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November 2013

News Highlights

▶ Harvest 2013: another phenomenal vintage!
▶ Olive Oil: order now for December delivery.
▶ Holiday Special: 3 bottles for $99 including shipping.
▶ Italian Cooking Class: Christmas dishes from Naples.
▶ 4th Annual Wine Pairing Challenge: Explore great wine and food pairings.
▶ The Beauty of Mountain Wines: soil, slope, and elevation are the secrets.
▶ Events in northern California

As the Italians say, "Good wine makes the table longer." In other words, if you serve good wine, you'll find more people at the dinner table—which is a nice thought for the approaching holiday season! Here at Montemaggiore, we're looking forward to a long table with great wines over the holidays but we're in no hurry. We're still enjoying our fall pumpkins (see below) and next weekend we'll be picking our olives for olive oil. Read on for all the latest news.

Harvest 2013: another phenomenal vintage

Sometimes you just have to pinch yourself—could this be a second great vintage in a row? Is it possible? It certainly seems so. Yes, 2013 is shaping up to be just as nice as 2012, and potentially better with lower yields and more intense flavors. Overall, it was an early year with moderate temperatures and no rain at harvest. The growing season started with a dry spring, leading to bud break in March and bloom in April, both about 2-3 weeks earlier than usual. A fairly mild summer saw a bit of rain and a bit of heat, but Vincent didn't worry because that didn't throw ripening off track. Verasion, when the grapes turn from green to purple, was quite early—and occurred throughout the vineyard almost simultaneously.

As harvest approached, Vincent started to worry that our good luck had run out. We received an inch of rain in early September making us think it would be a wet harvest. Luckily, the rain quickly dried up and we had a completely dry, picture-perfect harvest! We started picking the Hilltop syrah at 4am on September 18th (see Paolo sorting at left). This was not our earliest year, but still about two weeks early. After picking the Hilltop, Vincent had nothing to do for 10 days but then he and our small crew were put to the test because we picked over 70% of our grapes within one week. That kept Lise extremely busy in the winery. Our final harvest day was October 11th—which is the earliest we've ever finished picking! In 2011 and 2010, we hadn't even started picking grapes by that date.

To cap off a fabulous season, we hosted 120 wine club members for Vendemmia (our annual harvest party) on a gorgeous day at the end of October. By that time, Lise had all the wine safely in barrel so she could really enjoy the party (which was a first). 2013 certainly has been something to celebrate!

Olive Oil: order now for December delivery 

What is good for the grapes, is good for the olives—or so we're hoping! We're about to start picking our olives and although Vincent doesn't expect a bumper crop, the quality looks really good. Just like our grape harvest, the olives are coming in early this year, about three weeks early. That means we'll have olive oil available for the holidays. If you like, you can place your order now although we won't be shipping until early December.

Our newest, freshest olive oil is classified as Olio Nuovo, which goes from tree to bottle in less than a month. This fresh olive oil has a unique, intense, spicy flavor and it's still cloudy. It's quite a treat if you've never tried it before. We recommend that Olio Nuovo be used within a month or two of purchase in order to enjoy its exquisite flavor at the peak of freshness.

If you live in Bay Area, perhaps you'd like to help us pick olives and see the whole olive oil making process. We invite you, our friends and family, to come join us on Saturday, November 16. Please RSVP if you think you can make it because at this time of year, we may have to postpone due to rain. We'll also send you home with some olives you can cure for your own dinner table (along with instructions).

Holiday Special: 3-bottle gift pack for $99 including shipping

Do you know anyone who would really appreciate wine as a holiday gift: perhaps a loved one, employee, or business partner? For those on your wine-lovers list, we have a special 3-bottle holiday package for $99 which includes FedEx Ground shipping—a typical savings of over 25% (additional wine club discounts do not apply). This special package includes:

If you would like to bestow this holiday gift upon multiple people, just send us an email or give us a call (707.433.9499). For a single order, it may be easiest to order on-line. We hope this makes your holiday giving a little bit easier.

