Visit at Big Basin Vineyards.

A couple of weeks ago Bradley Brown, owner and winemaker at Big Basin Vineyards called me. Originally he was looking for some vineyard sources in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and wanted to know if I had fruit to sell in 2007 (I won’t, I’ll use it all). We ended up talking for over an hour on all kinds of subjects. Mostly we talked about fruit quality in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and our marketing efforts as two new wineries in the area. Bradley is just a few years ahead of us.

He invited me to come visit his facility and taste his barrels and wines. So, I managed to get some time last Friday and took the drive over to see him and his assistant winemaker Ian. I had a good idea of where to find him, since I’ve been to the golf course at Boulder Creek, and he was just past that. Still in the mountains you don’t want to count on Google or Yahoo, so he left me detailed instructions.

He’s built a beautiful little winery on his site, all out of redwood milled on the property. The space above the winery is a yoga studio. All the equipment is state of the art for such a small operation.

We tasted wines from 05 and 06 out of barrel and a bottle of 2004 Rattlesnake Ridge Syrah. Bradley has only made Syrah’s so far and he and I both agree Syrah has a great future in the Santa Cruz Mountains. He also gave me a little sample of his first ever Pinot Noir from the 2006 vintage.

All his wines are plush, deep and full bodied Syrah’s. Great dark fruit, with excellent complexity and depth. If you can I’d sign up now for his mailing list, as the secret is starting to get out and scores of 90+ are rolling in from Wine Spectator and Robert Parker.

We talked over our winemaking styles, techniques and preferences and we had a great deal in common with what we are trying to do. Bradley uses a bit more new oak than I do, about 50% vs 25% for my Syrah’s but his fruit stands up to it very well. He’s also not made any Cabernet, and asked me to bring some samples by when I can. Everything he and Ian do is well thought out, and no corners are cut in making great wine. It was a great experience to see another start up not cutting any corners and going top of the line in making wine.

We talked at length about what we might be able to do to help each other out, particularly with some marketing ideas on how we can get the word out on the new high quality wineries just coming on line in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and if some of the other new wineries might be interested in talking with us also. He was off to visit family for the holiday’s but we agreed we’d meet again in January and see where we might take things together in the future.

Nope, it really is this slow.

I know it’s been awhile since my last update, but there really is very little going on in the wine world right now.

In the winery everything is settled down in barrel and the 2006’s are going through Maloactic. So there’s no tasting and no fiddling with the wine. Just let it sit and finish it’s work. The 2005’s are also sitting. No more racking or changes for the Syrah until bottling in February. The Cabernet will go through one more racking in the late Spring.

In the vineyard, it’s also sit and wait. I start pruning after the full moon in January, so no work on the vines for 4 more weeks. The ground has been to hard to do any work on trellis repair, but we did get some rain this week. That should soften things up enough to start work on fixing any hardware issues.

I do have a trip out on Friday to Big Basin Vineyards to report on, so the next update will be Friday or Saturday.

A Note on Allocations.

I’ve spent some time recently thinking about what we are going to do regarding allocations for our first few releases. It looks like we’ll have more people who want wine than we’ll be able to handle. Our very conservative business plan was to have 150 mail order customers by the end of 2007. I figured 1/2 of those would buy wine, an average of 6 bottles per year, or 3 bottles per release per buying customer.

It looks like we’ll be way ahead of those numbers by April of 2007, much less December.

I’d like everyone who signs up before our planned April release of the 2005 Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah to be assured of getting a bottle. I also like the practice of Brian Loring at Loring Wine Company, and Randy Sloan at Match Vineyards of allowing customers to buy bottles in single quantities up to their allocation, so I’m going to do that for sure.

So I really think the limit is going to end up being four bottles per person. We’ll give people the option of requesting more, and if we have the bottles, we’ll get them out to those of you who have asked for 1/2 cases or even full cases.

We also will bottle six magnums of the 2005’s. Two we are keeping for ourselves and we’re planning on the other four bottles being thank you gifts for those of you who order your full allocation and request additional wine. It will be our way of thanking our first and best customers.

