October is one of our favorite months, with all sorts of energy at the winery during harvest season, lots of visitors to wine country, and a welcome shift to hearty meals and fall colors. Between the delicious smells of fermentation at the winery and of slow-cooking stews at home, we love it!
Circle members Meghan and Eric joined us for their first harvest to help us pick Pinot in the middle of the night at Floodgate Vineyard; Meghan wrote about their experience on her blog Travel Wine and Dine. We're hoping they’ll come join us again next year!
Three years ago, we decided to focus on just two appellations for our Pinot noir and Alsace-styled whites: the Russian River Valley and Mendocino Ridge. We're as invested as ever in the Russian River Valley and thrilled with these vineyards. Newer to us is a focus on the vineyards of the Mendocino Ridge appellation; this fall, we released three wines from the Mendocino Ridge AVA.
Because of its high elevation, Mendocino Ridge is a very special area. Vineyards in this AVA must be above 1,200 feet to keep the grapes above the fog line, which creates a unique growing environment. The mountainous peaks rise above the fog line so that the vineyards appear to be “islands in the sky”—a phrase trademarked by the owner of the Mariah Vineyard, Dan Dooling (see below). If you want to know more about Mendocino Ridge, check out wine blogger Rusty Gaffney's post calling it “California’s best-kept secret source of spectacular wines.”
Cartograph’s new Mendocino Ridge releases are:
Alan’s wine epiphany happened by way of a 1998 Alsace Riesling: “Floating in a small kayak on a lake in northern Wisconsin, I was surrounded by the North Woods as the sun bounced off the rolling water. I opened a bottle of 1998 Alsace Riesling. Once I pulled the glass to my nose, everything but the wine — with its cacophony of citrus blossom, pear, black tea and petrol aromas and flavors—faded to the background. I was in the wine. How could such a seemingly light and simple wine possess such an explosive combination of flavors and aromas that my remarkable surroundings simply faded into its shadow? It was that moment that somehow so engaged my senses and intellect that I embarked on a journey to learn all I could about wine, how it was made and how I might one day put such remarkable qualities into a bottle."
Flash forward to 2009 when we launched Cartograph. Alan always wanted to try his hand at creating a Riesling that would compare to the wine that started it all, so the search was on. It took four years, but in 2013 Alan found a vineyard that produced Riesling of the quality he was seeking.
Aromatically, this Riesling is full of citrus notes, including orange blossom and mandarin zest; you’ll also get stone fruit and wet-slate aromas. On the palate, the wine is silky and very bright with pronounced acidity. It’s almost evanescent on the palate, but the finish is full of minerality and more wonderfully bright citrus.
The 2012 vintage represents our fourth year of working with Steve Alden, the owner and grower of Perli Vineyard. This vineyard is truly stunning. Vineyards in this appellation are referred to as “islands in the sky” because of how the fog gathers and pools in the valleys beneath the vineyards; in fact, there are days where all you see are these ridge-top vineyards surrounded by pillowy white pools of fog. Steve’s grandfather bought the property in 1951 as a timber investment, and the property is named after the original homesteaders, Santos and Rosie Perli. Steve planted the first blocks there in 1994 and is working with us to plant a few new rows for Cartograph.
We’re always excited by the Perli pick because we get to this beautiful vineyard just before sunrise and we wait for the orange tendrils of the sun to start pushing away the night sky. We always stand there for a moment, breathless with anticipation and stunned by the beauty. As soon as there’s enough light, away we go capturing the cool grape clusters.
You know we love the high elevation and proximity to the ocean that Mendocino Ridge gives us, so you can imagine our delight when Steve Alden of Perli introduced us to Dan Dooling, owner and grower at Mariah vineyards. Mariah Is another ridge or two west of Perli and typically a few weeks behind Perli as the Pinot ripens. Dan has been farming grapes at Mariah for more than 30 years and has some great stories to tell about how the area has evolved from sheep-herding to producing some of the country’s best wines.
The majority of Mariah is dry-farmed and has been for years. The 2012 Mariah Vineyard Pinot is from these dry-farmed vines, grown on a unique trellis that splits the canes into two side-by-side rows. As a result you get a sunny side and a shady side, each a bit different in sugar and acid content. The combination creates a wine with a great deal of complexity. This wine shows lots of fruit up front with vibrant acidity on the finish.
Mother Nature delivered an excellent harvest season this year. The vines kicked off budbreak quite a bit earlier than usual thanks to our very dry, warm winter. Without rain, there was no moisture to keep the roots wet, so when the warm early spring arrived, the buds began growing. Luckily there were no frost events after this early start, nor any extended heat spells this summer. All of our fruit looked beautiful and had wonderful flavor.
