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Please check the links below for video updates on this year's harvest.
September 28, 2010
Cold soaking has begun. This video explains the process.
September 20, 2010
Who are the "real" heroes this harvest? Check out my newest video "Harvest Heroes" for my answer.
September 16, 2010
Ever wonder how to make sparkling wine? Got 60 seconds? Check out this video "How to Make Classic Vintage Brut in Less Than a Minute."
September 7, 2010
Click here for a video update.
September 4, 2010
Click here for a video update.
September 1, 2010
Lots of things are happening in the cellar during harvest. Click here to see a video.
August 30, 2010
Click here to see another video from harvest.
August 28, 2010
Harvest has begun here at Iron Horse. Click here to see a video of the harvest.
Disney Food and Wine Festival 2010
Click here to see a slide show of me at the Disney Food and Wine Festival in Anaheim.
Iron Horse Vineyards Mystery Sound Game
Many people think that learning about wine, grape growing and winemaking is fun.
My Friday tours are a big hit, confirming my belief that people do enjoying learning about this craft.
To add a bit more of a challenge, I’ve devised a game around this idea of learning.
On Mondays, I’ll post a link to a new challenge. This challenge will be a recording of a sound associated with an important aspect of winemaking and/or grape growing. Then, that Friday, I’ll post another link where you can hear and see that important activity taking place as well as an explanation of how it is important.
Sound fun (pun intended)? Click below to hear the sound.
A Boy King & His Bubbly
Friday of last week was one of the most fun days I’ve had here at Iron Horse in a long time. Understand, I have fun every day here, so Friday must have been extra special. So, what happened?
Joy Sterling managed to have Iron Horse be the official sparkling wine of the San Francisco King TUT exhibit at the de Young museum.
Found inside of the TUT tomb were pots that once held wine for the young king in his afterlife. Additionally, they found drawings on the tomb walls depicting trellised grape vines; evidence that these wines were not just made from gathered wild grapes, but from cultivated vines.
To make this more fun and meaningful, Joy invited others to help make the decision on the final step of sparkling wine production: the dosage. As I’ve stated many times before, this can have a huge effect on the wine. Among those joining to help with this decision were John Buchanan from the de Young Museum and his wife Lucy, as well as Spencer Christian from “View from the Bay”.
Seven tasters started off with 9 wines. All were 2006 Blanc de Noir (Wedding Cuvee) with various dosage elements.
We should start with a dosage refresher course.
Dosage is typically syrup made of wine and sugar. For this tasting I used three different syrups:
Blanc de Blanc LEX (short for liqueur d’expédition)
And Brut LEX
The Blanc de Blanc is made from 100% Chardonnay, plus sugar
The Special is 50% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Noir, plus sugar
And the Brut is 75% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay, plus sugar.
As far as sweetness goes, no LEX is sweeter than another. It is the wine in the LEX that most impacts the nose and actual taste.
Your first goal of dosage is to bring the wine into acid/sugar balance. This could be done with any LEX.
For this tasting:
2006 Blanc de Noir with
4 milliters of Blanc de Blanc LEX
2006 Blanc de Noir with
4 milliters of Special LEX
2006 Blanc de Noir with
4 milliters of Brut LEX
2006 Blanc de Noir with
6 milliters of Blanc de Blanc LEX
2006 Blanc de Noir with
6 milliters of Special LEX
2006 Blanc de Noir with
6 milliters of Brut LEX
2006 Blanc de Noir with
8 milliters of Blanc de Blanc LEX
2006 Blanc de Noir with
8 milliters of Special LEX
2006 Blanc de Noir with
8 milliters of Brut LEX
The group found Samples 7, 8 and 9 to be too sweet.
One taster found that he liked Sample #2, and Sample #5, but also Sample #7. Samples 2 & used Special LEX which has Pinot Noir in them. This gives the wine more red berry aromas and flavors and tricks the mind into thinking sweeter. So, you might find the balance point at a lower actual sugar level because of the extra fruit flavors. Yet when this taster got to 8 milliters of LEX, his taste buds demanded the leaner crisper Chardonnay based LEX from Sample #7 to carry that extra sugar. His comments were that he preferred the nose of #2 & #5 but the mouth of #7. That makes perfect sense. Overall he prefers a wine that is more Pinot expressive; but with that extra sugar in sample #7 his mouth needed less Pinot Noir.
