Kevin Corley
 
November 24, 2011 | Kevin Corley

Harvest Journal

"Posted On Behalf of Kevin Corley


My brother, Chris, got you caught up on what's been happening in the winery with Pinot Noir, our only early red, so now it's my turn to give you an update on how things went in the vineyard in October. http://corleyfamilynapavalley.com/blog/2011/11/pinot-noir-ebulliometry-the-science-of-vim-vigor/

I guess the two words that best describe this harvest are œlate and œsmall.

Actually, the last three harvests have been late. The three main influences on maturation are heat, light and moisture and these last three years have been noticeably cool, which explains why the grapes have taken their time ripening rather than rushing to the finish line. Kind of like trying to get your tomatoes to ripen on a San Francisco rooftop. The long œhangtime is terrific for flavor development but a little hard on the nerves.

There are various causes for the low yields but the main influence was ill-timed rain last spring when many varieties were flowering. The rain doesn't necessarily affect quality, but pollination is impaired which, essentially, thins the crop before it's even on the vine. Bloom time varies by variety and location so damage was site specific. Our late-to-flower Cabernet Sauvignon yielded just slightly less than normal while we really took a hit in the Chardonnay and Merlot.

Our Knollwood Vineyard Merlot, here in the Oak Knoll District, was late which was no great surprise and yielded just a hair over two tons per acre. The vines are twenty years old, now, so we don't really expect them to reach the valley average of about four tons per acre, but this is the smallest crop we've seen in the last decade. The fruit showed everything you love about Merlot “ great texture “ so rich and supple with nice, bright flavors.

Our two blocks of Cab Franc are always interesting to watch develop between the differences in soil and the four different clones we planted “ five individual blocks in all. Each has its own personality and they show a range of expression from medium bodied with bright fruit to bigger, deeper and more tannic. It gives the wine extra layers of complexity.

We grow Cabernet Sauvignon in three different locations where Cabernet does best: Yountville, Rutherford and St. Helena. The story with Cabernet this year is really great flavor development early on, especially in our Tietjen vineyard in west Rutherford. These are mature vines, planted in the early 80s, the Tietjen vineyard in 1987.

Our Cabernet harvest began on October 20th, one of our latest starts ever, and finished November 2nd. The yields were off just slightly in these vineyards, around 2.5 tons per acre.

After such a challenging vintage it feels good to have all the grapes safely œin the barn. My job's done and now the ball is in Chris' court! More from him soon."

Chris Corley
 
November 7, 2011 | Chris Corley

Pinot Noir & Ebulliometry (The Science Of Vim & Vigor)

"Posted By : Chris Corley

e·bul·lient‚[ih-buhl-yuhnt]
adjective
1. overflowing with fervor, enthusiasm, or excitement; high-spirited.
2. bubbling up like a boiling liquid.

We drained and pressed our Pinot Noir lots in mid-October. Now three weeks into their barrel aging, the wines are starting to shake off their youthful exuberance and are embarking on their graceful transitions into wine. In addition to continually tasting through all of the different lots, this is a time for us to run preliminary analysis on the wines. One of the numbers we run at this time is the alcohol. To do this, we use technology that is hundreds of years old and based on a simple concept. We use an ebulliometer. We boil water and record the temperature to within a tenth of a degree. Then we boil the wine sample and record to a tenth of a degree as well. The difference in the boiling points is an accurate gauge of the alcohol in the wine in almost all cases. The science of ebulliometry is appropriately named ... you might think of the results as a measure of the happy units in the wine.

We learn from teachers and books that yeast convert sugars to alcohol at a ratio of 0.595. My observations in the cellar have been that the conversion is generally closer to 0.610, so thats the number I use for my pre-harvest calculations. For example, I would expect a batch of grapes at 24.0 brix to produce a wine around 14.6% alcohol. Tracking metrics like this is helpful for us to make projections about our wines, as most of a winemakers decisions are oriented towards how a wine will taste in the future, not how it tastes right now.

That said, and with the caveat that we constantly generate an unbelievable amount of numerical data about our wines, what really makes me ebullient is tasting them and getting to know our wines on a personal level. With the primary fermentations complete and the Pinot Noir settled down a little bit, we can begin to see the personality of the different lots express themselves a little more clearly.

We grow four different clones of Pinot Noir on the Home Ranch vineyard which surrounds the winery grounds. Clones are sub-designations of a given varietal, generally selected for specific and positive attributes and propagated (cloned) from cuttings. Our Pinot Noir clones are 777, 667, 113, and 115. While they ripen similarly, each of these clones has a subtly different tone that is appealing and complementary. I find 777 to be ripe in redberry flavors and round on the palate. 667 tends more towards floral tones on the nose and has a lighter body. 113 generally has lighter berry tones and a little more midpalate. 115 tends to have the darkest berry flavors and a little more tannin than the others. I don't have a favorite. I like the differences in all four clones. In most vintages, I prefer the blend of the clones over any individual one.