After that early start, we had feared that we'd get the typical late August/early September heat waves to push us over the edge early. But, just as though we had ordered it, the temps dropped as we were reaching the finish line and let us call the shots on when to pick. The weather patterns are now changing and we're getting a bit of rain. We're hoping that this winter brings an abundance of rain to refill the reservoirs and lakes.
I'm always a bit too superstitious to talk about harvest until the wines are really resting for the winter. Well, this year we put our last Pinot in barrel the first week of October. At that time last year, we were still picking—this year, we picked our first fruit August 16! We've never picked a grape in August before this year. It truly was an unprecedented season.
After all the handwringing and worry about the early budbreak and fast-moving growing season, as soon as we started picking I began to relax and all those concerns vanished. The reality was that the vines had started growing so early that we still had decent hang time, so the flavors are very good. The early start also put us in a position to sit back and wait out those vineyards that we are typically fighting to get ripe before the rain comes in October.
We're always looking for the flavors to really pop before we pick. In some years, like 2012, flavors are lagging behind while sugars are climbing. Those are the years where we have to hold back and wait for the right flavors, which leaves us with slightly higher sugars and alcohol levels over 14%. 2014 was the opposite, with good flavors showing up well ahead of where I expected. I was blown away when I tasted the Gewürz and the flavors were wonderful at 18 brix!
As a result, we picked at very reasonable sugars and I think there might be one wine pushing 14% alcohol. Everything else is mid-13%, and although the Riesling is still slowly fermenting, it's going to barely break the 12% mark with a classic flavor profile for a dry Riesling. Not to get too nerdy (too late?), but I’m seeing some interestingly high acids after primary ferment, so I'm watching how things move as they go through malolactic conversion. Is it too early to declare the vintage cellar-worthy? Maybe, but I'm already excited to taste these wines in a couple of years.
Thanksgiving is one of our favorite holidays because it’s all about sharing a meal with friends and family. With Thanksgiving less than five weeks away, it’s time to talk about wines that might pair well with your menu.
Riesling and Gewürztraminer are both classic wines for Thanksgiving, since they both complement dishes that are spicy, salty, or sweet. The Riesling’s bright citrus and stone-fruit aromas plus its vibrant acidity make it a great pairing with sweet potatoes, turkey, and spicy or herb-filled stuffings. The Gewürz, with its hugely aromatic nose and spicy palate, can stand up to the rich flavors of both the turkey and the gravy. Both are high in acidity, which helps cut the richness of the meal.
Pinot noir is also a traditional favorite for Thanksgiving for several reasons: its combination of earthy undertones with bright red fruit plays well with the traditional aromas and flavors of Thanksgiving, and high-acid Pinots (like ours) cut through richness without sacrificing flavor. Pinot also tends to be lower in alcohol than bigger wines such as Cabernet and Zinfandel, which can be a good thing for a meal that lasts a few hours.
What to pick: Pinot from the Russian River Valley or from Mendocino Ridge? If your meal includes flavors like figs, beets, butternut squash, and pumpkin, we suggest Mendocino Ridge. If you’re planning on flavors like persimmons, spinach, green beans, and pears, then go with the Russian River Valley.
And a curveball: Rosé of Pinot Noir. It’s the wine we sip as we are preparing the meal because its bright, lively flavors dance across the palate without overwhelming the food we’re tasting. During the meal, we like it between courses as a palate refresher.
For a Russian River Valley Thanksgiving:
For a Mendocino Ridge Thanksgiving:
Order your Thanksgiving wine by November 17 to allow plenty of time for shipping. You can also email or call Serena directly (email@example.com, 415.994.1889) to place an order.
Right now: American Wine Story documentary featuring Alan and Serena is available on Itunes
Nov. 5: Russian River Valley Single Vineyard Night, San Francisco (for a 15% discount on general admission use this code: SVN14WINERY)
Nov. 22: Winemaker Tasting: Floodgate Vineyard Vertical Tasting 2009 - 2012, Cartograph Tasting Room
Dec. 6: Winemaker Tasting: Perli Vineyard Vertical Tasting 2009 - 2012, Cartograph Tasting Room
March 3: Sonoma in the City, Chicago
March 20: Pigs & Pinot Grand Tasting, Healdsburg
See our Events Calendar for all of our events
Alan’s headed back to the winery to get the barrels ready for their winter hibernation and Serena’s off to the warehouse to pick up wines for your Thanksgiving table. Please let us know if you’re coming to visit us in the tasting room; we’d love to catch up with you in person.
Alan, Winemaker/Owner, and Serena, Owner