I then created a hybrid of Samples #6 & #7 with:
2006 Blanc de Noir with
3 milliters of Brut LEX
4 milliters Blanc de Blanc LEX
Everyone liked the nose of peaches/apricots, but found it a touch sweet.
So I the created a hybrid of Samples #1 & #3 with:
2006 Blanc de Noir with
3 milliters of Brut LEX
2 milliters Blanc de Blanc LEX
This put less overall sugar into the wine yet gave it a touch more Pinot Noir.
This was the crowd pleaser. I love how the overall dose level is very, very low yet the wine is summer time fresh with notes of ripe stone fruit and ripe sweet citrus (orange and tangerine). I can’t say what the boy king would think, but I can easily see myself drifting down the Nile on a luxury barge sipping this very pretty wine.
To understand dosage tastings you have to understand how they impact the wine.
Again, any dose will correct the basics of acid/sugar balance. But will it steer the wine away from your style goal, which is another balance issue; that of Pinot driven or Chardonnay driven or somewhere perfectly in the middle.
If in tasting a bubbly you feel that it is a bit too red berry fruity for you then you might want to focus your trials using Blanc de Blanc LEX.
Lastly, a bit of irony: King TUT died very young at the age of 19; too young to drink legally(in this country), but old enough to be king.
Check out the video from The View From the Bay here.
June 17, 2009
For those of us who are fortunate enough to have found ourselves in winemaking, it is not that we should be winemakers, we simply MUST BE winemakers. Nothing else will satisfy that need to craft; to imprint onto and into our wines what we feel and see when we walk the vineyard and dream of what it might be.
Please check out this blog "L'Oenophile" by Lorrie LeBeaux.
April 3, 2009
It’s a windy and chilly day outside. The vineyard crew, supplemented by most of my cellar crew is out tying canes to the fruit wire. We no longer wrap canes or young cordons to the fruit wire. Wrapping canes to the wire runs the risk of damaging young tender buds. Wrapping young cordons around the fruit wire can in time girdle the cordon.
In the cellar, it is not warmer. Right now we are in the later stages of cold stabilizing our 2008 sparkling blends. This is when we force the wine to form “wine crystals”. We do this here at the winery in stainless steel tanks so it won’t happen when you chill the wine in you frig at home. As I believe we’ve discussed before, this entails chilling the wine down to about 28F. At that point, you can just wait for the naturally occurring potassium and the naturally occurring tartaric acid to combine to form crystals, or you can speed things along quite a bit by seeding the wine with an outside source of potassium bitartrate (cream of tartar). If you have ever made rock candy at home you might remember that you made a very sugary syrup, then you either stuck into that syrup a stick or a string. The rough surface of the stick or the string is where the crystal formation starts. A similar effect happens when we add crystals to the wine. This “seeding” starts a domino effect in the wine. Crystals will grow on the crystal we added. Seeding instead of waiting saves energy---cool (literally)!
The wines of 2008 are really quite nice. The sparkling blends are beautiful. Very soon we will be releasing the 2008 Rose of Pinot Noir. This is the most intense Pinot Noir Rose to date. Very dark in color, very strawberry by nose, with a fruit-filled fullness by mouth that stays long on the palette, this is not a wimpy rose. As are all our Rose of Pinot Noirs, this wine is dry and serious, making it worthy of food matching as well as serving it up alone. We only produced 529 cases so get yours while you can, for it always goes fast.
We produced our first “Z” Clone Chardonnay from the harvest of 2008. What is a “Z” Cone Chardonnay you might ask? We have made a few bottlings of Rued Clone Chardonnay. That is the floral clone (selection) of Chardonnay. When you walk thru a Rued Chardonnay vineyard tasting the grapes, the fruit from every 5th or 10th vine will show greater intensity of flavor than the others. In a “Z” clone Chardonnay vineyard, every vine shows equally that intensity, because only the “intense” Rued vines were used to propagate the “Z” clone. We were so thrilled with the outcome of our small first 1.8 acre planting of “Z” we’ve decided to plant much more.
