Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sierra Foothills/El Dorado Wineries Roll Out the Fall Color Carpet After Good Harvest News

How glorious is this?  Visitors to El Dorado County have a feast for their eyes right now, just as they will have a futuer treat for their palates with the 2012 vintage.
Holly's Hill Vineyards,
Placerville, CA

Chaim Gur-Arieh, winemaker/proprietor at C.G. Di Arie Vineyard & Winery in Mount Aukum, El Dorado County/Sierra Foothills, CA, welcomes visitors to his vineyards during harvest and afterwards to experience the wonderful fall colors in the Sierra Foothills.   He's kept a harvest journal to share, and these remarks are part of that: 
Chaim Gur-Arieh in his
Mount Aukum vineyards
"Our experience with this year’s harvest was quite different. We still had a cool and rainy early summer which progressed into more normal weather in July and a heat wave that lasted several weeks in August. Harvest started the first week in October which was a couple of weeks later than normal. While everyone was rejoicing from the bumper crop they received, for the most part our yields were considerably lower than last year. As for quality – my first impression is that this will be a memorable vintage. "

Other El Dorado wineries also offer the visitor some incredible fall color right now.


Grace Patriot Wines,
Placerville, CA
(photo by Trevor Grace,
Assistant Winemaker)

Chevalier Winery,
Shingle Springs, CA

Baiocchi Wines,
Fair Play, CA

Lava Cap Winery,
Placerville, CA

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Fall Colors Lure Visitors to Sierra Foothill Wineries/NEVADA COUNTY

Thanks to Jacques Mercier of Solune Winery, Grass Valley/Nevada County, we are all reminded that "There's nothing like a vineyard to bring nature's seasonal changes to life."

Solune Winery, Grass Valley
Sierra Foothills

"The vineyard has finished its job for this year, getting its post-harvest irrigation soak and starting to show some Fall colors (red foliage for red grapes and yellow for white grapes), with some Sierra summits peering from a distance and tall pine trees standing guard (not a bad vista to wake up to). Soon it will go dormant and eventually get a pruning "haircut" over the Winter, to wake up ready for action in the Spring and ripen yet another harvest next Summer."

Visitors in the Vineyard,
Pilot Peak Winery, Penn Valley, CA


Smith Vineyard & Winery,
Grass Valley, CA


Penn Valley Vineyards,
Penn Valley, CA

Lucchesi Vineyards & Winery,
Grass Valley, CA

Naggiar Vineyards,
Grass Valley, CA

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

El Dorado/Sierra Foothills Wineries Allow Consumers to "Sample the Sierra" at Lake Tahoe Event

As you read this, Sierra Foothills vineyards will be almost done with harvest, and winemakers are looking at the sugar content of their juice, deciding whether to add this yeast or that, ferment cold or otherwise, and filter or not.   So many decisions go into producing an excellent wine, but if the wines poured at the 3rd annual Sample the Sierra event held in South Lake Tahoe in September are indicative, the wines will continue to be good.

Sample the Sierra is a cooperative effort of El Dorado County organizations, growers, producers and businesses to increase awareness of the region’s bounty, heritage, culture and activities.   A great addition this year was the Rotary Club of South Lake Tahoe booth that enabled tasters to join the wine clubs of the various wineries.

Colibri Ridge winemaker,
John Alexander
 I started my tasting at Colibri Ridge, a winery located in the Fair Play area of El Dorado County.  Winemaker John Alexander poured his 2005 Mouvedre, with grapes sourced from the Helen Robin vineyard in Fair Play.  It’s a big fruity and spicy Mourvedre, and was rated as the best Mourvedre from the Sierra Foothills at the 2006 California State Fair.  15.2 per cent alcohol.  $22.00/bottle.   John was not pouring his white ports, one from Viognier, one from Chardonnary, but if you go to the winery, I suggest you buy those dessert wines too: perfect for the  upcoming holidays!

Rowena Pegg from the Beach Grill,
South Lake Tahoe, pours
Toogood Estate wines
Another Fair Play winery, Toogood Estate, poured a teaser of a red blend named Foreplay.   Malbec, Petit Verdot, Syrah and Cabernet Franc all combine to make a nicely tannic and provocative wine.  Winery owner Paul Toogood calls this his signature wine.  13.9 per cent alcohol, $30/bottle.  Lakeside Beach Grill in South Lake Tahoe serves this and other local wines.

