• The D Word

    February 28, 2018 14:15

    The D Word

    Drought. The word is bandied about these days as we look to the last significant month in our rain cycle. March is usually the final frontier when it comes to the rain season. If we haven’t had enough (and we haven’t) then this is the last stand to make up for the small amount we have received so far. In fact the warm weather (in the 70s) we had in February almost made our vines think it was spring.

    We’ve had between 12 and 13 inches of rain this season. Average rainfall is around 30 inches. That’s why the dreaded D-word ‘drought’ is now being used. While considered moderate we’ll need a few more inches to even get close to normal.

    From the California Department of Water Resources comes this when defining drought for our state, “California is no stranger to drought; it is a recurring feature of our climate. We recently experienced the 5-year event of 2012-2016, and other notable historical droughts included 2007-09, 1987-92, 1976-77, and off-and-on dry conditions spanning more than a decade in the 1920s and 1930s. Paleoclimate records going back more than 1,000 years show many more significant dry periods. The dry conditions of the 1920s-30s, however, were on a par with the largest 10-year droughts in the much longer paleoclimate record.”

    The great amount of rain we received in 2017, while a distant memory, is something that isn’t repeated too often. The good news is it filled up reservoirs and even recharged groundwater storage in some places which is an important if unseen effect-without underground water the wells so many of us rely on for farming would affect our ability to deliver water when most needed.

    It remains to be seen what March will bring. We all hope for more rain to give the vines and other agricultural crops the water they need.

  • Trimming the Vine

    December 11, 2015 11:21

    Trimming vines is a months-long occupation for the vineyard crew beginning typically in November. Since it has been raining the last few days all pruning of the vines has ceased for the moment. Once the vines and ground have dried out a bit the crew will be back out in the vineyard. I discussed pruning last week and how a vine goes dormant after the first cold snap, usually happening in November.

    This week the subject is what happens with those canes. Spur pruning the head pruned vines on the home ranch requires the knowledge of where to make changes in the direction of the vine arm for optimal growth and ripening as well as leaving two buds on each arm for the 2016 crop. Canes are piled between the vines and in the old days were burned in large piles. In recent years, with an eye toward sustainability as well as sparing the air, the canes are chopped and left in the vineyard as mulch. A toast to the hardworking crew and vines with splash of vino in my Dino!

    Canes before

    Canes after

  • Fall Colors

    November 13, 2015 12:40

    Fall. My favorite season and rightly so. The days are crisp and cool, the oak trees and vineyards begin their journey to winter and after our early November rainfall the air is acrid, damp and full of promise.

    Fall color in the vineyard means bright bands of yellow or brown as the leaves age and begin to fall. While white wine varietal vines go from green to yellow (and curiously our Sangiovese does the same) the red wine varietals sometimes exhibit bright red or purple if it is virused, more red-brown if not. The bright red color is due to leafroll virus that is prevalent in many vines old or new. While driving through Napa yesterday I came upon the most scarlet colored vineyard I had ever seen. While striking it is a result of this disease and cannot be stopped unless the vineyard is replaced.

    The photo below is a view of our home ranch vineyard and includes a few varietals as you can see by the different bands of color. At the top are two of our Portuguese varietals and as you come down the hill you'll see a red (virused) strip of Petite Sirah followed by the yellow-green of Sangiovese. In the foreground are some of our Zinfandel vines showing a bit of virus.

    A toast to all the colors of fall with a splash of Zinfandel in my Dino.

    Fall Color on Vineyard

  • Vineyard in the Fall: Making Amendments

    November 6, 2015 13:20

    Fall colors don't just happen in New England. The changes in the season here in Dry Creek Valley include cool days in the 60s, color changes in the vine leaves and oak trees, rain and the ensuing aromatics the damp ground gives up as I walk the vineyard lanes.

    Making amendments means some parts of vineyards need additional help following the grape harvest. Soils were a bit more stressed from the drought and growing season and showed it. In some blocks of our 30 acres of Zinfandel we make these amendments in the fall shortly after harvest in order to distress the soil. It comes in the form of lime, hence the white powder you see in the photo below. This feeds the soil the nutrients it needs.

