Vintage Year

  • The Vintage Tells the Story

    March 26, 2019 14:07

    The Vintage Tells the Story

    A year or so ago when talking to winemaker Montse Reece about our Zinfandel she summed it all up in one phrase: Zinfandel tells the story of every vintage. She said the wine, as it is poured into the glass and tasted, reflects what happened in the particular year from the growing season to the harvest season with the challenges and opportunities each one brings. Three of our recent vintages, 2015, 2016 and 2017, tell their own stories too. I’ll recapture what was going on in each of them and hope you’ll gain a deeper understanding of the road from budbreak to grapes to wine.

    2015 This was at the apex of the drought which began in 2012 and finally ended in 2017. The years in between saw the vines beginning to be stressed especially since 2014 had very little rain-less than half of the average amount. 2015 didn’t see much more. The vintage was defined by the drought with an early and fast growing season. We had early bud break followed by a warm growing season which turned hot and sped up the picking of the grapes-we finished harvest before September was over-typically we finish in October. Now this is the background of the vintage and a prelude of the fruit we took in that year. Vines were producing less of a crop-somewhere between 20-40% less. What this meant to the quality of the grapes and ensuing wine is a higher concentration of fruit because of the lower yields. Montse notes in her background on the vintage, “Mild acids, round tannins and high intensity of color and flavors dominate in this vintage.”

    2016 We see the beginning of the end of the drought in this vintage’s story. The winter brought enough rain to give the vineyards a good soaking and their recovery from the stress of the drought was apparent in the yields which were considered average. The wet spring gave way to an even growing season over the summer followed by an early start to harvest-because of a warm end of summer. Notes from Montse encapsulate it best: “Excellent quality, high intensity of aromas and bright acids.” In a nutshell 2016, while less concentrated, gained the development from a good amount of rain, an even growing season and the resulting wines reflect great character and depth of fruit.

    2017 Begins its’ story with double the average rainfall in the winter leading to a stress free growing season with vineyards being revitalized and nutrition restored. Montse wrote: “Rains during winter and the growing season helped restore the normal acid levels in the grapes.” She also wraps up the harvest and vintage in three words, “Concentration, Good and Heatwave”. We did get hit over Labor Day weekend just as harvest was moving along and some vineyards, not yet picked, were subject to high temperatures over three days. The race was on to make room in the cellar and pull in the grapes as they ripened and were ready for harvest. Overall this vintages’ story is one of extremes from an abundance of rain to the heatwave. The wine’s character, says Montse, has “deep aromatics, soft tannins and high acidity”. Hallmarks of a tasty vintage just waiting to be explored.

  • 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!


  • OTBN Pt. 2

    February 26, 2016 17:25

    Open That Bottle Night is tomorrow night, the 27th of February. This is a fun way to take a look at the wines you have stored or saved over the years-and even if you don’t have a cellar or closet to age wine pick something up you haven’t tried before.

    In the case you have an older vintage on your hands remember to check a few things out: fill level of bottle or any leaks through the cork. If you have a two-pronged wine opener this is best for older corks but careful use of a regular corkscrew should to the trick. Decant if you like although I think the aromas of an older vintage (15-20-30 years old) tends to dissipate quickly. Needless to say don’t linger over an aged wine-it is delicate in its old age.

    I am at this moment looking at an empty bottle of the 1972 Pinot Noir, one of which we bought at your winery. My husband is now gone and I decided to try it to see if it as still drinkable. Well, it is the most fabulous wine I had ever tasted and I drank it at the rate of about an inch an evening. Thank your family for such a wonderful experience. Geraldine W.

    Re: 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon: Opened tonight with little hope that it would still be drinkable. Amazingly alive and vibrant. Tastes 20 yrs younger You guys are good. Charles J.

    I recently drank a 1978 bottle of your Cabernet Sauvignon & it was terrific! I found it in a wine rack in the garage of an old house near Eugene, Oregon, which hadn't been lived in for over 10 years. It had undergone winter lows of about 20 degrees & summer highs of 90 - 100 degrees. This is approximate, but it would be simple enough to check the weather history. Bill M. (while we don’t recommend our Cabernet be aged this way I am glad it tasted good!)

