What started out as a very wet winter has turned into a very dry one, with February following January as virtually rain free. There is little talk of draught, however, as the season started out with lots of rain. Plus, wet weather is in the forecast for next week. The dry spell did provide easy access to the vineyards for pruning – a good thing.
In the cellar we had a busy couple of months bottling, both our own white wines and those of our custom crush clients. We have already released our 2012 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc, and there has been a very enthusiastic response. Later this month we will off both the 2012 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and the 2012 Russian River Valley Pinot Gris.
This weekend (March 1st – 3rd) and next (March 8th – 10th) we are proud to participate in the 35th Annual Wine Road Barrel Tasting. Over 120 wineries from the Russian River, Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys will sample wines still in the barrel. We will pour our 2012 Russian River Valley Chardonnay, which has not yet been bottled and isn’t projected to be released until the fall of 2013. In addition, the last of the 2011 Pinot Gris, 2011 Rose of Pinot Noir, and the 2010 Chardonnay will be offered at sale prices. Finally, guests will have the opportunity to taste our 2009 Mendocino Ridge Pinot Noir Garagistes and our 2009 Russian River Valley Zinfandel. For an early blog review of these wines and the Barrel Tasting, check out http://www.ijamming.net/sonoma-winter-wineland-3-taft-street-winery/
As spring approaches, our social season starts to roll. The first major event of the season will be our annual birthday party (April Fools’ Day); this year’s event will take place on Saturday, April 6th. Our club party and concert series won’t be far behind. Now is an especially good time to visit the Tasting Room, as the summer crowds have yet to arrive and the hills are still green. You bring the picnic and we’ll supply the wine!
President, Taft Street Winery
Many moons ago the Little Old Winemaker at Italian Swiss Colony in Asti used to say that every year was a vintage year in California. This implied California’s weather was ideal and varied little from year to year. However, in the 30+ years I’ve been in the business I have never seen a vintage which hasn’t been unique.
Mike T. Having said that, isn’t it true that good wine is made every year?
Evelyn. Yes, if growers and winemakers work together they can usually react favorably to any curve balls Mother Nature may throw.
Mike T. So what are these curve balls?
Evelyn. The usual suspects – frost, heat spikes, rain, fire . . . . . . . .
Mike T. Let’s take them one at a time. Frost.
Evelyn. The window for frost is relatively short, from late March to early May, but severe damage can occur. Uneven sets and reduced yields can result, as occurred in 2008 and to a lesser extent in 2009.
Mike T. Rain?
Evelyn. Rain can be a problem. Early in the season rain and cool weather can delay grape cluster development, and chances increase for the appearance of mildew and mold. Rains during harvest can foster mildew, lower sugars and dilute the flavors of the grapes. Not good.
Mike T. Like last year.
Evelyn. Precisely. Fortunately most of our own grapes had already been picked, but several clients lost both volume and quality.
Mike T. And fire?
Evelyn. Not usually a problem around here, but in 2008 the huge fires in Mendocino and Napa resulted in some smoke tainted wines from nearby vineyards. It’s a bigger problem in Australia, where the recent years of drought has increased the frequency and severity of wildfires.
Mike T. Nothing else?
Evelyn. Well, you’ve got parasitic wasps, leaf worms, moths, mites, phylloxera, Pierce’s Disease, powdery mildew, rots of various kinds, deer, turkeys, birds. . . . . . . . .
Mike T. STOP! I need a glass of wine.
Last week we released our 2010 Sonoma County Rose of Pinot Noir. The wine is delicious and we have boosted production in an effort to meet an increasing demand. Rose is no longer a summer – only beverage, and is rightfully taking its place as a year round choice. The reason is clear – Rose can and should be an attraction to the eye and a pleasure to the palate.
Mike T. Rose is quickly becoming a real part of our family of wines. The reason is pretty clear – the wine is a treat – clean, tasty and refreshing. What’s the secret?
Evelyn W. There are a couple of things we do that set our wine apart. The first thing is our choice of grape; Pinot Noir has bright fruit flavors, especially when not overly ripe.
Mike T. Does that mean we pick our Rose fruit earlier than that out our regular Pinot Noir?
Evelyn W. Exactly. We can then accentuate the fruit while keeping the acid levels lively.
Mike T. Then what?
Evelyn W. We keep the juice in skin contact for 8 – 10 hours in order to get the color we want, and then we have the wine go through a slow cold fermentation.