Also new for us from vintage 2008 was our first wine from our Hyde Old Wente block of Chardonnay. Our Old Wente Corral block has been our premier Chardonnay for many years, producing great elegant full-bodied wines of layered complexity. The Hyde Old Wente is a more refined clone of the older Old Wente. 2008 was our first wine from these young vines. We’ve not experienced this level of complexity before in an Iron Horse Chardonnay and are totally excited about the future of this great new vineyard. Plan a tour with me and I’ll take you there!
Tomorrow Rigo (our cellar-master) and his crew will start assembling the 2008 Pinot Noir blends in stainless steel tanks. Once the blend is assembled, its back to barrels for the wine until time to bottle; the blend “marries up” better in oak than in stainless steel tanks.
Later this week I will start trial Chardonnay blends from the 2008 vintage Chardonnays; next “chat time” I’ll let you know how that turned out.
Sunday, April 20
Earth Day at Iron Horse Vineyards
Joy Sterling asked me to do something educational for the Earth Day celebration, so I set up a “Nose I-Q” table where folks could test their noses against unknown aromas. In ten glasses were aromas you might find in Green Valley Chardonnay. Each participant was given a test paper to fill in what they thought each aroma was. The aromas were prepared by, for example adding a few drops of vanilla extract to distilled water, or adding freshly squeezed grapefruit juice to distilled water, or soaking chopped red apple in distilled water.
The results were pretty predictable:
More women were willing to be tested than men by a margin of 3 to 1.
Women outscored the men 60% to 45%.
The “Nose I-Q” table was a huge hit and there was always a line of eager participants waiting for their turn. We will refine this learning opportunity and present it again soon.
It’s been a long time since I’ve updated Cellar Chat. That might mean that I’ve been incredibly busy or ridiculously inattentive. Well, probably a bit of both. However, a lot has happened.
How are the wines from 2007 progressing? Quite nicely thank you. The sparkling cuvees are assembled and nearing ready for bottling. Since blending was completed in January, the wines have been going through cold stabilization. This is the process that some refer to as chill-proofing. We simply chill the wines to about 28F. This forces the formation of crystals in the wine that we then filter from the blend. What are these crystals? Naturally occurring in grapes and wine is tartaric acid and potassium. Under chilly conditions, these two combine and form the crystals known as potassium bitartrate. Most homes have some in their kitchen, where it’s known as cream of tartar. These crystals are of no harm to still wine even though most wineries chill-proof their white wines as well. Almost no red wines are chill-proofed. The rational is that white wines are generally chilled before serving and reds are not. Chill-proofing also changes the pH of wines, which is not a problem with white wines, but can alter the delicate balance of red wines.
If you were not to chill-proof (cold stabilize) a sparkler before it underwent bottle fermentation, it would very likely form a great deal of crystals in the bottle once the consumer chilled it. Upon opening, the bubbles that were once in solution would appear and immediately attach themselves to the accumulated crystals forming huge bubble clusters that would gush out of the bottle. In my experience, once you open a bottle like this, most of the wine would gush out, leaving very little left to be poured into glasses. Then, trying to pour such a wine is even more troublesome, because the wine just continues to foam and foam.
The 2007 Rose of Pinot Noir is in the bottle and being sold in our tasting room. This is a great lunch wine that is almost too pretty to drink (almost). The aromas are a fruit basket delight of summer-perfect berries, cranberry and watermelon. By mouth it is seriously dry and wonderfully fleshy.
In endeavoring to bring to you better and better Chardonnay every year, we’ve stepped up our barrel-stirring regime. Great! But, what does that mean David? When you ferment Chardonnay (or any variety for that matter) in a barrel, once the fermentation is complete, the now dead yeast settle to the bottom of the barrel (that’s just gravity for you). Yeast are rich in protein, amino acids and fatty acids (yum yum!). On a weekly basis, we stir the settled yeast back up into the wine. This process is known as battonage. A special stainless steel device is used to sweep the bottom of the barrel and bring the yeast to the top. As the yeast fall back through the wine, protein from the yeast interact with any tannins (harsh mouth-feel components) that we might have picked up from the seeds, skins or stems during winemaking. This protein-tannin interaction removes these harsh components from the wine, giving the mouth of the wine a softer impression. Furthermore, these proteins incorporate themselves into the wine giving the wine nut like aromas and creamy texture. Though it would seem that this stirring might oxidize the wine by exposing it to air, it actually helps protect the wine from that very same risk. Even dead yeast have an ability to scavenge oxygen, so frequent stirring actually removes any absorbed oxygen.
