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June 2015

News Highlights

New 3Divas Release: the same wine you love but from a different appellation
Summer Favorites: six summertime sippers with special $10 flat rate shipping.
Italian Cooking Classes: join us in July and September for Sundays filled with food, wine, and friends.
Seasonal Recipe: a refreshing soup that utilizes your bumper crop of zucchini?!
Temperature Controlled Shipping: a great way to ship wine across the country during the summer.
Drought and Wine: our perspective on growing grapes in a water-challenged California.

In Italy they say, “Whoever doesn't drink wine, God should also deny water”. Italians mean that there's something strange about someone who doesn't like to share a glass of wine with friends.  But perhaps this explains the drought in California: we're all not drinking enough wine!

On a more sincere yet still cheerful note, we want to share our latest news—from special wines to upcoming cooking classes to a new summertime shipping option—and finally, regarding the water-wine-God issue, a sobering perspective on drought and wine at Montemaggiore.

New 3Divas Release: same wine, different appellation

We are excited to announce the 2014 3Divas blend of Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier from our home appellation, Dry Creek Valley. In past vintages, our 3Divas grapes came from the historic Saralee’s Vineyard in the Russian River Valley, which was sadly ripped out at the end of 2012. After taking a vintage off for mourning, in 2014 we blended our own estate Viognier with Marsanne and Roussanne from a benchland vineyard across the valley.

The 2014 3Divas blend is 53% Viognier, 25% Marsanne, and 22% Roussanne.  Although the proportions and appellation may have changed from 2012, the character of this wine remains the same: bright tropical fruit on the nose, underpinned by roasted nut and honey notes on the palate.  Due to its vibrant personality, 3Divas tastes great just sip on its own—due to it’s balanced acidity, it’s a great food wine also!  Drink 3Divas slightly chilled (50-60ºF), and you’ll definitely be going back for more.

Only 100 cases were bottled. $25 per 750ml bottle ($20 for Club Primo members, and $21.25 for Club Secondo ). More information on the 2014 3Divas can be found on our website, and on Lise’s blog there's an article about blending Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier.  

Six Summer Favorites + $10 shipping

As the days get warmer it's time to bring out your shorts and flipflops—and stock up on whites and rosés! We’ve put together a package of (3) bottles of 3Divas and (3) of Rosé with $10 flat rate ground shipping* using SummerFavorites coupon code or $20 flat rate Temp Control shipping* using the SummerFavoritesTC coupon code.  All wines are $25 per bottle, thus $170 for wine including ground shipping ($130 for Club Primo members, and $137.50 for Club Secondo). 

Focusing on the Rosé a moment: even people who are not typically a fan of rosés need to try Montemaggiore’s rendition. Made in the southern French style, a special block of Syrah grapes are grown and harvested specifically for rosé.  Made in this way, rosés have more complex and intense flavors, along with lower alcohols. More information on the 2013 Rosé can be found on our website, or our blog post on rosé.

*Note that flat rate Ground Shipping does not apply to the states of AL, AK, AR, DE, HI, KY, MS, NH, OK, PA, SD, UT.  Flat rate Temp Control Shipping only applies to CT, DC, FL, GA, IA, IL, IN, LA, ME, MD, MI, MN, MO, NJ, NY, NC, OH, RI, SC, TN, TX, VT, VA, WV, WI.  These flat rate shipping offers are valid only in the month of June.

Fun-filled Italian Cooking Classes in July and September

Would you like to spend a Sunday afternoon with both Vincent and Lise, enjoying a great meal and drinking delicious wine?  Come join our Italian cooking classes in July and September, hosted at our home with its gorgeous views over Sonoma County.

Each class is limited to 12 people.  Our small group will spend a few hours preparing an Italian feast, followed by a sit down meal to enjoy the fruits of our labor—all the while sipping perfectly paired Montemaggiore wines.  Gloria will regale us with stories of cooking and traveling and eating in Italy, while we learn how to turn simple Italian dishes into gourmet marvels.  The cost is $110 per person.

