picked our first cluster of Brosseau Vineyard Chardonnay we conclude our 2006 harvest.I am always astounded when I review the stats and thought they might be fun to share.The colloquial version is that we kicked off our 2006 harvest on September 1st with the Brosseau Chardonnay and we concluded with the pressing of our Broken Leg Syrah on November 25, 2006.How we got from there to here is in large part due to the enormous support we continue to receive from our friends, family and the larger Berkeley/Oakland community.We hope we make this business a big enough success to pay all of those back for their hours and hours of support.In the meantime – here’s looking at 2006:
213 punch down “sessions” or ~1065 vats punched
10,567 new miles on the Prius
47 Cheese Board pizzas consumed (too bad they don’t offer rewards!)
3 broken thermometers
1 broken hydrometer (a new record)
0 broken thieves (also a new record)
0 broken bones
1 surgical procedure (Jared’s ass)
3 days spent in the hospital
1 near catastrophe avoided (the “crusher” incident)
Last Saturday was our second to last major operation for 2006. We bottled over 100 cases of our 2005 Broken Leg Syrah. Bottling is one of the hardest parts of winemaking. There are lots of choices from bottle shapes/weight, corks, labels...
We bottle by hand and it takes time. We think it is worth it.
This past Thursday, we pressed our Vieilles Vignes and Potato Patch Syrah. Since we don't crush our berries outside of pigeage à pied, the pressed juice is often very fruity. I assume some small percentage ferments via carbonic maceration. Tasting the free run wine next to the pressed wine shows how different yet similar they can be. We normally barrel the pressed wine separately in order to give us blending options. It was a long day starting at 7 AM and ending around 8:30 PM.
We woke up the next morning to a wonderful article about the East Bay Vintners. East Bay Rising focuses on Alameda county wineries and features our Chardonnay on the cover of the wine section. Gibson, having been to France with us when we learned our craft, was also featured. He looked great. I was hoping for the photo above. Maybe next time.
Yesterday, Tracey and our cellar rat du jour, her father, took the last of our 2006 harvest out of the reefer. We crushed it Saturday with the help of friends and co-workers from Kodak. Despite having 3 pressing and a bottling ahead of us, it feels good. The end is in sight and will feel closer as soon as fermentation starts.
With the help of several friends and family, we pressed and barreled down our Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre and a bit more Syrah over the weekend. Pressing reds is a great relief. Each full barrel represents being closer to finishing harvest.
As we were pressing, the frog that arrived with the grapes could be heard. He sounds happy.
We have only one vineyard left - Broken Leg. With the current nearly perfect weather, it should be ready late next week. We hope to pick it Friday and have a last crush party on Saturday.
We processed 1,000 LBS of fruit from Potato Patch last Tuesday. Fruit was nearly perfect and we lucked out - a bear got into the vineyard on Tuesday evening and enjoyed himself too much. Our northern vineyards seem to all attract bears. Last year, we lost nearly a half ton to a bear. I guess they have good taste.
Eric Asimov, of the New York Times, has a great blog entry about "non-interventionist" wine makers. From our perspective, the term has becoming marketing jargon. It reminds me of "Web 2.0" - another term that, at one point, meant something and now means nearly nothing.
Tracey and I have a hard time describing our wine making style. We make lots of decisions from pick date, to length of fermentation, to the amount of time spent in barrel and the final blend. Per Mr. Asimov, we intervene. We try to respect the ingredients. In our case, generally but not always, just grapes and sulfur.
When you make wine, you always hear about what MOG people found in sorting. Today, Tracey and team found both a lizard and a frog. Efforts to save the lizard were not successful but the frog survived and was freed. We expect he will like living in Berkeley.
Tracey and I haven't been very good about posting this year - just too busy. Over the next couple of days, I plan to make up for it.
Why Broken Ass? Two weeks ago today we were sampling Syrah at the Broken Leg and I got bite by a spider. Monday comes and the bite (yes, on my butt) is swollen. Tuesday - my first doctors visit, start Keflex (antibiotic). Wednesday and Thursday, it gets worse. Infection has started in earnest. Friday - second doctors visit. Switch to Cipro and get referral for a surgeon. (Starting to get bad - very bad.) Monday, told to wait until Wednesday. Wednesday, have surgery, start IV antibotics. Late Friday, out of the hospital and back to my bed.
Tracey has been a sweet heart the whole time. She took on my duties at the winery and kept me in the loop. The nurses kept asking what all of the sample bottles were - probably not often that you see Roussanne 11 brix, Gris pressed, Gris free run on sample bottles in a hospital. (Don't worry, I checked the labels very carefully before smelling/tasting.)
Now, if the wound is in good shape, I will start back at full speed for our old vine harvest on the 14th.
Our first 3 vineyards of Syrahs are fermenting away in our winery. Next up Grenache Gris for rose. In the mean time, we got some good news!
The Wall Street Journal has included us in their seven recommended Syrahs out of sixty tasted with some very nice notes. Describing our 2004 Vidmar, Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher write "Blackberries, pepper and earth. Great fruit. Nicely balanced, with a medium weight. More drinkable, less intense than some." If you subscribe, this link should work.