Mike T. A traditional process for Rose production is known as “saignee,” whereby red grapes are crushed and left on their skins for hours, then a certain amount is “bled” off to make Rose. The rest is made into red wine. Why not use that method?
Evelyn W. Mostly because the main effort in that procedure is concentrated on the red wine production. The grapes
are picked at optimum conditions for the red wine, usually too ripe for rose.
Mike T. So now we know.
While driving to work this morning I passed a number of wineries, all seeming to be in the midst of a deep winter slumber. The vibe is certainly different from the frenzy of harvest time; but underneath this perception of inactivity, I know much is going on. A talk with Evelyn should clarify things.
Mike T: Many people believe that after harvest, the wine gently matures during the winter months, while the winemakers (and their staff) spend their time in Hawaii (or shopping at the mall). True?
Evelyn W: Yeah, right. Actually there is more than enough to do.
Mike T: Like?
Evelyn W: Let’s start with house cleaning. Equipment gets used over and over again during harvest. We finally have the time to clean, repair and store the equipment properly. Then there is the ongoing task of topping wine barrels of older vintages; finishing malolactic fermentation in the new red wines; heat and cold stabilizing the new whites in preparation for bottling; blending wines in preparation for spring bottling; preparing the bottling line and refurbishing the bottling room.
Mike T: Wow!
Evelyn W: I’m only getting started. One of the most difficult tasks is the scheduling of our spring and summer bottling. Our own wine takes precedence in the schedule, but we bottle dozens of wines for clients, and it’s no easy task creating a workable schedule.
Mike T: How about winemaking?
Evelyn W: That where the fun begins. We have been doing lab analyses on the new wines and we are starting to come to grips with the qualities of the 2010 wines.
Mike T: First reactions to any of the wines?
Evelyn W: We’ve taken a good look at each lot of the 2010 Chardonnays, and I’m quite pleased with what I see. The wines fermented completely dry, and the acid levels are good.
Mike T: So Waikiki (or even Codding Town) is not in your plans?
Evelyn W: Just as soon as I finish my “To Do” list.
We had a great time at the 15th annual Tomato Fest, held last weekend at our Dry Creek Valley home. Over 90 friends of the tomato gathered with heirloom tomatoes from as far away as Delaware(!) to taste tomatoes, eat tomato based dishes, and enjoy Taft Street wines.
We lucked out on the weather, with perhaps the year’s most glorious day – temperature in the low 80’s, with a warm evening, and no yellow jackets (a rarity for this time of year).
With summer fading quickly and the days noticeably getting shorter, our focus alters with the season. The next month is semi organized chaos, as grapes come in when ripe – not necessarily when we can handle them most easily. Somehow it all gets done, and sometime late in October or early November it will all be over and we will breathe a collective and exhaustive sigh of relief.
It’s also pedal to the metal time in the kitchen, as preserving the season’s produce is the order of the day. With apple cider vinegar and verjus completed, the major tasks ahead include canning 100+ pounds of tomatoes, and drying figs from five fig trees. Somehow, our brains got obsessed with figs and we ended up with 5 trees – 4 too many. Fortunately we have some friends who make chutneys/jams with whatever we don’t dry.
The last remaining garden job is harvesting our own vineyard. Our Syrah came in at 21.9 brix yesterday. We like to pick at 22.5 – 23.0, so it looks like Sunday or Monday, depending on the weather. This year we will make a Rose for the first time. We are quite excited about the project, especially since my brother John will be helping in the winemaking. An added bonus is the wine should be ready for this holiday season!
This is the time of year we look forward to, relish, and then miss when it’s over. SUMMER. Cool mornings and evenings, warm to hot days, concerts at town squares and vineyards, ripening fruits and vegetables, picnics……….aah.
At the moment the first apples and blackberries have arrived, cukes and the ever present zucchini are here, tomatoes are turning red; and in 5 – 6 weeks the king/queen of them all – wine grapes will be ready for harvest.
This past weekend we took a stroll down memory lane and spent a few days at the Russian River, watching my grandson and his seven cousins frolic in the river, hour after hour, much as we did many moons ago. I used to wonder how adults could bear just sitting on the water’s edge, talking and reading, while there was a river so close. Kids still wonder about the stranger ways of adults.
