September 30, 2019 15:52
The true colors of Fall through the prism of Zinfandel can mean the changing shades of the leaves from green to orange, yellow & red in the Mother Clone Zinfandel vineyard or the brilliant magenta hue of the fermenting Rosé. It is as much a part of life in Dry Creek Valley as it is when visiting the northeast and seeing the seasonal change in the trees during the fall. There’s a difference in the color palate of the hills too-the slant of the sun, the distance of sun from the earth and the late hanging fog all make for a myriad of colors and patterns and is why fall is my favorite of the seasons!
Here the deep purple color in the bunches is the harbinger of great flavor in the glass. As the juice and skins ferment together the resulting aspects of berry and spice come from this maceration and temperature controlled fermentation. Keeping things cool slows down the action of converting the natural sugar in the juice to alcohol.
The 'cap' consists of the skins rising to the top of the tank. Pumpovers ensure the juice is poured over the cap and in doing so absorbs more color and flavor.
The color of our Rosé of Zinfandel is another story entirely. Winemaker Montse Reece always takes a picture of it fermenting because it is so beautiful to her. For our style of Rosé the grapes are picked earlier than for red Zinfandel, not as ripe and allows more acidity which leads to a crisper fresher style. The juice tells the story, this is going to be a good year for this wine.
Finally, our Mother Clone Zinfandel vineyard in all her glory-fall and harvest reflected in the leaves.
September 30, 2019 15:49
We usually are wrapping things up as September comes to an end-but not this year. We didn’t pick our first grapes until September 4th and will be harvesting grapes until the 2nd week of October. Here are a few observations from the busy days of September-and a final wrap up of numbers for you coming your way soon.
If there is one word we can use for Vintage 2019 it is ‘steady’ and was coined by Mitch Blakeley, fourth generation family member, when he described this year’s harvest at a recent staff meeting. His role is to assist in the vineyard with his father (and our vineyard manager) Lance as well as in the cellar as needed. As a family business you need to be light on your toes and fast on your feet in order to respond to the many responsibilities that comes when the grapes are ripe.
The harvest really began months ago when our dormant vineyards were seeded with the heavy rainfall received in the winter which delayed the start of growth in the vineyard by a couple of weeks. While the steady and above-average rainfall (20 inches or more above the normal 40” average) was welcome and extended into May, the moderate growing season that followed was equally as important and the two factors are the reason for the full production the vines are producing in 2019. No heatwaves, no big cooling off, we had an evenhanded, nice and ‘steady’, growth and development in the vineyards.
Since the first day of picking grapes, which was also delayed by a couple of weeks (see the pattern?)- this sense of steadiness grew over the month. Each varietal like Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay or PInot Noir had its moment and was picked at the right time. We didn't pick our last Zinfandel block until the end of September which was a sign of the season and continued the pattern. Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Petite Sirah and our Portugeuse varietals are still hanging because of the cool temps at the end of the month. Mid-month there was higher heat which tilted some of our days over 100 degrees but just a few days-and all this did was speed things up a tad.
It isn't over until the last grape is picked, the last tank is fermented and the wines slowly make their way to bottle (Sauvignon Blanc and Rosé) or to barrel (Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon). I'll have more of the story behind the 2019 harvest next month.
August 27, 2019 13:35
Our first Zinfandel harvest was in 1927 shortly after my grandfather purchased the property. 92 years later we are still harvesting Zinfandel-the rest is our story.
During those early days, when Prohibition was still in place, the grapes were sold to head of households who had obtained their government permit to make 200 gallons of wine. From Repeal onward Zinfandel has been a central grape on our estate and in our line of wines. There are many high points and challenges in the last 92 years for this varietal when the grapes were selling for low prices, the yields weren’t as high as we wanted or the weather didn’t cooperate. Then there are glorious, highly lauded harvests, every farmer's dream, where the weather and growing season came together beautifully and produced a bounty of fruit perfectly ripened.