Sunday morning we walked into the winery and immediately knew our naturally fermenting Chardonnay was underway! And it smelled fabulous. We do not inoculate our wines. Given this is a new winery space for us we were slightly concerned that we might have trouble getting things going (not knowing how the Brosseau Vineyard yeasts would like our new home). We pressed whole cluster on September 1st and by Thursday the 7th Tracey was pretty sure it was starting. Tim and I could not yet hear it but she is the "Chard Whisperer" and seems to know when those yeasts get going before anyone else. By Sunday morning we were clearly fermenting nice and slow in each of our barrels.
The first harvest and pressing in the new winery went off without a hitch. Isabel (our daughter) even came by to provide some guidance. Here she points out we are allowing too many whole berries to fall through to the press pan). The press ran nice and slow for 7 hours. We took full advantage of the down time and held a harvest kickoff dinner with 25 (or so) of our family and friends because this little winery is truly a labor of love from our friends and family and we couldn't do it without them. We uncorked a magnum of the 2004 Brosseau Vineyard Chardonnay which was really showing off its stuffing. Ahhh, some days are really good!
We'll hold a BBQ for the last harvest which should be our Broken Leg Syrah - drop us a line if you want to join us - likely in very late October.
It has been over a month since we posted on our blog – Fall and Harvest are here.Since our last post:
We harvested our Ver Jus on August 7th.This year we picked around 400 lbs and loaded it into the Passat and returned to Berkeley.(I think VW should pay us to do an ad about how I can fit almost anything into the Passat including grapes.)
We have started to visit most of our vineyards on a weekly basis.Everything is moving along smoothly.
The winery build out is as complete as it will be for this year.
We harvested our Brosseau Chardonnay on Sept 1.The crop was very light this year - .75 tons per an acre.Flavors are wonderful as always.
We planned our next 4 harvests – Friday the 15th will be Wylie Syrah, Fenaughty Syrah and a bit of Roussanne.On Saturday, we will harvest 3 clones of Syrah from the Brosseau vineyard. Of course, this is based on what we expect to see in the vineyards this week.
And we poured our wines at the first annual East Bay Vintners Urban Wine Experience and the Montclair Jazz and Wine Festival.
It occurred to me when raising a toast to harvest, it still amazes me how much our friends and family contribute to our wine.Our parents will do everything from palette jack repair to endless hours of babysitting. Our friends will sort grapes, label bottles, stack cases and clean hundreds of yellow bins.We are very lucky to be blessed with such wonderful families and friends.
Paul Grieco of Hearth was recently praised for his wine list by Wine and Spirits magazine. I could not agree more. The list is extremely well written and interesting. If you ask how a list can been well written, visit and find out.
What they don't mention is the quality of the list. (I am biased since Hearth has both our Syrahs and our Chardonnay.) On my first visit to the restaurant, I was introduced to a wine that I hadn't had or even read about - Savignon from the Jura. I really enjoyed it though my dinner companions had mixed reactions....
After struggling for quite some time, we have named our first Châteauneuf-du-Pape blend Three Thirteen. Next year it will also be Three Thirteen though this may change in the future if we are able to find some more of the "approved" varietals from vineyards we are interested in working with. Perhaps it will become Four Thirteen or Five Thirteen. I also liked the name Nouveau Chai de la Chèvre but everyone else thought it was terrible...
We assembled the blend yesterday. It will rest in tank for a few weeks before being bottled. Four vineyards are represented in the wine with four distinct terroirs. We ended up with a little of Mourvèdre left over. We will bottle it alone as an experiment to see how it develops on its own.
We have been tasting lots of Roussanne to get ready for our experiment this fall. At Hospice-du-Rhone, we tasted Copain's James Berry vineyard Roussanne. It was lovely. We enjoyed it again last night. It is an interesting contrast to the Chignin-Bergeron from Andre et Michel Quegard we tasted tonight. Also lovely. Both have the "fat" that Roussanne. The Chignin-Bergernon has more acid but otherwise quite similar.
One of the most interesting comments on wine I have read recently was about La Tâche, one of the famed monopole wines of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Aubert de Villaine, part owner and wine maker, is quoted in Wine Spectator as saying "One thing I noticed in the evolution of our wines, especially Romanée-Conti, is a vegetal note that later becomes this aroma of rose petal ". I have had only two chances to taste La Tâche and one taste of Romanée-Conti. The Romanée-Conti was young and tasted of oak with many years of development ahead of it.
I do remember rose petal aromas on one of the La Tâches and now wonder if I had tasted the wine in its youth, would there have been vegetal flavors. Do other pinots evolve this way? Are there other pinots that start with a vegetal note and end with rose petals?
We have been tasting lots of Mouvedre lately - from barrels produced from the same vineyard as ours to older bottles from our cellar.
Last Saturday we tried a 1998 Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape and a 2001 Domain Tempier from Bandol. The wines are very different - different blends, different terroir and different years. Despite the difference, the similar characteristics of the Mourvèdre was prevalent. Both wines were very enjoyable!
Night One - when poured strait from the bottle (no air time), the earthy characteristic was the focus. The older Beaucastel was much smoother as expected. After a few hours of decanting, there was a detectable strawberry aroma.
Night Two - the earthy characteristic was diminished and the spring fruit aromas were clearer.
