harvest


Stomping Girl barrels

Stomping Girl barrels arrive

We’re moving into our new space in preparation for this year’s harvest.  After some logistical juggling among usJoseph Phelps, A Donkey and Goat, JC Cellars, craigslist delivery truck drivers and a little faith, our fermentation bins, barrels and barrel racks have all arrived safely and are ready for action.  After finalizing our last vineyard contract for some Russian River fruit and obtaining a few more items: refractometer, punch down tool, yeast, bungs and help (to name a few) we’ll be ready to roll. Russian River, Carneros and Sonoma Coast Pinots are typically harvested mid to late-September but it all depends on the weather during the next several weeks. Can’t wait!  In the meantime, our 2008 Pinot also needs our attention…more to come on that…

Stomping Girl ferm. bins

Stomping Girl fermentation bins waiting for grapes

Uzi and I were in the Russian River Valley this weekend trying to finalize a third Pinot Noir vineyard for 2009.  The weather was a cool 75 degrees when we arrived at the first vineyard just off River Road at 10:30. The owner walked us through his vines of Pommard, 115 and 777 clones.  These are the Pinot clones we prefer, the clones that will hopefully give us the well-balanced, yet complex Pinot Noir we prefer.  At just under 8 acres, the Pinot vineyard is nicely farmed by a very well-known farmer/viticulturist who keeps the yield to about 2 tons/acre–this is the type of low-yield vineyard we are looking for.  The grapes here have just barely begun to change color.  This process during which the grapes turn from green to purple is called verasion.  The owner speculated harvest will occur mid-September.

verasion begins

verasion begins

We tasted several samples of the 2008 vintage as well as a 2006 and 2004.  All were very impressive, in particular the 2004.  We enjoyed sharing winemaking stories with the owner and then went on our way to mull the opportunity to buy grapes from this vineyard.  This year we have been lucky to have unprecedented opportunities to some excellent Pinot fruit.  We stopped just down the hill to taste at Martinelli Winery and have a working picnic under their beautiful arbor with the single biggest cluster of grapes I have ever seen.  Get a load of this cluster:

grapecluster

working lunch

working lunch

The temperature quickly rose as we reached our second stop.  It made for an uncomfortable walk in the 92 degree heat.  Here in these vineyards, just to the northeast where it is warmer, verasion had reached almost 30%, according to the helpful viticulturist who took us through the vineyards.  She mentioned that harvest may very well come by the end of August.  In the picture below you can see how much farther verasion has progressed at this vineyard than in the preceeding one.

verasion progressing

verasion progressing

Here they have several blocks of Pinot Noir containing an array of clones–114, 115, 459, 667, 777, 828…So many, that I am not kidding when I say I had these numbers dancing in my head that night as I slept.  A very well-maintained vineyard with an incredible range to choose from. During this trip it was easy to see how the microclimates within the Russian River Valley make a big difference.  In just a 2-mile radius there can be more than a month difference in harvest date for the same varietal.  In fact, records we compared for these two vineyards show about 1 month difference in harvest dates.

sugar concentrationEver wonder what it is in sugar that makes our kids run around like crazy? Or why we like it in all forms?  Well, I don’t have the answers here, sorry. But, I do have an opinion about high sugars in grapes. Maybe they are somehow related. 

I just came back from a seminar put on by the Napa Valley Grape Growers association. The main topic was different, but the high sugar topic was top of mind and kept on creeping into the discussion.

In the last few years, there seems to be a preference for higher alcohol levels in red wines. There seems to be a market preference, which might be driven by a reviewer’s preference and in some cases this leads winemakers to cater to that preference.  This means picking grapes later to allow the sugar level in the grapes to increase relative to the overall weight of the grapes (measured in Brix). The phenomena is called Letting it Hang. An increase in Brix level ultimately results in an increase in alcohol level in the wine. If you noticed, I am being very careful with my words.  There is more and more evidence that the increase in sugar level is not because the vine is producing more sugar but because the clusters are dehydrating, therefore increasing the ratio of sugar to the rest of the grape cluster weight. This is a trick the Italians play with their intoxicating Amarone, except they dehydrate the grapes after they pick them.

Why does it matter? Two main reasons:

  1. As the grapes shrink due to dehydration, the growers that get paid by the ton get short changed–that’s most of them.
  2. Winemakers that pick very late with high sugar levels risk picking grapes with low acids and high PH. Resulting in either an unbalanced wine, or perhaps worse–a wine that has to be manipulated to bring it back into balance.

Why do I think it should matter to wine drinkers?  well, at least in my opinion, high alcohol wines typically result in heavy, full body, over the top, prune flavors in the wine. None of the subtle elegance that a classic food friendly wine can and should provide. My taste buds, my preference, your opinion may vary. 

This article, in the New York times by Eric Asimov, which was forwarded to me by multiple friends, does a much better job describing the style of wine I am talking about. It also includes a list of wineries producing some of these classically elegant wines.

Back to my post, just like sugar, high alcohol wines, can bring me crashing down 30 minutes later and wanting for a more balanced wine.

Our Lone Oak Pinot Noir grapes were harvested finally last Tuesday and delivered to the winery. We went right down to business and started the whole process of sorting and de-stemming and cold soaking all over again.

Ben having a lot of fun sorting Lone Oak

Ben having a lot of fun sorting Lone Oak

Although the wine making plan for Lone Oak, which is in the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation, south east of Monterey, is similar to the Gap’s Crown (Sonoma Coast Appellation) , the fruit is markedly different.

 

Santa Lucia Highland vineyards in the AM fog

Santa Lucia Highland vineyards in the AM fog

 

View of Salinas Valley from the Santa Lucia Highland vineyards

View of Salinas Valley from the Santa Lucia Highland vineyards

 

Both vineyards are influenced by the maritime fog and air, which cools the vines and slows down maturation during the summer months. However, that is where the similarities end. Whereas Sonoma coast produces delicate, refined, elegant wines which are well balanced with acidity to complement the typical Pinot fruit, the Santa Lucia Highland fruit is a bit more voluptuous and with flavors that are bursting at the seams. Still with a lot of elegance and refinement, but you can’t mistake the overt femininity, I’d say the Gap’s Crown is an Audrey Hepburn to Lone Oak’s Catherine Deneuve. I might be dating myself with these fine actresses as my analogies, but I can’t think of anything else at the moment. If anyone has a more recent, parallel examples, feel free to post and I will consider!
In any case, we chose to make these two different pinots to showcase the stylistic differences between the appellations. We like them both and are really excited to watch them ‘grow’, or as the French say, ‘élever’, side by side. It will be a lot of fun tasting and noting the differences.

On another note, since we started this whole wine thing was in a sense re-starting a tradition from my maternal grandmother side–where my little sister used to stomp the grapes–I could not resist having Kathryn and Hannah continue the tradition and actually use their feet to stomp the grapes. Of course, we made sure their feet were washed and sterilized before we let them in it! You will not taste a thing in the wine, no worries.   Uzi

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