You haven’t heard from us in a while as the summer has been unexpectedly busy, but now that harvest is upon us, we have lots of news to share! The harvest started out with a bang due to a scorching Labor Day weekend, but now that temperatures are moderating we have a bit of a break—enough time to eek out a newsletter. You should also know that we’re changing up our newsletter to be shorter and arrive monthly. Hope you like the new format!
Harvest starts early with Syrah
We harvested our first 2017 grapes just 10 days ago, so the crush is on! Our first lot was 1.3 tons of Syrah, less than half of what we hoped—but we've learned to expect the unexpected whenever Mother Nature is involved. The syrah fermentation is now bubbling along nicely—and smells so wonderful: yeasty, berry, yummy! After daily tasting, smelling and analysis, we’ve been making minor adjustments to temperature, aeration and nutrients—but overall the grapes just do what they are going to do at this point. Lise says the tannins are soft and the flavors excellent—so she is very happy.
Because we sold our syrah vineyard earlier this year, these syrah grapes come from our good friend Gerry Pasterick, just two miles down West Dry Creek Road (see vineyard above). His syrah is very much in line with our style, so we expect the flavor profile to be very similar to Paolo’s Vineyard. Although the vineyard elevation is slightly lower, his hillside is even steeper in some places than ours—which is hard to imagine! We especially sought out these grapes because we believe mountainside fruit produces the best wines.
We’re fermenting at a new facility this year, one which has all the latest tools and equipment. You might not think that winemaking would change much given that it’s been made for thousands of years (did you read the recent news about 6,000 year old wine being discovered in Sicily?). Even since we built our original winery in 2004, however, the technology has improved. For example, this year we used a “shaker table” for sorting the berries after they’ve been pulled off the stems by the destemmer.
Shaker tables automatically get rid of any raisins (overripe, dried grapes), shot berries (small green hard grapes that never developed), and MOG (material other than grapes such as stem pieces). Those of you who have helped us manually sort grapes in the past can appreciate having a machine do much of that tedious work! We still hand sort at the berry level after the shaker table does it’s magic, which allows Lise to get even more picky about the quality of the grapes going into our fermentations.
The harvest continues with three more grape varietals yet to reach their peak: Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Petite Sirah. We're excited to be making some new wines this year, although they won't be ready to release for a few years. The next few weeks look to be seasonably warm (upper 70s to mid 80s), so the flavor ripening should proceed at a measured pace. Please keep your fingers crossed that the rain holds off for another month as we expect to be picking through the first half of October.
A Challenging Growing Season in 2017
The growing season started out with a very wet spring, but our greatest challenge came on Labor Day weekend with four days of searing 100-110+F temperatures. The only way to avoid excessive damage to both the leaves and fruit is to irrigate the vineyards in advance of the extreme heat, but sometimes even extra irrigation can't prevent leaves and fruit from scorching. Many factors go into the heat resiliance of a grapevine, as indicated above with two of the same vines on different rootstock—one rootstock does well in heat, the other doesn't. During times like this, growers drop a lot of sunburnt fruit prior to harvest while winemakers assiduously sort the grapes as they come into the winery.
With the extreme heat over Labor Day, grape ripening accelerated from a sugar perspective, although maddeningly not from a flavor (or phenolic) perspective. In high heat, grapevines shut down their metabolic processes, but even then the grapes lose water due to evaporation (which increases the sugar concentration). Since the vine doesn’t spend energy actually maturing the fruit, not much happens with respect to flavors and tannins. Thus after a heat spell, the sugar concentration has gone up but the phenolic maturity of the grapes remain mostly unchanged.
In general this year, we are seeing yields that are significantly lower, somewhat due to some shorter heat spells earlier in the summer which cut off skin cell division. While 2017 looks to be a pretty good year for most reds, the heat waves mean that it won’t be a great year for whites and more sensitive reds like pinot noir—and probably most dry farmed vineyards as well (which don’t have irrigation).
Order 3Divas before the price rises!
Our white Rhône blend of Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier is a perennial favorite, so we wanted to forewarn you that that price will soon rise—just in case you’d like to stock up. Temperatures across the country are moderating, and as long the hurricanes stay offshore, now is a great time to ship wine!
On October 1st, the price for the 2016 3Divas will go from $25 to $30 per 750ml bottle, the first increase since this wine's introduction in 2009. While the increase was prompted by our accountant, we feel this is a wine that is significantly underpriced based on quality. When an average price of hand-crafted chardonnay (a grape ubiquitous throughout Sonoma County) starts at $50, and an average price of high quality white Rhône blend (much more tasty and unique in our humble opinion) starts at $35, we feel that $30 is a great value. Besides, the 2016 3Divas just won a gold medal from Sunset Magazine's International Wine Competition!
And now we must get back to the grapes!