St Vincent’s Day

January 22nd is St. Vincent’s Day. St Vincent was a 4th century martyer from Spain and his holiday was part of the merger of Roman holiday’s into Christian ones in the 4th century, meaning he had a holiday named after him almost right after being killed.

St Vincent is the Patron Saint of vinegrowers and winemakers. The holiday and feast is celebrated in all of the Catholic wine growing areas of Europe, especially in Burgundy. The day begins with a morning mass, and the winemakers bring a bottle to leave at the alter. There is then a long feast that starts in the early afternoon and goes on late into the night. Everyone is expected to bring fine bottles to share with the other grapegrowers and winemakers at these feasts.

Before St Constintine merged the Roman religions with Christianity in the 4th century, the holiday was celebrated as Paganalia. Pagans were people who lived in the country and worked the land. The celebration started after the fields had been prepared for planting and the vines pruned, usually by the 3rd week of January. There was a huge feast, and people from the city would come and bring gifts and goods to the country people and wait on them at the parties, a kind of reversal of normal roles. Masks and costumes would sometimes be worn, so that no one could tell who was rich or poor.

A few weeks later the party would be reversed and the country people would head to the cities to bring gifts and wait on the city people. There was also costume wearing and great parades and dances. This holiday was called Fornicalia.

Paganalia became St Vincent’s day, and Fornicalia is now celebrated as Carnival or Mardi Gras around the world.

More Shipping Fun.

Here’s my experience with one of the six shipping companies I’ve evaluated so far.

First, someone always answers the phone there. It’s the receptionist, she’s not very helpful, but the phone has been picked up every time I call. She claims to take a message every time as well. So far 25% of my calls have been returned from them.

In addition I received an email response from them to one of four emails I sent.

That makes them far and away the most responsive of the six companies.

One company, I finally got through to a live person, I said, ” I’m inquiring about opening a new account, I’m a small winery…ect.”. She transferred me to someone’s voicemail in …….. accounting. New account, accounting, hey it was close. A very nice lady in accounting did call me back and said, “sorry, I’m the wrong person, you’ll get a call from so and so.” So and so never called back.

They are in second place right now as the second most responsive.

In third place is a company, that I managed to get a call back from in December. This was after three phone calls and an email. They didn’t want to fax me pricing, since they had new pricing coming out in two days. They promised me they’d fax the new pricing in two days (this was in mid-December), I’ve not heard from them since. Three more phone calls, two more emails, nothing.

If this is the level of service these companies provide, I’m afraid I’m in for a whole lot of headaches in the shipping area. Everyone’s been telling me it’s bad, and it’s a headache, but I didn’t think that the level of unresponsiveness could be this bad.

Another bad thing is it looks like I won’t be offering single bottles. I really wanted to do that. Since we’re a new winery I wanted to offer people the chance to taste and try a single bottle if they wanted. The pricing is just too much. It would be at least $17 to ship a single bottle from any of these companies. I had planned on eating some of the shipping costs, but at that rate it would still be $50-$55 a bottle to try a single bottle.

Pruning Update

We got off to a good start this weekend on pruning.

The weather was excellent, cold, but clear no rain or damp fog that can making pruning so difficult. Even the ground was ok, a little mud but not too much. Some years the combination of mud and grass gets so bad that we joke about “adobe boots”. You have to stop every 15 minutes or so and work the mud off your boots to go on.

Saturday we got the entire Elandrich Vineyard done, all sections, about 2 acres total and still had time to get Kathy and Millie home done as well. The vineyard looked really nice, and it was especially nice to have no signs of Powdery Mildew, after fighting it so hard in 2004 and 2005. There is still one section of Cabernet that is lagging behind, but everything else looks great. We pruned mostly to a single bud per shoot. That’s pretty severe pruning, most people leave 2-3 per shoot.

I like the dappled sunlight and better airflow though that this severe pruning allows. It also means I don’t have to go through in August and drop a lot of fruit trying to get the rest to ripen. Or pull a lot of leafs off to let sunlight in. Basically I’m doing all that work now. This lets the vine naturally concentrates all it’s energy on the fewer bunches. I end up with 1.5-2 tons per acre vs 4-5 tons per acre for most places and super concentrated fruit.

Sunday we finished most of the Llama Vineyard, just a few rows to go there this week. What a drastic change in this vineyard from the real mess we took over. Now all the vines have reestablished trunks and proper V.S.P. training. We should get our first good yield from this vineyard this year, even though it needs about 70 plants still replanted.

It was nice to have mother nature cooperating, we’re off to a great start this year.

Full Moon’s

A couple of years ago I started pruning after the first full moon in January. Before that I did it more or less randomly in January, when I could.

There was no real good reason for this. It was just traditional. People used to wait until after the first full moon in January to start pruning and they tried to finish by St Vincent’s (The patron saint of winemakers and vinegrowers) day on January 22nd. Modern followers of the practice, including bio-dynamic farmers, believe that the moon’s pull on the vines subsides after the full moon, and the plants will heal faster from the pruning and not loose as much ‘energy’ through sap bleeding.

I just figured “can’t hurt”.

I have seen better performance in my vines the last two years, but I’ve made so many other changes, who knows if the moon is having any effect at all. I remember Jerry Anderson telling me; “Farming is not science, it’s trial and error, and you can never limit it to one variable”. That’s so true. I don’t know what effect, if any, pruning on the moon phases has had, but I know it hasn’t hurt, so I’ll keep doing it.

We’ll start on Saturday, and I’ll work hard for the next couple of weekends to finish all the vineyards before St Vincent’s Day. It also means 2007 is officially under way in the vineyard.

Shipping Problems Already?

Since we haven’t bottled wine yet, it would seem impossible to have problems with our shipping company, but we have.

I picked out a small storage and shipping facility in the South Bay in April. I wanted somewhere local, that could deliver to restaurants in San Jose and ship to people as needed. They seemed to fit the bill well and we marked them off on our permits.

Well November came, and I wanted to sit down with them and make sure they’d be able to ship inter-state well, and could handle the wide spread of our customers. So I called, and emailed, and called and emailed, and nothing. I think they are still in business, but they never called me back. So I started checking around. There’s one other shipper in San Jose I found, but they were geared for large volumes. The smallest price they had was to ship a case, and they could not even quote shipping single bottles.

So I started asking around. Kevin at Copain, Randy Sloan at Match Vineyards, and Bradley Brown at Big Basin all had recommendations I checked out. Some places never got back to me, or said they would send me information and never did, or just never responded to me. I figure some of that is the holiday season, so I’ll contact them all again after the 1st. Still the experience has been something. Randy Sloan had a good quote: “I can’t say I’m happy with my shipping company, but they are not pissing me off at the moment and that’s about as good as it gets.” Everyone else had simliar comments.

So I’ll spend a lot of time in January it looks like tracking down a storage and shipping company and it will likely be in Napa. More time in a truck for me, I never thought winemaking would mean so much time behind the wheel.

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.