Ravel Haynes poured for Shadow Ranch;
Sam Domingo, winemaker for
Wilderotter stopped by
Shadow Ranch Vineyard, located on Fair Play Road in Somerset, El Dorado County, poured its new red blend, Sheriff,  which comprises 65 per cent Zinfandel and 35 per cent Syrah.  This is a non-vintage blend, and great with the spicy food from Latin Soul restaurant.  14.5 per cent alcohol, $15/bottle.

Bill Gunn, assistant winemaker at Jodar Vineyards & Winery, Placerville, poured his 2010 Chardonnay.  It has a nice Citrus on the nose with notes of grapefruit and lemon on the palate.  14.4 per cent alcohol, $18/bottle.
Diane Stading , co-owner of
Auriga Wine Cellars, pours their
2009 Red Giant blend

Auriga Wine Cellars of Placerville poured its 2009 Red Giant, a blend of 50% Zinfandel, 25% Merlot and 25% Syrah.  It has fruit tones of black cherry, plum and spice with a hint of vanilla on the finish.  14 per cent alcohol, $16/bottle.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Sierra Foothills Harvest News: Ironstone Vineyards, Murphys/Calaveras County

Joan Kautz, Vice President, International Operations at Kautz Family Vineyards in Murphys/Calaveras County, CA (part of Ironstone Vineyards) sends along this information about their ongoing harvest activities:

Verdelho grapes,
Ironstone Vineyards harvest 
“Our Verdelho grapes were harvested on September 27. Brix at harvest was 25.2, fruit quality is very good with a nice acid balance and nice mature flavors in the grapes. This is the same field and specs as the Tempranillo. 

Tempranillo grapes,
Ironstone Vineyards harvest
We will soon harvest our Tempranillo, as these grapes are now at 22 brix. We’ve had good cooperation from the weather, which is currently features 90 degree days and mid 50's at night. This Tempranillo vineyard was planted in 2005 and in its third harvest.”

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sierra Foothills Harvest Update: Andis Wines (Amador County)

Mark McKenn, Winemaker and General Manager at Andis Wines in Plymouth, Amador County, Sierra Foothills, California, sends this harvest update:

"It has been very much a “hurry up and wait” harvest for us so far. 
Off to an early start picking our two Sauvignon Blanc fields on the 30th and 31st of August, those picks were quickly followed by Semillon, Chenin Blanc, and Rose (a blend of Zinfandel and Barbera). The crew worked hard to process all those tons while preparing for the eminent deluge of reds.  
Then we waited, and waited, and are still waiting for the reds to come along to the desired maturity.
Whether it is the above average crop loads or that small rainstorm we had or a combination of factors,  the reds have just been stubborn. That said, the vineyards look amazing, incredibly sound and healthy fruit, minimal raisins, and the canopies are holding up well.
All this waiting will be but a distant memory by the end of next week. We have Merlot, Barbera, Zinfandel, Primitivo, and probably Syrah all slated to come in to the winery next week. Time to dust off the punch down tools…… "

Monday, September 17, 2012

Hang Time at Rancho Olivo Vineyards: Listening to Grapes in the Sierra Foothills

Nello Olivo, the owner of Rancho Olivo Vineyards and Nello Olivo Wines in El Dorado County, Sierra Foothills, sends this interesting perspective on harvest and hangtime:

"The grape harvest is coming soon, and one of the most important decisions we make as winemakers involves hang time—how long to let the grapes hang on the vine.

The grapes look ripe. If I were a wine-grower interested in making the most money selling my grapes by weight, I might pick them soon. The longer fruit hangs, the more moisture it loses, and the lighter  in weight it gets.

But I don't care about weight. I care about giving the best flavor and highest qualities to my wine. The longer I let the grapes hang (without rain or irrigation), the more intense and full will be the flavor of the wine.

Knowing the right moment for harvesting is a tricky decision based partly on science, on the weather, on the style of wines I prefer to create,  and also based on experience and old-fashioned instinct.

The science part comes in testing the grapes for acidity (pH) and for sugar content. As long as the pH stays below 3.60 and the sugar content  under 25 brix, I'm likely to let the fruit hang. And I use all my senses as well to help make the crucial decision of when to pick. How the grapes look, the texture of the pulp, the dryness of the seed, skin color and tightness of the fruit cluster.  And of course, the big one: how the fruit tastes.

