Inside Pinot is an in-depth exploration, led by winemaker Alan Baker, of all the stages of Pinot noir production: growth through fermentation and maturation.
When Alan starts sugar sampling in late summer, he saves and freezes juice samples—so in one sitting, you can taste samples from every stage of winemaking. You’ll sample along the entire process (including tastes of current releases and library wines) as Alan gives a verbal and visual tour of how Pinot Noir is made. With only eight seats at the table, this is an intimate look at Pinot noir with plenty of time for discussion on a wide range of winemaking topics.
Inside Pinot tastings cost $50 per person and typically last about 90 minutes; reservations are required. If you’re interested in doing this tasting with a group, please email Serena (email@example.com) so we can arrange a date for you.
The winter citrus and spring lettuces are almost a distant memory and the garden is moving fast in this warm weather. I dug close to 90 heads (!) of garlic recently; it’s now curing, and we'll have some for you in the tasting room soon. The beans, melons, tomatoes, cukes, and more are putting on a lot of growth in the abundant sunshine. (We’re hoping to create some delicious cannellini bean recipes to pair with our Pinot release this fall.)
While the hyacinth, tulips and daffodils have faded, the apple, cherry and peach trees bloomed ferociously and the fruit is just starting to show. Our Fuji graft onto the Gravenstein should yield fruit for the first time this year!
In the vineyards, our early spring and above-average temperatures have everybody scrambling to keep up. There seems to be no such thing as a "typical" growing season anymore—we're definitely seeing spectacular early summer growth already. Most vineyards would be making several passes to sucker, get the canes trained into the trellis, and then pull laterals (secondary canes that keep moisture in the fruit zone and shade the fruit), but in many places we've had to do this all at the same time while wrestling canes that are much longer than would normally be expecting. All that adds up to slow going in the vine rows.
We’re delighted to introduce you to our new Cartograph Ambassador, Emily Somple.
Emily is a wine-country native, raised by two entrepreneurial parents in St. Helena, Calif. She began her career in the service industry at age 15 and continued to wait tables and bartend at some of the best restaurants in Napa Valley and Sonoma County while she completed her degree in music at Sonoma State.
Over the next dozen years, Emily traveled the world, performing on countless stages as a professionally trained singer while continuing her education in wine and food—but she always returned to wine country. While working at a bistro in Calistoga, Emily discovered that wine, food and music could be complementary art forms, and managed to create a position within the restaurant as a server/bartender/performer who waited on customers and sang with the house band during her breaks.
Emily came to us at Cartograph to take the next step in immersing herself in the wine business. Business is in her DNA, and a passion for wine is in her veins. We hope you’ll stop by the Cartograph tasting room to meet her.
On May 3, we invited Cartograph Circle members to join us for a wonderful tasting-room luncheon that paired two delicious paellas by Chef Fabiano Ramaci with our new wines. The heady aromas from the spices of the paella intermingling with the fruit aromas in the wines definitely made for a 2 + 2 = 5 moment.
The highlight of the afternoon for us was to be able to spend time with each of our guests. We’re always excited to hear about what you’ve been up to and about your fantastic adventures, wine-related and otherwise.
Lest you think that things quieted down after the release parties: The warm weather has the vineyards well ahead—maybe three whole weeks ahead, in fact—of where they would typically be at this time of year. Alan is in the midst of tasting all the 2013 Pinots and getting blends dialed in. We're also back into generating labels; purchasing glass, corks, etc.; and getting all the wines prepared for bottling in August.
We've also welcomed some new team members this month (read on for more) and the documentary American Wine Story, in which we’re featured, premiered at the Mendocino Film Festival (more to come on that this fall).
With our construction project on hold for the spring, we decided to utilize the space in our backyard to begin a project that Alan and I thought about this past winter. Here's the start of the project:
I can't tell you what the project is because it is a surprise for the Cartograph Circle but we hope to release the project in Spring 2015. I'll post more hints along the way.
Green Valley Pinot Noir: So few grapes, so much love.
A grower friend of ours swung by the tasting room one day in July 2012 and told us about a tiny vineyard in the Green Valley AVA that he was helping to manage for a couple who had recently purchased the property. We chatted about the challenges of working with such a small property; I told him that if the couple had any questions about winemaking, I’d be happy to help.
Fast forward: Life got busy and the owners, Tom and Ruth, asked if I would like to harvest the grapes. Having already committed ourselves to five vineyards, we were a little hesitant to take on another one . . . but our friend Rich was overseeing it, and Green Valley is a new and intriguing appellation for us, so I decided to throw caution to the wind and jump in without having set eyes on the vines. We were hoping to get a full ton of Pinot noir.
Our first visit to the property revealed that we were in for quite a ride. Birds had already picked one section clean and were methodically working their way across the block. With bird damage comes all sorts of other challenges; namely, the spread of botrytis and bacteria. Ruth started making daily passes to pull damaged clusters as we prayed for some heat to finish ripening the fruit. The weather stayed cold and the birds continued to feast.
Finally, the grapes got ripe and we picked the vineyard ourselves with help from the owners, the vineyard manager and some of their friends, all armed with pails, gloves, shears and knives. I showed everyone what kind of clusters to pick and which clusters to leave behind due to bird and wasp damage. As the picking pails started filling up, Serena moved to the harvest bin to be the final QA person, sorting each cluster and tossing the ones that didn’t meet our expectations.
The owners cringed as Serena tossed out about 50 percent of what they were delivering. However, tough love is the only way to ensure that you have something worth worrying over for the next year. By the time the final sort was complete three hours later, we had exactly 500 lbs. of Pinot. Ugh!
