2004 Blog – archive

Thursday, August 12, 2004

My first pick will be next week. Sauvignon Blanc from two of the three Selene blocks at Hyde Vineyards in Carneros. Flavors are great, almost got ‘em this week, but they were still real tart. Most varieties that got through bloom during the warm early part of spring are running two to three weeks ahead of last year here in Napa Valley. That would include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, some younger vine Bordeaux varieties. More mature vine Bordeaux varieties, especially in the up-valley areas are just now completing veraison, or color change, right now, so they will probably be closer to last year’s pick dates.

Bottling is done, 2003 and 2002 wines have been racked, and new barrels are arriving. So I’m spending lots of time in the vineyard. Checking to see that the last of the thinning was done properly, looking for any differences within vineyard blocks that might call for separate picks, sampling Sauvignon Blanc for maturity. Also becoming a weather junkie, which I do every harvest.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

I picked the first block of Sauvignon Blanc (SB) from Hyde Vineyards in Carneros yesterday. The fruit was in beautiful condition, very flavorful, with a nice, balanced tartness. Barrels are being prepared for filling with the juice tomorrow and soon the fermentation will be under way. Crop level was down from last year by a bit more than 20% and so far that seems to be the rule for all the SB I’ve seen other winemakers pick.

Most likely my next pick will be 7 to 10 days out… the last block of SB at Hyde Vineyards. I sampled it yesterday while the pick in the other block was happening. Flavors maturing but sugar is still a bit low and the acid is tart. This block is older vines on a mixture of own roots and St. George rootstalk located in soil with a bit more clay than what we picked yesterday. I will sample again this Saturday as we’ve had two or three very warm days and will begin a cooling trend tomorrow. This will give the vines a chance to recover from the heat and also give me time to call a pick for next week if need be.

Next week will bring the first sampling of Selene’s Cabernet vineyards.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Sauvignon Blanc is fermenting in barrels now. I have it in about 50% new French oak and 50% stainless steel barrels. Nothing like the smell of white wine fermenting in barrel. Always takes me back to my first harvest in Napa, 1983, when I was working at Chappellet. Still love those aromas to this day.

There are still more Sauvignon Blanc grapes to pick at Hyde Vineyards. I will be meeting Rosemary Cakebread of Spottswoode there tomorrow to sample this block. This particular block is one that Spottswoode and Selene have shared since 1992. I think we may be scheduling that pick for some time next week. Flavors are coming but the acids have been too bright. It’s been five days since I sampled it last and that plus some predicted heat in the next few days should get it right where we want it.

Will check three other vineyards that Selene buys red grapes from tomorrow as well; Cabernet Sauvignon at Blue Oak Vineyard (Coombsville) and Stagecoach Vineyard (between Foss Valley and Pritchard Hill) and Merlot and Cabernet Franc at Frediani Family Vineyard in Calistoga.

So next week should get pretty exciting. Vineyards look great…canes are mature (they look like wood, i.e., brown), leaves are green, red grapes have dark color, white grapes are translucent and golden. If we don’t have a really long, hot heat spell (>95F for more than four days straight), this vintage has all the makings of a great one.

As far as my stress level, some of it is my personality and some of it is my experience (this is my 22nd harvest in Napa). I know we had a warm spring because I was wearing shorts in parts of February and March. From past experience, I know when you have an early, warm spring harvest is going to be early, even if the summer is slightly cooler than normal. So, as much as possible, I plan my work to keep me from any other work than grapes in August, September, and October. I get my wines racked or bottled, equipment and barrels delivered before August. I don’t plan any market visits for sales at this time either. So I get to focus on grapes. I love this time of year and I want to enjoy it as much as possible. Also important is that the most important decisions are made this time of year and I need to be as focused as possible to make them. One of the ways I do this is to avoid manufacturing stress for myself.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Got some Merlot and Cabernet Franc getting ripe. Will be going after some Merlot and Cab Franc at Bressler Vineyard in St. Helena tomorrow, as well as some Merlot from Frediani Vineyards in Calistoga. The Bressler Vineyard stuff is for my clients Bob and Stacey Bressler. They have a few acres in western St. Helena; some mature Cab Sauvignon that they’ve been producing wine from since 2000 and small, young Merlot, Cab Franc, and Petit Verdot that we’ll make wine from for the first time this year. The Frediani Merlot is a part of my Selene brand.

Finished picking Sauvignon Blanc from Hyde Vineyards for Selene last Thursday. That juice is down to barrels and just starting to ferment. The first bit of SB that we picked way back on 17 August is just finishing fermentation. I’m very happy with the flavors and concentration, which is the most important thing. Quantity-wise production is down about 30% from 2003. Mostly this dip is due to lower yields in the vineyard but we did have one accidental offering to the wine gods, where two barrels of SB got dropped, busted open and spilt most of the juice. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch…

Fisher Vineyards, another of my clients, got started last week. Their winemaker, Whitney Fisher, picked a small amount of Chardonnay at the winery’s estate vineyard in Sonoma as well as some Malbec at their estate vineyard in Calistoga. The Chardonnay is from the very top of a hillside block that usually ripens a little sooner than the rest of the block. She will likely go after the rest of that block this week, as well as the upper piece of the Whitney’s Vineyard Chardonnay. Fisher has a new press so we’ve been putting our heads together getting the press cycle dialed in. The Malbec looks good; it always seems to take the cake as far as coming in early…I used to think Merlot was bad. Whitney, Laura (assistant winemaker), and I walked the vineyards in Calistoga yesterday. They have multiple blocks of Cab Sauvignon, Cab Franc, and Merlot. Nothing is quite ready but some of the Cab Sauvignon blocks are getting close.

