Joe’s Winemaking Notes: April 2016

Vineyard Notes

Our vineyard growth slowed to a crawl, right after my February Winemaker Notes. El Niño finally arrived and dumped nearly 11 inches of rain on our estate vineyard in March. The cool conditions associated with these rains kept shoot growth at a standstill. Then, when the skies cleared on March 22, the vines began to shoot upward again. Eager to grow, they now have several leaves and a few inches of shoot growth, and this all happened only within the past week! We’ll continue our nightly frost vigil for another six weeks, as the risk of temperatures to drop below 32° Fahrenheit continues until late May. We’ve not been challenged by cold temperatures very much this year; and have only two frost alarms so far, thanks to the persistent storm activity and cloud cover.

Spring Is A Season For Optimism!

At this time of the year, one important survey that we make in the vineyards is cluster count and crop estimation. You can see the young clusters in this photo. This tiny Pinot Noir cluster will hopefully grow to be about fist-size by mid-summer.

A “typical” grapevine shoot will produce two clusters. Like anything in nature, this isn’t a hard and fast rule, it’s an average. If we experienced a cold, damp spring, like the one we had in 2015, shoots may have less fruit. This means a lower grape yield, due to the growth cycle of the grapevine. Primordial flowers (pre flowering) are formed one year in advance, before they actually appear and become clusters of grapes. These buds initiate in the early part of the growing season; and they’re then impacted by temperatures and the amount of direct sunlight.

Last month, I discussed the advantages of switching to cane pruning in our fight against Eutypa, and there’s another potential advantage. As the shoots grow, fruiting buds along the cane are being formed over several weeks to months. This provides some insurance against relatively brief, cool periods. And, with cordon pruning, only a two-bud spur (pruning system for grape vines) is left from last year’s shoots. This is going to be greatly impacted by conditions, over a shorter weather period.

Premium Wine In Cans

We’re continuing to innovate with our wines. We just canned our latest blend of Pam’s Un-Oaked Chardonnay! Accomplishing this involved quite a logistical feat. There aren’t any mobile canning companies in Sonoma County that are able to can into our preferred 187-milliliters size. I took a field trip to Albuquerque in December, in order to check out a canning company that could fill this size. We made arrangements to bring his equipment and team to Sebastopol, for a canning run. The experience gave us valuable insight into alternative packages for wine. We believe that this is going to be a great way for you to enjoy Pam’s Un-Oaked!

In The Cellar

Pinot Blanc is a completely new variety for us. Our first-ever harvest of this variety was on September 14, 2015. Our grapes were grown at the Dutton Ranch’s Shop Block, in the heart of Green Valley of Russian River Valley. What’s incredibly exciting about Green Valley Pinot Blanc, apart from its rarity (less than four acres in all of Green Valley), is the interesting mix of white wine aromatics. It’s a wine grape that has very Pinot Gris-like aromas and red wine textures. It’s very much like a soft Pinot Noir. This makes sense, because Pinot Blanc is an uncolored mutation of Pinot Noir. We were very careful to pick at the cusp of ripeness. It can go over-the-top very easily, just like Pinot Noir.

Different fermentation techniques and vessels are giving us great insight into the variety. We first whole cluster pressed the grapes, to separate the juice from the skins, seeds, and stems. Next, we settled the juice and racked it to both tank and barrels for fermentation. Barrel fermentation was in two to five year old French oak. It had complete malolactic fermentation (ML), in order to explore the textural possibilities of Pinot Blanc. We chose stainless steel, tank fermentation at cool temperature and no ML, to highlight the beautiful aromatics and maintain a crisp, fresh style. We’ll continue to evaluate these two techniques; but I expect a blend of the two will likely give us maximum impact, while respecting the beauty of these grapes.