Yep We’re Still Here.

We definitely go through writing phases and neither one of us has been in one so far this year. We’ve been busy though with a few trips including a great 10 day adventure of hiking in Southern Utah. We’ve been keeping up on the vineyards and all the 2012 and 2013 wine in order. We had a good spring release which we never even put up here. The order page is updated though with current inventory.

If there’s something you’d like though that’s not on the inventory page send us an email. I have about a dozen different wine right now that are showing 1-3 cases in stock. Not enough to put on the web page but we could check for you if there’s something you really like.

We’re heading to Crimson Clover tomorrow to tuck the wines there. The weather so far in 2014 has been great. We thought the drought would effect yields but so far it looks like we’re on track to have about the same amount of fruit as a typical year like 2012. We’ll have a Summer Futures offer out soon and then a fall release around Sept 15th. It will be our first wave of wines from 2012.

We are also doing a new diet and fitness plan, with lots of hiking and we’re averaging 12-18 miles a week. I’ll see if the writing bug picks up again this summer. We’re expecting a little easier harvest this year than last so maybe I’ll even get some writing in at harvest.


Crimson Clover Harvest Pictures

By now this is a really familiar picture. Start of the morning in the FJ Cruiser.  I was up at 5:45.  Crimson is not far from our home compared to some other sites so leaving at 6:37 we were actually the first ones on site at just after 7AM.  Millie had come the day before and removed all the chopsticks from the netting so the first task would be to remove the nets.  Normally we’d have Jerry and Gil remove the nets and everyone else would start picking.  The weather was drippy and wet though with mist coming down and clouds all around the vineyard.  I kept checking the hourly weather update (which showed clear from 8 Am until Noon) and watching the clouds.  Everyone pitched in to take the nets off.


There was a little moister on the leafs but the clusters where staying dry.  They really looked fantastic.  We don’t generally leaf pull.  I prefer to get dappled sunlight on to the grapes rather than direct sun.




About 8:45 we got the clearing that we needed in the clouds and I sent the crew out to start picking as fast as they could.  Clouds hung around the vineyard all morning but as volunteers arrived on site they all said it was clear to the north of us, the direction any rain would come in from.




The first bin of grapes.  I picked about six bins total.  Once the bins started to fill up though my job changes to picking up the bins and carrying them to the macro bins for sorting.  Stefania calculated that I walked 12 miles in the vineyard, half of that carrying 30 pounds on my shoulder.  In all I carried out over 100 bins on Saturday and over 60 on Sunday.




This is Stef’s usual job on picking days.  She’s keeping a tally of the bins as they come in and sorting through the grapes removing any bees, spiders, lady bugs, earwigs, leafs, shoots, grass, water bottles or finger tips that come in.  We had a good pick this time with no injuries or bee stings.




I thought we might pick heavy this year.  Last year we brought in just under three full bins or about 2700 pounds.  That’s 1 1/2 tons per acre and pretty normal for this site.  I thought we would get 4 bins this year.  That’s a little bit of a logistical challenge because the biggest trailer I can rent only hold three bins, and I wouldn’t want to tow much more than the 4000 pounds a fully loaded rig weighs up and down the mountain roads we have to travel.  I figured we’d just come back Sunday though and finish up.  The third bin though filled up on row 12 of 23.  Rows 18-23 are shorter than the rest so we actually came back for 2+ bins on Sunday or just over 5000 pounds.





There was some drama driving back to the winery.  The forecast held and at Noon it started raining again.  We had covered the bins though and were already on the road when the rain started.  When we arrived at the winery we had to weight about 30 minutes for the misting to stop.  We then got everything processed and inside in just about 25 minutes, which was perfect because 5 minutes after we finished processing it rained as hard as I’ve ever seen at the winery.




We ended up with three full fermentation bins of must.  That’s a thermometer sticking in the must getting a temperature.  Brix was 14 and pH 3.80.  Reallly perfect for this vineyard.




We were out of the winery in time to get home and take a shower and visit our friend Ingrid’s house for authentic Chinese food.  The ‘pearl’ sausage balls were fantastic and there was a pot of ‘blood and guts’ that I really enjoy.  We probably drank too much and ate too much and stayed to late given we had to get up Sunday at 5:45 again but it was fun.




Sunday we returned and picked the rest of the vineyard as well as the Cabernet from the Roxy vineyard a block down the road from Crimson Clover.  For the first time there looks like enough grapes from Roxy (about 800 pounds so far) to do a barrel on its own.  Usually it goes into the Haut Tubee blend.  Sunday was one of those really tough days.  At 1 PM I had to stop picking and hauling grapes and just sit in the car for about 30 minutes to recover.  When we made it to the winery at 4PM with the grapes Millie was not there yet.  We’d sent her to pick up some sandwiches so knew we had about 30 minutes before we had to process the grapes.  I took my boots off and put them under my head on the cellar floor and fell asleep.

We ended up staying until just about 8PM.  The Chardonnay was ready to go into barrel so while Millie and crew cleaned up outside, Stef and I got the barrels ready and all the wine transferred inside.  Sunday’s dinner was traditional harvest food – beer and pizza.

Another Bottling Day Upon Us

Bottling is always one of the hardest most stressful things we do.  There are over a dozen different vendors to coordinate with and everything has to be timed just right.  It’s also hard because we do it just twice per year so getting experience for us and the crew has been a process that takes years.