    And the highly unusual for a 23 year old white wine:

    My wife and i just opened a bottle of 1985 Chenin Blanc that my father was keeping in his celler these past few years (23). We had the pleasure of opening this bottle tonight and it was excellent. We normally drink your cab, but very much enjoyed this bottle. Thank you, your family, and hard working staff for the wonderful wines you bring into this world. Bill & Diana T.

    A toast in my Dino with a bottle of 2004 Mother Clone Zinfandel-that is the plan for tomorrow night!

    1973 Cabernet Sauvignon

  • OTBN Pt. 1

    February 24, 2016 17:29

    Open That Bottle Night (OTBN for short) is scheduled for Saturday February 27. Here is a link to the people and the history behind it, Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher. I am championing this event because I think those of us who love wine have stored away a bottle or two, saving it for a special day. OTBN is that special day when hundreds, maybe thousands, of wine lovers will be opening their special bottle along with us.

    Gather friends or loved ones close and have a few things on hand in case they are needed. First check the bottle you’d like to open and make sure the wine is sound by checking the fill level or if there are any leaks around the capsule/cork. Have a two pronged opener in case the cork is old and delicate-wines over 20 years old would be in this category as the cork ages too! If you have a decanter use it on wines less than 10 vintages old-older than this the decanting might aerate the delicate aromas away. As the OTBN rules suggest, have a ‘plan B’ wine on hand in case the first one has gone over the hill. Have fun with this-I’ll be posting my bottle on Friday and opening it Saturday night. A toast to older vintages and special wines!

    Here is a bottle we opened with friends from Amathus Drinks who were visiting us this week from England-it was truly enjoyed by all. The wine was sound, the fruit and oak notes still alive, yet the tannin had softened up quite a bit making it all the more enjoyable.

    1995 Cabernet Sauvignon

    Say hello to our friends Lucy, to my left, my husband Ed, Leo, Lee and Will. We had a smashing dinner!

    Dinner Group Feb 2016


  • Messages in a bottle

    November 25, 2015 12:09

    Today I am including a note from one of our many customers who opened a bottle long kept in their cellar. It takes a special appreciation for these older wines because they have lost the fruitiness of their youth and developed many other characteristics while quietly aging away in someone’s cellar. I read many articles about aging ability of red wines. There is always a discussion about what is needed in order for the wine to age gracefully and resulting in a wine you can appreciate if not enjoy.

    So I have received these ‘third party endorsements’ of those who have waited patiently to try, in this case a 42 year old Cabernet. Each one of the messages (with photos) are always complimentary as you’ll see in this quote from Charles J. MD: “Opened tonight with little hope that it would still be drinkable. Amazingly alive and vibrant. Tastes 20 yrs younger. You guys are good.” Thanks Charles!

    This shows our wines are aging gracefully with thanks to my Uncle John who made this wine all those years ago with an eye towards balance. As you celebrate the holidays and have a gem in the cellar go ahead and open it up and share with family and friends. I’ll have a splash of Cabernet in celebration of messages in bottles. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

    1973 Cabernet Sauvignon


  • 2015 vs 2012

    October 2, 2015 13:59

    More harvest know-how continues in my blog this month along with other cellar and vineyard post-season matters. Today I am comparing the difference between Cabernet Sauvignon which has just completed its’ fermentation process and gone through the press with a current release that is three years older. The new wine has just spent 10 days in a temperature controlled stainless steel tank with the cap of skins where all the color and flavor is stored. Pumpovers each day ensure the juice is in frequent contact with the cap. The differences aren’t too far apart when you look at the depth of color in the glasses-it is quite opaque. I see the real difference in the rim of the wine.

    2015 vs 2012

    The brilliant purple color of the new wine contrasts with the browner, reddish tones of the Cabernet that has been aged for one year in oak and bottle aged for another. In a few months the new Cabernet will be put to bed for its’ year in oak around January. The process of aging the wine will soften it, the color will also change from the deep purple to a red or garnet hue through the slow oxidation over the twelve months. When the wine is bottled and continues aging it also begins to change color but this is a slow process, taking several years, and ultimately fades a bit with time.

    1974 Cabernet Sauvignon

    Thanks to Robert F. for sending the photo of our 1974 Cabernet-you can see the color change in this now 40 year old wine. A splash of Cabernet, young or old, in my Dino today!

  • OTBN-What are you saving it for?

