Sunday, January 29, 2012

CLOSING THIS BLOG DOWN... see SierraFoothillsWineries blog from now on

Somewhere along the way of learning about high elevation grapegrowing and winemaking, I found a true California love:  the Sierra Foothill wine region.
And so as not to confuse my friends and followers (or myself), I've re-defined my blogging.
Please follow the blog:   click here

Saturday, November 5, 2011

2011 was Challenging Year for Petite Sirah:El Portal Vineyard, CALAVERAS COUNTY, Harvest Report

Mark Skenfield, Viticulturist with Vinescapes Vineyard Management, sends this Harvest Report from one of the vineyards under his management, the El Portal vineyard in Murphys.  Grapes from this vineyard are used to produce the wines for Newsome-Harlow Winery of Murphys in Calaveras County, CA

The El Portal vineyard in Murphys, Calaveras County, has 3 separate blocks of Petite Sirah planted specifically for Newsome-Harlow Winery.  The vineyard is organically farmed by Mark Skenfield of Vinescapes Vineyard Management with meticulous attention to all viticultural practices.  Through pruning designed for low yields, careful selection of shoots, agressive fruit thinning and specialized fertilization, El Portal produces pristine, intensely colored Petite Sirah ear-marked for a premium bottle of wine.

Varieties like Petite Sirah, which love warm weather for ripening, had a challenging year this year.  2011 started out cool and didn't reach typical summer temperatures as often as previous years.  This caused increased issues for disease, irregular fruit set and ripening and stretched the harvest season much later than growers like.  Vineyard managers had to earn their pay this year.

The grapes that were lucky enough to come off the vine early in the harvest, looked less stressed than normal and developed complexity without reaching excessive sugar levels.  Later ripening varieties, like Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel had to ride out some heavy rains and some extended hang-time before being harvested.  Sometimes the looming potential for rot forced the wineries hand to bring the fruit in a little earlier than they normally would like.  Other times, the berries didn't look as pristine as they normally would.  Sugar levels in these varieties didn't reach the heights they normally achieve, but the fruit came in with mature characteristics - minimal "green" qualities with lots of complexity. 

Ultimately, the fact that grapes were often picked with lower than typical sugar levels actually can benefit wines by holding the alcohols levels down and helping fermentations complete efficiently.  If vineyard managers were diligent and tended carefully to the challenges presented from the 2011 growing season, winemakers still had quality fruit to work with to create solid, albeit uncharacteristic foothill wines. 

More about Newsome-Harlow, from their website:

Scott and Melanie Klann created their own label, Newsome-Harlow, in 2000 with a couple of partners and a small batch of wines crafted from premium Calaveras County grapes. Scott's original partner and life long friend, Mark Skenfield, was one of those who started the winery. The name Newsome Harlow is the combination of the maiden names of Scott and his original partner, Mark Skenfield, a long time Calaveras resident and vineyard manager.

Their first vintage — a mere 150 cases — was sold exclusively to those on the winery’s mailing list. Ten years later, Newsome-Harlow is recognized as having some of the best wines in Calaveras, and produces 3,200 cases of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Sauvignon Blanc and five signature Zinfandels that sell out each year.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Yields lower but good brix and balance: CALAVERAS COUNTY HARVEST REPORT from IRONSTONE VINEYARDS

This report from Ironstone Vineyards, Calaveras County:

At Ironstone Vineyards, last week we picked our Syrah.  The grapes came in very late for us and were down about 20% from normal yields, but the good news is that they came in at 24.6 brix and had a beautiful balance.  Director of Winemaking, Steve Millier stated that the grapes looked “awesome”. 

Ironstone Winemaker, Steve Millier checking out
the Reserve Chardonnay before harvest.
We also harvested our Cabernet Franc, which came in at 24.6 brix as well and had really nice fruit and intense color, so we expect to repeat the quality we have been seeing in our Reserve Cabernet Franc wines! 