Since I’m chatting up yeast, it seems a great time to delve into the benefit of extended yeast aging of sparkling wine. The decision by Iron Horse to commit to extended yeast aging is not filled with public relations fluff, it truly impacts the wine in a most positive way. Again, it is the yeast, that when dead release into the bottled wine protein, amino acids and fatty acids. Most of us know that extended yeast aging adds that wonderful bread-like yeasty-toasty aroma to a bubbly when extended yeast aged. Few of us know that the impact of this yeast aging actually plays a role in bubble quality. Upon opening a bottle of bubbly, carbon dioxide from the bottle fermentation start coming out of solution. They appear as very tiny bubble at the bottom of your glass. As they float up through the glass, the bubbles can get bigger. Now some of that might be due to deceasing pressure on that bubble as it rises nearer to the surface, but most of the increasing size is due to co-mingling of individual bubbles. If the wine had extended yeast age, those bubbles would stay small as they rose to the surface. Really? Yep! As yeast die, they release all these goodies into the wine, but not all at once. Fatty acids are held quite tightly within special vacuoles inside the cell. It is almost like a time-release capsule the way these fatty acids are dispersed over time. It seems that somewhere between twelve and fifteen years sees fatty acid levels at their maximum. So how does that help bubbles? As that tiny bubble comes out of solution, it gets a very thin coating of fatty acid, which prevents it from adhering to another bubble, thus it rises on its own to the surface. It is further believed that this coating allows the bubble to remain longer on the surface (before it goes pop!) allowing for a greater accumulation on the surface, making a thick foam cap----very pretty!
We very recently released our 2003 Classic Vintage Brut, 2003 Russian Cuvee and our 2005 Wedding Cuvee. If you have not tried them, you should. They are quite yummy!
Our harvest started August 16th and was completed on September 21st.
Harvest 2005 and 2006 were the best of both worlds; good quality and good quantity. 2007 was very good quality and small quantity. Hidden in that statement is some disappointment because of the low tonnage but also some excitement because of the special things that we did to ensure better quality to you. We spent much more time walking our vineyards before and during harvest. We have found this to be paramount to quality (and the exercise is good too). One such trip revealed areas of excessive foliage in one of our prized chardonnay blocks. Excessive foliage causes higher humidity in the fruit zone. This elevated humidity favors mildew and bunch rot in the clusters. We spotted the problem in time to not only thin those vines with excessive canopy, but to pick them at a later date because these vines were behind the others in maturity.
Pinot Noir clusters can in some years have excessively large “wings”. “Wings” are those small clusters at the “shoulders” of the main cluster. Some folks just refer to them as shoulders. I sent our field sampler into these Pinot Noir blocks and asked him to bring me about 100 clusters (whole) from each block. In the lab, we cut off the wings and weighed them separate. I wanted to know roughly what percentage the “wings” represented to the total crop. Secondly, I wanted to know if the juice analysis might be different. To analyze the juice you need to smash up the berries. Doing this bruises the skins and releases color. The sugar (brix), acid, and pH of the wings versus the main cluster were identical. However, when I tasted the juice and looked at the color extracted from the skins, it became clear that the “wings” needed to be removed. The wings would have diluted the power of the Pinot Noir.
Nearly all of the primary fermentations (grape sugar to alcohol) from 2007 are now complete. We even have some of malo-lactic fermentations of the Pinot Noir that are complete as well. So, all is going quite well indeed.