    While there isn’t much virus in this part of our Mother Clone vineyard, usually seen in the brilliant purple/red/orange leaves, the addition of nutrients keeps it healthy for another vintage. I'll have a splash of Mother Clone Zinfandel in a toast to fall.

    MC Zin Vineyard in Fall

  • 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.

  • Hitting the Brix

    August 13, 2015 14:56

    Sampling the grapes from a vineyard block determines how ready or close we are to picking them. Today’s post is about vineyard sampling.

    Judging when a varietal is ready for harvest is crucial. There are quite a few headlines about early harvest this year but keep in mind that many of these vineyards are destined for sparkling wine production. Needless to say we’ll be harvesting our first grapes, Sauvignon Blanc, next Monday. This is a few days earlier than last year but not the earliest on record-that would be August 11, 2004. Taking a vineyard sample is the way all wineries determine when to pick.

    So how is it done? The vineyard manager or foreman will walk through a vineyard block to take a sampling of berries from random vines, culling a good cross section of grapes. The sample is brought back to the winery and analyzed in the lab. There are three main and very important indicators from the sample: brix (sugar), titratable acidity and pH. Ideally the winemaker wants all three to be in balance-you may have the sugar but are lacking perhaps in acidity. The waiting begins as the sampling takes place over the course of a couple of weeks leading up to the big day. Of course you can always test berries in the field using a refractometer which will give you a quick reading. For accuracy’s sake the lab test helps determine the optimum levels in the three important areas indicating the right time to pick. Here is a great video (a very geeky one in my opinion, love the voice-over) on how it is done, thanks to Yakima Valley Community College. A toast to harvest as we get closer to our 2015 vintage.

    A beauty shot of our Merlot from a previous vintage looking luscious.

    Merlot grapes bunch

  • Harvest Know-How: Growing Season

    August 5, 2015 15:06

    This month’s theme is a behind-the-scene look at harvest and everything leading up to it. Today’s post is about the growing season and what we have experienced so far.

    The growing season stretches from bud-break to the first grapes harvested. After that we usually refer to it as the harvest season and all the successes and challenges of that time period. Bud break occurred very early this year where some of the vines were coming out of dormancy in the very beginning of March, about 3 weeks early because of the warm winter weather. It felt like spring in February. This was followed by bloom and crop set taking place over April and May, also a bit earlier than normal. The ensuing weather during June and July gave us some warm to hot days, some as high as 102 while others were in the 80’s. The vineyards then experienced veraison -the period when the hard green berries on the developing bunches start to soften and turn color. Another influence over this season was the drought we are currently experiencing.

    Here are two views of the upcoming harvest as outlined by our winemaker Montse Reece and Vineyard Manager Lance Blakeley at the end of July:

    Montse said, “We are 2-3 weeks to harvest of our Sauvignon Blanc. Yields overall are average. We do have smaller berries due in part to the drought. With less water in the berries they are more concentrated. We will be picking as early as possible to avoid high alcohols in the wine.”

    Lance said, “Early-around August 14-18 for Sauvignon Blanc. Quality looks very good but yields are lighter-Zin off 10% from last year. Vines are averaging themselves out from the larger crops in 2012 and 2013. As to the drought, this year we have been affected less than last year because we had more rainfall but we followed the extreme water-saving model from 2013 where we set up shorter water cycles and tried to stretch the intervals as best we can. We watch for yellowing leaves (a sign of vine stress) and cut back overall. We noticed smaller berries from shattering in the spring and think the grapes will achieve good ripeness in spite of some challenges.”

    A toast to the upcoming harvest with some vino in my Dino.

    Here is a comparison of Cabernet Sauvignon, on the left, and Zinfandel on the right. These were taken in July and show the process of veraison, a pivotal point in the growing season.

