Joe’s Winemaking Notes: March 2016

Vineyard Notes: Bud Break

Bud Break – A time of anticipation and anxiety!

Now that the vines are awakening from winter dormancy, we enter into a new phase of the grape grower’s year – Frost Season! Green grapevine tissues are very sensitive to frost. Buds and young leaves begin to die at temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s certainly not uncommon for temperatures in the Green Valley of Russian River Valley to drop to below freezing, so grape growers have implemented techniques for combating frost damage. The primary methods involve the use of overhead sprinklers or large vineyard fans.

Vineyard fans (often called “wind machines”) are useful if there’s a layer of cold air at ground level, with warmer air above. Cold air will settle above the ground and form an inversion layer, especially on clear nights. (In this case, an inversion is the reversal of the normal decrease of air temperature with altitude.) By introducing the warmer air from 20 to 30 feet above ground into the cold air near the vines, several degrees of warmth will be gained.

The big disadvantages to wind machines are the following:
•   The noise, because we have to turn them on in the middle of the night.
•   We cannot always rely on the presence of warmer air to mix with the cold air near the ground. This warm layer is not always present, rendering the wind machine ineffective on those nights.

At our estate vineyard, we’ve invested in a different approach to combating frost. You may have seen dramatic photos of grape vine cordons (the arms of a vine, which emerge from the trunk) blanketed in ice. We sometimes get this visual on cold, late winter mornings or in early spring, when we turn on our sprinklers. The vines may be completely encased in ice, which would appear to be quite damaging to the vines. What prevents damage is that we continually apply more water throughout the frosty hours, until the air temperature rises to 34 degrees. This means that the temperature of the vines won’t drop below freezing, and damage is averted.

It seems counterintuitive to encase the vines in ice to prevent frost damage, but it works. If we have any severe frost events in 2016, you can be sure that I’ll share more photos with you!

The use of water for frost protection is often controversial, especially as California is currently in a drought. Traditionally, water was drawn from whatever seasonal or year-round streams were adjacent to the vineyard. This practice has been becoming less common due to regulation, innovation, and progressive practices being implemented by grape growers. Large volume sprinklers have mostly been replaced by micro sprinklers. They do the job with much less water.

Here at The Rubin Family Vineyards, we have another option for irrigation and frost control water. Reclaimed water from the nearby town of Forestville is piped directly to the back corner of our property. This water allows us to achieve our frost protection goals, while returning municipal water back to the groundwater supply. It’s a real win-win situation and a key sustainability advantage.

To notify us of an impending frost, we’ve also installed a modern weather station in the vineyard with temperature probes in multiple locations. This system notifies us via text message and email whenever the temperature drops to 38 degrees Fahrenheit. We can also monitor the temperature remotely via the internet. It’s a great advantage for Alvaro Zamora, our vineyard manager. It allows for him to watch temperature changes from his home, now, instead of being in the cab of his pickup truck!

World Of Pinot Noir

The World of Pinot Noir is an amazing event. This year it was held on March 4 and 5, in Santa Barbara, California. It has well-conceived seminars, great wine dinners, and tastings that offer Pinot Noir from across the globe. Our team has a strong emphasis on education, because events like this one provide valuable learning opportunities for wine pros and consumers alike. I highly recommend that fans of this inspiring grape make it a goal to attend and learn more about the unique expressions of Pinot Noir at the World of Pinot Noir.

This year, our associate winemaker Ed Morris and I represented Ron Rubin Winery. Ed was part of the Winemakers’ Technical Symposium, joining a group of 60 winemakers who discussed the recent vintage and tasted Pinot Noir barrel samples.

I exhibited our Ron Rubin Pinot Noirs at the trade and consumer tastings. Another one of my roles was to sit on a panel detailing the wonders of Pinot Noir and cheese pairings! Our 2012 Green Valley Pinot Noir was paired with three different cheeses. Each one brought out a different personality in the wine.

Goings On In The Cellar

We’re continuing to monitor all of our wines in barrel, topping them off every three weeks, which maintains the beautiful character of the wines. We’re also seeing more clearly the personality of each vineyard block and barrel. As the wines wake up from their post-fermentation nap, we begin to spend more time identifying the best synergy between the wines and barrels. All of the barrels we use in the winery are constructed from white oak. With a wide variety of forest sources, stave aging techniques (staves are the wooden slats that used to make the barrel), and toasting temperatures, the variety of barrels available is mind boggling. We select barrels from 14 different cooperages, which use wood sourced from three countries. They combine to deliver 45 different types of barrels, each one destined to meet a particular wine from a unique vineyard!

Ed and I have cultivated close relationships with our preferred cooperages, and place a high level of trust in them to deliver consistent barrels each year. The relationship between wine and barrel is a true link to the artisanal nature of winemaking. The right barrel matched to the right wine can bring out the best in both, and make wine truly extraordinary. It’s hard to believe some of the flavors that we can coax out of a grape, yeast, and a piece of wood!