At this time of the year cellar work slows down a bit. We are stirring twice weekly all Chardonnay in barrels. This stirring of the lees (settled yeast) will soften the mouth impact of the wine and actually protect it from oxidation. It is my goal to avoid malo-lactic fermentation of any white wine if at all possible. For the style of Chardonnays that I’m trying to produce, I feel that M/L is simply an acid reduction tool. Lees stirring will not reduce the acidity, but it will add richness that softens the impact of the acidity. For the last few years I’ve been giving some loads of Chardonnay from selected vineyards a few hours of “skin contact”. This helps extract those all-important aroma and flavor components that are held within the grapes skin. Additionally, this procedure actually reduces the acidity of the juice, once again allowing me to avoid M/L.
All of the 2005 Chardonnays received a bit of skin contact. These wines are receiving wonderful reviews, so it must be working. I hope you are enjoying these wines as much as we are. The next few years is going to be very exciting as our newly replanted vineyards of Chardonnay start to come into production.
Cellar Chat, July 2007
We just completed bottling the 2006 sparkling wine blends. That is the process where we add sugar and yeast to the wine and then bottle it. The yeast consumes the sugar converting it to a small amount of extra alcohol, but more important is the carbon dioxide gas that results from the fermentation in the bottle. That gas is absorbed by the wine and becomes the bubbles in our sparkling wine—yum yum!
Our 2006 Chardonnay blending is completed and we are preparing these wines for bottling. From the 2006 vintage we will be bottling four very different Chardonnays: Estate Chardonnay, UnOaked Chardonnay, Corral Chardonnay, and Rued Chardonnay. You might recall that in 2005 we bottled five very different Chardonnays and I’m thrilled to report that these wines have been received with great reviews from wine writers and sommeliers as well as our most important tasters, --you our customers.
The reason that we produced four Chardonnays in 2006 as opposed to five in 2005 is this: The fifth wine in 2005 was our introductory “Native Yeast” Chardonnay. I loved that wine, and still do. A very important wine writer named it as one of his five best picks in California Chardonnay. I conducted native yeast fermentations with Chardonnay in 2006, but decided they were best blended into other wines. Why? Let me tell you. The 2005 “Native Yeast” Chardonnay was a blend of three separate native yeast fermentations, each amounting to only a few barrels. One native fermentation lot was from Block P a Stony Hill clone of Chardonnay. Another native fermentation lot was from Block O a Rued clone of Chardonnay. The last native fermentation lot was from Block L an Old Wente clone of Chardonnay. Native yeast fermentation seems to have its greatest impact on the mouth feel or texture of the wine. In 2006 I conducted native yeast fermentations on those same three blocks of Chardonnay once again. In 2006 however I chose not to bottle a separate “Native Yeast” Chardonnay, instead I elected to blend those few barrels of Rued Native into the Rued Chardonnay, making it so much richer by mouth. Likewise, I chose to blend the block L Old Wente Native into the Corral Chardonnay, which is almost always Old Wente anyways, also adding richness and texture to it as well. The block P native Chardonnay barrels were blended into the Estate Chardonnay to add to that blends texture and mouth feel.
I will again venture into the dangerous territory of native yeast fermentation of Chardonnay in 2007. Just like in 2005 and 2006 it will remain only a few barrels here and a few barrels there. The dozen or so barrels of native fermentation is quite small compared to the total number of barrels that we use. It is the amount of my personal time spent managing them and worrying over them that is so disproportionate. Yet, the challenge is so far worth the effort and the time is worth spending---if I could just not worry so much. Maybe less coffee and more herb tea would help.
If you have not tried the 2005 UnOaked Chardonnay you should do so soon, as we are nearly sold out.
Laurence keeps reminding me that harvest may only be four weeks away. It may well be a very early harvest. Fog has partly returned and I’m pleased with that. It is good for wine quality and great for the vineyard crew.
Cellar Chat, May 2007
We are now in a period of rapid growth in the vineyard. The vineyard crew is working very hard to keep up. They have a few more blocks of vineyard to shoot thin, they then will be busy with a endless list of detail projects that Laurence produces. All this work is having a profound positive effect on the quality of our wines. I don’t think I could be happier.
In the cellar things are a bit quiet. We will soon be busy bottling the 2006 sparkling wines. That means growing up yeast cultures for each of the about 16 days of bottling. Meanwhile our disgorging crew continues their work riddling and disgorging our bubbly for your enjoyment.
