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September 2014

News Highlights

Harvest Update: an early start, a cool summer, now harvest is upon us!
New Website: check out our new mobile-friendly design, real e-commerce, member features, and more
Library Case Special: Receive 50% off when purchasing a case of these library wines.
Italian Cooking: Sept 14 class focuses on Umbria—think wild mushrooms and pasta
Seasonal Recipe: Wild Mushroom & Brie Crostini is perfect for a crisp fall day.
Vendemmia: Oct 25 is our harvest party for Wine Club Members
Berry Sensory Analysis: Lise's tool for deciding exactly when to harvest
▶ Events in northern California

Italians would say "it's better to be the head of an anchovy than the tail of a tuna" while Americans often debate whether it's better to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond.  Here at Montemaggiore, we prefer to be in charge of our own destiny although at times like these (harvest), we also know that Mother Nature is really in charge of our "pond."

The harvest at Montemaggiore started a few days ago with Marsanne and Roussanne for the 2014 3Divas. Before we get too busy, we wanted to let you know about what we are expecting this harvest, a fun cooking class next weekend, and our new website.  At the end of the newsletter, you'll find an in-depth article describing how Lise determines exactly when to harvest which grapes.  

Harvest Update: participation encouraged!

One great aspect of making wine is that we naturally stay in tune with the seasons—and September definitely means getting ready for harvest! School is back for Paolo, the days are getting shorter, and an entire year's worth of hard work in the vineyard is about to reach fruition (please excuse the pun).

This past spring, the warm, sunny, and very dry weather prompted our vines to bud out two weeks early.  But the summer has been very cool so that slowed the process down.  In many areas in California, however, winemakers are experiencing the earliest harvest of their lives.  Here at Montemaggiore, we expect an early harvest, but only about two weeks—so it won't be our earliest.  Although we've picked a little white, we won't start harvesting the bulk of our grapes (the reds) until the second or third week in September.  For a closer look at a typical harvest day at Montemaggiore, see our blog on the 2012 Crush (originally a newsletter article).

If you'd like to participate in the harvest, we can use your help. Just send us an email and we'll let you know about upcoming harvest days—although you may only receive a day or two warning. For those of you who've helped in the past—Patti, Bill, Joe and many others—you needn't do a thing because you're already on our list!

Check out our new Website at the old location:

It's been 10 years since we last updated our website design, so we were a bit overdue!  We've been working hard over the summer to design and implement the new site, which integrates a true e-commerce system and a bit of wine club automation too.

The improvements you'll probably notice right away are:

Wine Club members will notice a lot more changes, most of which are found under the Membership heading:

We hope you find the new website useful—and let us know if you run into any issues.

Library Case Special: 2003 Syrah and 2002 Superiore

To celebrate the new website, we're offering two library wines at 50% off when you buy a case of 12 bottles. We've got a few cases left of these wines from our first vintages when we didn't have the loyal customers back then as we have today (thus we didn't sell out). Be assured that the wines have been stored under perfect conditions at the winery, and are great examples of the beauty of aging wines: subtle nuances have developed and the aromas have taken on a magical quality.

The 2003 Syrah was named "Best Syrah in Sonoma County" amongst many other accolades. This wine still has that distinctive spicy black fruit flavors for which Paolo's Vineyard is known, although more nuances in the flavors are apparent. The Syrah is $19 per bottle when you purchase a case of twelve.

The 2002 Superiore (the "original" name for what is now called Nobile) is a blend of 75% Cabernet and 25% Syrah. The Cabernet tannins in this wine have kept its structure lively, while the aging has smoothed and mellowed them out. The aromas on this wine are just amazing. The Superiore is $22.50/bottle when you purchase a case of twelve.

Italian Regional Cooking Class: Sunday, September 14

We have a few spots left for our next Italian Regional Cooking Class coming up in just over a week—so if you live in the Bay Area and love big Italian family feasts, you should really join us! Chef Gloria will be directing us in the making of an authentic fall meal from Umbria—the wild mushrooms pasta (yes, we are making fresh pasta) is not to be missed.  Don't worry if you are not traditionally a "cooking class" type—the real focus is on eating and sipping wine.