Thanksgiving Wine

Happy Thanksgiving.

I get asked often what wines go well with Thanksgiving Dinner. The anwer is ‘none’. There really isn’t any wine that pairs with the traditional rich and sweet Thanksgiving dinner. At least not in the classic way of pairing.

The holiday is also one where you’re likely to have a lot of guests in the house who don’t drink wine often. The complexities of an aged Burgundy are likely wasted, and Aunt Mildred isn’t going to be impressed that you opened that $200 bottle.

So keep it simple is what I recommend, and open some crowd pleasers. Pull out wines with bold fruit and easy textures. Oaked Chardonnay’s are a favorite of many, and if you can’t bring yourself to buy a bottle, try opening a Viognier. The white wine drinkers will love the floral nose and sweet fruit. Avoid Sauvignon Blanc, it’s spiky acidity is off putting to many who don’t drink wine often.

For reds I always open a Zinfandel. For one it’s the most American of wines. It also is full bodied and fruity, another crowd pleaser. Syrah or a Shiraz from Australia will have many of the same qualities. While many new style Pinot Noirs from California would fit, you should know what you are opening before hand. A bold wine from Sea Smoke would make everyone happy, but a Chambolle-Musigny like wine from Windy Oaks would puzzle many of your guests.

When the pies come out, bring out some sweet treat dessert wines or better still a nice Brandy.

Haut Tubee

Every year we host a harvest party in our backyard. The highlight is a grape stomp. I put out about 600 pounds of grapes in a 1/2 ton bin and let our friends go at them. Everyone has a lot of fun and we end up with a lot of juice.

A couple of years ago Stefania thought of the name “Haut Tubee” for the resulting wine. A take off on the hot tub in our backyard and a little play on one of her favorite wine La Mission Haut Brion.

This year we ended up with one full barrel of Haut Tubee. Besides the Cabernet grapes from the stomp I blended in a little of the wine from the house. Some Syrah, Grenache and a tiny bit of Mourvedre. It’s all in barrel now at Chaine D’or with 1/2 barrel of Zinfandel that I just finished up today.

There’s a pretty good chance I’ll blend all of it together into what used to be called a Mistra Negro in California, a ‘dark blend’ or field blend of red grapes. Right now my plan is to give it away. We’ll give some to everyone who came to the harvest party and stomped the wine, and we’ll likely give some to people who order our first releases of wine as a thank you gift.

It tastes pretty good at this point, and doesn’t have even smell at all like feet.

Enjoying a Glass of Wine.

A couple of weeks ago I had a few visitors in from Florida who wanted to barrel taste our 2005 wines. Things where a little crazy at Crushpad and I ended up setting up a little serving area out on the loading dock, on top of a one ton bin. We tasted through each wine and each barrel treatment and did a blend of barrels to get a final assesment.

Stefania couldn’t join me so she asked if I could bring a little wine home for her to try. I ended up with about 1/4 bottle of both the Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah and the Uvas Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon left over.

We sampled a small glass of each when she got home from work, and then put the bottles aside to make dinner. Later that night I poured a glass of each as we went to bed and took them into the bedroom to enjoy as we watched the late hockey game.

It was the first time I’ve actually gotten to drink our wine. Every other occasion has been a ‘tasting’ either a rather stressful technical assesment at the winery, or walking visitors through the wines. In that atmosphere I’m more concerned about what is going on technically with the wine and make choices on what to do. It’s been an intellectual exercise, not a pleasurable one.

So sitting in bed that night I was really amazed. The wines are damn good. I couldn’t get enough of the Cabernet. It was savory, and well balanced with a great texture and nice Cab fruit. I kept going back to it until the glass was drained.

It was a totally different experience. Just getting out of the cramped noisy conditions at Crushpad and having the time to really savor the wine and enjoy it was fantastic. Both just tasted damn good.

