Sunday, December 30, 2012

Napa 2012 Trip

Before the year ended and while I have some downtime, I want to share a bit about the trip we took to Napa earlier this year.

It was at the beginning of May, so it was extremely early during the growing season as far as grapes go.  The temperature in the area was fantastic, and the humidity was low.  There were also some really nice cool mists that came up from the San Francisco bay area in the evening.  In other words, the perfect weather conditions for growing vinefera.

One of my favorite parts about the trip, was that I was able to talk to some of the winemakers and learn some of their methods for farming and winemaking. 

Emil Tedeschi of the Tedeschi Family Winery showed me how to graft a bud onto a new grape vine.  Using the method he showed me, you could have several varieties of grapes growing on one vine.  This next spring I plan on trying it out by maybe grafting a fruiting bud from our Regent grapes onto an older Cabernet Franc vine.  That way I may actually get some Regent grapes this summer.
At the Hendry Ranch Winery we got a tour from George Hendry, and he readily shared his experience and methods.  I got some great tips for cultivating the grape vines.  Secondly he demonstrated how tell if a barrel has "turned".  This particularly piece of information made me realize that the eight gallon barrel of Barbera I had in our basement had turned.  There's nothing you can do about it to bring either the wine or the barrel back.  Looks like we're going to use it for decoration now.

It was very obvious that in Napa, they really do have some of the best growing conditions for grapes.  Particularly when compared to growing vinefera here in North Carolina.  They don't have to spray anywhere near as often - in fact, some seasons not at all.  And they don't have the disease pressure we have in NC.  Spending time in Napa definitely taught me that I made the right call when I turned my attention to growing hybrids rather than traditional vinefera. 

I saw a variety of different wineries and vineyards in Napa, and a huge range in scales of operation.  The ones I think I relate to best are the small family run operations.  Simplicity is the key I think in that regard.  One of my favorite stops while there was The Summit Lake Vineyards & Winery on Howell mountain.  We met with Heather Griffin, who handled our private tasting.  The winery is small and family run.  They've owned the property there since before California wines became popular.  They have some fantastic Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel wines and were the one winery in which we joined their wine club.  Not just because the wines are great, but also because of their story and the experience we had while visiting.

I visited Lodi while in the area, mainly to get a chance to see where the grapes I purchased in 2010 were from and to taste some of the local wines.  While I didn't visit the precise vineyard our grapes were from, I did get a good feel for the area.  Lodi in comparison to Napa is quite warm.  It doesn't benefit from the cooling mist from the SF Bay.  Therefore their grapes ripen much earlier and reach much higher sugar levels.  The grapes that thrive in Lodi are Zinfandel, Barbera, and oddly enough Carignane.  Jessie's Grove had an excellent Carignane (a grape not normally on its own in a wine) from vines that were extremely old.

I also visited some Sonoma wineries.  In a lot of ways the wines were similar to Napa wines with a few diferences to note.  Pinot Noir I think is better in Sonoma.  The Cabernet Sauvignons have a little different flavor.  On the last day of our trip we drove to Alexander Valley.  We even visited the Alexander Valley Vineyards.  My favorite wine at Alexander Valley was suprisingly a Cabernet Franc.

I wish I could have written this sooner, I probably would have remembered more details.  We will have to visit again though, and maybe next time I'll blog during the trip.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Bottlefest 2012

I just realized that I never wrote the story about my trip to Napa.   Sorry about that, hopefully I’ll write something on that subject soon.

This past week I took a staycation in order bottle the 2010 wines including a Lodi Zinfandel and a NC Syrah.  Both wines have been aging for a year in 32 gallon Vadai Hungarian oak barrels.  The Lodi Zinfandel was the first wine I made from California grapes. The Zinfandel grapes were extremely difficult to move through the crusher/destemmer (we have a manual one).  However after tasting the wine this week, I would now say it was worth the effort!  However, the Zinfandel did have one issue.  It was very high in alcohol – about 16.5%.  Fortunately, it does not taste like it.  We kept half of both the Zin and Syrah in their original state, and used the rest for blending.  The NC Syrah was about 12% alcohol by volume. 

The first thing I did was move about half of each barrel into carboys for the blend between the Zin and Syrah.  That blend will be about 14.5% alcohol by volume.  We now have 6 cases of the Zinfandel, and 6 cases of the Syrah.  I plan on bottling the blend sometime over the next few weeks.

Once the barrels were empty, I cleaned them out and filled them with the 2011 wines.   That included a Paso Robles Grenache and an Amador Cabernet Sauvignon.  I’m a little worried about the Cab because it tastes a little green to me.  I’ve read that this taste is the result of the grapes being harvested too early and before the seeds have fully matured.  Luckily the green flavor is not dominant and the wine has also has a strong cherry flavor.  Hopefully, after some time in the barrel the cherry flavor will concentrate and the green flavor will diminish.  Time will tell.  There were two gallons of the Grenache that were left over after putting it in the barrel.  I decided to go ahead and bottle the remainder as a “young” version of the wine.  It is light in color, but strong in flavor, oddly enough.

Now I have some wine to give as gifts this holiday season!  We didn’t get grapes this past fall, in order to put funds towards a shed to move our yard equipment out of our basement.  This makes the basement a little cleaner for my winemaking activities.  I think next year we’ll be doing some fruit wines to fill a little of the void.  Cheers!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Summary of events since my last posting

The Paso Robles Grenache and Amador Cabernet Sauvignon are in various carboys.  Their fermentation went well, I still need to send off some samples to get analyzed.

We got a couple of buckets of Sauvignon Blanc juice last fall as well.  I'm getting ready to rack those over to new containers.

The Regent vines planted last year didn't fair too well.  I am not sure if the problem was the quality of vine I purchased (I purchased it from vendor I don't normally buy through), or if it was the growing conditions on the slope they were on.  So, this spring, I replaced all the dead vines with some from Double A Vineyards (which seem to be doing better than the previous ones, even at this time of year), and moved the entire row further down the slope.  They are doing great so far, much more rapid growth than what I saw last year.

I've submitted four wines to the Winemaker magazine contest this year, and I hoping they do well, but I won't know until early June.  The wines I submitted are the best four I think I've made to date.  They are the 2009 Winsor Zinfandel (purchased through Brehm Vineyards as a frozen must), the 2008 NC Cabernet Franc, the 2010 Viognier, and the 2009 Columbia Gorge Pinot Grigio (also purchased from Brehm Vineyards).

In the next month or so there is a lot of wine to bottle.  There is about 5 gallons of Rancho Sarco Cabernet Sauvignon, 8 gallons of 2010 Lodi Barbera, 32 gallons of 2010 NC Syrah, and 32 gallons of 2010 Lodi Zinfandel.  May have to see if I can invite some people over for a bottling party, or just bottle the wine in stages.  I've already got all the corks I need (ordered 500 of them), and a new filter (coarse filtration on reds), I'll have to inventory the bottles I have available though, and maybe see if there is somewhere I can purchase bulk bottles cheaply.  I estimate that there will be at least 150 bottles each of the NC Syrah and Lodi Zin.

My wife and I also made a trip out to the Napa Valley in California this spring.  Though the details of that trip are going to be a post of its own coming up shortly.
Just a quick update, man it is has been a long time since I last posted anything.  For a while there, I got caught up in life, and the longer it went without me posting anything, the harder it was to even think about doing it.

I've had to change how the comments are handled, as some spammers started putting links to their sites in them.  Kind of rude if you ask me, but luckily Blogger as some tools to prevent this.  So from now on comments will be moderated.  As long as your comment isn't a spam message, it will get through.