Most of our Pinot Noir this year was picked between September 27-30 this year, almost three weeks later than what we consider 'normal'. 2011 was a wonderful year for Pinot Noir for us. We grow our Pinot Noir in a reasonably warm area for the varietal. The cooler, longer season our Pinot Noir experienced this year allowed the fruit to ripen fully, but more importantly slowly, and without the typical fast rise in sugars that we would usually experience were we to let the fruit hang that long in a warmer vintage.

In 2011, I've isolated 4 small batches of clonally designated free run Pinot Noir from Block 3 and a small batch from Block 2 as well. These wines are tasting fantastic in barrel right now, displaying loads of berry fruit and taking on the some of the nice toasty tones from the new french oak barrels that they are settling down in. I'm not sure if we'll bottle these clonal designates separately, but we might. It would be fun for our Monticello Faithful to experience these distinctive components that are the building blocks of our wines. Stay tuned ..."

Kevin Corley
 
October 31, 2011 | Kevin Corley

Harvest Update

Posted By : Kevin Corley

As we go into the final weeks of harvest, I thought you might like to get a little update on how things are shaping up.

I love to talk about the first half of harvest because, in spite of some unusual weather “ heavy spring rains, a summer never really showed up “ this should be a fantastic year for early-ripening varieties. For us it means Montreaux (our sparkling wine), Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Even though the cool conditions can cause some hand-wringing about getting the crop ripe, we're already seeing the benefit of a prolonged ripening season.

You've probably heard references to the term œhangtime. It's literal - the amount of time the grapes spend maturing on the vine. And, when cool conditions stretch out the growing season it can mean exceptionally good flavor maturity. We're all for that!

Pinot Noir is one of the few early-ripening reds and we finished harvesting it by the end of September. Large yields and Pinot Noir are incompatible if you want any character or flavor intensity, so we've got it on low-vigor rootstock. Most years we eek out about 2.5 tons an acre and this year our yields were just slightly less. My brother Chris, our winemaker, is ecstatic about the quality of the fruit. We picked a few weeks later than usual but at about the same brix (sugar) as last year. As he says, œBasically that means we enjoyed three extra weeks of flavor and tannin development without the brix getting too high. We're looking forward to rich, dark fruit, ripe tannins and moderate alcohols. I think it will be yummy. Perhaps magical¦ It's doubly satisfying to have such a good year for Pinot because it's Dad's first love. 

As expected, our Chardonnay was late coming in and the yields were down by about 30%, just under two tons per acre. It got caught in the rain last June, when it was flowering, and pollination was impaired. While we think of Chardonnay as a September variety, we've continued the harvest into October, now, three vintages in a row. Because of slight variations in our soils here at our home ranch in Oak Knoll, we have three separate blocks of Chardonnay, each adding to complexity by contributing something a little different. It creates a nice mix of fresh flavors like apple, pear and citrus along with richer elements like crème brûlée, apple pie and lemon meringue pie. 

It was great to see these thin skinned varieties safely “in the barn” before Mother Nature threw us a curve ball earlier this month. More on that soon.

Chris Corley
 
October 19, 2011 | Chris Corley

Harvest Journal : The Specific Gravity of the Situation

"Posted By : Chris Corley

We're navigating our way through a very interesting growing season. Navigation as opposed to destination is a theme we'll revisit in posts later in the season. At this stage, we've got all of our Pinot Noir harvested, fermented and pressed. I'm very excited about the quality of the wine we have in barrel. Careful sorting in both the field and on the crush pad delivered immaculate fruit to the fermenters. The slower pace of this vintage so far has been really nice as well, allowing us more time than usual to belabor over the details.

One detail that we monitor daily is brix and temperature of our fermenting batches. On average, I figure our enologist Mark measures about 50 brix readings over the course of a crush day. Over the course of two months, thats 3000 brix readings a season for him. This is his sixth vintage with Monticello, so he's likely run something in the neighborhood of about 18,000 brix readings in our cellar. He's pretty good at spinning a hydrometer.

Mark & The Amazing Spinning Hydrometer

Despite all the advances in technology and science related to winemaking and enology, we still rely on some pretty simple concepts to track our wines on a daily basis. Our measurement of brix is done with a hydrometer. This is a simple enclosed and vaccum sealed hollow glass cylinder which floats in the fermenting juice. The heavier (or denser) the liquid is, the higher the hydrometer floats. The lighter (or less dense) the liquid is, the lower the hydrometer sinks. The hydrometer is gauged so that you record the level it floats at and monitor the fermentation thusly. The weight of a liquid is sometimes referred to as its 'Specific Gravity'. Clearly, the monitoring of our ferments is of grave importance to us.

Freshly crushed grape juice is pretty thick. It usually is about 24-25 brix (roughly 25%) dissolved sugar. Finished fermented wine is much lighter than the juice it was fermented from. This is because alcohol weighs less than water. Accordingly, the hydrometer floats high in grape hjuice and sinks low in wine. We can monitor within about 1/2 brix (1/2%) range the progress of the fermentation simply by spinning this little device in a cylinder of the fermenting juice. The reason we spin it is to pull off any CO2 gas bubbles that may form on the cylinder and cause it float higher in error. Mark usually spins with his thumb and forefinger in a clockwise direction. We've wondered recently if he would need to spin counter-clockwise if we were working in the Southern Hemisphere (apparently things go in the other direction on that side of the rock. Maybe we'll plan a trip someday down under to investigate.

