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.
This is an interesting time to talk with winemakers and growers. I’ve mentioned in previous newsletters that we’re quite a bit ahead of average for the season in some vineyards. The other night I had dinner with Steve Alden, who owns the Perli vineyard up in the Mendocino Ridge appellation, and something he mentioned seems to sum up where we are.
Looking back at his notes from the 2011 season—a cold year—Steve noticed his Aug. 11 note, "No color at all in the Pinot." On July 7 of this year, he saw the first color in the Pinot vines at his Perli vineyard. Something tells me that we'll be picking early up there and in select Russian River Valley vineyards.
The image above is from the Floodgate Vineyard on July 6 . . . not much going on. However, the image below, also taken on July 6, is from the Bucher Ranch. We assume we’ll be having to make pick decisions in just weeks. Luckily, we’re planning to bottle the 2013 Pinot early in August, rather than later that month as is typical.
Something we've been excited about for some time finally came together at the end of June: Cartograph is featured in Gatherings: Recipes from the Rustic Soul of Healdsburg, a beautiful book by Jack Sonni that pairs Healdsburg wineries with local restaurants. We’re teamed up with the awesome new Spinster Sisters in Santa Rosa, named one of the 100 best wine restaurants in the country by Wine Enthusiast.
You can pick up a copy of Gatherings in the Cartograph tasting room or online. Its release inspired us to create a number of recipe pairings for our wines—watch for them soon on our website and in the tasting room.
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.
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