It will be interesting to see how our Mourvèdre blend ends up in a few years.
We have started to play with potential blends for a southern Rhone style wine. Blending is both fun and nerve racking. There are often options that may improve the short term drinking of the wine at the cost of the age ability. We naturally tend to want to make a wine for the long run. Of course, this has to be balanced with the knowledge that many of our customers will want to drink the wine quickly.
Having sent a sample via my mother to a friend, we heard some great positive feedback. The only down side, he didn't like our name. Perhaps we will pour the wine at our open house to gauge customers on both the blend and the name...
This past weekend, we had the pleasure of hanging out with several wine makers here for Joe Dressner's "Real Wine Assult". On Saturday, we were tasting wine at K&L in San Francisco when a fire engine came by. Turns out there is a fire station around the corner. Isabel and I ventured down - what a treat. She climbed up and down a ladder truck and I sipped a glass of Jean Paul Brun's Chardonnay. It was a great afternoon. (K&L carries our wine which you can order online.)
This weekend we received the highest of praise. Eric Texier, our teacher and mentor is in the midst of a U.S. sales trip with his importer, Joe Dressner and he and his wife Laurence are staying with us while in the Bay Area. We saw them for the first time since 2003 on Saturday and of course, Eric wanted to taste our wines. We were 2 parts excited and 1 part anxious. I mean it is one thing if the critics don't "get" our wines but if Eric thinks their crap we might as well throw in the towel now.
We (of course) started with the reds in the usual order - Vidmar, Vieilles Vignes and Carson. Then tasted the 2005 Grenache Rose and finally the Chardonnay. Eric commended their individuality and even better, the (unusual for CA/US) reductive aromas. And I have to say that as the evening wore on the Vieilles Vignes evolved into a truly lovely Syrah. But the best part came when he tasted the Chardonnay. If you read our blog often you know that we struggle with the Chardonnay b/c we are making Chardonnay from a very high quality (and expensive) vineyard and we are throwing caution and business sense to the wind and making a Chardonnay that we want to drink. It is definitely not for everyone and while we've begun to find a loyal following we have also heard our fair share of criticism. Eric didn't even need to speak - his face said it all. But he did. I don't want to brag (okay, I do) but I'll sum it up with the fact that he took our Chard tonight to dinner with the other 15 or so French winemakers b/c he says they've had such a disappointing time tasting American Chard. And he suggested we sell the wine in Paris b/c he thinks it would be a raving success. Imagine, A Donkey and Goat in Paris!
Rhone Rangers is tomorrow and we have to decide what to pour
One of my favorite parts about making wine is tasting wine from the barrels. Each barrel has its own personality. For events, we always try to make representive blends - our guess as to what the final blend will be. This year we have some challenges. We have a great barrel of Mourvèdre - we haven't decided what to do with it. We might bottle it alone or we might bottle it with Grenache and Syrah. So what do we pour?
If you stop by our table tomorrow, you will find out.
When we decided to go commercial with our winemaking Tracey and I vowed to stay true to our vision and passion which meant we would not make the most fashionable styles of wine and therefore it might be more difficult to sell our wine. We also did not expect to score especially high with the critics. It was a hard business decision but an easy winemaking decision because we've always promised to only make wines that we will enjoy drinking. And drinking a whole lot of if we can't sell it!
So we set out on this path with a Chablis inspired Chardonnay with no new oak, zippy acidity and abundant minerality and several Syrah's made more like classic Burgundian Pinot Noir. That means a lot of little things but in general we are pretty gentle and do not follow the philosophy of beating up Syrah to maximize extraction.
To date we are very pleased with our winemaking results. Sure, there are many things we will change in the future and more desired experiments than the years will allow but all in all we are very proud of our efforts and have certainly lived up to our promise - we drink our wine more often than not since we can't afford to buy wine anymore! (Tracey says we are "wine poor" these days.) And the reviews have been icing on the cake for us. We did not expect to gain the attention of the critics so early and we certainly did not expect to be so well received. We were thrilled with our reviews from Parker, Tanzer and the Wall Street Journal. The Wine Spectator scores were clearly not as favorable but then we expect to see some variation with the reviewers and based on my experience of following James Laube's reviews for years I would not have expected him to find our wines particularly appealing (Tracey submitted to WS!). I also want to point out that an 87 is nothing to be ashamed of.There seems to be a mentality that anything less than 90 is not exciting but if you look at the legend for WS 85-89 is a very good wine with special qualities.I would have to agree – our Vidmar and Carson Ridge are very good wines with special qualities! I personally think our Vieilles Vignes is too but hey – different strokes.Now our Chard scoring a 78 is another issue altogether but to be honest – we are quite proud of that 78 b/c it is so low it is cool.Or we do not believe for a second that our Chard is an average wine that is “drinkable” and we just think our winemaking style is very different than what Mr. Laube typically finds appealing in Chardonnay.And you know what – that is okay.We are not making coco-cola here.There is not one formula for Chardonnay and therefore while critics can certainly help consumers make informed buying decisions in the face of so many options the critics are human and their review is subjective.We love our Chardonnay and are very happy to have found many customers that feel the same way.For example, at a tasting last week a customer walked up to our table and enthusiastically said that he loved our Chardonnay. He heard about the wine while buying fresh fish in a grocery store in LA when one of our retailers (The Wine Gallery) insisted he run by their store and grab a bottle of our Chardonnay. He did and said it was the perfect match for his entree and his evening and now he is a loyal fan.
