Stomping Girl Winery Holiday Pop Up

Saturdays in December  – Dec 1, 8, 15

2:30 – 4:30 pm

complimentary wine tasting

holiday gift bottles

at Zut on Fourth

 1820 Fourth St, Berkeley

details on our website

We are in the right business this time of year because no other wine goes better with turkey and savory side dishes than Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  While our Chard is not ready for release (darn!,) our award-winning Pinot can grace your Thanksgiving table this year:

  • Our elegant Silver Medal winner 2010 Russian River, which is almost sold out, will complement the heck out of the turkey.
  • Our 2009 Corona Creek will stand up to the hearty mouth watering sausage-stuffed mushrooms we recommend below.
  • Our versatile, well-balanced Silver Medal winner (and excellent price/quality ratio per Prince of Pinot) 2010 Unhinged is perfectly suitable for dinner but also an excellent casual partner for next day turkey and stuffing sandwiches.

A couple of our favorite Thanksgiving recipes:

The 2012 harvest has come to an end…the fruit picked under stellar conditions, the fermentations completed without a hitch and the wine barreled down for the winter.  Nearly everyone is celebrating Northern California’s “epic” harvest, the biggest in years, including us and we’ve shared some photos of here:

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I write this awaiting arrival of 5 tons of Pinot Noir from Beresini Vineyard in Carneros.  Uzi woke at 3:50 this morning to oversee the pick while I slept to a more normal hour and drove to meet him and the fruit at the winery.  I beat them both here so am taking advantage of the moment to write this in our traveling office/dining room/sometimes bedroom (aka my car.)

Beresini Pinot 09/08/12The reason he and the fruit are a bit late, and why growers and winemakers across Sonoma and Napa are celebrating, is that the perfect fruit set we had this spring and a steady stream of pleasant weather has led to an incredibly bountiful harvest.  The vineyard produced more fruit than it has in years and they needed more time and more bins to pick it.  The yield (tons/acre) is still low compared to most vinearyds, but for Beresini Vineyard this year is a jack pot!  I think we’ll finally get as much as we asked for.  And best of all, this year’s decisions on when to pick are being decided on ripeness not impending rain storms or heat spikes that played a role in the last 2 vintages.

We are so happy to bring in Pinot Noir from Beresini and Lauterbach Vineyards for the 4th year in a row and Chardonnay from Hyde Vineyard for the 2nd.   We just bottled our 2011s from each of these 3 vineyards and consider ourselves very lucky to have ongoing relationships with these dedicated growers.

And now it’s time for us to roll up our sleeves, get sticky and dirty, keep our traveling office stocked and go make some wine.  Hope your fall is just as happy and exciting!

A picture is worth a thousand words…so I’ll just say a few:

Our 2011 Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay was just bottled and it is just amaaazing, can’t wait to release it!

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In regions where there is plenty of sunlight, fertile soil and irrigation, grapevines can end up producing too much fruit.  This is the case in many winegrowing regions in California.  In response, we typically remove a percentage of the clusters around this time of year–after they are fully formed but long before they are ripe.  Removing a portion of these immature clusters allows the vine to put all of its energy into the remaining clusters and leads to a more even ripening process and improved flavor compounds.

Removing fruit may seem detrimental since it decreases our yield and, ultimately, the amount of wine produced.  However, our intention is better quality wine, not more wine.  Green harvest allows us to achieve better quality wine by creating balanced vines with the right cluster-to-canopy-size ratio and more evenly ripened clusters at harvest.

Below are some recent pictures of a walk through dropping fruit, when veraison (the turning of the grapes from green to red) is 20-30% complete.  All but 2 clusters are removed from shoots that have extended beyond the top wire, all but 1 cluster are removed from shoots that extend below the top wire and all the clusters are removed from shoots that are too short to reach the middle wire.   When veraison is done, we do a second round and drop all the clusters that did not ripen properly so that we end up with an evenly ripened crop.

Pinot veraison

dropping fruit

Vines growing in carneros

Shoot reaching out to the sun

I always say that spring is the second best time of the year (the first is harvest in the fall.)

Watching the new shoots reach for the sun, performing their annual miracle painting the vineyard green, sprouting from the brown, dead looking trunks, never ceases to amaze me.

Tiny baby clusters appear and the leaves open up, spread and gorge on the sun.

This is also the time of the year when planting replacement vines happen.  Some of the old vines are too tired and can barley produce a cluster or two each year. We plant new, young vines in the field, right next to the old ones.  It will be three years before the new vines will produce any meaningful fruit, under the watchful eyes of their elders.

new vine in milk carton

New vines receive protection from frost and bunnies with an old milk carton and sawdust.

Last week I was lucky enough to visit Francois Freres cooperage in Saint-Romain, a small village in Burgundy France.

My visit was arranged with the help of Moke from Mel Knox Barrles, the San Francisco based barrel broker for Francois Freres and others. Thank you Moke.

The narrow streets of Saint-Romain

The narrow streets of Saint-Romain

Winding my way up the narrow curvy road to Saint Romain with my brother, I could not help but wonder why they chose to establish the cooperage in such a remote location.  We had to pull over to the side of the road every time a small truck passed by and I wondered how bigger trucks, which carry thousands of barrels a year from the cooperage, got through.  The answer to that came a bit later from Gregory, my gracious tour guide at Francois Freres.

