Joe’s Winemaking Notes: January 2018

HAPPY NEW YEAR!
All of us, at Ron Rubin Winery, would like to wish you and yours a very Happy New Year!

The New Year is a time for renewal and a fresh start, and we’re somewhat happy to see 2017 recede into history. It’s been a very challenging year, on several fronts. During the growing season, the challenges included those presented by the weather. Mother Nature made a habit of forcing us to be nimble, reacting to extremes of temperature and precipitation. Historic weather norms were not applicable to 2017, potentially leading some inattentive growers into poor decisions. One positive effect, of the erratic weather of the past eight vintages, is growers that we work with are now very attentive. Yields were down a bit, but I feel good about the decisions made in the vineyards and our cellar. And, I’m very pleased with the quality of the wines that resulted from our efforts.

By far, the most jolting event of the year was not the weather (at least not directly). It was the wildfires that raged through Sonoma and Napa counties, in mid-October. No one effectively predicted this event, even though the conditions were right for a firestorm. Lots of fuel had accumulated in the area after two years of plentiful rain, while significant numbers of trees were still weak from the multi-year drought that ended in 2015. Once high winds kicked up, late in the evening on October 8, it brought dry, warm air from the interior valleys of California, and the fires were off and running. It’s still shocking to me, over two months later, to see the devastation that the fires left behind.

On the positive side of the ledger, Sonoma County really pulled together during and after the fires, and will rebuild into a stronger Sonoma. We also have a number of new additions to the winery family. Four employees, from our small staff of 13, welcomed new babies into their lives in 2017! The new arrivals were Mahani (born to Kate and Murillo), Logan (Jennifer and Frank), Paxton (Michele and Tom), and Bodin (Ed and Danielle). With great parents like these, a promising future lies ahead, for our community!

WINTER SCENE IN GREEN VALLEY
What’s it like in Green Valley during the winter? As a native of Wisconsin, my expectations for the season still revolve around snowfall. That’s not a part of the climate in my adopted home of Sonoma County, but we still feel a chill in the air. Morning temperatures will often drop down to the mid-20s, but this occurs under clear, dry skies, and a zero percent chance of snow. When a storm front does move through, warmer temperatures in the 40s and 50s accompany it, and we get rain. Fortunately, Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada Mountains is only a 3.5-hour drive away; so, I can always visit the snow, when I feel the urge to ski!

High points of this time of year include plentiful holiday parties. The lucky ones among us welcome friends and family into our homes, bearing fresh caught Dungeness crab from the coast and foraged Porcini mushrooms from the hills. Locally produced cheeses and, of course, Sonoma County wines make for many delicious feasts!

The only fruit that still remains visible in our landscape are the persimmons, with their orange shapes hanging among defoliated branches. Our grapevines are now in their dormant state, completely free of leaves. The vines evolved this strategy to escape the effects of our nighttime freezes. (Vitis vinifera winegrape vines are very tender.) In dormancy, the vines’ buds are able to resist temperatures down to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, before being damaged. It’s pretty rare to see temps like that in our area, so our vigilance against frost can wait until bud break in March.

Once we get through the darkest days of winter and approach the Spring Equinox, our vines will awaken again. By that time, Alvaro will have pruned the vines back to a simpler form, returning balance to the vineyard. As he prunes, he’ll look at each vine individually and make adjustments according to the health and vigor of that vine. A lot of experience goes into each cut, and we have a master pruner in the field!

2017 WINE UPDATE
As mentioned earlier, the quality of the 2017 wines is excellent. The reds are more structured than typical, but in a balanced way that engages the entire palate. Deeply colored, with rugged youthful textures and perfectly ripe, berry fruit flavors, our Pinot Noirs will be certain to excite! We’ll keep you posted on the wines, as they evolve during barrel aging.

We have high hopes for the white wines, too! The 2017 Ron Rubin Winery Russian River Valley Pinot Gris is expressive and bright, with all the aromatic high tones we’ve grown to love. Chardonnay ranges from brightly acidic and fresh, to lush and tropical, providing us with plenty of opportunities when we approach blending time.

The last of the barrel fermented Chardonnays are finishing malolactic fermentation, and receiving repeated stirring of the lees to flesh them out. Rich and layered, these techniques, in combination with the best oak barrels, will provide toasty and buttery notes loved by many.

2017 PAM’S UN-OAKED CHARDONNAY
The first of our 2017 wines, our Pam’s Un-Oaked Chardonnay has already been blended and bottled. Bottling very early in the vintage year is an important consideration when making this wine, in order to capture the bold fruit aromatics and lively spark present in these wines. If we delayed bottling until spring of 2018, a measure of freshness would certainly be lost.

I look forward to introducing our 2017 wines to you, throughout the coming year. They each have an engaging story to tell!

Cheers!