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.