The weather has been really hot with low humidities over the last few days. Firefighters, grape growers, and winemakers have all been waiting for the fog to return to the coast and bring us some needed cooling…looks like Thursday or Friday. We could all do with fewer fires to put out, whether they are literal or figurative.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

The last bit of Sauvignon Blanc is almost finished with fermentation. Topped up the barrels today. Usually we leave a little space in the barrel ferments, like 3-5 gallons, so they don’t foam over and make a mess. As they finish fermentation they calm down and we can get the barrels topped up. It will probably be another couple of weeks before they are really quiet and dry and start to clarify.

The Merlot and Cabernet Franc from Bressler Vineyard are fermenting in separate bins that hold about a ton each. I just stopped the punch downs on the Franc because it is almost dry and scheduled it to be pressed off skins this Sunday. The Merlot is still fermenting and probably has another day or two of punch downs before it quiets down. We got a very nice extraction in the bins and I’m happy with both lots. The Petit Verdot may come in next week along with the first of the Cabernet Sauvignon.

Also have two small tanks fermenting for Selene…a pure Cabernet Franc tank and an assemblage of Cabernet Franc and Merlot. All the fruit came from the Frediani Family Vineyard in Calistoga and there’s about 4.5 tons in each tank. The Franc/Merlot tank started its fermentation about a day sooner and is a little ahead of the pure Franc tank, but they are both about 5-8 days of fermentation left to go. Very nice ripeness and concentration on both tanks.

Whitney has been working hard picking the various blocks of estate Chardonnay at Fisher. She also snuk in a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon from their Calistoga ranch. All this while dealing with the fall out from a broken water main—right under the crush pad. Thanks to a lot of hard work from Fred Fisher, Jose, the vineyard foreman, and Alvaro, the break got fixed. Whitney says she even likes how they had to arrange the crusher and press with the new 5 x 5 x 5 foot hole in the middle of the old arrangement. Proof that if you look hard enough you can find a silver lining, no matter how small.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

David Abreu, one of Napa’s best and most well known winegrowers and custom farmers, got me real good today. I’m walking with Whitney and Laura, the assistant winemaker at Fisher Vineyards, in their estate vineyard tasting grapes, when David gives me a call on my cell. I’d been expecting a return call from him regarding a favor for another client. “Mia, I need to tell Jimmy (David’s brother) where to take these grapes. Are they going to Laird or Andretti Winery?” “What grapes David? What are you talking about?” “That Bressler Petit Verdot,” he says, “it’s almost all loaded on the truck.” “Whaddya mean? I never called that pick,” I say. “Yeah, when you called on Tuesday that was the message they gave me,” David says. “David, that was not my message. I never blah, blah, blah,” I complain back. By this time he’s laughing pretty good and telling me I need to relax and take a break, he was only kidding. Told him I was gonna get him back…maybe not tomorrow or the next day, but some time. Gotta look up all my old ninjutsu buddies…

Whitney will finish picking the Chardonnay this week and get some Cab and Franc from the Calistoga ranch as well. We tasted the Malbec they picked two weeks ago and agreed that it was ready to press. Also tasted some delicious Dijon clone Chardonnay barrel ferments.

No other picking this week. Weather is forecast to cool down this weekend. Definitely feels more autumn-like. The sun is lower in the sky, days are getting shorter, and there is just a little bite to the breeze. Perfect riding weather. I’ve been riding around most days when I don’t need to carry anything big in my truck. Got a new Suzuki DRZ 400 dual sport motorcycle and I’ve already got almost 1300 miles on it! It’s a blast…and I can even hear my cell phone ring in my pack if I’m not moving too fast…and I always return all those missed calls.

Thursday, Sept. 30, 2004

Picking is almost over. We finished Dalla Valle this past Tuesday, Bressler last Friday, Selene will get its last Cabernet Sauvignon from Stagecoach Vineyard this Saturday and Fisher has maybe four or five picks left.

We’ve had a cooler-than-normal week with lows in the 40s and 50s and highs in the 70s. The past few days have been overcast and the sun doesn’t show until about 11 a.m. or later. That’s nice weather for the vines that still have fruit — it gives them a breather before that last bit of ripening. Also it’s nice weather for winemakers to take stock of what’s already in the barn, finish pump overs, and get some things pressed and to barrel. And it’s nice weather to begin replanting before the Oct. 15 deadline and any rainy weather that may follow.

Lots that have been pressed so far include the Bressler Merlot and Cabernet Franc and a small lot of Cabernet Sauvignon from Dalla Valle. Everything else is still on skins in the fermenter, either being pumped-over, punched-down or quietly macerating. Overall, the fermentations and extractions look very good.