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Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Rolling with the Crew: Machine Harvesting

    August 24, 2018 10:59

    Rolling with the Crew: Machine Harvesting

    The way grapes are picked has changed over the years going from hand harvesting for centuries to machine harvesting which began more than 30 years ago in the vineyard. The decreasing labor force, and increasing costs have been an issue for grape growers for more than a decade.

    Fortunately, machine harvesting has advanced at a similar pace. Increased harvesting quality and cost reductions make this a real and worthy option. Considering the improved quality of mechanical harvesting, and the shrinking labor force machine harvesting brings three things to the crushpad: picking the grapes at night allows the cellar to process cooler (temperature) fruit which maintains quality; technology has come a long way bringing with it more precise results in the field (cleaner pick without leaves/sticks and more careful passes through the rows without taking out a vine arm) and finally harvesting a vineyard is accomplished much faster than a team of people hand harvesting-by 50%.

    When our vineyard manager Lance replanted a block of Cabernet Sauvignon he trained it so that in a few years it could be machine harvested. The results, two years ago, were positive all the way around from the standpoint that it picked the block in half the time and winemaker Montse was happy with the quality of the fruit that came in from the night harvest. Along with the Cabernet block we are adding one section of our Sauvignon Blanc vineyard to be harvested by machine this vintage. Our Merlot will soon be picked this way as well because the vineyard crew has begun cane pruning the blocks in preparation for a machine to roll through in the coming harvests.

    Machines, however, only do well on flat pieces of land. Our hillside Mother Clone Zinfandel will always need to be hand-picked hence much of the Home Ranch (about 90%) will need a labor force to help pick. We have a strong sense of tradition. Knowing that we'll be hand-harvesting the home ranch into the foreseeable future is okay with us. There is something wonderful about handling each bunch, even if it is a nod to the traditions of the past.

  • Cabernet for Days

    July 26, 2018 13:54

    Cabernet for Days

    I consider myself lucky being here in the wine country. Invitations for tastings like the Cabernet Sauvignon Round Up hosted at Passalacqua Winery featured mostly Dry Creek Valley Cabernets with a sprinkling of some ‘outsiders’ from the Alexander, Russian River and Napa Valleys.

    I tasted through Cabernets ranging from a 2011 vintage to 2015 with a library 2007 thrown in for good measure as well as a magnum. It was a wide-ranging field for the King of Red Wines. I sipped and spit my way through 33 of them and came across some favorites. And to be fair I will not be ‘naming names’ because I didn’t take extensive notes (I was 'speed tasting') and because I wanted to just take notes about Cabernet Sauvignon without the brand being a thing.

    The first wine that stood out to me was the one from the 2011 vintage. This was a cooler vintage and in fact it rained on a lot of Cabernet as most of the fruit wasn’t ready to be picked and had to wait out the rain, the ensuing mud and we all wanted it to ripen up a bit more before taking in the grapes. This one had what I thought was the perfect ‘dried cherry’ center. It was the lightest in color of all the others, wasn’t overwhelmed by new oak and when tasted left the most pleasant cherry essence. I immediately thought it would pair well with grilled salmon. The second wine that claimed my palate was a 2013 from an area of Dry Creek Valley that is quite steep. It had all the qualities I look for in Cabernet-it had dark fruits like plum and berry but tinged by a touch of tannin which balanced with the correct acidity. I thought of a pork chop and mushroom sauce.

    A third from the 2015 vintage seemed to embrace the personality of the vineyard, located mid-valley, and featured the concentration this vintage is known for (the drought reduced production and the resulting wine, without enough rain, showed intense fruit). With that in mind I paired this with tri tip and roasted potatoes.

    One from 2014 kept drawing another sniff of the glass. Concentrated like the 2015 vintage it was softer and more supple with those dark fruits showing through like boysenberry pie. This would go well with prime rib or a t-bone steak.

    Others reflected oak notes both big and bold as well as soft and muted. Overall I could detect that bit of rotundone (think peppery) in most of them-except for the 2015s which were the most concentrated. That hint of herb defines Dry Creek Valley Cabernet for me and sets it apart from other appellations that are warmer and to the east of us. I appreciated the chance to taste and compare.

    Cabernet Round Up

  • The Dating Game

    May 26, 2017 11:06

    The Dating Game

    The other day when taking guests on a tour of the cellar and other winery buildings we walked by a display of older vintages and labels from the 1960s through 1980s in our case goods warehouse. Since vintages are a part of my everyday life I tossed off a few points about the label changes over the years and the vintages themselves recalling if a particular vintage was considered ‘great’ or otherwise.

    I also pointed out the first year we vintage dated our wine which was 1965. Before this year we didn’t use vintages on our labels. The question came up ‘why is it important to feature the year on the label’? I pointed out it is tradition in the larger world of wine. We’ll often read about the great vintage years of (fill in the blank) or the bad years of… A few hundred years ago the first wines were vintage dated. Now we rely on this information to indicate a years' influence like the drought in 2015 or rain in 1989. Portugal declares 'vintage years' to signal exceptional quality. As a general rule, with a little digging on the internet, you can find out more about the growing and harvest conditions of each year which in turn will let you know what went on while the grapes were developing or being picked. 

    There are a couple of reasons why we didn’t date our wines before this point. One was we were making generic wines in gallons and half gallons and people were drinking these right away and not aging them. Going back even farther there wasn’t a need to vintage date as my grandfather literally bottled up the wine for them upon arrival-no vintage necessary as it was from the latest harvest and the label consisted of the name of the winery, the cellar number 113 and the town/state. We began dating our wines when the second generation, John and Jim, began the transition from jug wines to bottling our wines in cork finished bottles. It was with the idea that they would possibly be aged and, I suppose, it became more in vogue to put the vintage on the label making our wine more upscale as the U.S. market became educated about wine and labels. 

    A toast in my Dino with a splash of 1966 Cabernet Sauvignon-a very good year!