This week, we are picking our Merlot, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon and we will finish with Petite Verdot and Malbec.  This year, we had quite a few new vineyards to harvest and were very happy with the quality level of fruit that came from them.  It goes to show the importance of topography and how incredible the Sierra Foothills is for high quality wine grapes! 

At Ironstone in Murphys, we harvested Tempranillo, Petite Sirah, Verdelho, Viognier, Muscat Canelli, Chardonnay, Symphony, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Verdot and Malbec-that is great diversity!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Amador Winery Damas Vineyards HARVEST REPORT: Quality excellent, but light yields

Mara Feeney, harvest coordinator at Damas Vineyards in Fiddletown, Amador County, sends this report on their harvest:

In a big year, we can harvest 9 tons of Zinfandel from our hand-tended 2-acre vineyard in Fiddletown, so we were expecting about 6 tons this year. We got 4.   

The rain did soften up the grapes, forcing us to let them hang longer for our latest harvest ever, but in the end the quality seemed excellent. We typically produce big, bold Zinfandels, but think this year will bring a more elegant, smoother Zin more in the style of European wines. It will be a nice change of pace, and a year to remember.

About Damas Vineyards, from their website:

DAMAS Vineyard was planted in 1998 at approximately 2000 foot elevation, in Amador County, in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California. The vineyard has 1,250 Zinfandel vines and occupies an area of about two acres. The vineyard slope is shaped like an amphitheater, facing southwest, in the relatively tiny Fiddletown appellation.

Our grapes are head-pruned (the historic Amador way). We practice integrated pest management, which means pesticide use is minimal. We have a big composting operation and mulch our pruned canes each year to replenish the soil in the vineyard.

A famous winemaker once told us that, in his experience, the best wine grapes come from the vineyards that have the most footprints of the owners in them. Our vineyard is full of our footprints, as well as those of our city friends who love to break away from their professional jobs to get their hands dirty and get intimate with these beautiful vines. We prune, sucker, tie, cane-thin, canopy thin, cluster thin and harvest all by hand--striving for high quality, happy and healthy wine grapes. No wonder our wine has won a medals in competitions ranging from the Amador County Fair to the San Francisco International Wine Competition, an annual blind tasting of thousands of wines from all over the world. Our Zinfandel has also been selected for several prestigious wine clubs, including the NapaStyle and KQED Wine Clubs

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Fruit Quality Good with Balanced Wines, Lower Sugar Levels - FairPlay/El Dorado SKINNER VINEYARDS reports on HARVEST

Ryan Skinner, General Manager of Skinner Vineyards, Fair Play, Eldorado County, gathered this information from winemaker Chris Pittenger:

Winemaker Chris Pittenger, left,
Ryan Skinner, GM, right
"The Never Ending Harvest continues...

The stories of doom and gloom for Harvest 2011 have been as rampant as bunch rot, and I’m sure that most of us are tired of hearing about it by now.

While we are not immune to the forces of Mother Nature, the story at Skinner Vineyards is different from most that we've been hearing, thus perhaps worth sharing.

We have fared well as it relates to rot, but our two estate vineyards took the brunt of harsh late winter conditions in April, May, and June. For example, on May 16th alone, we had snow, rain, hail, lightning, heavy winds, frost and sunshine at our 2700’ hillside vineyard in Fair Play – all within a 12-hour period. Our steep slopes usually protect us from frost conditions, but continuously cold and wet weather throughout spring resulted in a very poor fruit set in many of our blocks. This, coupled with the one of the coolest growing seasons on record, resulted in very low yields and an extremely late harvest. 

However, not all is doom and gloom at Skinner.  Aside from the reduced yields, the fruit quality that we are seeing in the winery has been surprisingly good. Our growers and vineyard crews have worked diligently to drop unevenly ripened fruit and the occasional rot. While it is too early to tell how things will end up, we are seeing balanced wines at lower sugar levels, much like 2010.

