Thanksgiving is one of our favorite holidays because it’s all about sharing a meal with friends and family. With Thanksgiving three 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:
- 2013 Floodgate Vineyard Gewürztraminer (for a more lush white wine, go with the 2012 vintage)
- 2011 Floodgate Pinot noir (if your guests prefer more fruit right up front, then go with the 2012)
- 2010 Russian River Pinot noir
For a Mendocino Ridge Thanksgiving:
- 2013 Greenwood Ridge Riesling
- 2011 Perli Vineyard Pinot Noir
- 2012 Mariah Vineyard Pinot Noir
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.
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.
Our harvest season kicked off in full force on August 14 and now things are wrapping up. We did our last pick on Tuesday Sept. 23rd which was the Riesling pick. All the grapes are in and in various stages of fermentation and aging. Some highlights of the season thus far: grapes look and taste great, we've had Circle members join us on picks which has been fabulous, we added one new vineyard this season, we had a great release party and we're having a lot of fun in the midst of sleep deprivation. Now the focus is on everything happening in the winery. #harvest2014 - Serena
Did we ever think we'd be on the big screen, NEVER.
But a project created by Three Crows Media is going national! Please join us on Saturday September 27th at the Raven Film Center in Healdsburg. The director of the American WIne Story will be on hand and along with several winemakers will do a Q&A after the movie. It's an amazing story about inspiration, guts, and passion.
Cartograph Circle members are invited to join us at the tasting room at 6pm to meet the director before the movie. We have a block of tickets reserved for you.
It will also be available later this fall via Itunes and Netflix.
SInce August 14 we've become well acquainted with the pre-dawn hours in the vineyards. We've picked Pinot noir at three vineyards in the Russian River Valley - Bucher, Floodgate and Choate and picked up north in Mendocino Ridge at Perli Vineyard. The fruit looks beautiful and tastes great. We anticipate three picks this week and then the Pinot noir will be all wrapped up. Looking forward we still have the Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Sangiovese.
So as we prepare to release the new wines, we wanted to remind ourselves of the 2012 season. And, in a nutshell, 2012 was a very good year. We've come to understand that there’s no such thing as "normal" when it comes to growing seasons in California. Normal seems like a ho-hum word, but when it comes to weather it can be music to grape-growers’ ears.
For winemakers, the 2012 growing season was a dream come true. Late-winter rains subsided just in time for the vines to start their season early in March. There was no frost pressure, and warm temperatures prevailed all summer, with few serious heat spikes to threaten the early ripening varieties in the Russian River Valley. A long, moderate Indian summer gave us ideal ripening conditions and allowed us to make pick decisions based on our goals rather than picking to avoid rain or extended heat spells.
It all sounds simple, but we hadn’t had this kind of growing season for a long stretch—and the outstanding 2012 vintage is proof that when everything goes well, the wines absolutely sing. The cool 2010 and 2011 seasons played right into our winemaking style, resulting in bright and lively wines; the new 2012 wines are all that with just a little more fruit on the mid-palate. We're excited to release these new wines and hear what you think of them.
Picking Pinot in August?
We've never picked Pinot noir in August, but this year we picked two blocks of Bucher Vineyard Pinot on the 16th! Last year was an early year and our first Pinot came in on September 2. I woke on the 15th thinking I might call a pick in one block on the 18th, but after pulling some sugar samples and tasting the flavors I really wanted to get the grapes picked ASAP.
I started the wheels in motion; 16 hours later, at 4 a.m., we were in the vineyard picking. We couldn’t have done it without the crew at Bacchus Vineyard Management; grower John Bucher; and the flexible team at Punchdown Cellars, our winemaking facility. You'd think that this whirlwind of activity hitting so quickly would have been stressful, but we now have enough picks under our belts that we were able to check our list of things to organize, get some sleep, and hop on the tractor to get started sorting.
It was nice that the surprise start meant we didn't have time to agonize over pick dates, weather and crew availability. Plus, first picks always find the weak link in the system; that night, it was a blown fuse on the lighting boom, so we worked with headlamps (which we know by now that you must have on hand always) and it didn't even slow things down much. After watching, waiting and maybe even praying a little, we're always thrilled to get out of the truck and into the vines.
Some people think we’re crazy, but we love night picks. It's a magical time to be in the vineyard, shrouded by fog, all the activity taking place in a little bubble of moving light. And it’s nice to have a single job while riding the tractor: grab anything that goes into the bin that isn't a grape, and chuck it. It's a good shift to go from worrying about the seemingly infinite matrix of possibilities to a laser-like focus on one task. And it doesn't hurt that just as we’re wrapping up, the sun starts to lighten the eastern sky to give us another beautiful sight.
The first pick of the season is often a harbinger of things to come. And if this is how things are going to go this year, bring on the grapes.
For some reason, no matter how well prepared we are for bottling, something always goes awry. We’ve seen the machine that puts the foils on the bottles eat the foils. The labeler puts on the labels askew or in clumps. The glass falls off the forklift and shatters. Murphy’s Law always seems to rear its head. And this year was no different.
We were lulled into a false sense of security early on when everything arrived at the winery on time: corks, labels, glass, foils. The racking of the wine went smoothly and we received all the lab test results quickly. On bottling day, the first kink revealed itself early when our doughnut order wasn’t ready for 7 a.m. pickup (sounds minor, but you get very hungry while bottling). That actually turned out to be okay, because by 8:15 the crew that was to help us with case handling hadn’t arrived yet. As it turned out, they weren’t able to make it at all, since unfortunately they had a minor car accident on the way to the winery.
We munched on doughnuts as we came up with a new plan. After a series of phone calls to friends who might be able to help, we finally got started. Eight hours later, 949 cases of 2013 Pinot noir were stacked, wrapped and waiting to be transferred to the warehouse.
Ah, now onto harvest!
It took five years of searching—but in 2013, Alan found a vineyard that produced Riesling of the quality he was seeking. At the Anderson Valley Alsace Festival tasting that year, Allan Green from Greenwood Ridge Winery shared a 25-year vertical of eight Rieslings from his Greenwood Ridge vineyard.
Alan was delighted with the wines, and after the tasting mentioned to Allan Green that he'd love to talk about purchasing some fruit. As it happened, Allan had been thinking about reducing his Riesling production as he prepared for retirement. The two struck a deal and on Oct. 7, 2013, we picked 1.9 tons of Riesling.
The slow fermentation took 63 days in stainless steel followed by four months aging in stainless steel. On March 31, 2013, we bottled 118 cases, and now we’re ready to release this incredibly vibrant wine. Some of you might have shared a racy Riesling with Alan over the years; it says a lot about the quality of this one that he's pushing to get it out the door to share it with you.
The Riesling is available as of today online and in the tasting room.
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