    Cab Sauv vs Zin

  • Wrapping up Down to Earth Month

    April 30, 2015 13:21

    Today is the final day of Down to Earth Month. I've covered a few of the ways we remain sustainable. Water…Energy…Community these three all play an integral role as we take on the certification of our vineyards and winery. While all three have been a focus for us it is clear we need to continue our efforts in all categories. We practice what we preach both at the winery and in our homes-much like you do by recycling, cutting down on water use (especially if you are a Californian), and working with the community to find ways of being better at conservation. I’d like to share an example of how things change when we become aware of taking care of our planet. When Adrienne and Joe were in grade school (this is in the early 1990s) the idea of curbside recycling was just beginning to take root. Joe came home one day really fired up about recycling-I realized it had not been a focus for Adrienne’s class just two years earlier. It impressed me at the time because until it had filtered down and become part of our education it wasn’t on our collective radar. Now recycling is second nature both at home and at the winery where we choose ecologically better sources or products, lower our impact on energy use and save water, maintain open spaces and more. I’ve said it before, we are in it for the long-term both for the good of our home and future generations. A toast to Down To Earth Month, may we celebrate it every day.

    Mother Clone Zinfandel, Home Ranch.

    MC Zin single vine


  • Flora & Fauna

    April 24, 2015 13:36

    We own 180 acres between three properties and not every inch is planted to vineyard or has a winery building on it. Our home ranch, which comprises a total of 90 acres, was the first piece of property purchased by my grandparents in 1927. It was a farm as well as a winery with plenty of room to grow vegetables and support the family with barnyard animals and the occasional deer. It sustained my family in those early lean years when my grandmother canned and made most of the food set on their table. I mentioned the family garden we had when I was growing up in an earlier post-and today we have an office garden planted to tomatoes, zucchini and onions. We have two other vineyards, both about a mile west of the winery, with riparian set-backs because they border Dry Creek. It is important to have buffer zones to promote the wildlife population. These supply the local wildlife with enough area to sustain them. Our buffer areas are teeming with turkeys, red tail hawks, the occasional mountain lion, snakes, all sorts of birds from blue jays to sparrows, possums, raccoons and the like. We have an owl box on the East Side Vineyards area and the importance of having Barn owls is to control the rodent population-they think gophers are pretty tasty. We had a family of four last year-hoping for another four or five this year. 87 years of being sustainable means being good stewards of the wildlife too. A toast in my Dino to sustaining the critters.

    Our owl box in the evening light; our Mother Clone Zinfandel with hillside oaks.

    Owl Box in MC Vineyard

    For more about owls in the vineyard click here.

    Riparian HIllside

  • Bell Beans, Mustard and Vetch: we're covered.

    April 7, 2015 14:09

    I remember when mustard would grow between the vines with its beautiful spring yellow flowers and didn’t know until years later what an important part it played in the vineyard’s health. Cover crops have been integral to vineyards for almost as long as grapes have been grown. When we talk about the good work they do it includes promoting healthy soil, erosion control, eradicating weeds, help control pests, and, either in a drought situation or regular rainy season, they help regulate the moisture in the ground.

    Nitrogen is a by-product of cover crops and is one of the most important minerals when it comes to grapevines. Let’s just say the presence of this mineral, in the right amount, will produce better grapes in the end. Cover crops not only produce it but in the event of too much rain they will also hold the nitrogen in the soil instead of washing away. While this mineral is available in less expensive synthetic form there is so much more to a having a cover crop because of the interaction between the organic matter and the soil. You might also consider the roots as both loosening the ground as well as securing the soil when too much rain falls. And don’t forget your legumes! Bell beans, which have been a cover crop since Roman times, and crimson clover do their part because of the high nitrogen content. Non-legumes include mustard and grasses also play an important role as well. I think I have covered some ground here-time for a tasty glass of wine thanks to bell beans, mustard and clover!

    Visit here for more information about Down to Earth Month.

    Bell Beans flowering in spring.

    Bell Beans flowering

    Mother Clone Vines and cover crop on the Home Ranch.

    Home Ranch in spring