There are three generations of Zinfandel on our Home Ranch: the original dating to the early 1900s with very few vines left but most of them over 100 years old; the second generation, nearing 40 years old, was patterned after the original vineyard using budwood from the old vines as well as neighbor's vines and finally the newest which was planted with the Rockpile Clone, a hearty hillside choice with distinctive bunches and DNA to bring out the best in this grape. Known as our Mother Clone vineyard it is mostly head pruned (goblet trained or bush vine to the Aussies) along with some experimental blocks that are trellised.
As we get ready for vintage 2019 I am looking out over the Mother Clone Zinfandel vineyard. She has a lot of stories to tell! My grandfather's days of bringing in the boxes of grapes aided by the whole family including young sons John and Jim entailed great effort; son John's first crush as winemaker was in 1948 and he along with 2 other men processed 800 tons-as he said in his Oral History it was 'a heckuva crush'; Jim recalls very cold and rainy harvests especially in 1964 when it rained and made it difficult to ripen and pick-one of the latest harvests on record that year at the end of October; the drought of the mid-1970's which produced fabulous vintages but lower production; the 1980s at first brought above average rain and abundant harvests to a drought at the other end and 1985 stood out as the best of the decade for Zinfandel; on to the 1990s with the '97 vintage considered the 'vintage of the century' because everything aligned from production to perfect weather but there were other standouts like 1995 for Zinfandel-considered one of the best due to great growing conditions again; in the next decade we saw one of the earliest harvests on record (2004) and one of the best of the decade-2005 (there seems to be a theme of years ending in '5') with remarkable quantity and quality; the last 9 years have brought a long period of drought which in turn gave great concentration to our Zinfandels as well as a couple of heat spikes that virtually fried the vineyard after a long cool summer (2010) as well as high temperatures over the 2017 Labor Day Weekend prompting the vineyard and cellar crew to pick the Mother Clone vineyard as soon as possible.
Today I can see the vineyard is in the final week or two of ripening. I can tell by the way the canes are beginning to droop and the bunches are turning deep purple. This is turning out to be a good production year for our Zinfandel with a late start to the growing season and a normal picking time expected in a couple of weeks. My judgement on the vintage is reserved until after fermentation is over. I'll look forward to this vintage like my father and my grandfather before me-with a farmer's eye and an appreciative palate.
August 27, 2019 13:10
And it begins-the most exciting time of year for us as farmers. The grapes are ripe and they are ready for their moment in the tank. Time to shine as everything, from the crushpad to the presses to the fermenting tanks, is ready to process the grapes.
Our estate grown Sauvignon Blanc is always the first in to the winery each harvest. This year September 4 began vintage 2019 for us. With the late bud break through a fairly uneventful growing season this is right on track for a normal start date. In fact, I had to go back 14 years ago to the 2005 harvest to find a comparable start date of September! All the vintages from 2006 to 2018 began in August due to either warm weather or the drought years.
What's next? It will be soon be followed by Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer (for friends.white) and Pinot Noir and 11 other varietals we harvest.
Thoughts on the growing season: it was mostly an even one with a few heat spikes towards the end of August. The marine fog intrusion made it bearable for the vines by cooling things off once the sun set and kept a cool blanket of fog until around 9 in the morning aiding in the all important development of sugars, acid and phenols. The word is we have an above average crop in almost all of our varietals. We'll have a final wrap up when the last grape is picked to give a more indepth look at vintage 2019.
I'll let the photos below tell the story. It begins in the vineyard with the crew-thanks to their hard work. They began at 6:30am and the first two gondolas were brought in by 10am. The sample is taken from the gondola by vineyard foreman Manuel Diaz for analysis. Winemaker Montse Reece tests for sugar, acid and pH and she told me she is very happy with the results of this first load of Sauvignon Blanc. Next on to the crushpad where Cellarmaster Polo Cano prepares to transfer the grapes to the crusher. The fruit is destemmed and sent to the press where the skins and seeds are removed. We'll follow the juice as it ferments in the cellar over the next couple of weeks. Vineyard Manger Lance Blakeley, Polo Cano, Mitch Blakeley and Manuel Diaz discuss the next grape loads for the day. The stems, in the last photo, will be taken out to dry and will be spread along the vineyard avenues later on this year.
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