We have just started harvesting our Estate Chardonnay (MAP KEY BELOW: Chardonnay is in Yellow). Our Chardonnay is hand-picked over a period of 6 weeks because there is so much variability in our 44 different blocks. The first clone we picked from our estate was Old Wente Chardonnay from our B blocks. We still have some blocks that are only at 16-17 Brix (the percentage of sugar in the berry), and since we usually pick around 23 Brix, we are a long ways out from those being ready.
Deciding on when to pick is always a challenge and this year is no exception. The veraison period was very long so the berries aren’t all ripening at the same pace. It makes finding that optimum day to pick trickier. To help us manage that variability, we are picking in mulitple passes to make sure we are getting the right mix of ripeness and structure.
We hand harvest everything at night, which allows us to bring the fruit into the winery at a very cool temperature. This helps the fruit stay fresh and bright and is more hygienic. Whole clusters are put into a bladder press for pressing, which gently uses the stems of the grapes themselves to puncture the fruit and get the juice out. This process allows for a gentler press, resulting in higher quality juice for making our wine. The juice is then put into a cold fermentation tank for a day. This cold temperature helps delay fermentation and allows time for the solids to settle to the bottom of the tank. Finally, the wine is racked into French oak barrels (20% new) for fermentation.
I'm really excited about the quality of our 2015 Chardonnay, the wines will have nice acidity and wonderful structure.
Steve Rogstad, Winemaker
I am just beginning to see the first signs of veraison in our Pinot Noir, our earliest ripening variety. Veraison is when the grape skins begin to soften and change color as the berries start to accumulate sugar instead of acid and the process of ripening begins. This is about 10 days earlier than “normal,” therefore we are on track for an early harvest. As vines enter veraison, the Brix level (percent of sugar in the berry) is quite low and varies with variety and season. We don’t begin checking the Brix level until about 3 weeks into veraison. For Chardonnay we often start harvesting around 22.5 brix and harvest slightly higher for Pinot and other reds.
At the same time, shoot tips have stopped growing and the vines are slowly turning their energy away from vegetative growth and into fruit and sugar development. I expect the period of veraison to be longer than usual, and believe we could start harvest in the third week of August, which will make it one of the earliest in my 14 vintages here at Cuvaison. With this early harvest and the cool weather during bloom and berry set, I anticipate a light crop for 2015.
Anticipating an early harvest, I moved all our traditional bottling dates up by a few weeks. We finished bottling the 2014 Estate Chardonnay in late June and just bottled the 2014 Estate Pinot Noir, 2013 Brandlin Estate Cabernet and 2013 Henry’s Keep in July. Then we can put the winery back together in time for Harvest!
Steve Rogstad, Winemaker
With the drought being a prominent topic of conversation in the news today, we'd like to share some "fun facts" on our water usage and what we do to make sure that we are utilizing every last drop:
Harvest is a bustling time of year in and around the winery, however in the months preceding I begin the careful process of hand selecting the very best fruit while it’s still on the vine. It is necessary for our vineyard crews to understand our high standards, and “drop” any berry clusters that are less desirable. Dropping fruit is a measure we take in both of our estate vineyards to ensure that only the best fruit is harvested.
(Left: No grape cluster is perfect. Right: Fruit clusters that do not meet our standards are cut off and dropped.)
(The diagram above corresponds with the following discussion points.)
A: Once the berries have been hand harvested and brought to the winery, they are gravity fed into a hopper.
B: Harvest workers examine each berry cluster on a sorting table, eliminating any clusters that are undesirable.
C: The clusters that make the grade travel up a conveyor belt and are gently gravity fed into destemming equipment.
D: Following the de-stemmer, the berries are optically sorted.
Cuvaison Estate Wines was one of the first, if not the first winery in the United States to employ the use of a Pellenc Optical Sorter. We use this highly tuned French technology for both Cuvaison Pinot Noir and Brandlin Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.
The optical sorter scans individual berries at a rate of 1000 berries per second, and rejects those that do not meet our stringent criteria. With its high accuracy, we have peace of mind knowing that only the finest fruit will make it into our wines.
The image above shows a comparison between berries that the optical sorter rejected (at left) and the berries that the optical sorter identified as keepers (at right).
Once the berries are optically sorted, they are pressed. Many wineries transfer the freshly pressed juice via a hose, however we believe this fresh and delicate product must be handled more gently. Therefore we gravity feed into stainless steel open top fermenters.
At Cuvaison we take a meticulously detailed approach to farming that starts from the ground up. After carefully mapping changes in soil depth, composition, drainage, aspect and slope, we planted the vineyard into a complicated patchwork comprised of 44 different blocks of Chardonnay and 20 unique blocks of Pinot Noir.
These blocks range in size from a few rows up to 12 acres, and each block has its own distinctive match of rootstock and clone. Each block is farmed as its own little vineyard, harvested separately and made into its own batch of wine.
By farming and crafting these wines in this way, we are able to knit together a more complex and fully realized expression of our Estate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir - as each block adds its own special nuance to the overall blend.
May in Carneros has been quite breezy but generally pleasant. In the early part of the month our vines bloomed and have gone through berry set. Winegrowers refer to “set” as those flowers that successfully fertilized and have become grape berries. The set looks quite good and we look forward to another fine vintage.
Although budbreak was early this year, bloom was essentially the same as last year, so we anticipate harvest starting about the same time as 2013, which at Cuvaison will most likely be the first week of September.