We have been getting very good press as well as very encouraging comments from fellow winemakers regarding our 2005 UnOaked Chardonnay (our first ever). I’m very pleased about that. Why did we make this wine? Well I love to say that it was completely by design. I’d love to say that it had been years in the planning. But all that would be a lie. The truth is not as compelling a story as a wordsmith might like but here goes: The 2005 UnOaked is a blend of the grapes from two very different blocks of grapes. One block year-in-and-year-out gives us large berries that are higher in acid than the rest. The other block also gives us large berries, but yields wine that is much lower in acid than normal. Both produce very nice “blending” wines, but alone are not stand-alone wines. Blending is always the best solution (when possible) for high or low acid situations in winemaking. Large berry clones of Chardonnay often lack the aroma and flavor to warrant bottling on the own. To extract more aroma and flavor one needs to extract as much from that grape as possible. There is a lot of flavor in the skin of grapes. To get more flavor from these large berry clones one might consider a bit of skin contact before pressing. Overnight would probably be too much for Chardonnay, but a few hours works fine. We destemmed all of those grapes prior to pressing instead of whole cluster pressing. This operation breaks open many of the berries releasing a fair amount of juice. This hour or two of maceration is enough to give the wine its needed aroma and flavor boost. Fermenting low acid wines is a scary thing because it is the acid and pH of the juice/wine that help inhibit spoilage yeast and bacteria. Not wanting to risk that, I blended my high acid juice into the low acid juice, which gave me an acid level that was perfect. I then very cold fermented this juice to bring out more of those lime and tropical aromas and flavors.
When fermentation was complete, I knew we had something special on our hands. At blending time it was decided to bottle this wine as a new UnOaked wine.
I believe that oak is always going to play an important role in top quality Chardonnay. I’m working with our coopers to develop barrels that will play supporting roles rather than dominating the wine. What we’ve come up so far that is very promising is water bent barrels versus the standard fire bent. I asked our coopers to lower the coconut aroma in the barrel and this is what they came up with. They are now further refining the toasting technique on these barrels to better compliment our style of Chardonnay. Further, I’ve found that barrel requirements will vary with the clone of Chardonnay. A clone like Rued can handle with no problem 100% new French oak that has been water bent and medium plus toasted with toasted barrel heads. That same new barrel will overpower Chardonnay from the Old Wente clone. Of course using 100% new oak is not my goal, however I do buy new oak every year to replace the older ones. My real goal is develop a barrel that could be used new without overpowering the wine. Not because I can then say that our wine was fermented in 100% new oak, but to be able to say that we have a barrel that even when used new does not dominate the wine.
Taste our 2005 Rued Clone Chardonnay and you see how well those 100% new water bent barrels compliment rather than overshadow the wine. Work continues; stay tuned.
Cellar Chat, The Harvest 2006
Harvest for us started August 30th and on that day we picked Pinot Noir for sparkling wine. Our last day of harvest came amidst a cold rain on October 5th when we picked Pinot Noir for still wine.
So, how do things look? To talk about the harvest of 2006, you at least need to mention the harvest of 2005. As Joy Sterling puts it, harvest 2005 was like a present with a bow wrapped around it. It was the best I’ve ever seen. Right across the varietals board everything was super in 2005. 2006 started with a heat blast of about two weeks that thankfully occurred before verasion and thus had no effect on wine quality. Because the vines literally “shut-down” to protect themselves, that episode put us two weeks behind. After that we had a fairly cool period laced with fog up to and thru harvest. The buzz about harvest 2005 is that there was so much loss due to bunch rot. That buzz is correct. The problem with buzz is that it lacks details. So, lets talk about rot. In most cases we are actually talking about botrytis, which is a mold. Maybe you have heard about botrytis as the “Noble Rot” and it being responsible for the expensive and lusciously sweet wines of Germany and Sauternes. Let me tell you this, “it’s only noble IF you want it, if you don’t want it, it’s a pain!” Quite often this mold will start in the shade of a vine that is growing in a swale of a vineyard. In that swale (which is the lower part of the vineyard) there is more soil moisture than in other places in the vineyard. Maybe the fog has been extra thick the last few days and left the grapes covered in dew for extended periods of time. These events are setting the stage for botrytis to form and spread. The spores are out there in the vineyard. In the vineyard is an ecosystem set up by nature to ensure the continuation of the grape vine. If no one picked the grapes, they would eventually rot and fall to the ground. Each berry contains at least one seed. That seed is encased in a nutrient filled sphere (the berry) that will help the fallen seed germinate and grow roots. So nature supplies the microbes to initiate the rotting process. It is up to the vineyard manager to keep this from happening. Our vineyard crew works very hard to keep rot from developing by preventing or eliminating vineyard wet spots. As much as we love fog for its cooling power, there are times when enough is enough. You can work hard keeping the vine’s canopy open to aid in drying it out once the fog lifts, but the fog does need to lift for that happen. We had many days where the fog failed to lift at all and the vines stayed wet and cold. Typically when rot starts it starts in just a few predictable spots and spreads from there. Once you see it is best to remove it from the vineyard and that is what we do. We’ll send the crew walking the vineyard looking for bunches that have in some cases just one berry showing rot. That cluster must go! If this isn’t done the botrytis spores will spread.