Our last Italian Cooking Class of the year will be on November 2, when the regional food focus shifts to Tuscany.  The menu features pasta with braised boar and olives (Pasta al Ragu di Cinghiale e Olive), which we made at last year's Tuscany class.  Delicious!

Our cooking classes are held on Sunday afternoon, following the great tradition of Italian family meals. First we learn various tips and tricks, then we split up to make each dish.  The afternoon culminates in a sit-down meal along with perfectly paired Montemaggiore wines. Each class is $95 per person, limited to 12 participants.

Seasonal Recipe: Wild Mushroom and Brie Crostini

As the weather cools down we always think of mushrooms, especially the wild chanterelles and boletes that poke up above the leaf litter in the forest surrounding our vineyard. Our dilemma is that the wild mushrooms only come after rain—and we don't want rain until after the grape harvest is complete. So we do want rain, but in November please!  Whether you enjoy foraging for mushrooms in the forest or in the grocery store, you are sure to enjoy our seasonal recipe for Wild Mushroom and Triple-Cream Brie Crostini.  This appetizer comes together fairly quickly, and you can even do most of the work ahead of time.

Vendemmia on October 25th

After pruning, feeding, trimming, and coddling our grapes for an entire year, we must celebrate! We've always enjoyed gathering with Wine Club members at our home to celebrate the harvest—in the past, we've had an entire roast pig or spectacular paellas, but this year we're having a grilled tri-tip! We'll slice it up and serve it with perfectly matched Montemaggiore wines, including some library wines. You'll be amazed how the spicy, peppery notes of the Syrah work so well with the spice rub on the tri-tip (but perhaps the Rosé or Syrafina or Nobile will be your favorite pairing). 

Wine Club members will be receiving their official Vendemmia invitation in the next few weeks along with the details of the Fall Wine Club selection. If you want to get a head start, you can reserve your Vendemmia tickets now (remember you will need to log in to the website with the username recently emailed to you).

Berry Sensory Analysis: Lise's favorite harvest tool

The 2014 harvest will soon consume our lives, and this is when Lise starts getting nervous.  Choosing the exact day to harvest the grapes is a winemaker’s most important decision, but there are a lot of factors to weigh—and the most important factors tend toward the art of winemaking as opposed to the science, so they are a bit more subjective.  Metrics such as pH, Acid, and Brix (sugar level), are easily measured objectively—but at Montemaggiore, we don’t pick “by the numbers”. The most important factors Lise uses to determine when to pick are flavor and tannin ripeness, and these can only be assessed by the winemaker’s mouth. 

Since Lise is always asked about how she “tastes ripeness”, we thought you might appreciate taking an in-depth look at my favorite tool to measure the seemingly unscientific concept of grape maturity: Berry Sensory Analysis.  While this is her most important tool, it is just one, single tool.  The vine's photosynthesis capabilities, upcoming weather, and availability of picking crew are also considered in making picking decisions.

About two weeks before harvest (which she guesstimate by un-rigorously tasting random grapes in the vineyard), Lise starts applying Berry Sensory Analysis. This technique was developed by Jacques Rousseau of Institut Coopératif du Vin, a prestigious consulting firm in France. Its beauty lies in its rigor, repeatability, and accuracy—especially given that it relies on something as unquantifiable as a winemaker’s taste.

As with any analysis, the accuracy of Berry Sensory Analysis depends on the data utilized.  Thus our first step is venture out in the vineyard and collect a representative sample of the grapes. While Vincent has divided our 10-acre vineyard into seven blocks based on soil type and irrigation needs, Lise has divided it into 12 different sub-blocks which she knows from prior experience ripen at uniform rates.  She analyzes each of these 12 sub-blocks separately for grape maturity and ripeness—and we pick each sub-block separately (although on any single harvest day, we may pick more than one sub-block).  Most larger wineries would not have such a granular look at their vineyards—but being small means we can target the desired ripeness of our grapes more precisely because we’re harvesting smaller areas separately.