I guess my point (if you’ve lost it by now) is that Tracey and I are very pleased with our winemaking results and truly feel honored to just to be considered at this stage of our business and we could not ask for much better b/c the wines were very well received but with plenty of room to improve (if you get a 100 the only place to go is down!). We are thankful because making wine for a living is our dream and we have been lucky enough to turn our dream into a reality.
-AT 6PM (the height of rush hour) you drive across the Bay Bridge from SF to Berkeley with the intention of picking up your nearly 1 year old daughter and taking her back to the winery where bottling is STILL underway when you realize:THE CAR SEAT IS IN THE VW PASSAT WHICH IS IN SAN FRANCISCO -ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE TRAFFIC JAMMED BAY BRIDGE!
-At 6:15pm your tired husband decides to finish the bottling without you and at 11:30pm calls with the news: YOU HAVE THE KEYS TO VW PASSAT(WHICH IS THE CAR IN SAN FRANCISCO WITH THE CHILD SEAT– THE KEYS ARE IN BERKELEY)
That adequately summarizes yesterday.We love making wine.We love walking through our vineyards.We definitely love tasting our barrels.Bottling is an operation I could never do again.Aside from being the riskiest part of our winemaking it is also a huge orchestration of details and vendors and something ALWAYS goes wrong.Usually many somethings.The good news is I think the Rosé is lovely and we will definitely enjoy sipping it poolside all summer long.But be warned that your top dot may slide a bit.For those that were bold enough to try our Rosé last year you surely recall the wax closure.After too many near injuries we vowed to never wax again.But being anti-capsule for too many reasons to list we decided to try another finishing touch – a top dot.Quite simply it is a little dot that we printed on that adheres to the very end of the cork (Mondavi has done this for years).It looks great, is easy to apply and better still – is easy to remove.The only problem is it adheres perfectly to the natural cork we use on our Syrah and Chard.We found out yesterday that it does not adhere so well to the synthetic cork we use on the Rosé.Remember we keep the Rosé at a super low price point ($15 bottle) and therefore we can not afford to put a .52/per cork in there (that is what natural costs FYI). So – we will cross our fingers that those top dots stay in place until you remove them to open the bottle.If they slide – just slide them right back!
I wish I could sign off with now we rest.But not quite – now we move…sometime in early March I think we rest again.
The new winery is coming along. We expect to finish the build out and move the barrels sometime in the next few weeks.
Yesterday, we moved the basket press. With help from four of the guys from Thomas Knight Wines, it went smothly. We will give it a test run in the next few weeks to make sure everything is in tip top shape for harvest.
That was us yesterday at the Unified Symposium in Sacramento. This is the largest winery equipment and gadget tradeshow in the US and we salivated over beautiful wood casks, ovals and a super cool, brand new wood rotary fermentor that would be perfect for our small lots. We even tried to talk the rep into using us as a test site. And then there was the italian/german designed defranceschi sorting table, giraffe and destemmer crusher. The destemmer was particularly interesting with a plastic cage of squares - not circles. Maybe we should consider investors....
I spent the morning at the winery today - we are trying to nudge one of three barrels of Rose to complete malic fermentation. The other two barrels are done.
There are many ways to get malic fermentation. For us, we choose the simplest. The barrel that hadn't moved was stainless steel. I racked it into an older wood barrel hoping that the oxygen and wood will move it through. We should know in a week.
We will be bottling it soon and it is tasting yummy.
Three years ago upon returning from France, we wanted to ferment our reds in wood. In France, we used concrete, stainless steel and wood - wood was the best. We liked it becuase it is natural, moderates temperature changes and breathes.
After much discussion, we decided to try fermenting in barrels. Fetzer's inhouse cooper said it was easy and so I tried. We really liked the results. In 2004, we also experimented with plastic on a single lot but didn't like, The temperature moved more quickly and we were concerned about flavors/chemicals being released from the softner agents in the plastic. (USA Today has an interesting article about the ongoing debate.)
With 2005, we only used wood and moved up to 500 liter puncheons with great results.
While we were clearly not the first but the trend is catching on. We have heard of several Pinot Noir producers who are now fermenting in barrels. Next week we will see a company that has invented a way to ferment in the barrel without popping the top. It should be interesting.
From the New York Times today: "At a zoo in Lipetsk, south of Moscow, director Alexander Osipov said monkeys would be given wine three times day, ''to protect against colds,'' the RIA-Novosti news agency reported." We would have expected the monkeys to be given Vodka but we are happy to hear it is wine.
if i only had to make the wine this would be easy....
i am continually amazed at the breadth of "projects" that land on my desk as a winemaker/small business owner and operator. this week alone: -contact post office to figure out why our new address is not a deliverable address -decide on cork for rose and if we go with a color (synthetic is used on the rose) possibly change the pms color on the label to better match -pull 8 samples for a tasting tomorrow, stir chard lees and add sulfur to the rose (1st time since harvest) now that ml is complete and we are set to bottle next month -finish up 3 yr forecast -add priorities to our master "shopping list" for the new space -follow up with ttb (it looks like our basic permit for the new space is on its way - ya-hooooo! -eat lunch - which i'm going to do now
As we start to build out our new winery space, we constantly face new challenges and choices. This weekend, we had to decide on our water filtering system (twin filters, one for sediment and one for chlorine), our hot water heater (twin gas powered on demand heaters to lower our energy use and have plently of hot water for cleaning) and single/three phase electrical volt/amp requirements.