I rely on my trusted team, including Lance Johnson, vineyard operations manager, and Marco Cappelli, winemaker. We'll monitor the status of the grapes every day, sometimes more than once.

Hang time in the vineyard is like those last couple of weeks before a baby is born. It's a time full of anticipation, of paying attention to every little sign, and of being ready in every possible way.
Each varietal is different. Each section of the vineyard is different. Each year is different. You have to know your vineyard intimately, and you  have to be patient and listen to it "talk" to you.

All over California right now, harvesting teams are standing ready, waiting for the call to pick. When the grapes tell me it's time, I'll make the call."

More information about Nello Olivo wines, from their website:

Nello Olivo wines are produced by Rancho Olivo Vineyards, owned and operated by Nello and Danica Olivo in Cameron Park, California.

Old-world Dream

The Olivos have chosen to grow old-world style grapes—particularly those common to regions of Italy, Nello's ancestral home—which flourish in the California Sierra Foothills terroir and climate.
"A lifelong dream of mine," says Nello, "has been to grow my own grapes and produce my own wine. That's exactly what my grandfather did who came from the old country. It's a passion in me. It's probably in my blood. When I'm doing that, I feel like a happy little kid!"

New-world Excellence

If Nello's wines succeed in expressing that joy, it's because of his exacting care over every aspect of wine production. Combining hand-tended tradition with the best of new-world care, his vineyard is recognized as one of the best managed in the region. And his grapes are acclaimed among the highest quality available. The proof is in the gold and double-gold medals won by wineries who use his grapes in their own wines.
Rancho Olivo Vineyards is a true boutique winery, producing less than 100 cases of each varietal annually. This makes Nello Olivo wines true sought-after treasures by those who have discovered its qualities.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Sierra Foothills/Ed Dorado County Harvest Report: Cedarville Vineyard (Fair Play)

Jonathan Lachs, who with Susan Marks is owner/winemaker of CedarvilleVineyard in Fair Play, El Dorado County, Sierra Foothills of California, sends these harvest notes:

Zinfandel clusters, Sept 2012,
Cedarville Vineyard,  El Dorado County
“Activity is picking up quickly here in our Cedarville Estate vineyard.  Throughout our vineyard, we’re experiencing even ripening with targeted pick dates closer to historical “averages” or as we often say, “normal”.  It’s been a few years since we’ve had normal pick dates, with 2009, 2010, and 2011 all later-to-much later than normal. 

We harvested Syrah grapes for Hank Beckmeyer and Caroline Hoel’s La Clarine Farm rosé on Saturday, September 8th,  as well as some Viognier for one of their white blends.  They make wines with little intervention beyond a touch of sulfur before bottling (some folks call them “Natural Wines”), and they are terrific expressions of where they are grown.

At Cedarville, we now plan to pick our first Syrah grapes at the end of the week.  Our Syrah always seems to ripen first due to lower yields and its higher elevation on our property. 

Our highest elevation Zin is coming along, too, and we’re targeting September 20th pick date. 

One trend we’re experiencing this year in our Estate vineyard is grape physiological maturity at lower than usual sugar levels.  We usually associate this with cooler years, and means we may not need wait for higher sugar levels to achieve desired flavors, which means potentially lower alcohols in the subsequent wines.  Never a bad thing.  We’ll need to wait and see if it truly plays out this way."



Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sierra Foothills/Calaveras County Harvest Report: Frog's Tooth (Murphys)

Gary Grant, winemaker at Frog's Tooth Vineyards, Murphys, Calaveras County/Sierra Foothills makes these observations:

"2012 is shaping up to be one of our best years yet at Frog's Tooth Vineyards.

Sauvignon Blanc just before 2012 harvest,
Calaveras County/Murphys
Our crop is looking very good. We have already harvested our sauvignon blanc; we may have been the first in the foothills. Brix was 23, pH was 3.4, TA was 6.5.

We next thinned the fruit from our  Grenache and Petite Sirah vines.

We harvested our viognier last Thursday, and got 7 tons ... our best harvest yet!"

NB:  Frog's Tooth has just gone through a website re-design.   I like the motto that is foremost on their home page:  "If wine can have legs, then frogs can have teeth."

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Sierra Foothills/Nevada County: Harvest Report from Smith Vineyards (Grass Valley)

Christina Smith of Smith Vineyard, Grass Valley, Sierra Foothills/Nevada County writes:

Primitivo veraison
"Our reds have completed veraison and our Chardonnay looks like it will be ready to harvest in 1 to 2 weeks.  We are monitoring the sugar content daily.  We are dropping fruit, especially the Primitivo.  This insures quality over quantity.