Given the small quantity of fruit, we thought we might get laughed out of the facility where we produce the rest of our Pinot, so we took the fruit to the Cartograph tasting room and fermented the wine in the back room (we’re a bonded winery, so it was all legit.) You never know about the batches of wine that come from a difficult pick, but the wine smelled nice and clean through fermentation and we pressed it with a small hand-powered press borrowed from a friend's winery—just a tasting-room prop for them, but it did the job for us. We got the last basket pressed and the place cleaned up just in time to open the tasting room for the day.
Working with such a small lot meant that we couldn't use our regular winemaking tools, so this lot is truly handcrafted in every sense of the word. And with only 12 cases available, we’ve made it an exclusive for our Cartograph Circle members.
So how does it taste? Here’s my tasting note.
2012 Green Valley Pinot noir (Harlan Vineyard)
Green Valley sits at the west end (cold end) of the Russian River Valley appellation. You can recognize the bing cherry aroma that you often find in Russian River Pinots but this wine also has hints of cedar, mint, and dried leaves in its complex aromatics. The wine is light on the palate with ample acid. And the flavors are also a nice balance of bright red cranberry fruit and a pronounced earthiness. Like the best cool-climate Pinots this wine has a certain taughtness or edginess to it. Imagine a violin string beginning to vibrate and sing.
The winter garden is slow to grow but once it gets going, it yields all sorts of tasty organic goodness to share in the tasting room. We have two kinds of oranges - juice and navel - and while the trees did get damaged by frost, the branches that were unscathed are prolific. Just the other day we noticed that in the trees have started putting on their buds for the new season so we are quickly pulling all the oranges off the tree. So, if you are feeling the need for some vitamin C, come visit the tasting room and help yourself to oranges.
The lettuces have finally hit their stride. We have forests of arugula that we are chopping down and bringing in. The red lead, curly leaf lettuces, and romaines are putting on full heads of lettuce that we can now start harvesting. Instead of planting a multitude of spinach plants, we only planted six plants this year and that seems to be the perfect amount so far for a household of two. We've been using the spinach in pasta dishes, soups, and we came across a delicious spinach and brussel sprout saute . The recipe is here - and the only changes we did was to chop the almonds, increase the vinegar by a quarter and decrease the maple syrup by a quarter.
The garlic, onions, barley, and fava beans are slowly growing. Unfortunately, the snails got the best of the sugar snap peas so we won't have any of those this year. The daffodils, hyacinth, tulips, and this beautiful purple flower whose name eludes me are all blooming. The blueberries look promising but the lack of bees continues to be a concern. On the apple tree, only the Fuji branch is in bloom, the Gravenstin limbs are just pushing out their buds.
That's the garden update. Come visit the tasting room and pick up some produce.
This late-winter part of the season is an interesting time for us. What you might think is a slow time—with the vineyards at rest and fewer people traveling—is in reality a little chaotic. Kind of like the frantic underwater paddling that keeps a placid-looking duck gliding upstream.
There are a lot of wine events this time of year that have us on the road; as I write this, I'm perched in a hotel room at World of Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara. In addition, our 2013 whites and rosé are heading into bottle soon. After getting all the design work done for new labels, plus the necessary approvals from our friendly federal officials, it's a fun game to get the bottles, labels, corks, screwcaps, foils, etc., all to land at the winery in a two-day window just before the bottling truck shows up. The Gewürztraminer and Rosé are right in sync with what we've made in the past: bright and bone-dry. Both of these wines will be ready for May release.
We’re also very excited to be introducing two new wines, both new grape varieties for us. We picked Sangiovese in 2012 from a small organic vineyard in the Redwood Valley, about an hour north of us. This fun, tart-cherry Sangio will be a special offering for our Cartograph Circle members. Also, after a five-year search, we finally found a Riesling vineyard that has a reputation for making great, age-worthy wines. We sourced two tons of Riesling from Greenwood Ridge in the Mendocino Ridge appellation. The wine is racy and incredibly vibrant, and, as you might expect, dry! I've had a lot of fun working with these new varieties and can't wait to share the wines with you.
You've all heard about the drought conditions here in California almost as much as we've heard about the winter that won't end in all points east of the Rockies, so I won't ratchet up anybody’s stress levels by bemoaning these things. But the sun is climbing higher in the sky, so relief is in sight for our friends to the east, and we're thankful for every drop of rain that in now falling here in the west.
For the past several months, we’ve been exploring recipes that pair well with our wines. We’re delighted to say that we’ve had many successes, thanks in part to the guidance we’ve received from our chef friends and the wonderful wine/food pairing books we’ve received from friends andCartograph Circle members.
Why is it important to know what foods go well with which wines? So you don’t create a bad flavor profile that makes your wine taste flat or dull. For example, asparagus is a notoriously hard flavor to pair with wine—so don’t center a meal around asparagus and plan to serve a wine that you’ve held in the cellar for several years.
Our winter garden is yielding only lettuces and spinach these days, so we feel lucky that we froze so much garden produce last summer. We’ve used fresh spinach in combination with cannellini beans and tomatoes from the summer harvest to create some tasty pork, salmon and halibut dishes that work well with Pinot. With the winter rains, mushrooms have started to emerge in Sonoma County; we know that Pinot and mushroom dishes tend to pair delightfully, so we’re excited to find local mushrooms. As we continue toexplore recipes, we’ll make them available in the tasting room and post them on our website so you can see what we’re playing with.
Do you have any recipes that you enjoy pairing with Cartograph wines? We’d love to hear about them. Email them to us or send us a link at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy Valentine’s day to the Cartograph Circle. A little Valentine poem from us to you.
Roses are red
Violets are blue
The winemaker said
He made a special Pinot to share only with you
(2012 Green Valley Pinot Noir for the Cartograph Circle only, to be released in 2014)
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