None of these have anything to do with making the wine but each one is extremely important.
For a Friday the 13th, we had a good day. We got our most recent issue of Steve Tanzer's International Wine Cellar. All three of our Syrah's got excellent reviews - 89, 89, and 88 with very nice comments. Mr. Tanzer writes of the Vidmar "Nose shows sassafras, earth, sweet oak and an almost confectionery cherry element..." I don't know much about sassafras so I looked it up. I will try and find some - I want to see if I agree.
Our 2005 rose will be bottled before too long. Bottling is the hardest part about winemaking and we are trying to figure out our capsules. Last year we used wax - consumers didn't like it so we won't do it again. We might use a sticker on the cork or go naked. Many decisions...
The wine: A Donkey and Goat Grenache-Gris Rosé 2004, McDowell Valley
Stunning shades of strawberry, medium-bodied, medium-dry. Cherry, berry and toast aromas frolic in the glass like the Munchkins from the Lollipop Guild. Flavors of getting a passionate lip-lock from a giant love-struck strawberry. Oy, mamacita! Drink more rosé!
King Midas was a drunk who loved wine (well maybe)
Wine residue can be found in pottery chards about 7,000 years old
The flavor/tannins imparted by Oak are similar to the resin that pine imparts in wine. These resins have antioxidant properties among other things.
Greeks drinked well made wine "neat" and added water to other wines - I know many California wine makers who would argue that it has now reversed but I am not sure they are correct.
Our tasting in Rochester went wonderfully well. Craig, a friend from Kodak, did a great job helping me pour wines and explaining the history of donkeys in wine making. The employees at WineSense were very helpful and it made for an enjoyable evening. If you visit the store, wish Kristin a belated Happy Birthday.
Happy Holidays from Gibson, Isabel, Tracey and Jared
I had a few minutes at the winery today and decided to taste the two varietals that are new to us this year. Of course, new is relative. We made both of these in France in 2002.
The Mourvedre is unreal. It tastes great now - really great. It still has the wild strawberry flavor which it has had from the beginning. Every time I taste it, I think of summer in the mountains picking tiny wild strawberries.
The Grenache also tastes wonderful but it is changing. It has already picked up a bit of weight and the tannins have calmed down a wee bit.
If you happen to be in Rochester, New York this coming Friday I will be pouring several of our 2004s at Wine Sense from 5 to 7 PM. Wine Sense is at 749 Park Avenue in Rochester - http://www.wedefinewine.com/
Recently, a customer stated he liked our Chardonnay but we should limit our use of new oak. We don't use any new oak in our Chardonnay (or any wine for that matter) thus the dilemma. Should we tell him that he is tasting something else? Perhaps he is mistaking the impact of limestone on flavors? Or maybe the acid balance is making the oak taste more precise.
If he were local, I might invite him to barrel taste. He could see the 1, 2 and 3 year old barrels impact on Chardonnay plus we could taste new oak on Chardonnay from a friend's barrel. Tasting is the best way to learn.
When we were learning wine making in France, we were given the task of tasting 6 or so barrels of "Noble Rot", a dessert wine, and saying which one was the sweetest and which had the most acid. It was a very hard task and we didn't get it right the first time but we learned.
For now, the customer is always right and Isabel isn't sure about the flavor of Oak...
Harvest 2005 stats: -105 days from ver jus to pressing broken leg (2520 hours) -420 sleeping hours (give or take) - >10,000 miles on the used-to-be-new Prius -175 trips across the bay bridge -9lbs lost (dave, jared and i are sadly at parity or worse with all the fast food) -11.2 tons of stellar wine grapes -24 barrels which should produce ~550 cases or 6600 bottles of wine
As in year's past we could not possibly have pulled this off without the enormously generous help and support of our family and friends. How we got so lucky I just don't know.
The finish line is in site. Now if we can just keep the engines running for another 4 days we will survive. Mind you it will be a close call. That dreaded harvest cold started making the rounds about 2 weeks ago and is now settled in our house with all three of us suffering. But hey - my parents walked up hill both ways in the snow. Surely we can press another 2.5 tons. Easy.
On the up side - we extended our maceration time across the reds this year and have been rewarded with pressing completely dry wines that are rich in flavor and color and look incredibly promising. Many wiser and more experienced would say it is too soon to judge the vintage but hey - we are new so allow us to be prematurely giddy - 2005 looks fabulous!
Tracey and I try to make wine as naturally as possible. Our basic rule is only put into wine that which you would place into your mouth.
Another wine maker we know and respect added "Color Pro" to one of his wines. When I asked him about it, he said that he was worried about the color. I pressed him a bit more - why worry about the color. Some of the best wines I have ever had were light in color - a 1971 Burgundy jumps to mind. "Consumers care about color" he said.