It has been a great spring and summer.  As far as the crop goes, we couldn't ask for better.  We didn't lose any fruit this past spring ( no frost) and survived the hail storm in May. The reds were not in bloom yet and the Chardonnay was through bloom. Yes amazing!  One of the thrills of farming is living in an awareness that we really control so little when it comes to weather."


More about Smith Vineyard:

The Smith Vineyard is located in the Sierra Foothills town of Grass Valley, California at an elevation of 2500 feet.

Smith Vineyard produces hand crafted, small-lot estate wines. Our 10 acre vineyard is planted in premium varietals, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Primitivo, Syrah and Chardonnay. Dr. Wayne Smith fulfilled his desire to farm when he planted the first vineyard block in 1980, Wayne's dedication to organic farming soon followed.

The winery began operation in 1987. The winery is housed in a restored barn that dates back to the early 1900's, it is surrounded by a rich canopy of pines and heritage oaks.

Today... Wayne's grandsons, the third generation, work alongside their parents, Gary and Chris, in the operation of the Vineyard and Winery.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Sierra Foothills/Nevada County Harvest Continues: Sierra Starr Winery (Grass Valley)

Phil Starr of Sierra Starr Vineyard and Winery,  located in Grass Valley, Nevada County/Sierra Foothills CA, sends these notes and photos:

“Harvest 2012 has begun here at Sierra Starr.  Two days ago we brought in the first of the Sauvignon Blanc grapes.  After processing, the juice analysis was right on at 23 brix and pH of 3.3.  Juice flavors were truly wonderful.  We will bring in the remaining Sauvignon Blanc grapes tomorrow.

We are looking for the Chardonnay, from Clarksburg, early next week.

Next up after the Sauvignon from our vineyard will be the first of the Zinfandels; harvest for the Zins will span at least a month as the different blocks mature.”


MORE ABOUT SIERRA STARR: Sierra Starr produces 2,500 cases and farms 15 acres just outside Grass Valley. Among their wines are Sauvignon Blanc, Un-Oaked Chardonnay, Barrel Fermented Chardonnay, Three Zinfandels (including Zinjolais), Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Bubblies, Inertia, the always- favorite Jack’s Blend and "Five Starr Port".   The Starrs bought an existing vineyard in 1995 with the intent of moving their flower growing nursery from the Monterey Bay area onto the vacant land on the parcel.  The nursery didn't move but Phil felt the challenge of grape growing and making fine wine was one dream that he couldn't pass up.  


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sierra Foothills/Nevada County Veraison and Harvest Reports: Solune Winery (Grass Valley)

Harvest is almost here in Nevada County, Sierra Foothills.  Winemaker and owner Jacques Mercier of Solune Winery, Grass Valley, is getting ready.  He writes:

“I was busy dropping fruit and pulling leaves over Labor Day weekend.  You can see some very flavorful Sauvignon Blanc in this picture which could be ready pretty soon (next week ?).

Two weeks ago, most of our varietals started véraison (except Cabernet Franc), with Tempranillo, true to its name (Tempranillo means "a little early" in Spanish), completely turned.  Although that might have seemed early compared to last two (cool) years,  we are actually back on track versus pre-2010 harvests. 

The 100-degree-ish heat wave of mid August slowed down ripening (vines go into survival mode when approaching 100, slowing down, and sometimes stopping, ripening).

 The big challenge for us will be uniformity, with a completely turned cluster often next to yet to turn cluster.  We might need to do multiple picks.

Here’s a August 13 photo of a Tempranillo cluster that Jacque followed since July 31 through its color changing véraison.  “Well, it's all purple now, getting softer & fruitier every day (and gradually erasing any vegetal character of its younger days),”  he wrote on his Facebook page.  Jacques has done a great job on his Facebook page of keeping his fans updated on the progress of veraison.  Have a look:



Friday, August 31, 2012

Sierra Foothills Wineries support many Charitable Events

The Third annual Wine on the Water charity event at Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe dedicates all proceeds to the Boys and Girls Club of North Lake Tahoe. Kristi Synder, the exceptional sommelier at the Hyatt’s Lone Eagle Grille, puts her many contacts in the wine world to good use as the 30 wineries pouring at this event are all stellar. 
One of the wineries -- a repeat contributor -- is Twisted Oak, located in Calaveras County, Sierra Foothills.  Jeff Stai, winemaker and owner,  participates in many charity events.
At this Wine on the Water event, Jeff was pouring a new blend he calls “Potty Mouth.”  A nice blend of Mouvedre, Syrah and Grenache, it’s flavorful and popular.  Only 1000 cases made.  14.2 percent alcohol.  $18 the bottle.

