Joe’s Winemaking Notes: May 2016

Vineyard Notes

Mother Nature has been kind to us this spring. Since bud break, we’ve had relatively few nights where temperatures have dropped to near freezing. This doesn’t mean we haven’t had our share of nights watching the thermometer, with hands ready to press start on the frost pumps, though!

El Niño is continuing to weaken, with its biggest effects having been felt during the month of March. Over half of our seasonal rainfall fell that month, which deeply saturated our Goldridge soil. We’ll see a few isolated showers in May, but sunny skies have become the norm and the vines are responding!

Vineyard growth has really picked up over the past month. Our vine shoots are now between 12 to 24 inches long, with clusters of flower buds ready to bloom!

As is always the case, we have some overachieving vines, too. Look at this shoot, with tendrils reaching for the sky!

As I mentioned above, the heavy March rainfall has fully charged the Goldridge soil in Green Valley. A strong early growth suggests a season where we can avoid significant irrigation. We’ll be monitoring vine stress and soil moisture levels, to ensure that we efficiently use this valuable resource.

Bloom is just around the corner, and we’ll be watching the weather closely, as the vines hit this period of growth. Rain, strong winds, or too much heat can all lead to low pollination rates, and drive our vineyard yields way down. This is what happened in 2015. Although we’re really enjoying the wines produced last year, we need a larger crop in 2016. This is a key element of sustainability in the vineyard – producing an economically viable yield!

Name That Cluster!

Three of our key varieties in the Green Valley are shown below in their current condition. Can you guess which clusters are shown in each photo?

Bottles and Caps

As part of our quality program, the winemaking team is continually educating ourselves on all facets of wine production. This includes grape growing and winemaking, of course, but there are many other less glamorous details that require our attention, too. The most beautiful wine can be ruined by packaging choices poorly suited to the wine. It’s our ultimate goal that every bottle (or can!) expresses our wine beautifully, so we spend a lot of time determining the best packaging.

This past month we took a field trip to Modesto, California, to visit one of our key glass suppliers. We were introduced to the process of taking sand, soda ash, and recycled glass and turning them into finished bottles. Truly fascinating for fans of a “How it’s made” shows, myself included!

The plant we visited runs four furnaces, where the components are heated to 2700 degrees Fahrenheit, turning them molten. We donned welding shields and were able to look into the belly of the furnace, as the molten glass churned inside. Next we viewed “gobs” of molten glass shooting down guide rails and into the molds, each created for a particular shape of bottle. The mold forms the neck and then the glass is “inflated” to fill the cavity, creating the shape and internal volume needed.

As the still-glowing bottles are released from the molds, they travel along conveyors and into an oven to “anneal” (heating the glass, then allowing it to slowly cool, in order to remove internal stresses and toughen it, which gives it additional strength). You can appreciate this the next time your bottle falls to the floor and remains intact!


What we were focused on during our visit were the quality controls this producer is employing throughout the process. There is a lot of computer imaging and analysis, as well as quality assurance technicians and trained operators looking at every bottle coming off the lines. With nearly 1-billion bottles produced each year, you can imagine the army of people who employed at this facility! We now have a better understanding of wine bottles, and an appreciation for the attention that goes into making quality bottles.

Goings on in the cellar Our Chardonnays have finally reached the end of their malolactic fermentation (see Notes from December 2015). Although not every lot completed the conversion of malic acid to lactic acid, we have found the perfect balance. Just enough crispness to balance out the rich mouthfeel and a perfect amount of buttery character! We will continue to top these wines to counter evaporative loss and will hold them in barrels on the lees until August, when the wine will be bottled.

Our Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs are being pulled from their barrels, to prepare the blends for bottling in May, yet our Green Valley Pinot Noir will remain in barrel. Different stylistic goals for these wines demand different winemaking tactics. Extended aging using different cooperages’ barrels is one of the choices we have made for our estate Pinot Noir. More on that in a future issue!

Now for the answers to our photo quiz!
A) Syrah
B) Chardonnay
C) Pinot Noir

Don’t feel too bad if you fared poorly on the quiz – These clusters are in store for a big transformation over the next 4 months! I’m sure you’ll recognize them in the September Notes!