Our first picks occurred on October 1st, which was the same day as 2010 (another late harvest). A surprise rain event greeted us shortly afterwards and put harvest on hold until October 15th. Since then, fruit has been coming in at a steady pace over the last two weeks with a mix of Syrah, Grenache, Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, and Grenache Blanc. We still have a little Syrah and Mourvedre hanging out which we anticipate picking within the first week or two of November – weather permitting of course." ~ author, Chris Pittenger.

More about Skinner Vineyards (from their website and press materials)

In 1852, an ambitious young Scottish immigrant named James Skinner came west to Foster's Bar Northwest of Coloma in search of gold and opportunity for his family.  A successful miner he also discovered the unvarnished beauty of the Sierra Foothills - along with an ideal climate in which to grow Rhóne varietals. He purchased land West of Placerville in Rescue along the old Pony Express Trail in the mid 1850s.  He planted vines, and by 1861 Skinner established one of the first commercial wineries in California, a family business that thrived until the early 1900s. 
One hundred and fifty years and seven generations later, Mike and Carey Skinner have set out to bring Skinner wines back to the Sierra Foothills.  With their inaugural wine release in 2007, the Skinner family have now restored a legacy that is a much a part of the family history as it is of the history of gold-rush California.      
Skinner Vineyards and Winery is committed to producing exceptional wines that reflect the unique spirit of the Sierra Foothills, using the same Rhône varietals that were grown by our family more than 150 years ago. Our red Rhône varietals include Syrah, Grenache, Mourvédre, Petite Syrah, Carignane and Counoise and Petite Bouchette while the white Rhône varietals are comprised of Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc and Picpoul Blanc. At less than 2,500 cases currently produced per year, our wines are handcrafted and artfully vinted by veteran and well respected winemaker, Chris Pittenger.
The Skinner family's two estate vineyards are located within a short drive from the original 1861 Skinner Winery. The largest vineyard is in the Fair Play appellation, which boasts the highest average elevation of any AVA in California.  At 2,300 to 2,740 feet, Stoney Creek Vineyard includes 20 acres planted and is the site of our ridge top winery and tasting room.  With its view of the majestic foothill and Sierra landscape, crowned by the often snow-capped  Pyramid Peak, the site offers a stunning venue to enjoy Skinner wines.. In the El Dorado appellation, White Oaks Flat Vineyard sits at 1,400 feet and includes 13 acres planted. At both sites, the warm days and cool nights, along with high altitudes, combine to create natural acidity and highly-concentrated, complex wines.
Skinner Vineyards and Winery encourages you to visit the most breath-taking tasting room in all of the Sierra Foothills. 

Sitting atop our vineyards at 2,500 feet, you can take in 360 degree vistas of the Foothills and unimpeded views across the Sierra all the way to Pyramid Peak in Tahoe. Our 3,000 square feet of patio space provides ample seating allowing you to enjoy the cooling effect of waterfalls in the summer or warmth of fireplaces in the winter.  With furnishings and design that evoke our heritage tracing back to 1861, including a recreation of the stone cellar from the original winery, our tasting room is truly a special place to enjoy our wines.

Monday, October 31, 2011

"It may be the best Zinfandel year in recent memory!!!" Leon Sobon exults in his Amador County HARVEST REPORT

Leon Sobon sends this harvest report for Shenandoah Vineyards and Sobon Estate.  Both are located near Plymouth, CA, in Amador County.  Leon founded the business in 1977 and is widely recognized as a leader in the Sierra Foothills wine industry.

"The grapes are ripening well, and we should finish Nov. 3 or 4th.  Sugars are not high, but balance and flavors are excellent.

It may be the best Zinfandel year in recent memory!!!

Alcohols will be under or near 14%. The Zin crop is averaging ~40% of normal, with some of our best vineyards 25% of normal.  Because of the small crop and loose bunches, bunch rot did not develop after the rains. 

We just picked Barbera with a normal crop and excellent numbers.  Sangiovese was harvested on the weekend, and is in good condition, and that crop was about 25% above normal.

The weather at bloom time this spring seemed to be the determining factor. 

Cabernet is the only grape still hanging right now, and we are not sure what day we will pick.

