Ranch Manager Severiano Deloera has been farming this year with a small, full-time team of five experienced and skilled vinyardists. At the risk of inviting some new catastrophe, I’ll go ahead and say – the vineyards have never looked better. The team been able to stay ahead as the growing season has progressed. Right now they’re putting the last touches on the canopies before veraison arrives. Then they’ll visit each vine to check the crop, remove clusters that aren't ripening on schedule, and anything else they don’t like the looks of.
Our thanks to everyone who has been checking in as the very peculiar larger situation unfolds. Ironically, we had spent about a year getting the permits to open a private tasting room on the second floor of a historic building on Main Street in St. Helena. We were all set to invite our mailing list and club members to begin scheduling visits, but our planned “go live” date turned out to fall in the first week of the Napa County “shelter in place” order. Although the order was eased a few weeks ago to allow tasting rooms to reopen, we took the conservative “wait and see” path – and are happy to have done so, as the County has once again prohibited inside tasting.
So, until we can offer safe and legal tastings, you’ll just have to trust us – our wines are all simply amazing and delicious.
A club member sent an interesting article a day or two ago on natural wines. The premise was, most wines come from grapes grown in conventionally farmed vineyards, using pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and intensive tilling which damages the soil biome – a short term strategy to maximize short term yield. "Most" might be accurate -- probably for sure based on gallons. But for hyper-premium growing areas like the Napa Valley, it’s not necessarily so. Driving up the valley on either the Silverado Trail or Highway 29, you’ll see at least half of the vineyards completely carpeted with cover crop – which means they haven’t been sprayed with herbicides. At Diana’s insistence, we stopped using them about ten years ago and have seen the vineyards flourish. Our vineyards are fully organic – except for one thing – the sandy volcanic soils are very low on phosphorous. We’ve been relentlessly piloting different organic micro-supplements in our Brothers Vineyard – in fact, thanks to the pilots, the Brothers Cabernet has been made from organically farmed grapes since the 2015 vintage. Each pilot takes two or three years. We haven’t found one that works, but we will.
Santa Clause came early this year, with the Wine Spectator putting our 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon "Brothers Vineyard" at number 91 on its list of the Top 100 wines from around the world in 2019. We're particularly grateful, living as we do in the minority school, striving to produce dry wines in a more traditional, classic style, picking our fruit at moderate sugar levels, avoiding manipultive winemaking techniques, and doing everything we can to let the wines show off place, vintage, variety and nuance. The '16 Brothers allocated for commercial distribution sold out quickly, but it continues to be available for direct purchase at its original release price. It's a lovely wine -- to drink now -- or to set aside -- to evolve -- for a few years.
2019 is a promising year -- we’ve had even, moderate temperatures -- which are holding through harvest. Yes, there were some hot days in the summer, but that’s happened every year since we arrived at the ranch in 1955 – days here and there – but unlike the last couple of years, ’19 hasn’t seen any week-long stretches of weirdly hot weather. It varies by block, but most of the fruit is coming in about a week later this year – not a sea change, but more time to mature on the vine without the sugars shooting up. We started with the Sauvignon Blanc on September 9 – that’s the photo. You’ll see a little Botrytis – the “noble rot” – which is not common for that block. We love exploring what the year gives. Then we brought in four boxes of Merlot on the 13th for a rosé – that’s the other photo. The rosé is just for family and friends (including our direct purchasers). The single acre Los Ricos Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard came in on the 24th. It’s going into a small lot, vineyard designated bottling. The Pool Block was also picked on the 24th. It will go into the Ranch Cabernet. We harvested the Cabernet Franc on the 26th. Next up is Brothers Cabernet – the pick starts at 8 PM tonight. Stay tuned.
We're overdue reporting on harvest 2018 -- it was lovely. The previous year had some terrifying moments -- not just the fires, but also the "heat event" on September 1 when it became crazy hot for a few hours -- among other things, resulting in our redirecting all of the Petit Verdot into a rosé. 2018 had none of that -- a calm, long harvest, with lots of time for decisions. Many people are talking about it being a large crop, which is true -- overall yields were above average -- but the story varies by block. The block for our Brothers Vineyard Cabernet actually came in below '17. So far, we like what we're tasting in barrel -- time will tell.
An unusual April storm has brought several more inches of rain, so we’re worrying less about a return to full-bore drought. With a little more rain in the forecast, it looks like we’ll come out with around 75% of normal rainfall – which assumes “normal” still exists. The key thing is having a storm big enough to completely saturate the fields at least once during the rainy season – we definitely got that, so should be fine for the growing season. Spring is also the time to plant replacement vines – there’s nothing more frustrating than farming a vacant location in a vineyard. These Sauvignon Blanc replacement vines arrived Friday. They’ll be lounging under an oak tree for the next week or two to acclimatize to their new home, but they all should be in the ground before the end of the month.
We’re often amazed at the idiosyncrasies of holistic farming. When you eliminate plowing, it strengthens the ecosystem of the vineyard because the natural microbes and insects that grow above and below ground come into balance and the soil becomes a healthier place for grapes to grow. But this means it’s also a healthier place for gophers to grow, and gophers like to eat the roots of grapevines, especially young and tender grapevines. There are a lot of things people do to address gophers, ranging from traps, to explosives to poisons – none of which feel like they promote a healthy, natural field. Fortunately, farming as non-invasively as possible gives nature room to strike a balance in gophers, just as it does for microbes – in this case, leading two healthy, young coyotes to take up residence in the woods by the Brothers Vineyard. The photo is of one of them having some lunch in the vineyard on a recent sunny afternoon.