Rare proof that the world is not going completely to hell. Word is the legendary dive bar, Monte Rio’s Pink Elephant has been sold and will soon reopen in all its “splendor.” Will keep you posted.
High over the Pacific on my way from Singapore to Hong Kong, then on to San Francisco and Sonoma County.
A terrific time celebrating Taft Street alum Andy Bartlett’s birthday. Fond memories –
- Despite a huge growth in population and tourism, Bali retains its magic. Warm weather tempered by trade winds, mellow people, great landscape (flowers, fruits, rice paddies), and the varied and exciting cuisine.
- We had a kitchen staff at the compound, and they were led by Andy’s wife Roz (a graduate of Cordon Bleu and the California Culinary Academy) and a crack Indonesian cook. As a result we enjoyed an ever changing array of Balinese dishes – Nasi and Bami Goreng, Beef Rendang, spicy tempeh, various sambals, Gado Gado . . . and much, much more.
- One of the treats of the holiday was listening to the stories of Andy and his mates about life in Southeast Asia back in the days before tourism. In the 1960’s, for example, there were but three flights a week arriving in a Bali without hotels. How times have changed.
- To top off visits to beaches, temples, museums, markets, music and dance presentations – every night at the convenient hour of 10 pm – live World Cup on the telly!
All in all, a stellar vacation. And the future is not too shabby either. I’ll soon be back in Taft Street country.
We are here on the isle of Bali to help our dear old friend Andy Bartlett celebrate a significant birthday. Andy, one of the founders of Taft Street and its first president, spent years in Indonesia after graduating from Harvard Law School. It was on one of his trips back from Bali to his vacation home in Squaw Valley, California, that the idea of a winery that became Taft Street was hatched.
Kathy and I left our home in Dry Creek last Tuesday, and 23 hours later we arrived in Singapore, via Hong Kong. Here we met our son Matt, daughter-in-law Anne, and Otto. Spent a day in this ultra modern city of skyscrapers, state of the art metro system, and the best fast food anywhere. The city is dotted with funky looking food stalls with rickety tables and chairs, serving an incredible array of fresh, spicy Asian foods. Utterly satisfying. We stayed at the retro New Majestic Hotel, where each room was designed and decorated by a local artist. Ours was the aptly named Pussy Parlour; while Matt and company were lodged in a storybook theme room, albeit with barber chairs, kleig lights and dual bathtubs in the living room.
Wow! Architecturally stunning homes, parks, ponds, artwork, sandy beach . . . . An in house staff, including cooks preparing classical Indonesian cuisine; walks along the beach; kids laughing jumping in and out of the pool from early morning until they drop to sleep right after dinner; time for reading/napping; perfect weather, with tradewinds cooling the 80 degree temperatures.
One could get used to this.
Just recovering from two weeks on the road, followed by our biggest President’s Club party ever. Over 200 fans of Taft Street gathered at the winery last Saturday to pick up their wine, enjoy the music of local band Bottle Shock, delight on barbeque, and of course taste a variety of Taft Street’s finest.
Visits to the Massachusetts and Wisconsin markets were both enjoyable and productive. The enthusiasm for the wines, particularly the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir was gratifying, and we opened up dozens of new accounts. The fact that these states are particularly attractive this time of year made it even better.
Just finished Studs Terkel’s WILL THE CIRCLE GO UNBROKEN? Interviews with dozens of Chicagoans about death, aging and the beliefs about the afterlife, this was not your summer beach time reading. Written when Terkel was 89 (he died at 96 in 2008), the book shows the immense diversity of viewpoints and beliefs on very fundamental topics. It took quite a while to finish, as I was only able to read a couple of interviews at a single sitting.
The fact that I am quickly approaching my Medicare years made it all the more appropriate.
Next month will be an adventure. My old friend Andy Bartlett is celebrating a special birthday, and has invited a 100 or so of his cronies to help him celebrate – in Bali! Andy was the catalyst who got us all together at Taft Street the late 1970’s, and was our president from 1982 to 1990. There is a photo of the original gang hanging in the Tasting Room. We all look very 1970’s. Kathy and I will meet our son Matt, Anne and Otto in Singapore and then travel to Bali for a 10 day celebration. Will keep you posted.
This weekend we will host a private party at the winery for three dozen Taft Street aficionados. The kitchen we put in last year has proven to be a real asset, and we have a number of meals/tastings planned throughout the summer months. In fact, I am off to the market now.