Thursday, Sept. 30
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.
Dalla Valle has a small bit of replanting. Yesterday vines were being pulled from the replant blocks. There's lots of information to be found in the structure of the roots. Naoko Dalla Valle, Bob Gallager from Crop Care, Fausto, the vineyard foreman, and myself were checking the old vines today. Tomorrow there will be backhoe pits that go down 5 to 6 feet to check the soil structure and variation in detail. Bob will also be doing soil analysis. All the things that figure in when planting decisions are made. Sad to see a few old vines go, but exciting to see the promise of the future.
Thursday, Sept. 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?" I asked. "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 said. "David, that was not my message. I never blah-blah-blah … " By this time he's laughing pretty hard 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. It definitely feels more autumnlike now. The sun is lower in the sky, the days are getting shorter and there is just a little bite to the breeze. Perfect motorcycle weather. I've been riding around most days when I don't need to carry anything big in my truck. I bought a new Suzuki DRZ 400 dual-sport motorcycle and I've already got almost 1,300 miles on it! It's a blast, and I can even hear my cellphone ring in my pack if I'm not moving too fast. I always return all those missed calls.
Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2004
The last bit of Sauvignon Blanc is almost finished with fermentation. We topped off the barrels today. Usually we leave a little space in the barrel fermentors, like 3 to 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 off. It will probably be another couple of weeks before they are really quiet and dry, and we can 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 it's scheduled to be pressed off the 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 both have about 5 to 8 days of fermentation left to go. Very nice ripeness and concentration on both tanks.
We also picked a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon at Dalla Valle. Whitney has been working hard picking the various blocks of estate Chardonnay at Fisher. She also snuck in a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon from their Calistoga ranch. All this while dealing with the fallout 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 5x5x5 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.
Tuesday, Sept. 7
Merlot and Cabernet Franc is ripening up, so I'll be going after some of both at Bressler Vineyard in St. Helena tomorrow, as well as some Merlot from Frediani Vineyards in Calistoga. The Bressler Vineyard grapes are for my clients Bob and Stacey Bressler. They have a few acres in western St. Helena planted with some mature Cabernet Sauvignon that they've been making wine from since 2000 and small, young Merlot, Cab Franc and Petit Verdot vines that we'll make wine from for the first time this year. The Frediani Merlot is a part of my Selene brand.
I finished picking Sauvignon Blanc from Hyde Vineyards for Selene last Thursday. That juice is in barrels and is just starting to ferment. The first bit of SB that we picked way back on Aug. 17 has 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 percent from 2003. Mostly this dip is because of lower yields in the vineyard, but we did have one accidental offering to the wine gods when two barrels of SB got dropped and busted open, spilling 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. Whitney, Laura (assistant winemaker) and I walked the vineyards in Calistoga yesterday. They have multiple blocks of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc and Merlot. Nothing is quite ready but some of the Cabernet Sauvignon blocks are getting close.
I also walked the vineyards at Dalla Valle yesterday with the owner, Naoko Dalla Valle. One block of Cabernet Sauvignon may be ready at the end of the week and we'll take another peek at it in a couple of days.
The weather has been really hot with low humidity over the last few days. Firefighters, grapegrowers and winemakers have all been waiting for the fog to return to the coast and bring us a much-needed cooling down, which may come on Thursday or Friday. We could all do with fewer fires to put out, whether they are literal or figurative.
Wednesday, Aug. 25
Sauvignon Blanc is fermenting in barrels right now. I have half of it in new French oak and half in stainless-steel barrels. There's nothing like the smell of white wine fermenting in barrel. It always takes me back to my first harvest in Napa, in 1983, when I was working at Chappellet. I 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 a block that Spottswoode and Selene have shared since 1992. I think we may be scheduling that pick for some time next week. The flavors are coming but the acids have been too bright. It's been five days since I sampled it last and some predicted hot weather in the next few days should get it right where we want it.
I'll be jumping around from vineyard to vineyard for the rest of the week. Tomorrow, I need to check three other vineyards that Selene buys red grapes from: 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. On Friday, I'm meeting Whitney Fisher, winemaker for Fisher Vineyards. They have some Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon in Calistoga and Chardonnay at their Sonoma winery estate that may be getting close. Fisher Vineyards has been one of my clients since 2000. I also need to check Bressler Vineyard in western St. Helena again by the end of the week. They have some new Merlot and Petite Verdot getting close. On Monday, I'll take another look at the grapes on Dalla Valle. There are a couple of Cabernet Sauvignon blocks there that are probably within two weeks of picking and warrant some extra attention.
Next week should get pretty exciting. My vineyards look great: the canes are mature (they look like wood, i.e., they're brown), the leaves are green, the red grapes are dark and the white grapes are translucent and golden. As long as we don't suffer a long, hot heat spell (above 95 degrees Fahrenheit for more than a few days straight), this vintage has all the makings of a great one.
I'm not really stressed. I love this time of year and I want to enjoy it as much as possible. 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 extra stress for myself. Some of this is because of my personality and some of it is due to my experience (this is my 22nd harvest in Napa). 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, I plan my work schedule to avoid anything but grape work in August, September and October. I get my wines racked and bottled and my equipment and barrels delivered before August, so I can just get to focus on grapes.
Wednesday, Aug. 18
I picked the first block of Sauvignon Blanc from Hyde Vineyards in Carneros yesterday. The fruit was in beautiful condition, very flavorful, with a nice, balanced tartness. Barrels are being prepared and will be filled with the juice tomorrow, and soon the fermentation will be underway. Crop level was down from last year by a bit more than 20 percent and so far that seems to be the rule for all the Sauvignon Blanc I've seen other winemakers pick.
Most likely my next pick will in seven to 10 days -- the last block of Sauvignon Blanc at Hyde Vineyards. I sampled it yesterday while the other block was being picked. Flavors are maturing but sugar is still a bit low and the acid is tart. This block contains older vines on a mixture of own roots and St. George rootstalk planted in soil with a bit more clay than what we picked yesterday. I will sample again on Saturday as we've had two or three very warm days, and a cooling trend will begin tomorrow. This will give the vines a chance to recover from the heat and also give me time to schedule a pick for next week if need be.
I also received some sampling numbers from Dalla Valle Vineyard today. There is one block of Cabernet Sauvignon that we may pick before September, but all the other blocks of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc will wait until after Sept. 1. I'm already seeing some nice movement in flavor development there.
Next week will bring the first sampling of Selene's Cabernet vineyards and the Bordeaux varieties at Bressler Vineyards.
Thursday, Aug. 12
My first pick will be next week: Sauvignon Blanc from two of the three Selene blocks at Hyde Vineyards in Carneros. The grapes' flavors are great -- we almost got them this week -- but they were still really tart.
Here in Napa Valley, most varieties that got through bloom during the warmer, early part of spring are running two to three weeks ahead of last year's schedule. That includes Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and some of the younger Bordeaux varieties. More mature Bordeaux vine varieties, especially in the up-valley areas are just now completing veraison, or color change, so they will probably be picked closer to last year's dates.
The last of the bottling is done, the 2002 and 2003 vintages have been racked and new barrels are arriving. I'm spending lots of time in the vineyard now, 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 and sampling Sauvignon Blanc for maturity. I'm also becoming a weather junkie, which happens every harvest.
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