Note that Christmas orders destined for the east coast must be received by Saturday, December 14; orders for the mid-west by Tuesday, December 17; and orders to the west coast by Thursday, December 19. This enables your order to be delivered by Monday, December 23. If you miss these deadlines, we can also do overnight or 2-day shipping for an extra charge.

Italian Cooking Class: Gloria's favorite Christmas dishes from Naples

We're excited to announce another in our very popular series of Italian Cooking Classes with Gloria. The class on Sunday, December 8th will focus on traditional Italian Christmas foods from Naples. Chef Gloria will lead small group in preparing authentic and delicious Christmas foods from her favorite southern Italian city. Then we'll sit down to enjoy the feast we prepared, accompanied by perfectly paired Montemaggiore wines. Not only will you enjoy Gloria's fun-loving personality, but you will gain some inspiration for the upcoming holiday season. Space is limited to 12 people so be sure to make your reservations early by registering on-line.

4th Annual Wine Pairing Challenge: Explore great wine and food pairings

For Wine Club members who enjoy exploring the world of good food and good wine, put Saturday, February 22nd in your calendar which is the date of our 4th Annual Wine Pairing Challenge! We'll open our home to Wine Club members who bring a special dish they've created to pair with one particular Montemaggiore wine. Everyone can taste everyone else's dish and rate their favorite pairings. The results will be tallied, and we'll honor the best pairing for each wine (desserts have their own category). For inspiration, here are last year's winners:

Please don't be intimidated, as this is just our excuse to have a lot of fun with friends while tasting good wines and good food. And we're hoping you go home with new favorites and renewed inspiration, along with recipes to match! If you don't live in the area but would like to host your own Wine Pairing Challenge, drop Lise an email and she'd be happy to help you get started. More information and reservations.

The Beauty of Mountain Wines: soil, slope, and elevation are the secrets

Advertisements by Folgers and Columbian coffee (with "Juan Valdez") have trained us that mountain-grown coffee is the most flavorful and robust coffee in the world. But did you know that mountain-grown grapes have similar advantages? Grapevines grown on steep slopes and at altitude are stressed by low-nutrient soils and have long growing seasons thus produce long-lived wines with an intense, distinctive character. Here at Montemaggiore, we believe so deeply in the quality of mountain-grown grapes that it's in our name: "monte" means mountain in Italian, thus Montemaggiore means "great mountain" (Montemaggiore is also the name of the town of in Italy from which Vincent's family hails).

When you look around the world, the best vineyards are in mountainous areas. In Germany, there is the Mosel and Rheingau; in France, the Rhône and Cote d'Or (Burgundy); in Italy, the Alto Adige, Piedmont and Tuscany; in Portugal, the Duoro; in Argentina, Mendoza. Bordeaux might be the exception that proves the rule, being at low altitude with fairly flat terrain. All other great wine regions of the world are on steep slopes, and typically at high altitude. In fact in many regions (e.g., Burgundy), the altitude of the vineyard correlates with wine price—the higher up on the slope, the higher the price of the wine—because the better water drainage and lower yields in the higher slopes imply better wine quality.

Three factors make mountain-grown grapes so special: soil, slope, and altitude. Mountain-based soils have fewer nutrients thus cause the vines struggle, the slopes are steep thus have great drainage, and the altitude is higher thus the climate more moderate. Mountainside grapevines produce smaller individual berries, which create wines with firm structure, incredible varietal intensity, and excellent aging potential. Since most wine flavor comes from the skins of the grapes and the volume of juice is determined by the size of the berry, the most intense wines from smaller grapes (Math geek alert: the surface area-to-volume ratio of a sphere is optimized at a small diameter). Mountainside grapes have a high skin-to-juice ratio and the resulting intense skin phenolics (flavors) impart a firm structure and rich complexity on the wine.