This time we’ve also been fighting the weather and have had to reschedule twice around rain.  We just don’t have enough room inside to stage everything indoors and that means rain is a deal breaker.

Stefania and I came up yesterday to prep the wine and get it ready.  We’re doing a small lot of two wines.  Our 2010 Haut Tubee and a new wine we will release this fall.  There was a small amount of blending to do and Stefania had to check final SO2 on the wines so I could make the right additions.  Other than the drain backing up on us it went smoothly.

The forklift showed up at 8:30 and I got that positioned and ready.  The truck showed up at 12:30 with the empty glass and this is when I knew we’re finally at the point of being veteran bottlers.  The driver had forgotten to load a pallet jack and had no idea how to get the 1000 pounds of glass from the front of the truck to the back where the forklift could pick it up.

“No problem”, I said.  “I’ve had this happen before, I’ll show you what to do.”  So I went in the winery and pulled out my strongest rope that we keep for just this emergancy.  I showed him how to tie up a pallet and pull it out of a truck with the forklift.

Everything was wrapped up by 2:30 and we were able to get a late lunch and some hot tub time in last night.  This morning came really early:

53 degrees and 5:30 am when we hit the road.  We’re waiting now in the winery for the bottling truck to finish setting up.  If all goes well we will start about 8:30.  We’re using a small crew today.  Stefania, Millie, Ingrid, Jaye and I.  Another veteran thing we’ve learned.  It’s actually better to have a small experienced crew than a large one that needs lots of hand holding.

I’ll be busy most of the day so probably won’t have too many pictures, but I’ll try and get some as we bottle and get them up before Friday.

Rain, Drought, and Water Worries

This has been one of the driest years I can remember.  Right now in San Jose rainfall is at about 40% of a normal year.  We’ve only had a couple of good storms go through.  Mostly when we have had rain though it has been a light drizzle more than real rain.  The winter months of December, January and February had almost no rain at all.

The natural question to ask is how will this effect the vines and potentially the grape harvest in 2012.  The answer is – not very much.  The vines are dormant in the winter so not using any water.  Rain during that time is important to build up reserves for the dry summer months in the soil, but not important for the plants at that time.

I took the picture below on Wednesday of the Mourvedre vines in the front yard.  They are just starting to wake up and grow.  Now is when they need rain and water and right now we are getting regular little storms.  It’s been more than enough for the vines right now.  It has also been cool with highs in the low 60’s.  That means the plants will be growing slowly and don’t  need a bunch of water just yet.  It also means there is no risk of mildew since mildew needs temps to be over 70 degrees.

Another good side effect we will see this year is that the lack of rain has kept growth down between the rows.  You can see that in the picture below.  At this time last year the cover crop was a foot tall.  Those cover crops, and weeds compete with the vines for water, and this year those plants are small and won’t offer much competition.  Last year we had to mow three times in most vineyards and some weeds grew to 5 feet high.  This year we’ll likely mow just once or twice and it doesn’t look like anything will be over 18 inches tall.

We can’t count on the perfect timing of the rain though through the rest of the year and the amount of water in the soil is going to be an issue if we don’t get a lot of rain in April and May.  That’s why we have drip systems though and we can turn them on if we need them.  We usually don’t have them on so there will be some additional work we’ll have to do to get them ready before we can use them.  This means turning them on and walking every row to see where they have gotten leaks since we lasted used them and fixing the leaks.

So we’re not really worried about the rain shortage or drought at all.  Drought years like 2007 and 2009 have turned out to be some of the easiest farming years we’ve had, and produced great wines.  If we have to turn on the drip systems we’ll have additional costs in water and maintenance.  Those should be more than offset though in the savings from mowing and weed control.  Look for an update on the rain situation in May.  That’s when we will decide about turning on the drip systems or not.

This Years Weather

Early in the year there was a great deal of talk about the weather.  It was a cold and very wet spring.  We had unusual rain in May and June.  There was concern for the harvest this year.

The basic rule about the weather is that the spring effects quantity, summer effects the harvest date and fall effects quality.   The wet cold weather in the spring did effect quantity for us.  In our higher vineyards like Chaine d’Or we had really poor fruit set and quantities will be way down.  At another high vineyard, Split Rail, the quantity was effected so much that we won’t harvest any grapes this year.  The other lower vineyards will have smaller than normal yields but not as drastic as the high altitude vineyards.

The summer started cool, and we’ve not really had any heat waves.  I took the picture above from the top of Communication Hill in San Jose.  It should look familiar, it’s the same view you see on our labels.  That’s what summer has looked like all year.  Fog in the morning, sunny during the day, with highs in the 80’s.  That’s perfect.  Too hot and the grapes will shut down, too cold and sugars will not develop.

Right now I think we’re in for a late harvest.  Like 2009 and 2010.   It looks like it will be sooner than 2010 and that’s good, but we’re not worried.  We are used to waiting into late October.

So far quality looks really good.  We’ve had clean vineyards for the most part with mildew pressure only in the higher vineyards.  The clusters and berries look good.  A few more weeks of weather like this and we’ll head into fall in really great shape.

There’s still alot that could go crazy.  Too much heat, rain at the wrong time, or a number of other things could effect quality.  If, and it’s always a big if, we have a normal fall though we should be looking at an excellent quality, low quantity year.