Dead Fred – End of Harvest

Here we are at the end of harvest.  We picked Dead Fred Vineyard on Tuesday the 16th. 

Dead Fred Cabernet

It’s been a crazy October, as some of you are probably aware.  Even September ended up being a little below normal in terms of temperature.  So even though we had a heat wave at the end of August and the beginning of September, the last half of September turned out fairly cool and October certainly has been both cooler and wetter than normal.

In October we have had more than twice the normal rain fall at about an inch and a half in the Napa area.  We are usually less than a half a inch, so we are really up there.  The rain has been spread out over time.  We have only had one rain that approached an inch and the rest are just little mists and stuff that kept everything a little wetter than we would like.

It’s been very unusual and different this year.  I’ve been talking about 1989, and how Larry Hyde predicted that this year was going to be like that.  In talking to a lot of winemakers that have been around for a while, and remembering myself, we actually started our rain a little earlier in 1989, and we had two rain events that added up to more than two inches in Napa.  It was a cool year as well, with a little bit of crop hanging out there and a lot of things went unpicked, and I think there will be a few things that go unpicked this year too.

Anyway, getting back to Dead Fred.  It’s been one of these things that you could chalk up to weather.  Mostly the coolness in September that things weren’t moving very quickly.  It took a long time to get from 22 to 23 brix then we barely got to 24 and slipped back a little bit for a while there in the beginning of October.

It took a little sampling trip that I took with Tracy, who is one of the stars of the Dead Fred vintage this year, because we went and sampled the vineyard together.  She sampled the upper half of the vineyard and I sampled the lower half.  It’s a three acre vineyard but there are a total of 71 rows, some of which are long and some are short, kind of at the edge it’s not a perfectly square vineyard as most vineyards on a hillside aren’t.  I (like always) wanted to put our two samples together to see what we got, and she said, “No, I want to keep them separate and see what we get”.

It turns out her sample was a whole degree brix lower than my sample.  That’s a little bit more than sampling variation, which would be something less than ½ a brix.  It clued me in to the fact that there were some major differences within the vineyard.  I suspected as much when I was going through tasting, but you usually get a little variation, and it’s rarely enough to make a whole degree variation. 

I decided to go home and look at vineyard maps.  I knew the rows at the bottom of the vineyard, as well as 5 rows off to the side and running in a different direction were a different clonal selection of Cabernet and also a different rootstock (clone 8 on St. George).  That adds up to a just a little bit more than 1/6 of the vineyard.  Basically about 700 vines out of 3600.  So I figured I’ll make that one piece that I sample then I’ll divide the rest up in 600 vine sections.  That way we will have six different areas we are sampling from.   The results were amazing.  The St. George was by far the ripest at a hair over 26.  The piece next to that with pretty good looking vines was 24.8 and the very next piece was 22 brix even.  Some of the upper three pieces were in the high 23’s to the low 23’s.  We definitely had one section that was much lower in brix and really pulling the average down.

We crushed them up separately (obviously) and did the brix on them and tasted the juices, and it was amazing.  For sure the 1/6 that was at 22 brix was much weaker than the others.  Not vegetative in any way, the seeds weren’t green, just didn’t have the sugar or the concentration, flavor development, just very simple flavors and just a little washed out.  There was another piece that was 22.7 brix that was a step up, but not quite as good as the other 4 pieces.  I knew I was going to have a lot of work to do on the picking day. 

We had scheduled to pick very early in the morning starting at 3am so we could be at the winery when they opened at 7am and get crushed.  It was a dry day and a dry night on Monday, but Tuesday on our pick, there was a scheduled rain about 11am.  So we wanted to get them in early.

DF Pick

There I was showing up at 3am.  Mike Wolf’s crew is the best.  He already had the guys marking the St. George.  What I was really interested in is keeping these 7 rows, or 600 vines, as well as the other 1/6 of the vineyard at 22.7 marked, so I could make a decision based on tonnage.  So I went through and marked those rows the best I could.


I got some nice pictures of the night picking.  The guys do a really good job.  There are lots of lights, two crews, and four tractors. Even when they are waiting for a tractor to dump three bins off and bring three empties back, they are picking off leaves, etc.  These guys are out there definitely ready to work.