In each of our 12 sub-blocks, Lise has marked two or three specific rows that she feel accurately reflect conditions in the entire sub-block.  Only grapes from these particular rows will be sampled.  In each row, she gathers her sample from ten to twenty different bunches, half from each side of the row.  From each bunch, Lise takes five individual berries: one from the middle sunny side, one from the middle shady side, one from the top front shoulder and one from the top back shoulder, and a fifth from the bottom tip of the bunch.  Thus she has a statistically-relevant sample of 100-200 berries from each sub-block.

Armed with a really good sample, the second step is to analyze the grapes back at the winery.  Lise randomly selects 3-4 berries from my overall sample—and assess them as a group according to four ripeness criteria:

Fundamental to this analysis is being able to separately taste and analyze the pulp, skins, and seeds because the sugar in the pulp, for example, can alter one’s perception of the skin flavors. This separation can be done in your mouth, all at once, given a little bit of practice and tongue dexterity.  Lise pops 3-4 berries in her mouth, then gently crushes them between her tongue and roof of her mouth—meanwhile assessing the technological ripeness and pulp ripeness.  Then she spits out the seeds, and chews on the skins fifteen times to assess the skin ripeness.  Finally, she looks at the seeds and pop them back into her mouth to crush and taste them. This analysis is repeated three more times for a total sampling of 12-16 berries from each sub-block, and all findings are recorded in a spreadsheet. 

Each set of berries receives a score from 1-4 for each of the four ripeness criteria (1 being less ripe and 4 being ripe).   For our style of red wine, Lise is looking for all 4s which translates to:

Ripeness scores of 1 through 3 have similarly precise definitions (full score sheet).  Importantly, the scale is 1 to 4 for several reasons.  If the scale were 1-5, one might be tempted to gravitate toward 3 in too many cases, whereas the scale of 1-4 makes one choose between 2 (less ripe) or 3 (more ripe).  Likewise decimals and fractions aren’t allowed because then the scale wouldn’t be 1-4, it would translate to 1-40.

The last step in the analysis process is to make some decisions about when to pick and/or when to perform the next analysis. Assuming our vines haven't started going into their winter dormancy, grape sugar levels aren’t getting too high and no rain is forecasted, then we will only pick when all 4s are reached.  Once a vineyard sub-block reaches that optimal level of ripeness, Lise will ask Vincent to schedule harvest as soon as possible, typically within 2-3 days.  If the target area is not quite ripe, she will look at the information from the last time she performed Berry Analysis or perhaps even in prior years, to estimate when we’ll be harvesting that area. Finally we'll decide when to sample the area next and repeat the entire analysis.

Do the flavors in the pulp and skins and seeds translate into flavors in the in the wines?  Not directly, because many of the flavors we enjoy in wine are only present in undetectable forms in the grapes.  The fermentation process is required to unlock these flavorless precursors and bring about the heady aromas we love.  There is, however, an indirect correlation between skin flavor and wine flavor for example.  A winemaker who has experience with a vineyard can certainly make correlations between level of ripeness and flavors of the resulting wine.  Since we have had experience with our estate vines for the past 13 years, Lise knows what the wine from one particular sub-block will taste like if the tannins are slightly underripe, and she know what the wine from another particular sub-block will taste like if the skin flavors are slightly overripe. 

Berry Sensory Analysis allows us to accurately and repeatably assess the grape ripeness, thus achieve our desired “Montemaggiore” style of wine.  And if any any given year we could not pick our grapes at optimal ripeness, this Analysis will arm us with data to choose the winemaking techniques that can mitigate the situation.   

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Events in Northern California

For those of you living in or traveling to Northern California over the next few months, you may enjoy the following events:

Final Note: As always, we welcome your visit to our mountainside estate vineyards and winery in Sonoma County. Simply request an appointment on-line or give us a call (707.433.9499). If you have wine-loving friends who might be interested in learning about Montemaggiore, enjoy a glass of Montemaggiore wine with them!

Enjoy the spring!