Soils on mountainsides are poor in nutrients, which translates into fewer bunches on each vine, bunches with fewer berries, and smaller individual berries. Mountain vineyards have little topsoil because it has been washed downhill by the rain over the millennia. The soils at Montemaggiore are very poor and rocky, thus the vines fight for their lives. We put biodynamic compost on them every year just to keep them from stressing too much. Our cabernet grapes are so small and dark, Vincent often says they look like caviar after they are harvested and destemmed!

The steep slopes found on mountainsides also contribute to stressing the vines. Good drainage means that water is not retained well in the soil, thus can't swell up the berries. On the valley floor, we sometimes see grapes twice the size of ours, and bunches that are three times the weight. Our overall yields average 2 tons of grapes per acre, whereas on the valley floor an acre of vines might produce 4, 8, or even more tons per acre.

Vineyards at altitude experience a more moderate climate with a long, slow ripening period. Temperatures are cooler during the heat of the day, and warmer at night which slows the ripening and lengthens the growing period. While vineyards on the floor of Dry Creek Valley are often blanketed in fog in the morning, those at Montemaggiore are above the fog, enjoying the sunshine. Our vines "wake up" earlier in the morning to start photosynthesizing, and often "go to sleep" later in the evening which gives them the same amount of solar energy but over a longer period. Our grapes benefit from a longer hang time on the vine, which helps the accumulation of the vital chemical compounds (acids, flavor, color) that define our wines' profile. Seasonally, cooler spring temperatures cause buds to break later than average, and warm summer nights produce fruit that demonstrates a great balance between acidity and sugar. This slowed-down maturation cycle allows the grapes to ripen in tune with the tannins, and yet retain naturally balanced acidity.

While mountainsides produce great wines, they also present many challenges, making the grapes much more expensive to grow. For example, establishing vines in the lean, nutrient-poor soils is difficult. While vines newly planted in deep topsoil take three or four years to produce a decent crop, at Montemaggiore our newly-planted areas have taken five years to produce just because our vines struggle so much. Once the vines are established, the wine grower's challenge is to fine-tune the degree of nurturing so that the vines are stressed but not overstressed. This requires a lot of attention to detail, eliminating the possibility of mass production and corporate-style winemaking.

Water availability is also often an issue for mountain vineyards since most year-long water sources are found down in river valleys or above aquifers. Here at Montemaggiore, we must capture the winter rainwater in our mountainside ponds, and use that water to irrigate the vines during the dry summer. If the spring is exceptionally dry and we start irrigating earlier than usual, we must limit our water usage so that it lasts the entire summer season. Our life would be much easier, however, if we lived near the river so we could just pump water on demand.

Preventing erosion is another constant concern for mountain vineyards—what little topsoil we have, we want to preserve. Most vineyards are tilled in order to aerate the soil, work in organic material, and reduce competition from other plants. At Montemaggiore don't till because we don't want to encourage erosion thus we must utilize other methods like sheep, which add organic material and eat the grasses to reduce competition. We don't want to haul the topsoil from the bottom of the hill to the top several times a year!

Lastly, working in a vineyard on a steep slope requires risk. While we have never had a major accident at Montemaggiore, this year during harvest we had to change a flat tire on a trailer weighed down by a ton of grapes which was positioned on a steep rocky slope—definitely not fun! Due to our steep slopes, we do a lot of work by hand which other vineyards would mechanize. Even accessing some of our vines for pruning and harvesting by hand is treacherous. But the wine quality makes it all worthwhile.

More than twelve years ago, when we were looking for the perfect spot to establish our wine business, we knew we wanted an estate vineyard in the mountains—it matched both our personal character and the style of wine we wanted to make. And while this mountainside has presented its challenges, we've never wanted to be flatlanders. We hope you also appreciate our mountain-grown grapes and how that translates into great structure, complexity and intensity in your wine glass.

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, please have them call us or send them to our website.

Enjoy the spring!