Dead Fred Night Pick

So I got the bins marked and got them back to the winery and weighed out.  As it turns out we had about 2 and ½ tons of these 7 rows that were the worse off, so I decided to leave those out. 

Grapes on Truck at Winery

(first in line at the winery… where is everyone?) 

We had about 7.6 tons to put in a tank.  I did some major sampling at the crusher, grabbing grapes from each bin at the crusher and putting them in a bucket, so I could see what we got, what we were putting in the tank, so I could see how much trouble we had got ourselves into.  As it turns out the tank is a little over 24 brix which is very good and I’m very pleased with that. 

The 2 and ½ tons that we separated and put into two t-bins came out at 22.2 brix.   So we made a real good separation there, that got us better tasting juice and two brix higher, and separated out the lowest sugar and the least flavor stuff.  So I’m very happy with what we did there. 

Sunrise at Laird

As it looks now, we are drizzly and supposed to get some more rain this afternoon.  Then we are finally supposed to get a week of Indian summer, which has been promised for a while now.  As I mentioned earlier we have been pretty drizzly with a few good rain events.  We got an inch and a half of rain (some sort or another) that was spread over 10 days.  It’s really hard to wait through all of that.

Even in the Dead Fred, some of the clusters had just started to shrink up a little bit; not raisin, but they get a little green mold on them.  You can actually taste these berries and they are no problem.  The next step after the green mold is the grey mold and that stuff can be really ugly.  The next step after that is black mold which is even worse. 

So you definitely don’t want to get to that stage, and I knew for a fact that we weren’t able to get all the way to the next week.  I had already placed my bet, and left it on there for an extra week.  I don’t think we got anything more sugar wise, we might have gotten more flavor wise by leaving out for that week.  But what we did do is discover variation in the vineyard.

In talking to Mike Wolf (vineyard Manager) about it, what we had was a little phosphorous deficiency.  These vines are about 6 to 7 years old and they are still teenagers so to speak.  The roots haven’t explored the full complement of the soil and sometimes they can get these little weird phosphorous deficiencies that can cause the leaves to not be as effective photo synthetically as areas that are finding it.

Obviously the St. George rootstock didn’t have any trouble finding the phosphorous and any other nutrients that it needed from the soil since they were the healthiest vines.  Mike is going to work on getting some compost out there as well as some supplemental phosphorous.  He also mentioned to me that just like anyone else, we do petioles right around bloom time, but it’s the kind of deficiency that doesn’t show up then.  It’s not like you don’t see a phosphorous deficiency then, but sometimes they can be happy with what they find in the soil in springtime, when bloom time happens.  Then later in the year you see some symptoms show up.  Mike will deal with that with some amendments this winter and hopefully we won’t be looking at it again.

You can bet we will be sampling it quite differently this coming year.  You find these things out by accident sometimes.  I’m very glad Tracy was a little on the stubborn side and wanted to see what she got and what I got, which peaked my interest.

I’m really happy with what we got with Dead Fred.  We got our tank and our two t-bins and looking at numbers, getting them yeasted and waiting for fermentations to start.   We are finishing up with Malolactic on all the Bressler and Selene reds that are already in barrel. 

The Sauvignon Blanc is coming along nicely.  We stir it every time we top it, (every two weeks) to keep the lees contact character going.   The wines are so stable they clear up within two days.  They are showing some nice development.  I think we are going to have a good one with the 2007 Sauvignon Blanc.

Boy, what a crazy year!  They are all a little different.  It’s been really fun too.  I think it brings the winemakers together and the grape growers for that matter, even closer too, because everyone is trying to deal with something that the weather has brought on.   Maybe the rush to pick, and having fruit that’s not quite ready, or letting it hang out there.   Growers not being able to get to it because obviously when the rains coming everyone wants to get it off, and you can only take so much fruit off.  

Dealing with all the issues that are brought up because of a difficult season brings all of us a little closer together, so in that way it’s been a really good harvest.  We have all had to work a little harder, but I think we are going to see some good things from it.