    February 27, 2015 17:01

    Ed and I have collected wines here and there during our 25 years of marriage. I hesitate to open some of them because, in some cases, we waited too long. There are great memories associated with several of these bottles, others in our collection were given as gifts, some I don’t remember where they came from. It is a gamble I’ll be taking come this Saturday, the official Open That Bottle Night. Whatever the case, the wonderful thing about opening a cellar jewel is memories like who you were with, where you were or who gave it to you. Think of opening an aged or old bottle of wine as an adventure in taste. You’re not really sure what you’ll find but you may be rewarded with a gem! Don’t be afraid to open your bottle but have a back-up in case it has become like Elvis and left the building. I’ll be with my family enjoying a bottle of 1977 Cabernet Sauvignon, toasting the memory of my uncle John and celebrating his winemaking legacy.

    For guidelines click here

    We opened this bottle at Bern's Steakhouse in Florida a couple of years ago.

    1968 Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Aging Wine: The Good, Bad and Ugly

    February 24, 2015 17:05

    The Good: (From 2013) "I just wanted to share my experience with you. I am stuck in a bit of an aftermath from the recent snow, so I have not been able to restock in the last week. I have been dipping into the cellar reserve (and found) the 1994 Three Vineyards “Special Vineyard Selection” Cab. Needless to say, it has endured the years and poured most perfectly into my glass before I affirmed the reason I bought it in the first place." Blogger’s note: Great news! Our wines have the structure to age gracefully.

    The Bad: (From 2003) "My parents are moving after more than 30 years. We found a bottle of 1973 Pedroncelli Zinfandel that had been in their cellar since they bought it. I wanted to know if that much age is good for your zinfandel. Or from 2004: "I found this bottle of wine, 1976 Pedroncelli Zinfandel, on my trash route. I was just wondering how much this bottle of wine would be worth." Blogger’s note: Sometimes we lose out because we waited too long. I usually suggest a Zinfandel be consumed 5-8 years after release especially if you like the fruit component.

    The Ugly: (From 2011) "I received as a gift a bottle of your 1993 (!) Primavera Mista Original White Wine Blend and it has many suspended particles in it. It looks like the cork may have deteriorated. Otherwise it looks to be OK. Can you please tell me if this wine is still expected to be OK and if so how best for me to remove the particles in it to try it?" (From 2005) "We got the bottle of 1975 Pinot Noir out of our wine storage. The neck/cork was protected by the old lead foil. The big disappointment, the cork had rotted, and was soft, soggy, moldy and the wine ruined. The 4-5 tiny pin prick holes on the top of the foil showed no sign of wine leakage and the bottle appeared full." Blogger’s note: you win some and you lose some. These were total losses in the quality category. Some white wines are not made to age and other times there are closure failures.

    The moral of the story? Open those bottles before they go bad. I’ll have a couple of more stories on Thursday and a special announcement of what bottle I’ll be opening! Open That Bottle Night: February 28.

    1985 Cabernet Sauvignon


  • Time in the Bottle

    September 30, 2014 15:31

    Library wines, cellar picks, those wines you’ve saved but now don’t know how they have fared while in your closet, basement or beside your fridge. I have received many emails over the years about our wines they have found in their parent's cellar, in a dusty corner of a store or they have received as a gift. Usually the sender asks about quality of the wine giving me the vintage and name in order to find out more.

    Rule of thumb when it comes to that dusty jewel from your basement: check cork for leakage, check fill level in bottle (should be ½ to 3/4 inch from cork), ask yourself what the temperature was in the storage area: constant and cool or was the wine put through the seasons with ranges in temperatures matching the cold or heat outside. Usually you'll see signs of leakage around the capsule or a low-fill level in the bottle-these don't always mean it is a lost cause but can be indicators of a wine beyond its' time.

    What does an older vintage wine smell and taste like? Nothing like the 2012 Zinfandel or Cabernet Sauvignon you just drank. Time in the bottle means some things change: ripe fruit often turns to dried fruit notes, toasty oak turns to cedar or tobacco, the wine softens as the tannins age gracefully and move on to a supporting role. The taste is different too—more delicate, less overwhelming in some cases. Aged wines aren't for everyone because so often we enjoy the flavor of wines just released or a year or too older. Here's to older vino in my Dino!

    1985 Cabernet Sauvignon