Sierra Foothills/Amador County Veraison-Harvest Reports and Water Notes: Andis Wines (Plymouth)

Mark McKenna, Winemaker & General Manager at Andis Wines, Plymouth, Amador County, writes:

“The vineyards look incredible this year.  Despite the early August heat, the vines are in great health. 

Verasion is moving along at a good pace, most red varietals are 70% - 90% through and whites are beginning to sugar up.  We began taking sugar samples on Sauvignon Blanc 10 days ago and found a couple of blocks over 20 Brix. 

The only real challenge we see at this point is that some fields have a very heavy crop and will require dropping some fruit to get the desired quality.  We are very excited to get going and will most likely start picking this first week of September. 

WATER NOTES:  We have had no issues with water.  If anything, we feel the late Spring rains have served the vines well and carried us through Summer. "


("The photo shows a young Grenache vineyard we will be picking for the first time this year!")

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Sierra Foothills/Amador County Veraison Reports and Water Notes: 9 Gables (Plymouth)

Jerry Notestine of Nine GablesVineyard and Winery, Plymouth (Amador County) writes:

No matter how long you have been growing grapes or making wine, you can still be surprised by each season as it develops.  And this season sure points that out.

 I thought the last two years were unique with the wet springs.  Year before last we had so much water we could not get in to spray for weeds prior to bud break.  We stuck two tractors trying. Then when it was dry enough for us to enter we had too much vine growth to spray herbicides.  We chose instead to have crews to come in and hoe the weeds.  Well, that was a waste of money, for the ground was still moist enough that after we spent a lot of money for hoeing the weeds they germinated again! 

This year after bud break we had unseasonal rains risking powdery mildew and bunch rot.  Then the heat was unbelievable.  In 75 years in California  I have very seldom seen the heat that we had this year. 

Just for curiosity I checked sugars on August 19 and my whites are almost ready to pick! In 25 years of growing grapes I have never seen that early of a harvest here in Amador County.

Like a good farmer friend of mine has always said, just about the time you think you have figured Mother Nature out, she takes you to the wood shed.   Sure keeps life interesting. 

Also as a winemaker the grapes look absolutely great.  The vines threw too big of a crop so we had crews dropping some of the fruit to enhance the remainder.  We are looking at a possibly great year for some of the best fruit we have seen.  We will let you know if it turns out as good as it looks.

WATER NOTES:  Here in Shenandoah Valley of Amador County we are fortunate to have a pretty good supply of water.  We also have good water retention inour soil and can dry farm.  We did not water our mature vines  until about a week or two ago and still have not watered some of our older vineyards.  We have some older Mission grape vines which have never seen irrigation since planting (Estimated over 100 years old)  Veraison started about two weeks ago and are either complete are near complete depending on variety.  Also a first for me in 25 years.
A bit of history about the Old Pieroni Ranch of Amador County:
Nine Gables Vineyard and Winery is located on what was once the Old Pieroni Ranch. Antonio & Ester Pieroni immigrated to America in April, 1905 and settled in Amador County. In 1911, Mr. Pieroni and his partners Emilio D'Agostini and Guisepe Guiltieri purchased property which became the D'Agostini Winery. Mr. Pieroni sold his share of the D'Agostini property and subsequently purchased the 120 acre ranch property in the Shenandoah Valley. Mr. Pieroni worked in Plymouth in the Alleghany mine (which ceased operations shortly after World War II). The family lived in Plymouth and commuted to the ranch to get the house ready.
County records indicate the old farm house, which is still standing west of Nine Gables, was built in 1857. The original builder is unknown. Some time after occupying the house, the Pieroni's planted vineyards and walnut trees. The vineyards consisted mostly of Zinfandel and Mission grapes. The Pieroni Winery was constructed across the driveway from the Pieroni ranch house. The crushing and primary fermentation were completed on the first floor and the wine was stored in the basement below. The Pieroni Winery ceased operations sometime before the Second World War.
Over the years, the Old Pieroni Ranch was split into many parcels. The first floor of the Pieroni Winery is now a cabin, the old ranch house has been remodeled several times and many of the walnut trees were removed to plant more grapes. The Mission grapes originally planted in the early 1900's are still growing around the Nine Gables Vineyard and Winery house and tasting room.
For more information, see