Seasonal Recipe: Chilled Zucchini Soup

The running joke in our small town is that you shouldn't leave your car unlocked in summer because you will return to find a bag of zucchini in your front seat!  Whether you have zucchini in your own garden, are the recipient of a neighbor's generosity, or simply like zucchini, you will really appreciate this recipe from Julia Childs: a chilled zucchini soup with tarragon.  The beauty of this soup is in its fresh flavors, the simplicity of preparation, and it's ability to absorb an abundance of zucchini.  The other reason this is one of Lise's go-to-summer recipe is that it pairs well with both 3Divas and Rosé.  Not so much in terms of flavors, but in its weight, it’s mouthfeel, and how it just sings “Summer!”.  If the color of the soup is too monochromatic for your taste, you can add a splash of orange by topping with thinly sliced zucchini blossoms.

Safe Summertime Shipping for Wine

For those concerned about shipping wine during the hot summer months, Montemaggiore is now offering temperature-controlled transportation through UPS.  This new service, UPS Temp Control, utilizes refrigerated train cars such that your wine is kept at 55F through the hottest parts of the country.  The cost is only $10 per package on top of normal UPS Ground rates.  To take advantage of UPS Temp Control, simply select that shipping option during Checkout on our website. 

For summertime deliveries to the mid-West and East Coast, we think that UPS Temp Control is a great shipping solution.  There are a few caveats:

If you have questions about UPS Temp Control or other alternatives to shipping during the summer months, please give us a call. 

Drought and Wine at Montemaggiore

No doubt you’ve been hearing about the drought in California, perhaps even seeing the distressing pictures of dried up reservoirs—so you may be wondering how we are affected here at Montemaggiore.  Luckily our water supply is secured, at least for this year.  Our vineyards are irrigated from ponds on our property that gather rainwater over the winter.  Although our rainfall was much less this year (26” compared to a more typical 40”+), this was enough to fill our ponds.  In the long-term, our situation remains uncomfortable and the issues for grapegrowers in general are sobering. 

Grapevines need water during our dry season

Unfortunately 90% of California’s rain comes during the six-month period between November and April, the exact wrong time for grapes which need water during the growing season from March to October.  Some vineyards can be “dry farmed” when the vines’ roots have access to water from an underground aquifer.  In our case, being on a mountainside with no subsurface aquifer, our vines are irrigated from ponds that gather rainwater.  Most vineyards, however, are irrigated using water pumped from aquifers.  We are lucky that we have our “own” secure source of water, and that our ponds usually fill up by January 1st, after the first or second big rain.

The primary disadvantage of Montemaggiore’s water situation is that we can’t simply access more water during hot summers or drought years because our ponds are barely large enough meet our needs.  Grapevines are a permanent crop —we can’t decide on a year-by-year basis whether to grow grapes, unlike a broccoli farmer who can let a field lay fallow until the drought ends.  A vineyard costs up to $75,000 per acre to plant and requires four years to start producing, thus one wouldn’t want their long-term investment to “dry up” because the vineyard wasn’t irrigated one year.  So once a vineyard is planted, you really want to keep giving it sufficient water.

As an aside, at Montemaggiore we also have to worry about water for our olive trees and olive oil production.  Olive trees also like to have water over the growing season (March through November), however, they can survive without any water at all in our climate.  The trees won’t produce a decent crop of olives without summertime irrigation, but they will survive to the next year.  So we can cut back or cut off water completely on our olive trees and just loose single year’s crop, even though we can’t for the grapevines.

