Monday, December 27, 2010

Questions and Answers Regarding 2010 Harvest

Before anyone starts yelling at me for not blogging, my excuse is the 2010 harvest kept me busy and stressed out. I don't have any preconceived ideas that any of the harvests will be routine or similar in any fashion. This harvest seemed more exhausting and quite a bit more stressful than the previous ones.

The growing season of 2010 was cool with lots of fog until noon most days. People became very concerned about mildew, mold and ripening the fruit. Many but not all farmers made changes to how they farmed. People did leaf thinning to expose the fruit to the sun and prevent mold. Some dropped fruit in hopes of veraison not being delayed any longer. It was hard to make the call. That was tough enough but then we had a huge heat spike, in the 110+ range in Dry Creek, that caused some ciaos. As Kerry was explaining to people, the grapes didn't have their sun tan or it was like exposing a baby's bottom to the tropical sun. They JUST weren't ready for it. No one realized the damage until about a week later. Many grape clusters were damaged and lost due to the heat/sun-they just collapsed. Such an ugly sight to see. There was great debate on what to do as this was a situation not seen by the growers or winemakers. Kerry worked closely with our growers on how to handle the situation as we all had one thing in mind-quality fruit and not just any fruit. Decisions were made on leaving the raisin clusters on the vines so it didn't screw up the growing cycle of the vines. Dead clusters were dropped a day before the pick and pickers were paid by the hour and not per ton so they focused on Kerry's direction. Kerry went through many vineyards vine by vine and instructed them what to pick. It took about 5 times longer for the pick but we had no choice.

We are lucky as a winery because our growers, winemaker and us work closely together. Not everyone had that mind frame and who could blame them as growers lost a lot of revenue. For us, I can say the quantity was down but quality ROCKED. Kerry kept saying as the fruit rolled into our crush pad, "the flavors are incredible, or this is the best fruit they have ever brought us...". I'm proud of the growers and Kerry for all the effort they put in during the harvest-it made all the difference in crafting outstanding wines for the 2010 vintage.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Childhood Habits Turn Useful

As I walked the vineyard with Dutchess this morning and sampled grapes, I couldn't help but laugh at how my early childhood habits have become good characteristics to have in this business. Just to set the tone and give you a picture, my mom was great and the family was a priority for her. She made snacks , packed lunches and cooked well balanced meals every single day as part of her routine to nourish the family and develop good life long eating habits in her children. My brothers were her easy children-loved milk, fruits and veggies and never complained about texture/flavor issues of the food. I, on the other hand, was the challenge child for my Mom. I definitely had my opinions about food but I always had to eat what was fixed and try everything that was served for the meal. Good habits developed as we could eat at friends homes and choke down horrible foods and ones we didn't like so we didn't offend our hosts.

So, the back ground of meal expectations has been set and now I can explain my issue with grapes. Great food for young kids as you can cut them in half and they become non choking finger foods as we learn how to feed ourselves. I was OK with that but the skins were tough to chew with a bitter taste and that was the beginning. I began just to eat the pulp and leave the skins as one does with a baked potato. So Mom started to purchase different kinds of grapes (not many options in the Midwest in the 70s). The green ones tasted too tart for me most of the time. The reds ones had no taste/flavor in my opinion. Some had seeds which I didn't want to eat. I could go on and on. My mom mixed them with chicken salad, in fruit salad, roasted them with pork as a few of the examples. I couldn't stand under ripe ones and the ones with dimpling were just as bad to me. Basically, I thought a grape was pointless as it had no flavor but they were great projectiles in the school lunch room.

Who would have foreseen the fact that my pickiness was a precursor for my future. I love walking the vines to sample the grapes, check sugars and flavors. I actually chew the skins as it is where the flavors reside and the seeds no longer scare me. I don't like chewing the green under ripe ones(but I need to know the color and texture of the seeds) but it's good to bite down on the brown crunchy ones as that means they're ripe. Being picky about flavors as a kid has become a strength for me now. My palate is a much needed tool for my life. Thanks Mom and Dad for letting me voice my opinions as it allowed me to stay curious in what I was tasting. Who knew that was the precursor for my life. I'm sure my folks never dreamed that I would some day be a farmer - let alone a grape farmer. I guess when people ask about the start of my career, I should say it began in the 70s. I would love to point out to my Mom that I wasn't a picky kid, just a future vintner in the making but I don't think she would find it too funny.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The call has been made-We Pick Friday!

I was just informed by my Head Winemaker, Kerry Damskey that the first fruit of the 2010 Harvest will be brought in on Friday morning 9/10/2010! I am like a kid at Christmas with the anticipation. The Brix at the moment are 22.8 for the Sauvignon Blanc and 25 for the Viognier. The crew will be out early-around 630am for those who want to watch. Should be a fun time at the winery that day.
Stay tuned for pics and videos of the pick and beginning of crush!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Dutchess takes a second look at the dropped fruit

All weekend the crews were out in Dutcher Crossing vineyard and Dutchess was been a bit irritated. I'm not really sure if she was confused thinking we already dropped fruit so what the heck were they doing. She understands routines and this year, our routine changed due to the weather and the farming adjustments. She just surveyed the grapes this morning as usually the second time she sees red grapes in between the rows that are sweet and Mom is pulling her away so she doesn't eat them. She always likes the game of stealing a ripe cluster and running around while I try to chase her. I didn't chase her and the grapes didn't taste so sweet and she quickly dropped the fruit with a confused expression.