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Sierra Foothills/Butte County Veraison Report: LaRocca Vineyards (Forest Ranch)

Philip LaRocca of LaRocca Vineyards, Forest Ranch, Butte County, sends these notes:  
"We plant Chardonnay at the West Side of the Sutter Buttes (which is the smallest mountain range in the world).   Right now our Chardonnay is at full veraison. 
Sutter Buttes at Sunset
WATER AND OTHER NOTES, Sutter Buttes:  "We are doing our last irrigation and we are planning to start picking the first week in September.  We are very concerned regarding labor.  We're being told there's a shortage.  As for water at this vineyard, we are on a deep well and we flood irrigate. Haven't had any water issues. 
Beautiful Mt Lassen
We plant Pinot Noir in the Forest Ranch Vineyard at 2600 feet at the base of Mt. Lassen on Doe Mill Ridge.  Our Pinot Noir is at 70% veraison.  Both Chard and Pinot look very good both in terms of quality and crop load. 

We are seeing early some color in our Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. We have 56 acres of Cabernet so that's our biggest crush and also comes in last.   
WATER NOTE:  We have several wells in Forest Ranch and do drip irrigation, it's slow and steady for the water.   OTHER NOTE: Again, labor is a huge concern this season."


Monday, August 27, 2012

Sierra Foothills/El Dorado County Veraison Report: Baiocchi Wines (Fair Play)

Greg Baiocchi of Baiocchi Wines, Fair Play,  El Dorado County,  writes:   "Vintners have an internal clock that’s starts ticking at fruit set. This typically happens mid May for our vineyard. That tick, tick, tick turns into an alarm bell at véraison, typically August 1st for our vineyard.

The Tempranillo graces us with beautiful color and reminds me, crush is just weeks away. Currently we have been dropping fruit in the vineyard, taking shoulders off the Tempranillo, thinning the almighty Grenache and hedging the vines, preparing them for netting soon to come.

The fruit is incredible this year! Small berries with very regular set, long loose Syrah clusters and smaller than average Grenache clusters. I am very optimistic about the quality for 2012 in our vineyard.

Overall, the growing season this year seems to be very typical for the Sierra Foothills. This recent heat wave of 95+ degree weather for two weeks straight has put some stress on our Syrah vines.
I am most excited about the quality of our Grenache. All in all things look great and I am expecting harvest to begin with Syrah around mid September."

By the way, Greg has informed his fans of progress in the vineyard very well!   Other wineries might want to take a look at his excellent blog:, which is well written and lively!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sierra Foothills/Calaveras County Veraison Report and Water Notes: Ironstone (Murphys)

Joan Kautz, Vice President- International Operations, Kautz Family Vineyards/Ironstone, sends these notes about veraison and harvest expectations from Murphys (Sierra Foothills/Calaveras County):

Cabernet Sauvignon veraison
in Ironstone's Murphy's vineyards
"In regard to the harvest this year, Steve Millier, Ironstone's Director of Winemaking, predicts we will begin harvesting around September 20th with our Verdelho, which will be about the same time as last year.  Last year was a lighter crop and a more difficult year, whereas this year appears to be very good to excellent across the board. The quality of the fruit is fantastic with small berries and very even and uniform clusters throughout all of our varieties.

We have a very adequate supply of water in Murphys (Calaveras County) for our vineyards.  We do irrigate and we started watering in early spring in anticipation of our needs, so there is no water stress on the vines.

Right now, we are very happy with how Mother Nature is treating us and hope that this continues through harvest.

We begin harvesting in some of our Lodi vineyards this Monday, so it is currently the calm before the storm :) "

Friday, August 24, 2012

Sierra Vintners Pop the Cork in Nevada City Tasting

An interesting aspect of attending a multi-winery event in the Sierra Foothills nearby is that you get a sense of not only the currently-poured vintages, but also what the future is likely to present.  Talking to the wineries at the Nevada City Uncorked event recently, it looks like 2012 will be a good vintage.  Grapes are now well past veraison (when grapes turn from green to red) and the heat days are good.  Frost was not a problem this year, although water is.  Water is a problem in all agricultural products this year, but many Nevada and Placer County wineries have access to irrigation water.  It’s not cheap, but it’s available.  Cost of wines may be rising, but they should be good.