That is what we did over and over again before and during harvest. We had some vineyards that required this treatment three times. To ensure that no rot reached the presses, we always have two people per picking crew that sort thru the grapes as they are picked. This year each sorting crew was increased from two to four people.
Being an estate winery allows you to do the extra things necessary to make the most of the vintage. By having a full time vineyard crew here on the estate we can react to the ever-changing needs of the vineyard; we can turn on a dime.
I’m so incredibly pleased with how the vineyards are looking. Laurence Sterling, our vineyard manager along with our consultant Dr. Daniel Roberts, has done a truly impressive job of directing our vineyard operations. To lead a vineyard crew “you have to get your shoes dirty, and often.” Every time our vineyard crew enters a different block, Laurence is in the vineyard spelling out in great detail exactly what needs be done.
Being an estate winery that makes sparkling wine also allows us to make decisions that are unique. Decisions like picking one side of the vine early for sparkling wine, the other side later for still wine. Why would someone want to do that? In years like 2006 when fog lingers late into the day, the prudent thing to do is to open up the canopy even more to get greater airflow. This more open canopy with its increased airflow helps prevent mold development. The downside of this is increased risk of too much exposure to afternoon sun, resulting in sunburn on the sensitive skin of Pinot Noir. Because we make both sparkling wine and still wine from Pinot Noir we can harvest those Pinot Noir grapes at risk of sun damage early (when their sugar levels and flavors are perfect for bubbly) yet before the sun has damaged their delicate skin. The afternoon side of the vine gets the harsher more intense rays in the hottest part of the day. So it is that more vulnerable side of the vine that we can elect to pick early for bubbly.
2006 was a year that had all the makings of a great year. The period after veraison is when the grape takes on their characteristic color and flavor. This happened in cooler weather (due to the two week delay) than most years, which is very good for wine quality. Often this happens in too warm of weather, which promotes sugar accumulation ahead of flavor formation. In 2006 we had a gradual accumulation of sugar that coincided nicely with flavor formation. Wines from 2006 are showing beautifully; wonderful balance, great flavor!
If 2005 was the gift with a bow on it as Joy says then I say that 2006 was the treasure awaiting those willing to work for it.
Cellar Chat August, 2006
Late last month I had the pleasure of tasting my way through 18 very different Chardonnays from the 2005 vintage. Each one was made here at Iron Horse. No, we are not going to bottle and sell 18 different Chardonnays. Within the boundaries of Iron Horse Vineyards here in Green Valley we have many different sites where we grow Chardonnay. Each site is different because of slight soil variations, aspect, elevation, vine row direction, trellising, clone and rootstock. All these variables make for in some cases significant differences in the wine. Here at the winery we refer to these uniquely different sites simply as “blocks”. One block may be large enough that it requires several days to harvest. If that is the case, we will make wine from that days picking and keep it separate up until it is time for blending. Those 18 samples represented at least 18 different Chardonnay fermentations. After careful consideration we have decided to bottle for sale 5 very different Chardonnay blends. We feel these wines represent in some ways the future of Iron Horse. Let me explain why. If you have been reading Laurence Sterling’s monthly blog at our website you will know that we have just replanted some of our Chardonnay vineyards. Along with a host of other considerations is “what clone of Chardonnay do we plant?” We have several clones of Chardonnay planted here at Iron Horse right now. Our favorites are “old Wente” and “Rued”. The wines we made from these two clones that grow on 2 very different sites produced extraordinary wines. We are excited about this because those are the two clones we selected to use when we did our replant.
