Thursday, June 26, 2008

Smoke Gets in Your Skies

We delivered one barrel each of our 2007 Cinsault and Grenache to Peter Marks at Six Hands Winery tonight.

It is crazy how much smoke has filled the skies above Lodi and Clarksburg. In fact most of us have avoided the outdoors all week along with the double-whammy of upper-ninety temps and sneeze-inducing smoke.

Our smoke has been delivered from nearly due west of us, supplied by a fire at the border of Napa and Solano Counties. Elsewhere in California, random lightning strikes touched off more than 800 blazes of varying size.

On the plus side, this last week of spring usually brings temperatures over 100. The smoke has been so thick that it has damped average temps by five to ten degrees, helping our vines avoid shutting down.

Despite all the frosty, smoky drama this year, the growing season is progressing nicely.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A New Addition

Lauren BeckerWe were very happy to learn this morning that Craig Becker, our winemaker, just had a brand new addition to his family. Lauren Margaret Becker arrived on Monday, June 16, 2008, born at home at 2:41 p.m., 21.5 inches long and weighing 8 pounds, 6 ounces.

Winemaker Craig BeckerCraig reports, “Mom and family are doing great; mom is trying to rest as much as anyone can with a full house. The two sisters are very excited about being a big sister and a double big sister as the say. Thank you all for your support during the last few years, we are very grateful. We hope to see all of you soon.”

Congratulations, Craig!

Monday, June 23, 2008

It's Good!

Tonight, with a mixture of excitement and trepidation, Molly and I popped the first cork on our Lot 06 PANTHOS, which we bottled just four weeks ago.

We knew it was a bit too early to be past bottle shock, but we couldn’t resist, considering we are about to spend thousands of dollars on new labels and the wine better be good before we go through with that.

So with two perfectly-grilled New York steaks in front of us, we gave it a go…

We were very pleasantly surprised at how the wine evolved over the course of about an hour, developing nice aromas, starting with little more than subtle toasted French oak, then building layers of cherry, bacon, roasted coffee and floral herbs.

The deep burgundy wine is already showing flavors of raspberry/blackberry chocolate ganache – one made with Scharffen Berger rather than Hershey’s. Espresso coffee, most likely from the La Roza Vineyard Syrah, was obvious on the mid-palate.

There is still some bitterness from the tannins and SO2, which should attenuate and integrate as we go further out from bottling.

Overall, we were very pleased with our first effort, which is not an over-the-top fruit bomb, but rather elegantly full-bodied. This will go well with food – and went very well with our steaks!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Robert G. Mondavi

I was very fortunate as a former employee of Woodbridge to attend yesterday’s celebration of the life of Robert G. Mondavi at Woodbridge Winery.

It had been very clear to me the tremendous role Mondavi played in putting Napa Valley on the world wine map, as well as his technical winemaking innovations, such as stainless steel tanks.

What I hadn’t understood was the pivotal role he played in boosting wine quality in Lodi. It is possible that without him, farmers would still be growing thousands of acres of Rubired for insipid, low-end wines.

John LedbetterOne of a handful of speakers at the event, John Ledbetter of vineyard management company Vino Farms, said, “He took generic Bob Red and Bob White and changed over to varietals.”

Brad Alderson, former GM and founding winemaker of Woodbridge, added that Mondavi and his team, working with local growers, took Lodi, “From bankruptcy and table grapes, to an emerging winemaking region. It was his cheerleading and needling phone calls that did it.”

Marcia Mondavi Borger and Tim MondaviMarci Mondavi Borger, with brother Tim at her side, said, “He celebrated life from the tips of his toes to the top of his head. He had this area in his veins and carried it his whole life. He had a favorite fight song from Lodi High that he used to sing to us to get us going. Something about, ‘We are the flaming hoards.’”

“When I think of Robert, I think of passion, which was infectious,” said Alderson. “If you didn’t catch it the first time, he’d keep repeating, ‘It’s all about making great wines. We have the soil, climate and talent.’ If I heard that speech once, I heard it a thousand times. Continuous improvement was in his DNA long before it became a fad with corporate America. ‘Do it once and do it better the next time.’”

“He was always challenging others to do better.” recalled Ledbetter. “He always made you feel you were an integral part of the process by communicating his vision to you. One day in a vineyard at Peltier and Jack Tone Roads, he asked point-blank, ‘What could we do to elevate our wines to their rightful position in the wine world?’”

Rather than an enjoyable vacation, a 24-day trip to France with Robert and Margrit was more like, “a sort of Navy Seals training camp,” according to Alderson.

Brad Alderson"Traveling between stops, when [either Robert or Margrit] was sleeping, the other peppered us with questions about the wineries and Michelin restaurants we’d visited. Questions like, ‘Did they have flowers in the hall?’ Everybody was part of the team. It was a huge collective family.”

Alderson’s favorite time with Mondavi was the annual blessing of the grapes (which is scheduled for August 7 this year). “This wasn’t a PR event. If the press didn’t show up, we didn’t care, because it meant something to us. It took the support of our Creator to make great wine. We needed to acknowledge it once a year. If Robert were here, he’d say, ‘We’ve done well, but we can do better.’”

Speakers also included Woodbridge Visitor Center Manager Larry Pilmaier – excellent as M.C. – Lodi Mayor Joanne Mounce and Richard Sands, Chairman of Constellation. Michael Mondavi was not in attendance.

The celebration concluded with 24-year-old “performance painter” David Garibaldi’s hopping, dancing, and almost bull-fighting 15-minute portraiture of Mondavi set to a few classic songs, including Mondavi’s favorite “Volare” by Dean Martin. The performance was as awesome as Cirque du Soleil:

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Search For Treasure

Jon & I have been talking about this since last harvest, 2007...what other vineyards, clones and Rhone varietals should we consider adding to our treasure in the 2008 harvest? After much discussion (which, of course we thoroughly enjoy), we came up with some new vineyards such as Larry Mettler's Petite Sirah.

We did attempt to purchase some last year, but the portion of the field we were looking at had some late season issues. We're also taking some Syrah Noir to compare to the wonderful Syrah 470 we've included in Lot '06 and the 2007 vintage, to see what additional characteristics it might bring to our final 2008 blend. Al Bechthold's ancient vine Cinsault is being thinned more this year than prior years, even though it was only yielding about 2 - 2.5 tons per acre, and this year we're pulling from the northwest corner rather than the southeast section.

Each year we want to find more Lodi fruit from different, but exceptional vineyards to determine what benefits if any they might have in our special program. Even though we've already found some wonderful gold mines for our Panthos blend, there are certainly more undiscovered treasures out there and we don't intend to stop looking.
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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

How to make a cult cabernet

Just saw this on the Parkerboard. Great stuff!

The true believers: A new generation of Napa vintners pursues the holy grail of cult Cabernets.
Los Angeles Times, June 22, 2005
By Corie Brown, Times Staff Writer

How to make a cult cabernet:
1. Build your own high-tech winery, using no pumps, only gravity.
2. Burrow into the side of a hillside to create caves.
3. Hire Heidi Peterson Barrett or Phillip Melka as winemaker.
4. Claim extraordinary characteristics for your soils.
5. Plant vines so close together that they “struggle.”
6. Harvest only perfect grapes and sort twice to make sure.
7. Harvest as late as your nerves will allow.
8. Ferment your wine in micro lots.
9. Sell less than 1,000 cases of wine per vintage.
10. Charge more than $100 a bottle for the first vintage.
11. Offer the wines for sale only through mailing lists and at ritzy restaurants.
12. Pretend you’ve never marketed your wine.