One of our wines, our Mourvedre, is nearly dry. The color is intense but not dark. We won't add any Color Pro. It tastes wonderful - like the wild strawberries at my family's cabin near Yellowstone.
Tracey and I are going to press two tons of old vine syrah tonight. With an eight month old, it is often easier to press after Isabel is asleep. I can't help but think of the REM song - Gardening at Night:
"I see your money on the floor, I felt the pocket change Though all the feelings that broke through that door Just didn’t seem to be too real The yard is nothing but a fence, the sun just hurts my eyes Somewhere it must be time for penitence. gardening at night is never where gardening at night gardening at night gardening at night"
Anyway, the wine is a really deep, dark color and very tannic. Our 2004 took the most time to develop in barrel (which is why we are waiting to release it). I expect the 2005 to be similar but we shall see.
We pressed the first two Syrahs last night. After nearly a month of skin contact, we decided it was the right time to press them. Since we are new to both vineyards, we were very excited to see how the wines develop. Both the free run and the pressed wine tasted increadible.
Yesterday morning we crushed 1.8 tons of Broken Leg Syrah and .56 tons of Girard Mourvedre. The Broken Leg nearly broke my heart. You may have read about the bear. Well that was one hungry bear because Steve estimates he ate nearly a barrel's worth (.5 ton) of wine!! (Last year the vineyard produced 3.6 tons.) Anyone need some extra barrels? We certainly have some to spare. On the upside - the flavors are so amazing and I was blown away to see us pick on October 21st at 24 brix. Given this is extreme cool climate Syrah we were preparing ourselves for 22 on the upside. I love being wrong.
So the total tonnage for us this year is just over 11. We were prepared to go up 13 so not too bad but we will hope to see our Syrah lots grow a bit next year (our goal is to have them all be around 3 tons which is still only a minisucle 175 (or so) case production but with our labor intensive yellow bins and open top wood fermenters we have to stay small in order to make it manageable.
With crush behind us we can take a small pause before turning our attention to pressing. Oh - and we now have nearly 7 tons to punch down 2x a day! Maybe we can strong arm Henry into extending his stay yet another week????
I can not believe we are already done. It seems like just yesterday it was Labor Day and we were about to pick our Chardonnay. Well that was September 7 and 45 days later, on Saturday October 22, we will bring our 2005 harvest to a close. Our final crushing will feature our our Broken Leg Syrah and Girard Mourvedre. We will have a gaggle of friends, fans and family to help us bid farewell to a most excellent harvest (if you like our 2004 wines just you wait – this year looks to be fabulous!) so if you are local and want to join the fun send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I did the modified Anderson Valley loop today (modified b/c McDowell is picked so I only had to sample Vidmar and Broken Leg). As I was getting back on 101-South to head home I picked up a voicemail from Steve Williams, the grower at Broken Leg and Vidmar. Steve's messages are almost always crackly and require a decoder since I only get about every 3 or 4 words (cell phone towers are not too popular in the Anderson Valley) but this time I hear him nearly screaming loud and clear, "Tracey, I hope you get this message before you get to the vineyard because you need to know THERE IS A BEAR IN THE VINEYARD. MAKE A LOT OF NOISE. WHISTLE A TUNE OR SOMETHING. "
So, I nearly careened off the road as I realized that the noises I heard at the perimeter fence where more likely attributed to the BEAR than Steve's sheep.
Funny thing is once I settled down I was more concerned about loosing precious berries in this light vintage than I was about safety and such!
After spending a somewhat normal day with the family (Pumkin Patch photos coming shortly), we ran some tests on the Grenache Noir and Syrah. The Syrahs are close to dry and the Grenache is dry. Instead of pressing the Grenache, we will only use free run juice. The tannins are quite strong in the seeds and we are willing to forgo the extra juice to improve the quality. We will barrel down sometime this week - the first of nearly twenty barrels of red!
We harvested 2.2 tons of old vine Syrah Thursday. Our block was planted in 1899 and those old vines have witnessed a lot of history: World War I, the building of the GoldenGate Bridge, World War II, prohibition, the depression, the coming and going of the industrial age... the list goes on. It is amazing to think about. Of course, its best to think about while enjoying a glass of wine made from those old vines....
Wow - I can not adequately express how it feels to be sliding down the back side. We are now more than half way compelte (with crushing - we are only about 1/4 of the way done with barreling down but I'm focusing on the positive). Yesterday we brought in 2.2 tons of our Vieilles Vignes Syrah. This year we picked from a new section of the old block which was planted in 1899. Now those are some OLD vines.
The fruit looked perfect. The flavors were perfect. The balance was perfect. Even the numbers were perfect. This wine will truly make itself. We will just watch.
Up next is our Vidmar Syrah and a new Mourvedre vineyard.
Despite the early hour, I always enjoy working at the winery alone at 5:00 AM. It gives me a chance to taste the fermentations without any distractions.
This morning, I did an early morning punch down on the Fenaughty Syrah. We like to do everything gently so we are carefully monitoring temperature to make sure it stays at the perfect point. It reminded me of a story I heard in France - great Burgundain Vigerons used to often sleep with their foot in fermenting vats in order to wake up if it got too hot. I wonder what that would be like - asleep with a wet foot...
