• Barreling Through The Years

    February 27, 2018 15:30

    Barreling Through The Years

    Barrel time in wine country is important enough to have its’ own celebration in the form of two Barrel Tasting weekends in March. 41 years ago the Barrel Tasting, originally sponsored by the then Russian River Wine Road (now simply Wine Road) a group of wineries located near the Russian River, began as a way for people to discover northern Sonoma County. 41 years ago there were less wineries hence wines to try-it was at the beginning of the wine renaissance here. Today you have the joy of discovering new and old friends in the mix with over 100 wineries thieving samples out of the barrel for you. The event takes place between Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River Valleys.

    Back in those early years there were less than 30 wineries participating. I have been here for 33 years and have worked a majority of those weekends. We went from trying to keep up with cleaning glasses to having folks ‘BYOG’ followed quickly by the first branding efforts with an official logo glass for $5. Numbers of wineries now range over 120 participating! Futures were added later on and not much has changed except the number people attending going from 100 to 25,000 at the peak in 2008. These days we see less people than at the peak-much less-which in turn gives us more time for visitors to taste and ask questions. Winemakers and cellar crews stand at the ready to talk about the wine and process of barrel aging. Join us this year as we feature the Past, Present and Future of our Alto Vineyards Sangiovese-a library release, our current 2015 vintage and the 2016 still in barrel. A splash of Sangiovese in my Dino with a toast to 40 more years of barrel tasting.

    **You still have time if you want to attend, tickets are sold at the door.

  • Micro Climates

    January 15, 2016 18:10

    Following the Wednesday post about climate, which here in Dry Creek Valley gives us great weather to grow everything from Chardonnay to Zinfandel, today’s topic is micro-climates found within each area of our vineyard.

    Climate brings to the weather plate the following: fog, sunshine and a number of degree days for the growing season (Dry Creek Valley being ranked a Region II which makes a warm but not hot growing area), and rain. Climate affects all areas of agriculture or even your own backyard.

    A micro climate encompasses a certain vineyard or even vineyard block. We have three specific ranches with a variety of varietals planted. While the climate influences what we plant, the micro climate of a hillside dictates to us (with 88 years of grape growing experience) that Zinfandel, for example, is a good fit because the conditions are just right. The combination of the sun, fog and soil makes the best Zinfandel in our opinion with support of the micro-climate.

    We have planted other wine grapes on different areas of our vineyards and have learned the conditions weren’t quite right. We planted Chardonnay in the northern warmer end of Dry Creek Valley and learned Cabernet Sauvignon was the better choice and now thrives there. We depend on our growers in the southern cooler end of the valley to grow our Chardonnay now. Micro-climates are varietals’ best friend bringing out the great qualities in our grapes. Cheers with a splash of Chardonnay in my Dino.

    The fog during the growing season is a key factor of climate and micro climate in our Sangiovese vineyard.

    Sangiovese in Vineyard

  • Harvest Know how: Berry Maturity

    September 4, 2015 14:24

    Grapes, like most growing things, have stages they will go through in order to achieve the desired combination of ripeness for a specific wine. I chose today’s post to take a look at our Sangiovese and how it achieves proper maturity for our Alto Vineyards selection.

    The four stages of development in grapes range from the green stage, the ripening stage, the ripe stage and the overripe stage. Obviously we target the ripe stage because in this state the resulting wine will benefit greatly when sugar, acid and pH are at their optimum levels. Like the story of the three bears, you want the fruit not too sharp (acidic or green), not overly ripe (alcoholic), but just right.

    The composition of a berry on a bunch is comprised of seeds (10%), skin (5-12%), juice (containing fructose and glucose), many nutrients and minerals in minuscule amounts, and water (70-80%). You’ll see in the photo below I have cut a berry in half and then taken out the seeds. These are chestnut brown color; this color is one of the ways to determine the right moment to pick. Sampling, as seen in a previous post, will confirm when the fruit is ready by measuring the sugar, acidity and pH.

    Once the fruit was destemmed at the crush pad, the Sangiovese berries (juice, skins, seeds) made their way to the fermenting tank. Here the cellar crew takes an overall look at the combined Brix (sugar), acidity and pH of the 15.1 tons in the tank. There is a total Brix (sugar) of 25.2, total acidity of .765 and pH of 3.11. Over the next 10 days or so, in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks, the fermentation process will convert the sugar to alcohol and it is recorded as seen in the form below.

    Sangiovese Chart

    To give you an idea of these three components in a finished wine here are the stats on our 2012 Sangiovese: alcohol (formerly known as Brix) 14.1%, total acidity is .690g and pH is 3.43. A splash of Sangiovese in my Dino as the harvest continues.