Lots and lots of pictures

Finally had a chance to get through all the seasons pictures. It’s been so busy, but I got them organized finally. There are too many to share here, or on the website at http://localhost/wordpress/, so I’ve used bubbleshare.

Pressing “Haut Tubee”

Harvest Party!!!!

Moving Barrels

Chanine D’ Or Cabernet Sauvignon Harvest

Uvas Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Harvest

Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah Harvest

Pictures are on the Way.

We really did take a lot of harvest pictures this year. Maybe too many in fact.

Instead of posting them all here or at I’m going to put a bubbleshare page together and provide a link. That should be done by tomorrow night.

I’ll be back blogging every 2-3 days as well. We took a few days off this weekend to recover and relax but I’ll be back at it now.

Finishing up in the Fields

Saturday we had a rough day at Chaine D’Or. There were supposed to be 10 pickers, and only four showed up, then two left early to go install a lawn! That left us with just two people to pick. Stefania and her friend Kathy came up and helped finish the last rows and Jerry and slowed crushing down enough to get out and help pick also.

It lead to a very tiring day, probably the most tired I’ve been yet making wine.

We had a nice birthday dinner with friends Saturday night at Alexander’s in Cupertino and enjoyed a few great wines: 1998 Grand Mayne, 1999 Leoville Barton, 1997 Caymus Special Selection and the highlight a 1996 Latour.

Daylight savings on Sunday was a nice break, and extra hour of sleep before heading out to harvest Zinfandel and remove the last of the brid netting. We had had to leave the netting on the Merlot the week before to get to the winery in time, so we took that off as well.

We took the Zin up to Chaine D’Or to make there and cleaned up the equipment from a busy weekend.

Kathy, Millie, Yukari and Bill all came over on Sunday afternoon to watch the Sharks play, and Stef made a traditional dish from Chile. We had a few more nice bottles, a 98 CdP, a VGRoth Cab from the 80’s and some Syrah’s I pulled out before finishing the evening with a little scotch and some noice cigars. Sounds like a late night, but I was asleep by 7:45!

Update on the New Wines

2006 Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah – Mendocino County

Went into barrel today. Really good dark color and showing a good nose. I used two different yeasts this year, both that bring out more floral smells, and it looks like it took in bin. It looks like we’ll be about 14% alcohol with good sound acidity again like 2005. I filled 5 full barrels, one new French Oak, two two+ year old French Oak, one once filled American Oak, and one twice filled American Oak. That should work out to about the equal of 25% new oak that worked so well in the 2005. We also have 32 gallons of toping wine or about 1/2 barrel. That should be about 130 cases of finished wine.

2006 Uvas Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon – Santa Clara County.

This looks like a rock star so far. I changed up yeasts here too and went for a more open nose. It went into bin at 24.5 BRIX and 3.65 PH. That’s exactly perfect for me and should end up about 13.5% alcohol. The color is very dark this year. I didn’t do a cold soak this year, I thought that lead to color issues last year. It has an amazing fruit nose right now for a wine half way through fermentation. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, this may be the best wine we’ve made so far. I think we’ll be at 5 full barrels and I’m planning on two new French Oak, 1 one year old American Oak, and 2 two year old American Oak. Pretty heavy Oak, but I think this wine will handle it this year.

2006 Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon (with 5% Merlot)

Typical for the Santa Cruz Mountains this year this came in with sound BRIX (25.1) but low acidity (PH 4.0). We’re having to correct the acidity as it ferments, that’s just to low for what we are after. It’s got a SCM nose right now, a mix of fruit and minty flavors. The challenge now is to get the acidty fixed and lock in the color. It was slow to start, almost 24 hours more than the Uvas Creek to start fermenting. We’ll watch this like a hawk. It’s got all the stuff to make a great wine, but we’ll have to stay on top of it. The Eaglepoint and Uvas Creek are making themselves, but this one will require sound winemaking. This will get about 1/3 new wood I think.

We still have Zinfandel to go. I’m hoping we get enough fruit for a full barrel, and will pick that Sunday and make it at Chaine D’ Or.