2020 was a challenge, but against all odds, we’re coming come out with some lovely wines.
They’re reminiscent of the ‘17s – approachable and balanced at a younger point than, say the ‘15s were or the ‘18s will be.
We dodged loss from fire or smoke ... mostly. It helped a lot that as traditionalists, we harvest a little earlier. When the Glass Fire broke out at the end of September, the Petit Verdot was all we had left on the vine. The fire burned in our direction for several days before stopping less than mile away. It was our first experience with smoke coming directly off an active fire. The grapes tasted fine, but sugar tends to mask smokiness. We decided lay the fruit on the ground to compost and go around until the next vintage.
This winter the vineyards got more than no rain – but we’re on track for a little less than half normal. And for the first time in our memory, we didn’t get a single storm with enough rain to be sure we hit total field saturation. This will require extremely careful farming until next winter.
Fortunately, there was enough rain at precisely the right moments for the invigorating cover crop to thrive. We’ll mow and lightly cultivate to incorporate the legume-heavy cover crop (and the pruned canes from winter) into the soil to fix natural nitrogen, sequester carbon, and strengthen the structure of the soil and the subterranean ecosystem it supports. And make better wines.
We're overdue on a harvest report, but events have intervened. Our heartfelt thanks to all of you who have reached out. So far, the ranch has been spared by the Glass Fire, just to the north, and the winery where we ferment and barrel age our wines has been spared by the Boysen and Shady Fires, which were on the doorstep. Tonight should tell -- if the flag is still there at dawn's early light, we have a good chance of living to farm another day. Stay tuned.
Thanks to everyone who’s reached out to see how we’re doing in the midst of this new year of wildfires. We’re okay … so far. The Hennessy fire broke out two miles east of the ranch, but the prevailing breeze for the four days since then has been from the northwest, heading southeast – which has pushed the fire and its smoke steadily away from us … so far, in both the chronological and geographic senses. The winds could shift and bring the fire to us. And so far the fire has traveled 20 miles, to the peril of the cities of Fairfield and Vacaville. No one can be at peace if their good fortune means other people and a vast amount of wildlife and woodlands are being devastated. And, as to that good fortune … so far.
If you’d like to help, please consider the disaster relief fund at the Napa Valley Community Foundation.
Until four days ago, this has been a lovely, smooth growing year. The last four days were really hot, but not as hot as in 2017. Now that temperatures are returning to normal, we can say, the fruit and the vines appear to be sound and healthy.
We’re hoping our first picks from the 2020 vintage will start around 4 tomorrow morning – the one acre of Sauvignon Blanc, plus a little bit of Merlot for a dry rosé.
We’ll do our best to post as the harvest progresses. In the meantime, the photo, taken this past Tuesday morning, is from a vineyard we call either the Lower Vineyard or the Pool Block, depending on which side of the bed we’ve gotten out of.
We wanted to share this quick "home movie" tour of the ranch, which includes winemaker Diana Seysses' explanation of how she brings it through to the glass. We're all looking forward to the day when we can once again walk the vineyards with our members and friends and share our wines together.
We’re thinking about our huge, extended wine family – our customers, the folks who tend the vineyards, the staff at the winery and our office and the bottle aging warehouse and our fulfillment shipper, the front and back people at the restaurants and shops where our wines are sold, the staff of our domestic marketing company and our distributors in each state, everybody working for our importers in Japan, Québec, Ontario, England, and Scandinavia, the wine writers and event planners – and then, looking further, everybody has their own families and friends and colleagues to think about.
The vineyards are a reminder that this will pass. The vines woke up about a month ago and look flat-out terrific. The shoots in our two acre “Lost Vineyard” Merlot block are among the most advanced on the ranch. Last fall we spread organic compost and planted a nitrogen-rich cover crop. A couple of weeks ago it was time to mow and lightly till to capture the natural nutrients for the vines.
From all the Snowdens -- hang in there, everybody.
Ranch manager Severiano DeLoera and his small team started pruning on Monday, January 13. Seve has found that a smaller group takes longer but can hit remarkable levels as far as quality and consistency are concerned. They began with the simpler blocks – the older cordon trained vines. It took them a week to make their way to the Brothers Vineyard, where the young, cane-trained vines require very precise work. They are now finishing up in Brothers. That will leave just the single acre of Sauvignon Blanc, which Seve always leaves until the last possible moment – it’s the only spot on the ranch where there’s a frost risk and late pruning will delay budbreak, protecting the vines for an additional couple of weeks.
We are delighted -- and relieved -- to report our harvest is complete. We make our wines in a neo-traditional, terroir-driven style, which means we pick on the early side for the Napa Valley. This happens to keep us out of the line of fire for a lot of late fall risks like frost, rain, and smoke, but our real goal is to make wines at lower alcohols, with tannins and acid structure – wines which let the character of our different fields and the unique idiosyncrasies of the vintage show through to the glass. The Valley came through the '19 vintage without devastating heatwaves or fires, for which we are deeply grateful. It was a long and moderate year which appears to be giving us unusually approachable wines. The photo shows – left to right – CFO Carey Snowden Harrington (duties as assigned), winemaker Diana Snowden Seysses, and wine colleague Maggie Purdue, sorting the 2019 Brothers Cabernet Sauvignon, which came in on Saturday the 5th.
The photo is just after dawn as the sun breaks over the Brothers Vineyard and the crew is just finishing our first pick for 2019 -- the single acre of Sauvignon Blanc. This continues to be another interesting growing season -- fewer heat spikes than most years, cooler nights, and everything taking a just a touch more time. We're going to bring in some Merlot on Wednesday for a dry rosé, and then it will be time to hurry up and wait for the reds to finish ripening.
We moved our "harvest" party up to late July to make sure our vineyard staff would be able to come -- once harvest actually starts, they're busy almost every day. We were excited to see our vineyardists, wine club members, friends, family, and other Napa Valley wine people partying together under the oaks by our remote "Lost Orchard" vineyard at the east end of the property. This is winemaker Diana Snowden Seysses, in from France, pouring magnums of two wines from the '90s and the rest from the '00s. The food came from both sides of the boarder, the music was Norteño, and the weather was perfect -- which pretty much describes the growing season so far: slow, steady, and comfortable. Here's a shot of Cabernet Sauvignon in our Brothers' Vineyard on August 8. The chances of several curve balls coming up before harvest are near certain, but fingers are crossed.
Ranch manager Severiano Deloera and his team finished pruning our final block last week. We always hold the single acre of Sauvignon Blanc until the end of pruning to delay budbreak in the only spot on the ranch where we've ever experienced a frost issue. Seve keeps his group small so they can stay in close touch while they work. Pruning is one of the most sensitive steps in the annual cycle. Not only are they shaping the vine for this vintage -- they're also defining the universe of possibilities for next year. Budbreak is about a week away -- two weeks later than last year. We like that. The longer the winter dormancy, the more rest for the vines. We've had plenty of rain, which will make it easier to support the vines through the warm summer. I always love the dawn of the the growing season. Everything is still perfect.