Monday, September 27, 2010

The Big Pick

We picked again today, for several of the wineries that we sell fruit to -- both in Sonoma County. We picked everything but a little Pommard clone Pinot Noir: 115, 777, 114 and Pommard 05. About 15 tons when it was all said and done. Once again, my hands are stained brown and I'm in the tasting room wondering if I'm making any sense to the customers. Hopefully it's not just all jibberish coming out of my mouth.

Either way, another long day. At least I have air conditioning here in the TR! In the low 40's last night (I was shivering for the first few hours of the pick), all the way to the high 90's today. It's not that unusual up here to have a 50-degree temperature swing between night and day. It's what makes us such a great region for Pinot Noir.

Next pick will be Wednesday for the last of our Pommard for Foursight and perhaps another week for Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Pinot Noir Pick - This Morning

This morning we picked the majority of our own Pinot Noir grapes for Foursight. We picked 114, 115, 777 and Pommard clones on several rootstocks, the average ripeness between 23 and just over 24 brix. The grapes look great and the flavors are there, so we're very excited about this vintage. We have just a little more Pommard to come in this coming week, then Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon and we'll be done! Well, with picking anyway. Winemaking of course follows.

We're all exhausted today; the night before your first pick is always a little like Christmas Eve when you're a child. You spend half the night tossing and turning, waiting for the morning. Then up about 5:30, and out into the vineyard to start picking as soon as it's light enough to see what you're doing. Follow the pick with a full day in the tasting room and we'll be ready for bed early tonight.

Today we had a wealth of family here to help with harvest, to sort and pull leaves out of the bins, plus pull leaves off the vines ahead of the pickers to make their job just that much easier and cleaner. It worked out perfectly -- we almost had too many people, in fact, to fit around the bin. We would always prefer to have too many to too few, so we're not complaining.

The vines seem ready to be done for the season. This year has run about three weeks late for us, so I would imagine they're not used to being asked to hang on to their fruit quite this long. It's funny how you can see signs in the vines and in the way the fruit ripens that indicates they're ready to be picked and would prefer to be preparing themselves for rest, for dormancy and winter. Frankly, I don't blame them one bit -- I think we all feel at least a bit that way during harvest.

As I did some video for our sparkling wine pick, I've opted to just post a few photos of the morning's work:

The moon above the vineyard, just as we start to pick.

The crew picks four rows wide, around the tractor.

Most of the family helps sort and pull leaves from the bins.

These guys are lightning fast.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Rain, Or Not

Today our rain gauge registered 0.05" -- a far cry from what was, last week, supposed to be an inch or more. However, this is very good news for the vineyard. The clusters didn't even get wet -- just the outside leaves -- meaning that mold or rot inside the clusters is less likely coming up to harvest. Mold pressure will still be higher just simply due to the moisture present in the vineyard and in the air, but it shouldn't be anything too concerning.

Brix are looking still about mid-22's to 23 in the Pinot Noir, and moving up fractions each day, meaning that harvest is still a bit away (a week to week and a half perhaps). This is, of course, dependent upon the weather, and it looks like the coming weekend will be warm and sunny. The Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon are approaching 20, which means that they're not too far behind. And, happily, the seeds are browning rapidly, moving us more toward our goal when harvesting.

So, here's to a crisis averted and an impending harvest!

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Waiting Game

If you keep an eye on wine news at all, you've probably been reading all about late harvests and impending rain. Depending on if you speak with a farmer or a marketing person, you'll get a very different slant on what's going on around the state.

Farmers are naturally doomsdayers. If they say it's going to rain 0.25 to 0.5" a farmer will say that we'll surely get at least half an inch, if not more. Then we'll surely have rot, and on top of it, because the harvest's behind, there's going to be half of the appellation's growers who won't even get ripe fruit off the vine this year.

If you talk to a marketing person, in their area they'll surely get a quarter inch or less, and of course the growers all have rot in check -- it shouldn't be an issue -- and, on top of it, yes, the weather's cool and harvest is late, but think of the wonderful hang time the grapes are getting! They're going to be fabulous, best vintage ever!