All that said, really all we're doing is floating a tube in the juice, using the same concept as the hydrometers we made from plastic pipes inhigh school science class. Simple, but specific gravity.

Although there is a lot of technology and some pretty complex ideas related to winemaking, much of it is based on basic concepts and attention to detail. I think much of life is the same. Seemingly complex systems usually can be condensed to a simpler core concept. Not unlike your enjoyment of our Monticello wines. There are lots of ways to banter about wine, with exotic lingo and wild metaphors. At its core, it really just boils down to 'Yum' or 'Yuk'. We hope you experience the former with Monticello. What are simple descriptors you use to talk about wine that are meaningful to you?

Next Post : An Ebullient Pinot Noir"

Chris Corley
 
October 5, 2011 | Chris Corley

Wi-Fi(ne Wine)

Posted By : Chris Corley (from 30,000 feet)

Our family has been in Napa a pretty good long time. We've been growing grapes for 40 years and making wine for 30. Our dad settled in in the beginning of this current incarnation of Napa Valleys history which I would submit began in the mid to late 1960s. We're still innovating and learning and always looking for and creating ways to do what we do better, but for the most part, we've figured out what works and what doesn't.

When you've done something for a long time, eventually people will seek your opinion, and value your advice on how they might be able to conduct certain aspects of their business. We don't do a lot of consulting ... we've got plenty of grapes and barrels of our own to keep ourselves entertained, but every now and then a project will come along that sounds like so much fun, we jump in. One such project is in the Valle de Guadalupe of Baja, Mexico.

2011 will be the fifth vintage of our consultancy in Baja. The wines are tasting great, and we're confident that the producer will soon be releasing the best wines that Mexico has to offer. The trips to the vineyard and winery are enjoyable, although the days are long. The people are friendly and the food is fantastic, some of the best meals I've had over the last several years have been in Tijuana.

Working on these types of distant projects would have been difficult when our dad, Jay, first started Monticello in 1969. The travel would have been slower, communication would have been limited to landlines and perhaps the pony express. It would have been extremely challenging, perhaps impossible to oversee the dynamic details of a winemaking operation from a distance.

Fast forward to 2011. My brother, Stephen, has done a wonderful job with our internal computing, setting us up with remote access to our desktops and funneling all of our communications to our phones. With Wi-Fi everywhere, it is increasingly easy to stay connected and function in real time, even if the project is 600 miles away and across an international border.

I can't imagine that our dad could have ever imagined that someday we could be sitting on an airplane, with full internet access to their desktops and being nearly as productive at 6 miles up as we are behind our desks (of course I'm just sitting up here in the sky writing a blog post, but you get the idea). For that matter, the internet alone wasn't even on the radar.

All that said, the technology won't necessarily make our wines any better. It will, however, make it easier for us to make more of those better wines, and to explore areas that may have previously been out of reach for us.

Time for me to sign off as the plane lands in about 15 minutes ...
 

Chris Corley
 
September 30, 2011 | Chris Corley

Harvest Journal : September 30

Posted By : Chris Corley

There's something magical about Pinot Noir. It has an allure that seems to entice anyone within striking distance. Like a great relationship, this varietal engages your whole range of emotions. We feel anticipation when the clones and rootstocks are selected and the plants go in the ground. We feel a slight nervousness during fruit set, hoping it goes well. We feel excited when the plants are growing healthily and the tight little clusters of dark black berries are forming on the vine. We feel anxiety when the skies darken towards the end of the growing season because we know that these tight little clusters of thin skinned grapes don't always do so well in the rain. We feel energized when we see the grapes rolling across the sorting table, the little stem fragments (called "jacks" because they resemble the childrens toy of that same name) being carefully plucked out by a fluttering of eight sticky, wrinkled, calloused hands. We feel ecstatic when we stick our head in the top of the tank and smell the wonderful juicy aromas of dark berries and sweetness that wafts in the headspace of the tank. We feel a thrill when we plunge our bare arms into a bin of fermenting must, and the grape skins crawl up your arm, and the seeds get stuck between your fingers, and you realize that you just connected with a wine through your fingertips. Thats magic. Thats what we love about pinot noir. And thats what we did at Monticello this past week/

We've just finished picking all of our 2011 Pinot Noir. We grow four unique clones (sub-designations of the varietal) in two different blocks on our Home Ranch at Monticello. The fruit this year tastes great. We picked a few weeks later than usual, but at similar brix. Basically that means that we enjoyed three extra weeks of flavor and tannin development without the brix getting too high. As a result, we're looking forward to some really great Pinot Noir from 2011 that is full of rich dark fruit, ripe tannins and moderate alcohols. In other words, I think it will be yummy. Perhaps magical ...

 
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