Post set, we start doing our leafing pass. The type and amount of leafing we do varies from block to block at Cuvaison, and takes into account row orientation to the sun and wind, as well as mildew pressure and risk of sunburn. In general, our philosophy is to prevent sunburn first and foremost, but with an eye to allowing some dappled sunlight and fresh airflow, to help season the skins and toughen them against any days of high heat or excessive moisture. We do this by hand removing interior leaves and lateral shoots in the canopy and leaves below the fruit zone.
2012 Estate Syrah
New Release | Estate Series
Just a superb year for Syrah from a cool climate vineyard.
An axiom of winemaking is to grow varieties on the edge of
where they will ripen. The soils and climate of our Carneros Estate provide the challenges required to tame the prolific Syrah vine and sharpen the characteristics that define this variety. Add in a long, cool growing season like 2012 and you have the makings of an excellent vintage. Our 2012 bottling boasts a full range of Syrah-esque qualities; gamey, peppery, bacon-fat, mesquite, lavender and rosemary notes backed with brambly cherry, boysenberry and blackberry fruit. The palate is full-bodied with rich, jammy fruit,
a touch of anise seed and long, silky tannins.
- Winemaker, Steven Rogstad
Young Shoots & Leaves
This is what our vines look like only two weeks after bud break. You can see the shoot tip (Anlagen) which will keep extending the shoots out for several more weeks and can grow, at our site, in warm weather up to half-an-inch per day. You can also observe the tiny clusters which will develop inflorescences and began to flower in mid-May. Our focus on the farm now is to protect these young shoots from mildew and frost as well as remove, by hand, any unwanted shoots that volunteer; a practice we call suckering.
We try to engage our Facebook fans whenever possible - and last week we offered our fans an opportunity to ask any questions they like. We think this particular conversation between Larry (fan) and Steven Rogstad (our Winemaker) is worth sharing and hope you learn something new!
2008 Sauvignon Blanc
From a single small parcel planted to the renowned “Musque” selection of Sauvignon Blanc, our Estate SB is a distinct expression of Carneros. The cool climate and limiting soils that typify Carneros temper the natural vigor of Sauvignon and produce intense flavors of honeydew, lichi, kiwi and lime. Chilled by morning fogs and buffeted by afternoon breezes the skins thicken and the berries concentrate producing a richly scented and densely packed SB. Tank fermented and sur lies aged, this wine is bottled shortly after harvest, without malo-lactic fermentation, to fully capture its aromatic intensity and bright acidity.
2008 Pinot Noir Carneros
An unusually cool spring gave way to a gorgeous Summer in ’08, with an even, temperate growing season. Crop size was quite small and when the heat finally did arrive, it got things jumping in the winery in a hurry as we rushed to pick the Pinot Noir before dehydration could set in. Once in the fermentation vats the pure fruit and lush flavors quickly began to reveal themselves. A classic Carneros Pinot, the 2008 is brimming with fresh berry and strawberry fruit, while the general coolness of the season is revealed in the intriguing lime and orange zest notes lurking in the background. Texturally the wine is quite focused with fine, firm acidity giving away to supple tannins and sappy fruit. This wine should drink beautifully over the next 3 to 8 years.
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder
Deep hued tones of mocha, coffee and boysenberry jam leap from the glass. The touch of Malbec intensifies the fruity/floral aroma as the wine warms your taste buds and the silky, plush tannins coat your mouth. The forbidding slopes and free-draining soils have done their work, concentrating the fruit and focusing the tannin of this mountain grown Cabernet. It showcases the best of Mount Veeder, dense, jammy fruit backed by fresh acidity and epic tannins.
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One of the occupational hazards of winemaking is being asked, repeatedly, what the vintage is like before it even happens. It’s like a college freshmen pretending to know what he’ll major in…hmmm, Electrical Engineering, only to matriculate with a degree in Abnormal Psychology 6 years later.
So, like Carnac I’ll try and get straight to your most burning questions:
Answer : When they are ready.
Question: When will you start picking the grapes?
A view of our 2009 Pinot noir, clone 115. The fruit has finally colored up and is uniformly dark, always a promising sign…
Actually, the other super cool omen that harvest is about to begin…
I snapped this photo of a Red Tail hawk diving through the Pinot this foggy morning and it reminded me of the other Red Tail that signals harvest…
Yes, it takes a lot of good beer to make good wine and this morning’s sighting of the Hawk foretells a pending harvest of excellent quality. The sparkling wine makers have begun pulling in the first loads of fruit, which typically start about two to three weeks before we get going. Pinot noir is coming on fast and we could start pulling that in as early as the 8th of September, though I suspect most of it will be the week or so after. Chardonnay will start in earnest the week after that and continue through most of October.
Of more interest will be the Brandlin harvest on Mount Veeder. Given the relatively cool growing season we would expect the Cabs off the mountain to be quite late, but some years, when the cool air settles into the valley at night, it stays warmer up in the hills and the vines push through a bit earlier. As I follow the weather forecasts, like a hawk (sorry, couldn’t resist), the early trends seem to be favoring this phenomenon, which could put the Cab fast on the heels of our Pinot Noir.
Next week the harvest interns start arriving from the four corners of the earth to scrub and polish the winery in preparation for harvest! I will be keeping you all updated via our amazing new blogosphere with even better photos then can be had from my cell phone…