Joe’s Winemaking Notes: July 2016



After a week of temperatures in the 90’s, and sunshine from dawn to dusk, the “June Gloom” we typically experience in Sonoma County seems like a distant memory! We’re definitely ahead of normal schedule when looking at vine growth, cluster development, and local growing degree days. (Growing degree days are calculated from the difference between our average daily temperature and 50 degrees Fahrenheit.) They’re one key to understanding the timeline of events in our vineyard. Although we’re about three days behind 2015’s trend (an absurdly early year), we’re at least a week ahead of normal. During the last week of August, I wouldn’t be surprised to see us in full harvest action.


We’re seeing good cluster and berry size in our Green Valley estate vineyard, but that’s not the case in many locations around Sonoma County. After 2015’s meager crop, many of our grape growing partners were hoping for a rebound to average yields this year. Despite their wishes, it looks like another vintage of below average production is heading our way, again. The upside is that this will yield concentrated wines in 2016, as the vines have plenty of horsepower in their vigorous canopies!


The Rubin Vineyards and Winery has fulfilled the requirements for us to have earned our sustainability certification in 2016. This certification was approved by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, for both our vineyard and winery operations.

This is very exciting for us; and reflects our commitment to the environment, our employees, and the business relationships that drive our success. It’s a holistic approach to winegrowing that requires us to continually evaluate our processes and implement positive changes.


One aspect of our sustainability is a commitment to the use of biological controls, when appropriate, for common challenges in the vineyard and winery. Along with weeds and powdery mildew, a big challenge is keeping the gopher population down. The gophers like our Goldridge soils as much as we do, with easy tunneling offered by these loose soils. However, these little guys have an appetite for roots of all types, including grapevine roots. It’s not uncommon to find a dying vine, pull on the trunk and have the vine come out of the ground in your hands! The gopher has eaten away most of the root system, leaving the vine to starve of water and nutrients.

As an alternative to trapping the gophers, Lori Knapp, our operations manager, has enlisted the help of Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue, to replace our previous barn owl boxes. They delivered and installed well-designed and properly positioned nesting boxes at three locations in our vineyard. The old boxes had filled up with nesting debris over the years; and even with cleaning, weren’t attracting owls any longer. After consultation with the biologists at Wildlife Rescue, it turned out that not only were the boxes not suitable on the inside, but they were also oriented in the wrong direction for encouraging nesting.

Here’s how the new boxes were correctly installed this spring:

The entrance to the boxes is oriented to face Southeast. This puts the opening directly opposite the setting sun during the hottest Summer months, keeping the nest cooler. The box is also positioned on its pole at a height that prevents predators from getting at the nest, but not so high that the fledgling owls can’t get back home when learning to fly.

These barn owls are quite the hunters, and can catch up to 12 gophers a night, especially if feeding a nest full of chicks. They can eat up to 1.5 times their body weight in a single day!

One other cool aspect of working with Wildlife Rescue is their baby owl fostering program. If fledgling owls are found and brought to them, they’ll ensure that the chick’s nutritional needs are met and nurture it back to health. At that time, they’ll look for a box with a nesting pair and place the owl in its new home.

The new boxes have been in place since May 6, and are awaiting their new tenants. Hopefully we’ll find our own resident owls in the boxes, when they’re inspected this fall!


Pinot Noir:
Blending Last month’s blending projects included Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Now that they’re in bottle, we’ve moved onto our Green Valley wines. These are some of the most expressive wines we produce. And they give us much excitement, as we taste the individual barrels and set up trial blends in the lab.


2015 Green Valley Pinot Blanc:
Lots of bright apricot aromatics with an invigorating mix of fresh, juicy fruit, and a subtle hint of oak spice and sweetness. This will be our inaugural release of Pinot Blanc, so we fermented in multiple formats (stainless steel tank, versus 2 to 3 year-old French oak barrels), to determine the best approach for these grapes. The blend will include a small percentage of barrel fermented wine. But, the showy fruit really called for the unoaked wine, from the stainless steel tank! This became the core of the blend.

2015 Estate Vineyard Green Valley Pinot Noir:
Our Pinot Noir vines are now 16-17 years old, and definitely showed their mature vigor in 2015. A light crop gave us incredible density to work with, and the resulting wine will be a powerhouse! A different mix of barrel types rose to the top with last year’s vintage, along with an experiment in lees contact. This is similar to our barrel fermented Chardonnay. I’ll expand more on that in another issue.


2015 Gunsalus Vineyard Green Valley Pinot Noir:
Another bold statement from the vines was made at Gunsalus Vineyard, just located a few miles from the winery. For our third vintage from Pam and Glen Gunsalus, we’ve continued with our use of more structured (tannic) barrels, with a distinctly smoky nose. It’s quite impactful and is a perfect match for the signature berry and plum fruit from these vines. We’ve enjoyed watching all three of these wines evolve in barrel. We’ll continue to monitor the blends, as they continue their refinement in barrel, until bottling in November. It’s always a fun journey!