The drought definitely affects Montemaggiore

2015 is the fourth year of drought in California, and the past two years have been especially scary for us, but for different reasons.  The rain in 2015 all came early, in December and January.  Our ponds filled up quickly, but as we are now entering the summer, we worry about whether we’ll have enough water to last throughout the growing season because our soils are dry.  We really want the last big rain to be in March or April, because then we can start irrigating later, using less water overall thought the year.  Because our last big rain was in January this year, we’ll have to start irrigating in June whereas normally that would be July or even August.  So we’ll be irrigating for 4-5 months instead of just 2-3 which means our vineyards will require much more water this year.

2014 was perhaps the most nerve-wracking year for us, water-wise, because all our rain came very late in the spring (although we received about the same total amount).  We spent the entire winter worrying whether our ponds would ever fill up.  After no significant rain, we purchased crop insurance in February, and started planning which grapevines would be sacrificed, and whether we should re-prune our vineyards to cut down on the canopy (“greenery”). Eventually, the rains came in March and our worrying was for naught.  The summer was fairly mild, so we didn’t have to use a lot of water.

Even though summers are dry, our wines are still affected by winter drought.  The spring is generally warmer and sunnier, thus the grapevines come out of their winter dormancy sooner, shifting the whole growing cycle earlier.  The grapes may have elevated sugar levels because they accumulate sugar during the hottest month (August) instead of during a later, cooler time (September).  Flavor ripeness, Lise's determinant for harvest, is much less affected.  If sugars get ahead of flavors, the resulting wines are in danger of being thin, tannic, and "alcoholic". Thus we need to keep our vines hydrated and delay harvest into the cooler part of the season—keeping the wines in balance.

Our grapevines are fairly efficient water users

In case you were wondering, grapevines in general are fairly efficient users of water.  If you were to group all California crops into 20 categories and rank them based on their water needs from “best” to “least”, vineyards are ranked:

At Montemaggiore, our irrigation practices are quite efficient.    Like most vineyards in our area, we use a drip irrigation system which pinpoints the water application to each specific wine thus doesn’t waste water. Unlike most vineyards, we intentionally give our vines less water than they would ideally like, in order to reduce the size of the grapes and improve wine quality.  So when you look at our grapevines in August, they will look a bit scraggly—not lush and green like you would expect to see in a nice garden.  As Vincent likes to say, “we want our grapevines to struggle, but not suffer”. 

When we do irrigate, we only irrigate the specific vines that need water, and only exactly when they need it.  Because we live in the middle our vineyards and work amongst the vines every day, we irrigate only when we see the vines suffering. We can turn off the water on individual rows, and only irrigate to specific vines within a row.  Most winegrowers irrigate entire blocks of 1000-5000 vines on a pre-set schedule.  Thus on the whole, we consider ourselves to be fairly responsible consumers of water.

The wider picture is grim

Drought brings considerable indirect danger to our vineyard, and other winegrowing areas in the state.  We constantly worry about fire, with a lot of dry brush on our 55 acres.  Some of our beautiful native trees like madrones are very sensitive to changes, thus many die during our droughts, leaving even more fuel for fire.  At least our area still receives a 25"+ of rain each year whereas many winegrowing areas south of us receive much less.  With only 10” of annual rainfall on average, the Central Coast region around Paso Robles has experienced a massive draining of ancient aquifers and the drying up of wells—critics say due to excessive vineyard plantings.  During the summer of 2014 alone, the land in the San Joaquin Valley subsided up to 10 inches due to the draining of aquifers.

Ironically, in Sonoma County we still have severe flooding in drought years!  We haven't suffered to the extent as Texas with their recent drought-ending rains, but this past December Healdsburg received 6” of rain in 12 hours.  We had a good laugh with the kayakers downtown, but the mini-landslides on our property were more sobering.  Some experts are predicting an end to California's drought this upcoming winter due to a building El Niño.  We cross our fingers for above-normal yet broadly-timed rainfall this winter—but sometimes Mother Nature has a strange sense of humor!

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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!

We hope you have a relaxing and enjoyable summer—and regarding the Italian quote, please drink wine in order to do your part in ending the California drought!