Our Fenaughty Syrah is getting close to finishing. Fermentation is strong and should finish in the next few days.
You can see our yellow bins in the tractor - Ron has a great crew. The light wasn't very good - but it was early and cold. I think the wine will be great. Of course, we need another 6 months or so to really know.
The puncheon of Grenache Noir has formed a chapeau! Now all of our reds have begun a nice strong and natural fermentation! Thursday 10/13 will be another big day with at least 2 tons of Syrah coming in. Email email@example.com if you want to come by and get your hands (or feet) dirty.
As of yesterday, all of our barrels of Rose and an experimental puncheon of Grenache Noir have started fermenting. Because we ferment naturally (without innoculating) we worry every year about the start of fermentation - it is an act of faith.
Isabel, who our Rose is named for, spends a fair amount of time at the winery. Above, you can see her first effort at foot stomping.
This morning Jared and I did the Anderson Valley loop. This was only our second trip together (this was my 5th loop since August) and such a treat. My parents babysat Isabel and we left the house at 5:20am planning to hit Vidmar, the Boonville Bakery or General Store, Broken Leg and finally McDowell. I do it this way for good reason - the scones in Boonville are simply fantastic and I've not (yet) found a comparable in Hopland. Well if you've not had the pleasure of visiting Boonville you should but be warned - they are on their own time. Saturday morning we roll into town at 8am to find BOTH the bakery and general store closed and not opening until 9am! With our stomaches grumbling and my caffine buzz wearing thin we headed on to Philo and the Broken Leg vineyard...
But I really can't complain because the grapes look perfect. In fact, 2005 may prove to be THE year for us. Across the board we have had an elongated growing season allowing the fruit to develop slowly over a longer period of time but without the sugars spiking and acids dropping. Thus far we have seen more time on the vine with better balance in the berry. And the Anderson and McDowell Valley's are following the same trend. Today we hit Vidmar first. As usual the 877 appears to be slightly behind the Estrella River clone (both Syrah) but only enough to provide complexity - not enough to require separate picks. I love the flavors these vines produce and can simply say, "WOW!" My guess is another 1.5- 2 weeks. Broken Leg has been the source of much anxiety this year. Only 2.5 weeks ago it was difficult to find a berry over 18 brix and none without tough skins and bracing & sour acidity. But with the warm weather these last 2 weeks has made a dramatic difference. Today we saw softening skins, browning seeds and oh man - the flavors in this northern Anderson Valley Syrah Vineyard are promising perfection. I'm still betting early November but I can now say that with confidence rather than with visions of picking after Thanksgiving! McDowell (where we buy our Vieilles Vignes Syrah) is just about ready. There is a marked variance between the front and back of the block so we are going for the back (more balance between sugars and acid) and are going to pick on Thursday. And we've even convinced Bill Crawford to humor us and pick his old vines into our FLYB's. In fact, we picked the Grenache into the 35 lb lugs and it worked quite well. Not only were the berries in pristine condition but the process allowed for a field sort. Anyone who hasn't seen Syrah "au natural" should come check out the critters that arrive at the winery. Spiders, ants, earwigs and an occasional grasshopper. I'm not a huge fan of the bugs and could do without the spiders especially, but it gives me great confidence to see them so alive and well! And the flavors in these old vines are rich and complex while packing a punch of zippy acidity and structured taninis. I guess in their 85+ years the vines have learned how to dole out components to produce sublime Syrah berries.
That about sums it up. We are just about half way there. For those counting, we have harvested and crushed 6.5 tons between:
2.5 tons of Brosseau Chardonnay
1 ton of Brosseau Syrah - NEW vineyard
1 ton of Fenaughty Syrah - NEW vineyard
2 tons of Grenache Gris Rose
We have 5-8 tons to go (depending on yields and whether we pick up one additional Syrah this year).
Well, we had a really big weekend. Thursday night I drove east with my father in-law. Friday morning we picked up a ton of nearly perfect Syrah - the pickers were fastidious. Each cluster was literally placed gently in the bin. (Peach pickers are wonderful!) At the same time, Tracey and Dave drove south and picked up a ton of Brosseau Syrah.
Friday afternoon, we crushed everything into a combination of barrels and puncheons - we like to ferment in wood. Between yesterday and this morning, cold soakes ended and it is now warming up.
Saturday, Dave and I pickeds up 2 tons of old vine grenache gris. With the help of 10+ friends, we processed it Sunday afternoon while celebrating the 2005 harvest. We had homemade peanut butter and jelly cookies from Jen Luan, yummy lentil and goat cheese w/ chive crostini from Heidi Swanson and of course the requisite cheese and bread with A Donkey and Goat wines flowing freely. And best of all - Isabel got a chance to stomp some grapes for her cuvee! This morning (after 36 hours soaking in the cold room) we pressed and barreled down to 3 older oak barrels and one stainless steel barrel. The juice tastes fabulous and we are very excited for the 2005 Rose.
We do lots of things in a sort of old fashion way. We don't like to use crushers nor do we like fancy presses. In order to extract the juice with the least amount of pressure, we often use good old feet. After a good wash, we set our friends and their feet to work.
