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August 2007
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October 2007

Harvest, Weeks of September 10th and 17th

2007's harvest got off to an early start, driven by a dry winter and resulting low yields, and spurred by the warmest stretch of the summer in mid-August.  Since we've hit mid-September, though, it's cooled off here, with daytime highs in the 70s, marine layer in the mornings, and nights in the 40s. This has meant that after our first rush of Viognier and Chardonnay we've had a leisurely time of it.  Over the past two weeks, we did make our first pickings of Grenache Blanc and Syrah, and a few stray parcels of Roussanne and Vermentino, but the bulk (75%) of the harvest is still out on the vines, like this head-pruned Tannat vine below:

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We did get a little early-season rain last Friday, but less than five-hundredths of an inch, not enough to do anything more than wash a little dust off the vines.  The strange squall was the culmination of an odd cut-off low pressure system that stalled off the coast of Santa Barbara, but wasn't warm enough to pull in much moisture from the Pacific.  We weren't particularly worried (Ryan Hebert, our Assistant Winemaker and Vineyard Manager was actually hoping for a quarter-inch or so of rain to keep the dust down) but we're looking forward to the scheduled warm, dry weather of this week.  It looks like we'll get our first lot of Grenache in tomorrow.  One more photo, before I sign off: a couple of bins of Roussanne from last week, on the back of the tractor on what we call the "new hill".

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Recommended Wine Blog: The Best of Wines

Thebestofwines
I recently got a note from one of our wine club members, Steve Stumpf, about a wine blog he'd started recently.  I visited the site, not expecting too much, and loved it.  The writing is funny and irreverant, the topics mercurial and interesting, and the presentation full of cultural references and clever, appropriate images.  I recommend it highly: http://www.thebestofwines.com.


Syrah/Roussanne Harvest and Co-Fermentation

Each year, one of our favorite Syrah lots in the cellar is one that we co-ferment with Roussanne.  We typically blend about 10% Roussanne into Syrah, de-stem the two grapes, and then ferment them together in an open-top tank.  The lushness of the mid-palate of Roussanne helps round out the Syrah (which can be fairly angular on its own).

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This year, we encountered an unexpected problem, as the Roussanne refused to be de-stemmed.  We've never had a problem with this before, but with particularly tight clusters in 2007 and the overall small berry sizes, it seems that the berries just won't give up their grips on the stems.  So, we're having to press the Roussanne and add it to the fermenting Syrah as juice.  A close-up of the Roussanne is below:

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We've consistently had better luck co-fermenting Syrah with Roussanne than we have with Viognier.  Although it's commonly done in the Northern Rhone (and has been copied by California producers) we've never found it to do the trick.  For us, Syrah is very aromatic and long, with its only flaw being a bit hollow on the mid-palate when it's young.  Viognier further emphasizes the aromatic character, but if anything the resulting wine is more notable (perhaps because of the explosive aromatics) for its relatively underdeveloped mid-palate.

Oh, well.  We're still learning.  Every year brings something we haven't seen before.  This year, it's Roussanne that refuses to be de-stemmed.  Next year, who knows!


Harvest 2007 Begins!

The 2007 harvest is underway.  As I've written about this year, we've had a relatively unusual year for weather, with a very cold, dry winter delaying the beginning of budbreak and flowering, and then a remarkably moderate summer, with few days over 100 and no extended cold spells.  It's been alternating weather patterns, with a week at a time of warm, seasonable weather (days in the mid-90s, nights in the upper 50s) and then a cooler week (days in the 80s, nights in the upper 40s to lower 50s).  These relatively moderate conditions have combined with the drought to encourage many producers here to look forward to 2007 as a potentially top vintage.  We'll see.

Bob_haas_viognierSo far, we've begun the harvest with Viognier on August 27th.  Bob Haas, at left, holds up one of the first Viognier clusters outside the winery.  Also the week of August 27th, we did a cherry pick of the Roussanne from the top on one hill, and began the harvest of the Chardonnay for our "Antithesis" Chardonnay.  Yields, as others in the region are reporting, have been down.  Our Chardonnay crop was a little more than half what we saw in 2006, but intensity has been excellent.

The week of September 3rd, we brought in the rest of our Viognier, as well as a little Grenache Blanc and the first big chunk of our Syrah (all of our "A" and "D" clones).   The Syrah "C" clone, which we believe is our highest quality clone, is still out in the vineyard.  The photo below is of a cluster ripening outside the winery.

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With the lower yields, we've decided not to make any Vin de Paille white dessert wines this year.  It's just too big a cost in production, and we want to make sure to protect the dry wines which are our core focus.


Paso Robles Rhone Rangers Experience

Rhone_rangers Back in January, we helped organize the Paso Robles Rhone producers into a regional chapter of the Rhone Rangers.  I wrote about the importance of Rhones in Paso Robles an few months back, and it's been gratifying to see how the member wineries have jumped in to contribute.

We're coming up on our first big event: the Paso Robles Rhone Rangers Experience on October 6th.  This is designed as an immersion into Rhones and into Paso Robles.  It includes seminars in the morning, held at Cass and at Tablas Creek, a Paso Robles classic tri-tip barbeque lunch at Eberle (cooked by Gary Eberle, the first person to plant Syrah in California), a walk-around tasting featuring the wines of the 20+ Paso Rhone rangers members, and a gala 5-course dinner at the beautiful new Calcareous facility in the heart of the Adelaida hills west of town featuring rare and library wines from the member wineries.  We're providing transportation for the entire day, and feel that it should be a wonderful experience.  It's not cheap ($215/person, or $195 for Rhone Rangers sidekick members) but it should be really content-rich and lots of fun.

I'm interested... is this the sort of thing that you would want to come to?  Or are educational opportunities on wine so easily available in California these days that the price is prohibitive?

We have full details on the event here.

I hope to see many of you there!