More about Shenandoah Vineyards & Sobon Estate Wines (from the website):

Shenandoah Vineyards and Sobon Estate are family-owned wineries with a 32-year reputation for producing the best possible wines using low-yield viticulture and minimum intervention wine making techniques.

Sobon Family Wines emphasize high fruit and low tannins, and are made with our own sustainably-grown grapes. They reflect the unique Shenandoah Valley terroir, resulting in a richness and intensity rarely seen elsewhere. Award-winning Sobon wines are distributed nationally. Both wineries are open daily for wine tasting in the picturesque Amador County near Plymouth, CA.

Shenandoah Vineyards

Leon and Shirley Sobon founded Shenandoah Vineyards in 1977. They were one of the first four wineries in Amador County's now well known Shenandoah Valley appellation.
From the first offering of 1,200 cases, the winery has continued to thrive, adjusting the portfolio of wines over the years. It is now producing about 25,000 cases per year. Demand continues to grow as a result of skilled winemaking, marketing, financial planning, and strong family commitments to quality and service. Today, we continue to use estate grown grapes from our sustainably-farmed vineyards.Sobon Estate

The Sobon Estate winery started in 1989 when Leon and Shirley Sobon bought each other a second winery for their 30th wedding anniversary present. They purchased the historic D'Agostini Winery, one of the oldest in the state. This winery has been designataed as California State Historic Landmark #762.
This site was chosen not only for its historical winery, but also for its vineyards and vineyard land. The old vine Zinfandel was retained, and the other vineyards replanted with the best varieties and clones. The Sobon Estate label launched the estate line of wines for the Sobon Family -- the best wines from their own grapes. These include Rhone varietals, vineyard designated Zinfandels, and tasting room-only dessert wines.

Visit them at 14430 Shenandoah Road, Plymouth, CA  95669.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Amador County Harvest Report from Vino Noceto

This HARVEST UPDATE Q&A with the Winemaker, Cellarmaster, and Vineyard Manager at Vino Noceto, on  Shenandoah Road in Plymouth (Amador County) is courtesy of Anna King, PR & Marketing Director at Vino Noceto:

Last week Anna interviewed Winemaker Rusty Folena,  Cellarmaster Kevin O'Neil, and Vineyard Manager Dave Brown about this harvest.  “Despite all the negative press the weather has gotten this growing season, it looks like they have a pretty good feeling about the 2011 vintage for Vino Noceto,” said Anna.

Q  Anna: So everyone is talking about the weather throughout California this growing season. How did Vino Noceto do? How are our grapes?   

Rusty: This growing season started off wet and cool with snow falling on the vineyard as late as the end of June. The vineyard saw 35"-40" of rain in some spots this growing season. Last year we had 22". We spent a lot of extra money farming this year because of the rain.
Q Anna: That's a lot more rain? How does that affect the grapes?  

 Rusty: Everyone has rot this year. Sangiovese holds up to rain okay, but even it is starting to get some botrytis. I would say we had about 1% rot this harvest. We have to pick it out at the grape bins or at the sorting table or even in the hopper. Our leafers in the field do a good job of pulling it out. Some always gets through but it gives it character. 
 Q Anna: I still see some grapes on the vines. How is picking going?  

 Dave: Right now we probably have 80% of the vineyard picked. It basically happened in two days. We went from 10% harvested to 80% in three days. Dos Oakies will be the last block to be picked this year.   

Q  Anna: How do you decide when to pick? How did we manage to steer clear of the yield issues everyone has been worried about? 

Rusty: My job is to decide when to pick, what to do with it, and how we are going to do it. There is no canned recipe. It's about knowing the vineyard and analyzing it. We can be prepared a little but sometimes there's a curveball.   

Dave: Yield for us is normal this year. A few blocks were a little off but nothing bad.

Rusty: The yield will all average out. However, our yield is good probably because of the sole fact that we allowed the vines to be a mess. The proper canes were not producing fruit, and we allowed a lot of other shoots to grow and produce the grapes for that spur. Pruning this coming year will be a nightmare.

