September 2009 Archives

When I first sat down to write a post about harvest it was raining. That was over a week ago. Today it's hot, at 90 degrees. Go figure. Such are the vagaries of harvesting those little purple berries that we magically turn into wine. It certainly takes skill and patience, as well as a good dose of humor to handle the ups and downs that come with harvest.

You could say we've seen it all in the nearly 4 decades that we've been in business. From flawless vintages and ideal picking conditions to schizophrenic weather patterns that ended in near disasters on the vines. (1983 and 1989 come to mind.)  It comes with the territory as they say. Frankly, it's the one part of the business that is very difficult to completely control. And no matter what degree of planning and preparation you do, it's always a bit of a crapshoot.

No story illustrates this more than Dad's first harvest back in 1972. It was a scorching hot day and he was preparing to receive his very firstDave Stare First Harvest - Click photo to enlarge! load.  They were Chardonnay grapes from the famed Robert Young vineyard and we were all excited and nervous.  Our only employee, Mike Ruggee was driving the truck that would soon deliver that precious fruit.  Unfortunately, our old truck overheated and broke down on the way to the winery. Mike quickly flagged down a passing farmer who helped him fill the radiator back up with water. He then did something my 9 year old eyes had never seen before. He took an enormous wad of chewing gum out of his mouth and plugged up the hole in the radiator hose. This allowed him to slowly make his way back to the winery before the water leaked out or the fruit got overheated.

Things have gotten much more high tech around here in the 38 harvests since!

One thing that hasn't changed is our “stage” program.   In 1975, my father began an internship program for international winemaking students. Our first “stages” (French for interns) were Andre Chatteneau and2009 Interns - Click photo to enlarge! Bernard Cabe. They spent the 1975 harvest with us, learning “new world” techniques that would soon make California world renowned. Over the years, we've run into many former “stages” who have developed illustrious winemaking careers all around the world. It's a wonderful feeling to know that we played a small role in their professional development. (Andre went on to run his family chateau in St. Emilion and Bernard became a successful negociant in Bordeaux.)  This year we have two young men, Mathew Kirby from Australia and Phillip Vercuiel from South Africa, helping us out. They add a bit of brawn and rowdiness to an otherwise serious winemaking operation. (You know what they say, it takes a lot of good beer to make great wine!)

To date, we're about 55% through the 2009 harvest. TNova Perrill - Click photo to enlarge!he sporadic weather of the last week has had little impact and things are looking good. We have a great winemaking team and a host of small growers that complement our estate grown fruit. This year, we've added a couple of new winemaking techniques thanks to the ingenious thinking of our cellar staff. One is a new contraption designed to gently move whole clusters into the press by bypassing the crusher. Another is an internal pump-over device that keeps the skins and seeds inside the tank when draining and doing pump-overs. (The process of moving fermenting juice from the bottom of the tank to the top to promote a healthy fermentation.) Both of these techniques help us minimize maceration (squishing up) and handle the grapes as gently as possible. Stressed grapes in the vineyard make great wine; stressed grapes in the fermenter do not! 

Kim (Wilma) Working Harvest - Click photo to enlarge!While it's been many years since I worked harvest, I always feel a sense of nostalgia this time of year. The sights, the sounds and the smells are nothing short of amazing. And, in the end, things haven't changed all that much since the early days. Sure we're more efficient and have a host of modern winemaking equipment in the cellar. But overall, traditional winemaking practices prevail- just like in the good old days.

With the exception of the Bazooka bubble gum. 

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Every year I head off to Napa for the annual Wine Industry Financial Symposium.  Hoping to pick up some new pearls of wisdom and latest industry trends, I left the symposium feeling quite positive about how we're running our business. It appears we're doing everything we shouldVeraison in the Vineyard - click photo to enlarge! during these tough recessionary times. It also appears that our type of winery, the family-owned, well-established, value-priced, quality-oriented, appellation-driven brand is perfectly poised to pick up some new business as consumers “trade down.”

The symposium is in its 18th year and is a combination of consumer data, financial experts, and industry surveys on the overall health of the wine industry. While a number of indicators point to the fact that wine is still a good business to be in, (better than say, automobiles or new home construction) it's tough and getting tougher each day. Big wineries, as well as small ones, are feeling the crunch.  

Cautious optimism was the mood of the day. 

“Trading down” was a major topic. A lot of discussion occurred about the future of the $100 Cab. Then again, I was in Napa, so I guess that's to be expected. (Admittedly, I felt pretty smug, since our Cabernet averages $22-$24.)  Statistics show that today's consumers are desperately seeking value, but this doesn't just mean price. They're changing where they shop and what they consider necessities. (I don't know about you, but there's no question that wine is a necessity!) Value is in vogue and so is frugality.  It's cool to shop at Costco.  And this is true across all income levels, even the most affluent.  But, Americans still love luxuries.  Unlike a costly vacation or major home improvement, wine is still an affordable luxury than provides instant pleasure—hallelujah!  

At the end of the day everyone agreed: every major recession has one thing in common. They all end.  So, while we're not out of the woods yet, it appears that the economy is getting “less worse.”  And, wineries that are “relevant” to today's consumer will fare the best. 

Now back to that $100 Cab.  I know of scads of reasonably priced, exceptionally delicious and very pleasurable wines to drink.  As a matter of fact, I have one right here in front of my nose.

And quite a few cases in the back if you want more.

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I have been to more wine events than you can possibly imagine. I've poured, I've sipped, I've swirled, and I've survived standing on my feet for countless hours all in the name of spreading the gospel about our wines. Truthfully, there are few tastings that really get me all that jazzed anymore. But there's a new tasting event here in the Dry Creek Valley that is worth spreading the word about. Put on by Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley, it's called Zintopia and it's fast approaching on Saturday, September 19. Over 30 wineries have agreed to pour their limited release Zinfandels and Sauvignon Blancs along with other uncommon red and white varieties. An outdoor marketplace with local artisans and edible delights will satisfy the gastronomics out there. An old fashioned grape stomp and harvest celebration is also planned. So, if you're looking for an excuse to get out of dodge, this just might be it. It sounds like Zintopia to me! Besides, anytime there's a blues band playing is sure to be a good time, right? If you decide to come, be sure to stop by my table. I'll be the one with the red hair flyin', the toes tappin', and the hips swayin'….
Click for more information or to buy tickets!
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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from September 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

August 2009 is the previous archive.

October 2009 is the next archive.

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