The truth, of course, is always somewhere in the middle.

What's happening here in Anderson Valley is that they're now predicting less than an inch of rain this weekend. We personally only start to get really, truly worried at an inch or above. That's when berries can start splitting, and rot starts feeding on that released sugar. Given the reduced crop levels we're seeing and the good airflow in the canopy, I'm not sure rot will be too much of a problem because of this rain. Of course, in farming, never say never.

By the way, the improved airflow I referenced above came from pulling leaves earlier in the season to try and expose the fruit to more sunlight, thus speeding up ripening and reducing mold pressure. This backfired on some growers, causing the fruit to become sunburn and raisin up when we had several days in a row of 100-ish degree weather. If you were really on top of your vineyard, you then went out and cut off that sunburned fruit, further reducing your crop level for the year, which is good for future rot and the winemaking process, but bad for a grower's pocketbook. More labor going into less fruit is never a good thing, financially, unless you're going to get paid more for the grapes because you did it.

At least sunburn doesn't seem to be too terrible here in the valley. I've heard rumors of Sonoma County vineyards that were so sunburn they effectively have no crop to harvest this year. Just a bunch of raisins. Yikes.

The real worry about having any moisture this time of the year is that the weather doesn't look like it's going to warm up after the rain this weekend. This means that moisture will hang around on the vines. And then the possible "second trough" of weather coming after -- who knows what that will hold.

The other effect of rain is that it can dilute the sugar in the grapes, pushing your harvest back as the grapes then try and gain back the ground they lost and reach your optimal ripeness.

Let's talk about our vineyard a bit. We've already harvest our sparkling wine, and our Pinot Noir grapes are in the mid-22's for brix (sugar level). For reference, we normally pick by 24 brix. According to our snazzy ripening chart Joe created, at our current rate of accumulation, without factoring in rain, we should be picking still Pinot about September 23-27. Whites are amazingly caught up this year and may come in as little as a week after (we normally wait another 3-4 weeks after the Pinots to harvest our Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon).

Now, using a ripening graph can be helpful for predicting sugar and acid levels into the future, but we also look at physiological ripeness, especially how the seeds and stems look. Seeds and stems tend to brown as grapes ripen, reducing the harsh tannins and greenness that they can impart into a wine if crushed or pressed too hard when they're green. Optimally, when we pick our grapes the seeds are mostly chocolate brown and crunchy (mature) and the stems have lignified (become woody). We include whole clusters in our fermentation, so the state of the stems is more important for us than it might be for a winery that simply destems and tosses those stems. So far, the seeds are browning and moving along, but slowly. We're still seeing a good bit of green out there.

So now it's a waiting game. Wait to see how much rain we get, wait to test and see how that affected the grapes. Wait to see how quickly they recover. The marketing people are right, though. Flavors and colors will be fantastic this year -- we've been able to see that in the grapes for quite some time.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Three Year Blogging Anniversary!!

Today marks my third anniversary as a blogger! Three years. Wow. Three years ago my husband, Joe, and I had just moved back to Boonville. I was finishing up my last few months at Wilson Daniels (doing some commuting from here to St. Helena!), and re-focusing our energies on Foursight and our new lives here, including my new job at the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association and Joe's at Londer Vineyards.

Three years ago to the day we were picking Pinot Noir grapes (we're a few weeks behind this year) and I was doing my first blog post on the harvest. Follow this link to see post #1 of my blog.

It's been an amazing three years. Amazing. We've surpassed many of our goals as a winery, but there are some, admittedly, that we've fallen short on.