Jacques Mercier of Solune
From a sampling of wares from several wineries, my rave review goes to Solune Winegrowers of Grass Valley, whose Titan XIII, a Zinfandel/Syrah blend is simply scrumptious.  Winemaker Jacques Mercier teased wonderful flavors out of these grapes, resulting in a wine with refreshing berry taste of the Zinfandel and an earthiness from the Syrah.  It is smooth, with a full rich mouthfeel and a lingering finish.  A perfect wine for anything from the grill!   14.3 per cent alcohol.  $18 at the winery.   While you are there, taste the 2009 Verdelho, vinified from a zesty Portuguese grape that is summer-perfect.
Lynn Wilson, Pilot Peak

Pilot Peak Winery’s Paramour, a medium-bodied Rhone blend, is another yummy red.  This combination of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvédre and Petite Sirah is nicely intense and a bit spicy, and coats your mouth with light, toasty blackberry and dark cherry flavors. At 14.5 per cent alcohol, it is $24 at the Penn Valley winery.   Winemaker/co-owner Lynn Wilson also poured a 2010 Viognier that was medium-bodied with the essence of pears, citrus and ripe melons and just perfect on a hot summer day in a Nevada City picnic-like setting.   14.3 per cent alcohol, $22 at the winery.

Bob Hilsman of Double Oak
Double Oak Vineyards & Winery, Nevada City, grows grapes on acreage near Nevada City that owners Bob and Ginny Hilsman started clearing in 1980.  Bob started as a family winemaker producing just a few barrels for friends-and-family consumption, went on to take courses at UC Davis, and in 2001 built a state of the art winery.   His best seller, the 2011 Chardonnay, is terrific.  Golden in color, smooth and well-balanced, it has a wonderful mouthfeel.  Flavors are pear, burnt toast, light citrus.  14.5 per cent alcohol.  A real deal at $12 the bottle.
Indian Springs Tasting Room,
located in Nevada City
Clavey Tasting Room,
located in Nevada City

This event, presented by the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce and the Sierra Vintners group, also showcased the following wineries:  Avanguardia, Bent Metal, Clavey, Coufos, Indian Springs, Lucchesi, Montoliva, Nevada City Winery, Sierra Knolls, Smith, and Szabo Winery.   Head over anytime to Nevada and Placer counties for some good artisanal wines!

Good Times at Sierra Vintners pre-harvest BBQ

Gatherings of the clan are sometimes filled with tall tales, intra-family negotiations, and undercurrents of unresolved tensions.  It's what makes big wine tasting events so much fun; beyond the opportunity to taste lots of interesting wines, there is opportunity to fill a reporter's notebook with plot lines for a reality TV show.

Let me report that this was NOT the case at the pre-harvest get together of Sierra Vintners, a group of 15 wineries that grow grapes and make wines in the Nevada County and lower Placer County parts of the Sierra Foothills.  It's just all good times!

On the plaza at Sierra Starr Vineyards
Phil Starr of Sierra Starr Vineyards hosted the event.  Seventy winery owners, winemakers, and family members showed up, and a few of the members of the press who cover this region consistently.  I fall into the following category, as one of the firm advocates of Sierra Foothills wines and wineries, and I write about them frequently in my Wine Time column in the Tahoe Weekly magazine.  So I got an invite and hauled my Tahoe Weekly editor along to meet the clan.

Rob Chrisman of Avanguardia was the genius on the grill, and there are some pretty good cooks who made salads and appetizers too.   Whoever you are, may I have the baked bean recipe?   Outstanding!

Everyone brought wine.  This was so much better (for me) than going to a tasting where I have to tromp from store to store or winery to winery.   It was all there, and so I tasted (and, reluctantly, spit) my way through 25 wines.   Here are some of my new favorites:

Bent Metal Chardonnay

Henry Coufos and Janet Wheeling
Smith Chardonnay

Fawnridge Viognier

Coufos Rhone Blend

Lucchesi Merlot

When I started getting red splotches on my notebook, I stopped writing and just enjoyed the jokes, camaraderie, slaps on the shoulder, and tried not to trip over the winery dog. 

This is a great group of wine folks, producing wines with taste, texture, heart and happiness.  If you are not familiar with the wines of Nevada County and lower Placer County, click over to the Sierra Vintners website, map out a route and go.