After waking up at 5:30 to drive to the foothills, I arrived to a very crisp (46) fall morning. I love early fall mornings - the colors, the cool air and most of all - the anticipation of harvest. This morning, the grapes were nearly perfect. We will pick them next week.
Between the three of us, we drove 1,000 miles in the last three days checking on grapes. Everything looks wonderful. On Friday and Saturday, we plan to harvest around 2,000 LBS of Syrah from Brosseau, 2,000 LBS of Syrah from Fenaughty, 1,000 LBS of Mouvedre from a new vineyard in the foothills and 4,000 LBS of Grenache Gris from McDowell. It will be a hectic week - I am flying to Rochester on Sunday and returning on Monday. Tracey will fly to New York Monday night and return Wednesday evening. Thank goodness we have Tracey's parents to help with Isabel and Dave to help with the winery.
After spending a day fretting about the weather, I am happy to report that our vineyards were spared rain. We will be spending Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the vineyards and probably start to call harvest dates accordingly.
Sunday morning I met our grower in the foothills with my good friend Patrick. We drove up to check on the Syrah and see how it was moving along. The weather was crisp and picture perfect. The Syrah is beginning to taste great! I expect it to be ripe in about 15 days. The numbers are wonderful with a nearly perfect PH and great sugar/acid balance.
Ron also grows peaches - some of the best I have every tasted. I bought a create of his Indian Bloods - ugly to look at but great to taste. I think he ships everywhere... Goldbud Farms Fruit Stand 2501 Carson Road Placerville, CA 530-626-6521
Bleary eyed bliss.That is exactly how I feel.Today is Saturday September 10 and since Friday September 2 the maximum night’s sleep has been 4.5 hours.On Friday September 2 we bottled our 2004 Syrahs. Bottling is the hardest part of making wine and definitely the most nerve racking.We were thrilled to see the fruits of our labor make it safely into their final resting place and after much tinkering even managed to get our quirky label on the bottle.A great big sigh of relief and about 2 hours of rest before we realized the 2005 harvest was banging on the door!On Wednesday September 7 we picked our Brosseau Vineyard Chardonnay.We were hoping Mother Nature was going to let us stretch it out until the weekend when Jared has a reprieve from his day job and the cavalry would have arrived but no such luck.I went up the Sunday before and was giddy with excitement because this year looks to be fabulous!The juice is worthy of the moniker nectar and should produce an absolutely stellar Chard.But it was nearly perfect and would certainly not wait for us to be ready so we launched plan B and tossed our original schedule out the window, made the final preparations at the winery in the wee hours of the night on Monday and Tuesday Jared and Dave headed south in our 16’ refrigerated truck to pick our first vineyard of the year (my “day job” of being a new mom kept me back in town for this pick).We were the only winery picking on Wednesday so we had the 12 person crew to ourselves and with 2.5 tons of beautiful Chardonnay, hit the road at 9:30am for the winery.Between the sunrise pick and the reefer our fruit came in at 55° F!We had filled 160 of our little yellow lug bins which take a fair amount of work to maneuver in the winery as each is individually dumped onto the sorting table and then each one has to be cleaned.But we think the resulting wine is worth it (try the 2004 and see for yourself!).
We sort out any errant leaves, twigs and any berries that are damaged from birds or bees or other little critters.From the sorting table we filled our 1/2 ton wood basket.This is the only harvest where our helpers get to pretend they are Lucy and stomp and we rarely have a shortage of clean feet ready to go.With a full basket we pressed whole cluster using our gentle hydraulic press that is completely inefficient on getting every last drop of juice out of the berries but we firmly believe it is perfect for only producing the best juice.From the press we go into a stainless steel tank where we chill the juice and settle for 48 hours before we use gravity to rack the juice from tank to older French oak barrels.Last night we racked to 7 barrels for fermentation (they are only 80% full because we leave room for the fermenting juice to expand) and expect to be in 4-5 barrels for aging it will be close this year so we may go to 4 barrels plus a stainless tank for aging).As you likely know, we only use older oak because we do not like the heavy handed flavors associated with new oak but we do value the benefits of aging in wood.We rack using gravity (no pumps) so it is slow going but again, we think it is worth it.However if you had asked me what I thought of pumps last night at 2:30am when I was sitting in a traffic jam with all of those who were leaving the big city for the burbs I just might have become a pump evangelist.At least Jared, who didn’t get home until 4:30am, missed the club crowd exiting the city.Tomorrow morning we are heading up the foothills to check on one of our new Syrah vineyards (the Fenaughty Vineyard) and Monday I am doing my AndersonValley loop and will check in on our Grenache Gris (Rosé), old vine Syrah, Vidmar Syrah and another new Syrah– the Broken Leg vineyard.
When we harvested our Ver Jus, we were able to see "terrior" or at least one of the fundamental components. The Brosseau vineyard is our source of Chardonnay and, for the first time this year, Syrah as well. A stone's throw from the vineyard is the Chalone vineyard. This year they removed their old vine Chenin Blanc. While I loved seeing those old vines, the removal made it possible to see the soil unobstructed.
As you can see - limestone everywhere. It was an incredible site.