  • Harvest Know-How: Waiting

    August 7, 2015 15:01

    This month the theme is harvest know-how and today’s topic is waiting. Patience is a virtue especially when it comes to the starting date of harvest. Tom Petty had it right when he sang “the waiting is the hardest part”. Lance our vineyard manager and his crew are out testing the vineyard blocks for ripeness and keeping an eye on things between our vineyards and our grower’s grapes. He works with Montse to target a picking date but it seems we’ll be waiting another 10 days or so, depending on the weather and other conditions.

    Now the vineyard crew is kept busy pulling leaves to expose the ripening fruit to the full benefit of the sun, the cellar crew is wrapping up bottling because they won’t begin this process again until November, following the final pressing of new wine and gearing back up for the next tank of finished wine. Preparation of the crush area as well as repair on any of the equipment is in the last stages, deep cleaning is taking place in the cellar. We’re anticipating a somewhat early harvest and stand ready for the first load of fruit to cross the crush pad. A toast to waiting for the perfect moment to pick.

    The vineyards are slowly ripening with our warm days and fog-infused nights. Seen here is our Sangiovese terraces in late morning as the fog burns away.

    Sangiovese in Fog

  • Varietally speaking: Sangiovese

    May 20, 2015 16:44

    Sangiovese is the focus varietal for today’s blog post featuring of the different grapes we grow. In the early 1990’s John Pedroncelli wanted to add an Italian varietal, in honor of our heritage, to our home ranch vineyard. We planted the first 2 acres in 1993 and it took to the hillside as if it were home. We named it Alto Vineyard, and soon another 3 acres followed on two other hills. We went into the California Chianti business. Yes, this grape is the backbone of Italy’s Chianti region. In number of acres planted in California, it is most widely planted in Sonoma County with 365 acres scattered around the many appellations in our county with a healthy amount taking root right here in Dry Creek Valley. The vineyard crew has learned these vines like to start early-usually the first at bud break and needs some hang-time on the vine to ripen properly-this is a high acid grape and the longer it hangs with the right climate the better it gets. You could say it is a vineyard I have seen mature from the early astringent days when we added Merlot to soften it to the recent 2012 vintage where it stands on its own as a true California Chianti with bright acidity balanced with perfectly ripened fruit. Now for a toast to our heritage!

    Our Alto Vineyards Sangiovese hugs the hillside terraces.

    Sangiovese Vineyards

  • Varietally Speaking

    December 16, 2014 12:25

    Funny story about Sangiovese. Almost 15 years ago, I read an article predicting the next popular wines. At that time, Syrah was riding high, it was before the movie Sideways so Pinot Noir was still a sleeper, and Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot were holding their positions as top selling wines. A wine writer wrote that two wines were up and comers and were about to sweep these other wines off the map: Sangiovese and Pinot Grigio. I became hopeful that our new addition of Alto Vineyards Sangiovese, first released in 1999, would do well.

    Well I am here to tell you that while Pinot Grigio did well the wine buying public didn’t receive the memo about Sangiovese. In fact many of the vineyards planted back then have made way for other, perhaps better known varietals. I think it doesn’t quite have a hook like California’s own Zinfandel or familiarity of Cabernet Sauvignon. It is the grape that made a region in Italy famous: Chianti. When I talk to sales representatives and retailers about carrying our California Chianti I urge them to become a Sangiovese champion because it is a unique wine in a sea of others. I believe our estate vineyards are producing some of the best California-style Chianti on the market. Planted to three areas on our home ranch the vineyard has thrived. This is one of my favorite wines to pour in our tasting room. Taste it for yourselves with a toast to heritage and choices in the vast world of wine.

    One of our Alto vineyards on our home ranch, you see the terraces of Sangiovese atop our Mother Clone vineyard.

    Sangiovese Vineyards

  • Make Way, make way

    October 9, 2014 15:14

    We don’t replant too often on our home ranch. Our 20-year-old Petite Sirah vineyard had come to an end because of an extensive virus and was pulled up last year to make way for a new planting. Before we pulled up the old fading vineyard (which was really quite lovely in the fall with its' scarlet leaves) we had already replanted a section equal in size across Canyon Creek to this grape. We now have a very healthy five year old vineyard producing some great fruit. So what do we do with this bare hillside? First we let the soil rest for over a year. Shortly after this year’s harvest, our Vineyard Manager Lance says he’ll be planting rootstock, the foundation of all vineyards. He chose St. George rootstock because it is a more vigorous one for hillsides—which can be tough on vine growth. Next we’ll have to decide what varietal we’ll want to plant. The budwood will be grafted onto the rootstock next year. We won’t expect a full crop off of this vineyard for 4-5 years and it will reach maturity in 7.  Leave a comment below, and if you guess the correct varietal when the vines are planted I’ll send you a little memento.

    In the photo below, the old Petite Sirah is below the yellow vines (Sangiovese) on the left. A toast to new plantings in my Dino!

    Petite Sirah and Sangiovese