In three years, we:
- Are moving into our third release of wines from our vineyard, made exactly the way we want them to be
- Launched our brand with a Web site and a blog, then later a twitter and facebook account, and now our first series of videos (which can be seen here on the blog and on our facebook account)
- Every single one of our wines that have been submitted to the press have either scored 90 points or above in a publication or have gotten a gold medal or, even better, double gold at a competition
- Got Ozzie the lab -- now the most famous member of the family by far!
- Worked our way through the Wine Institute's sustainability program for the vineyard, improving upon our practices each and every year
- Moved into the vegan market with wines made without animal products
- Opened our tasting room four days a week and started outfitting our winery in the back (we're picking up the baby ozone machine this week!)
- Joe and I got married and took our honeymoon in New Zealand for three weeks
- Have poured at probably 25-30 various wine events, as far away as New York and as close as Mendocino
- Launched a wine club -- Eight High -- for our die-hard customers -- and promptly started throwing parties
- Sold wine to the state of Pennsylvania (they came to us!) and expanded our local distribution
- Have been featured in articles in a wide array of publications, from VIA magazine, New York Magazine,  the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Santa Rosa Press Democrat to Destinations -- an Air New Zealand travel magazine
- I quit my job and Joe was promoted big-time
- We got invited back to our second Wine Spectator New World Wine Experience -- one of only five brands in Anderson Valley to receive this honor

Given how busy the past three years have been, I'm sure I've forgotten more of what we've done than the stuff I actually remember.

Lessons I've learned along the way:
- Financial management of a winery is a bitch. haha. No, seriously, filling in sales numbers into spreadsheets is a tedious but necessary task that takes up an amazing amount of time.
- Inventory NEVER matches up. I think bottles of wine end up the same place as those missing socks from the dryer. Narnia or somewhere.
- Don't underestimate the power of either Mother Nature or the destructive force of the U.S. economy. They can both make you want to cry or laugh triumphantly, often all at the same time.
- If you're genuine and nice and you provide people with a good experience, they'll come back again. And again. And again.
- Don't go into the tasting room in a bad mood. Ever. You might as well call in sick.
- As soon as you get out your lunch, people will magically appear at the tasting bar, every time.
- Sometimes you have to give discounts. It's not the end of your brand image, you'll be fine, just don't do it too often or too obviously. I've even given a discount to a lady who was a little tipsy and fell into a cactus next to our parking lot. I still laugh about my cactus discount to this day. But, it made her happy and we didn't get sued.
- In many instances, you'll have a brilliant idea that could create great buzz for your brand, and you'll never have the right insurance to do it safely. Stupid litigation-happy country.

Here's a blogging lesson that I've learned: it's a great way to keep people you know and customers up-to-date on your happenings. However, the vast majority of people who read wine blogs are already in the wine business. Hence, if you blog for consumers, your blog will not be the most popular or widely read blog out there. If you're okay with that, keep doing what you do and keep enjoying it. I know I do.

Thanks to everyone who reads my little rants and raves on the world, whether it's here or via facebook or a few of the other sites that have picked it up. I love hearing from you, so keep commenting and letting me know what you think. I do appreciate it.

And Happy Blogger Anniversary to me!!

Winery Consolidation in AV

Yesterday a customer commented on what a shame it was that some of the local wineries have sold out to larger wineries/wineries from outside the area. I had to agree with her, thinking about the local families that we've lost through the process -- people that we knew and liked. However, I did have to comment that, given some of the financial situations these people were in, with poor sales due to the economy and bank loans called back, that I couldn't blame them. If you had to choose between bankruptcy and selling your business, what would you choose?? It's a tough decision and, as much as we lament the loss, I told her that being able to survive as a family and feed your kids is always the most important thing. That was the end of our discussion on the topic.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Harvest Video 2010

I made a very amateur video of our first day of harvest, 2010. We picked Pommard 05 Pinot Noir grapes for Schramsberg Vineyards in Calistoga (bubbly!). There's no soundtrack to this video -- just the pure, unadulterated sound of tractor. haha. I thought that cutting this up and adding music would make it a better quality video, but it would also dilute the experience of harvest. Tractors idling, people talking and shouting, and grapes dropping into bins is what the day is all about, so enjoy!

A note on the picking crew: they are all employed by Ardzrooni Vineyard Management, which we basically use twice a year: pruning and harvest. They live here in the valley and are permanent residents, which is great because we see many of the same faces over and over again each and every year and get to know them. They also use a lot of women on the crews, which I'm always happy to see.

Throughout the video you'll see family members (myself, my mother and father and my husband, Joe, took all this footage). When we say we're involved, we really mean it.