Cellar Chat June, 2006
I’m writing this in the last few days of May. The rain is hopefully behind us. Our vineyard crew under the capable direction of Laurence Sterling has our vines looking the best I think I’ve ever seen. As we expected, the large amount of available ground water from winter and spring rains now has encouraged the vines to produce a huge amount of green growth. This is neither good nor bad. It is simply what happens in the spring following a rainy winter. All that water literally turns into shoots and leaves. We are well into the “period of rapid growth” in the vineyard. Our crew has been working their little hearts out. No matter how hard they were working, the vines were still ahead of them. We decided to shut the cellar doors for a week. I sent my cellar crew into the vineyards to help them catch up. My crew loved reconnecting with the vineyard so much that they asked for two more days in one of their favorite Pinot Noir blocks just behind the winery, Block I. My cellar master noticed that those vines were ready for the next round of shoot positioning and wanted to do it with his cellar crew. During this “period of rapid growth” it is quite possible for shoots to grow two to four inches each day (under the right conditions). We want to manage that growth by containing it within a series of trellis wires. If we have done our job correctly, the vineyards will look much like a tended hedge.
The leafy part of a vine can and should be thought of as a solar panel. After all, collecting the sun’s rays is one of its major functions. “Vertical shoot positioning” is a training system that guides the growing shoots upwards thru a set of wires. By doing this we maximize the leaf’s exposure to the suns rays.
Next week we start bottling the 2005 sparkling blends. They are super yummy. It’s time for me to dust off the microscope. During sparkling bottling I’ll be growing yeast cultures specifically for bottle fermentations. Part of monitoring their health and activity involves examining them under a microscope. Other than during harvest and sparkling bottling the microscope simply decorates the lab. I look forward to using it and the other lab analysis equipment that go with sparkling bottling because it reminds me of the science element of winemaking. I’m often asked how much of winemaking is science? I don’t have a scripted answer; but it goes something like this: “ The science of winemaking is what you learn in college. You use it to guide your actions and keep you out of trouble. Armed with the science, winemaking becomes a craft.” I’m heading into my twenty-sixth year in winemaking. I think I’ve made some pretty good wines in my career, yet I feel that my best years are still ahead of me. Unless you are a globe trotting winemaker, you only get one harvest per year. If you want to try something new you have to wait another year—bummer. Isn’t it funny how in life we at one moment nearly want to stop time, and at another we can’t seem to get those hands on the clock to spin fast enough. I’m generally a fairly patient man, but with all the new and exciting things going on in the vineyard I’m finding it very hard to be patient. I want my hands on those grapes now! Like the song says: “The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades”.
My son Sterling is a great cook; I’m a good cook, he’s great. He makes a bigger mess than I do, but he does some really exciting stuff. We like to cook pizzas on our gas b-b-q. Last night he rolled out the crust real thin, drizzled on some olive oil, sprinkled on some Italian herbs and a bit of parmesan cheese. My wife Page, son Sterling and I watched the sun set from our deck enjoying Sterling’s b-b-q treats and a few glasses of Rosato di Sangiovese. On second thought, lets not mess with the hands of time.
Iron Horse Vineyards
Cellar Chat April, 2006
Chardonnay is top of mind right now for us here at Iron Horse. In thinking about it, the single most powerful influence on the style and quality of our Chardonnay is the "place". More than anything else, Iron Horse Chardonnay is defined by the climate and soils of our vineyards here in Green Valley. That crystal clarity of citrus/green apple/firm pear aromas rings through in each vintage along with the bracing acidity that cleanses and lingers so pleasantly.
Holding the climate and soil constant, how do we as winemakers influence style and quality? There are a number of areas where we can exercise stylistic play.
I truly believe that here at Iron Horse we are on a quest. We have such a beautiful place here to grow wines of distinction; it doesn't just foster creativity and imagination it demands it.