Dave: If we had pulled off all the suckers this year during pruning we would have had 2/3 less crop. 

Q Anna: So what do you three do during this time of year? We are always hearing loud noises from down at the winery...

Kevin: Harvest starts three to four weeks before picking with sampling, measuring the brix, sugar content, acid, and PH levels. We spend a lot of time recording. If everything goes right the sugar and PH go up and acid drops; at that point it's time to pick. If you have sugar flat-lining, acid dropping and pH going up, that's a sign of vineyard rot. In theory we are trying to pick before that happens. 

Dave: I hire the crews, supervise the picking and make sure all the equipment is working. I am another set of eyes. If I see a problem in the vineyard I let Rusty know. My job is basically providing a quality fruit for the winery. If I don't do my job the place rots.  

 Q Anna: Frivolo is released soon! What's the story with that?   

Kevin: Right now most of our daily work routine is dealing with the Muscat.

Rusty: The sweet white wine is the hardest. It takes a long time to get samples out of the pressurized tanks, and we have to run samples constantly. We establish a pattern of how the brix and alcohol are changing by measuring every day. We also have to be physically there to stop fermentation when it needs it, even if it is in the middle of the night. There are no do-overs.

Kevin: It ferments slow and cold to preserve the fruit. It's just more labor intensive. We have one more tank of that to go then we are done with this year's Frivolo.

Q  Anna: People love that Frivolo though! It's worth the work. What are some of the big decisions you make during harvest?  

 Rusty: The biggest decision is when to start harvest and picking because you can't put them back. There are different signs of ripening. Levels and measurements but there is also the colors of the seeds and way the grapes taste. If they don't taste good they are probably not going to make very good wine.

More about Vino Noceto from their website

California Sangiovese Specialist !
Vino Noceto is a family-run vineyard and winery founded in 1987 by Suzy and Jim Gullett in Shenandoah Valley, Plymouth, California. They are Sangiovese specialists, currently producing over 9,000 cases annually of Sangiovese from estate and nearby small vineyards. They additionally produce a wonderful floral Moscato called "Frivolo", as well as Barbera, and Zinfandel, and have twenty-four acres of producing Sangiovese and one acre of Syrah.
A pioneer in the renaissance of this noble Tuscan varietal, they now produce eight different Sangiovese wines (Chianti, Brunello, and Super Tuscan styles).

Beginning with their first, 1990 vintage, Noceto wines have been 100% Sangiovese, targeted at a Chianti Classico style. This style emphasizes the delicate and complex fruitiness of the Sangiovese grape. More recently, the Riserva Sangiovese has sometimes been blended with a small amount of Barbera or Syrah.
The Sierra Foothill soil and climate has enabled Vino Noceto to display these unique attributes while achieving a medium or slightly fuller wine. Neutral and large format oak aging allows a slow, gentle maturing of the young wine and adds a little spice to an already intriguing wine.
The last key step is bottle aging – at Vino Noceto, we endeavor to bottle the wine at least six months before release. At this point its various flavor components are coming together, leading to a distinctive red wine which complements a wide range of foods and represents good value for the consumer.

Vino Noceto has grown steadily from its first vintage of 110 cases to over 9,000 cases production, including 3,500 cases of Normale Sangiovese, 1,700 cases of Riserva Sangiovese and block-designated wines, 1,000 cases of Sangiovese table wine, 1,600 cases of a frizzante Moscato Bianco (Frivolo), 400 cases of Rosato, and three grappas made for us by St. George Spirits (Sangiovese, OGP Zinfandel and Moscato). With the 2002 vintage, they added a Linsteadt Barbera and Zinfandel from the Original Grandpere Vineyard. Renwood/Santino made the first five vintages, Amador Foothill Winery the next two, Folie à Deux Winery the next two, and the winemaking operation moved in-house with the 1999 harvest. Vino Noceto's winemaker is Rusty Folena, formerly of Renwood/Santino Winery, assisted by Stacey Gregersen, consulting winemaker.