Arriving at the cooperage one first notices the wonderful smell of  freshly baked bread, the barrel toasting room is right up front, for all to see and smell.

We started at the yard, where logs purchased at auction from ONF (the French government agency responsible for french forests) lay down waiting their turn to be hand split.

The raw material waiting in the yard

The raw material waiting in the yard

Greory pointed out the importance of tight wood grain, the primary consideration when bidding on logs at auctions. Here the smell  is vastly different, natural oak, strong and spicy.

tight grain oak

tight grain oak

The logs are cut to various lengths, one meter primarily for the 228 liter barrels, 1.05 for 300 liters etc.

The logs then make their way to the splitting specialist, who after years of practice, can balance splitting staves with the tightest grain while optimizing the amount of wood used.  According to Gregory, only about 20% of each log can be used for barrels. The rest is used for heating the cooperage, for fire for shaping the barrels and for fire for toasting the barrels. We visited during the “Great Cold’ of Europe, 24 degrees Fahrenheit, so we were thankful for said heating.

Hand splitting logs

Hand splitting logs

After splitting, the staves are shaved and stacked in a criss cross manner to allow air to circulate and then moved out to the yard again for 2-3 years of air drying, or seasoning.

Air drying, or seasoning of the staves takes 2-3 years

Air drying, or seasoning of the staves takes 2-3 years

During this air drying time, the staves lose about 80% of their weight from water loss;  harsh green tannins leach out and the wood gets ready to be shaped into barrels.

A special laser-guided saw trims each stave to a proper curve to allow it to fit to snugly to its neighbor when the staves are put together to form a barrel. One wide, one narrow, are put in layers next to each other where each layer will form one barrel later on.

In the barrel forming area, all the staves that form a barrel are connected together, by hand, using temporary hoops. Water is sprayed and the wood is heated up to allow it to bend into shape.  Hoops are pushed down the ‘skirts’ as the wood becomes more pliable to form the barrels. The fire you see in this picture is for forming purposes, toasting comes later.

Shaping the barrels

Shaping the barrels

Toasting the barrels must have been the best job on the day we visited, the temperature outside was 24F.  We landed on what the French call the “Grand Froid.”  All of Europe was frozen.

I asked Gregory if they have a set time or a formula for the various barrel toast options available, Medium toast, Heavy toast, Long Toast etc.  This is where he said he chuckles when he hears other coopers describe in exact minutes and degrees each toasting level.  It is impossible, he said, because the wood can be drier or more humid, depending on where it was in the stack, humidity that day, or the exact heat of the fire can be different–they can’t be that exact. That is why we have Frederic he said, after years of toasting, he can tell by smell and looks exactly when to pull a barrel off the fire.  Talk about hand crafted barrels, it is an art indeed.

Toasting barrels

Each barrel is made to order with the various factor combinations, wood origin, drying time, toast level, head toast, chestnut or metal hoops, engraving etc. Then there are some American wineries who buy their own wood in order to maximize the euro exchange rate. Mind boggling.

Monitoring toast level

After toasting, the heads are fitted in and the permanent hoops are put on.  Again, a cooper whose sole task it is to maximize wood selection for the heads is busy matching head staves.

Heads are fitted to the barrels and where the groove and the head meets the barrel is sealed with a special paste  made of fine wood shavings, water and flour. This was fine for about 90 years until recently concerns were raised about gluten ending up in the wine.  Francois Frere was ready with an alternative  solution due to a request from a Golan Hights winery in Israel, not to use flour in the paste so they can have a kosher for passover wine.

Fitting heads and hoops

Water leak test under pressure

The barrels are wetted with water and pressure is applied to test for leaks.  Here, Gregory points out the heads lowering as the pressure is released.

Logo engravings by a laser follow suit and the barrels are wrapped and placed in a conditioned storage room, ready to be shipped around the world.

The importance of Terrior on barrel making explained

So, I asked Gregory, why Saint-Romain? Isn’t it difficult for trucks to get in and out, a bit out of the way?

His answer basically came down to Terrior. The weather in Saint-Romain facilitates air drying of the wood in a unique way, which contributes to the final wine characteristics.  So much so, that they have conducted a blind wine tasting where the only difference was the location of the wood drying (they have a Bordeaux location) and could tell the difference.   With such attention to details and super craftsmenship, no wonder the top domains of Budgundy are all using Francois Freres barrels.

We are glad to be in that company.

It's always a good time for a glass of Chassagne Montrachet

Of course, being in Burgundy and getting close to lunch my gracious hosts could not help but open a bottle of a 2007 Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru les Chenevottes, made especially for Monsieur Francois by one of his local barrel customers.  A perfect ending for a perfect tour.

Join the winemakers of Stomping Girl for a holiday

Winery Pop Up

Complimentary wine tasting and gift bottles available for purchase

Saturdays in December

3:00 – 5:00 pm


1820 Fourth St, Berkeley

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Harvest came late and fast this year.  Late ripening fruit and forecasted rains early this week led to a mad race to harvest the thinner-skinned varietals (such as Pinot and Chard) early Monday October 3rd before rain could cause any damage.