Sorry Dutchess but by the looks and taste of things, it's going to be several weeks before we can play steal the cluster game. Hopefully harvest will start in 2 weeks in our Sauvignon Blanc block.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

DCW Crew Visits Taylor Vineyard

The Taylor Reserve Cabernet is one of our flag ship Cabernets at Dutcher Crossing. That being said, the crew needs to have a great understanding of what makes it special to Kerry and I. I absolutely adore that vineyard, the owners and the wine produced from their grapes. Both the vineyard owners and us are so commit ed to each other that we agreed to graft over some vines so our production could increase over the years. Have to love that commitment to each other.

My staff will have a great time but I haven't told the ones who will sit in the back of the pick up my first visit story. Probably a good thing too. Pat told me to watch the tailgate as it could open and I chose to ignore it as who would put us there if it was an issue. Well, people should heed Pat's warning. As we were climbing the steep hill, the tail gate opened and out I tumbled! Ran to catch up to truck and knocked on drivers window to have him stop. Was just the start of an interesting day as I finished the day in Pat's Port cellar. You can only imagine tasting through all his ports!

So my advise to the crew is listen when Pat's says watch the tailgate (I've heard it hasn't been fixed) and wear your running shoes! I hope they have a great time and Pat doesn't loss any of them on the hill.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Wine... Ice Cream...!

For those of you that have heard me rant and rave about sorbet and ice cream, you'll appreciate the day I had today. I absolutely love sorbet and think it's the next best thing to wine. Now, I love analyzing flavors on my palate when I sip a great glass of wine however dissecting sorbet was a different experience. Who cares how different it was-I LOVED IT!

A small producer walked 2 of us through a tasting (just like a wine tasting flight) and it challenged my senses and taste buds. I needed to learn the descriptors for this product. I knew what I was tasting but was having a hard time putting names to the flavors. i improved as the tasting progressed and now I'm ready for the next tasting. We gave our suggestions and we were invited to the plant to participate in the making of some of the flavors. Life was great today. Can;t wait until I can visit the factory but until then-check this item off my bucket list.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Trying to be a Country Girl but...

So I didn't grow up in a large city like Chicago or Los Angeles but I certainly wasn't a farm girl from Wisconsin. Don't ask me how but I forget I live in the country. What makes me realize I am in the country or on a ranch now are the snake sightings! For all those lovers of snakes, please don't take offense as I understand their importance in the world and even more in the country but I can't say I want to see them during my walks.

First sighting was a very large rattle snake not too far from our blackberry bushes. Sunning itself and relaxing until Dutchess decided to have a sniff. needless to say but I freaked out. Poor Dutchess heard a blood curdling scream and high tailed it home. Snake knew we were there after that. It coiled up and I took off! I went and got a shovel (that is what everyone tells me to carry on my walks). Started to return to "chop the head off" and decided that was a very bad idea. Knowing my luck, I would miss and then I would have a very angry snake.

Moral of the story and walking in the vineyard-CARRY A SHOVEL AND DON'T WALK BY A DRIED UP CREEK!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Life during the rains touched on after the rain blues have past

the sentiment from many people has been that I have severely neglected my blog. Boy that was a big understatement. I can honestly say that it wasn't intentional. The hard rains of the winter had me thrown off my A game and the lack of sun didn't make my disposition very rosy. My apologies for my neglect and I promise it won't happen again... well, if Mother Nature keeps the sun away for that long again I'm not sure what I'll do. I'll just post videos of the rain and my winemakers standing in the rain bottling... won't be the most glamorous posting and unfortunately, you'll see the frustration from those of us who need and crave sun.

Now on to more fun subjects. THE RAIN IS GONE. We hope to not see it again until after the last fruit is brought in from the vineyards this harvest. The rain still lingered as bloom approached but there was minimal shatter for us-a little in the Sauvignon Blanc block. Just a quick basic explanation of shatter for those who may not understand. The vines flower and each of the tiny flowers represent the possibility for a single grape. If the flower shatters, there is no chance for a grape to form on the cluster from that flower. No vineyard likes shatter in the cluster but we came through the rain better than some. Some of my southern friends in the valley had their Cabernet blocks have quite a bot of shatter.

We've gone through 2 different bottling sessions since I last wrote on the blog. I must say Kerry and Jim did a great job in icky wet conditions. I must share one story from our December 09 bottling. let me set the tone-Kerry is running on fumes and I am way past sleep deprived. I am asleep finally and the call comes at midnight-7 hours before bottling is to begin. Kerry realized we did not have our crew to work the line as cases were coming down the belt. Don't even ask us how we both missed it but we had a change in staff and that one slipped through the cracks. He was a bit panicked as he did not want to delay bottling as wines were great and ready to go. Neither of us had Norma's number to check about the crew. My simple response was "How many people do you need? Don't worry about it-I'll have people ready to go at 7am." With him being convinced and told we would be ready, I had to solve the problem. Have to love my friends as the ones in the area received called, texts and e-mails at 12:10am. We rallied some people and Kerry and I were ready to stack cases if we couldn't get Norma. Thankfully, Norma and her crew could step in when called-Kerry and I would have been in bad shape hauling cases anyway as neither of us slept the night before. We laugh about it now as we couldn't believe we missed something so simple-you can bet that won't be a mistake we repeat!

Holidays came and went and Dutchess was still able to drop a few more pounds. Down 10 lbs and counting. Not bad for a Lab who didn't want to run in the rain. She just found the biggest puddle and laid down in it every day.

That's the quick version of the last 8 months-I'll fill in a bit more over the next two weeks while I give you some current update of action in the vineyards and on the crush pad.