"Today we planted hops at the winery. The cellar crew and I are going to grow 10 hop plants this year in old wine barrels along the side of the winery building. Last November, we ordered 10 organic hop rhizomes from a grower up in Oregon. They arrived at the winery a couple of weeks ago. We're growing 5 different varieties - Fuggle, Northern Brewer, Willamette, Perle and Cascade. Below is a picture of the rhizomes as they arrived from the supplier. They're basically cuttings from established plants.
We pounded out the heads of 10 old barrels and lined them up along the west end of the winery building. The barrels were filled with some of our rockin' Oak Knoll District dirt from the back of the vineyard mixed in with a little potting soil to help them get started. They'll get plenty of sun on the west end of the building, and once they're established should provide some shade and pleasant aromas at that end of the building. Best of all, when they start producing hops, we'll be able to use these for home-brewing! Isac, our cellarmaster (hopmeister?) tends to the newly planted hops in the picture below.
It will probably take a couple of years for the hops to get established, but we've been growing grapes for a long time, so we've learned to be patient when starting out new plants. Mature hops can grow very tall, perhaps 15-20 feet in a season, so they need tall wires to be trained up. Growing them next to the building meant that we didn't have to erect hop poles, which likely would have been a lot of work for this first go-around. We'll just drop training wires from the roof, which is about 25 feet tall. If all goes well with this batch, maybe we'll consider putting up some hop pole or tee-pees in the back of the property ... we'll see.
There are a lot of parallels between wine and beer, and I imagine everyone is the familiar with the old catch phrase 'It takes a lot of good beer to make great wine!'. We're firm believers. We've been having fun learning about the brewing process, and learning how to grow hops just further enhances our enjoyment of drinking good beers. Hopefully, the fresh hops we grow will enhance our ability to make good beers, and those good beers will lead to great wines!"
I'm pretty good at getting carried away. When I was younger, it got me into a lot of trouble, but I sure had a lot of fun. Over the years, I'm figuring out how to ride that drift to a positive endpoint. During blending trials, my favorite place to be is in the dark - that is, with my eyes closed and both my thoughts and the wine swirling in my head. It's the most imaginative place to be and the best place for me to find both the good and bad in a given wine.
Blending is one of the more magical aspects of making wine. It is one of the moments in the winemaking process that you can let your thoughts soar and experience the wine on a truly hedonistic level. For a brief time, you can see the wine as brilliant portrait in your mind's eye or listen to it as a symphony in your mind's ear. You can feel the wine as a silken flower on the fingertips of your imagination and dance with it on the winged heels of your dreams. If the canvas is a bit frayed, the orchestra is a little out of tune, or the flower slightly wilted, this inner sanctum is usually where the answer can be found.
I don't allow myself to go off the edge, though. When tasting, I like to drift as far as I can, but still be able to find my way back. For me, it's important to keep lots of tasting notes, so you need to be able to translate these visceral and ethereal thoughts into language that will make sense, at least to your self, if not others. Tasting notes for me are like a anchored tether tied around my waist as I venture deep into a dark cave.
Tasting wines throughout an aging process is also a journey through time, a conversation with your future self. As I taste a wine in the first month of aging, the notes I make are a communication to my self to be responded to, perhaps 18 months later. It's interesting having this kind of dialogue with yourself. The response from the future self to the past self is in some ways simply the act of learning - a way of communicating a current experience for the benefit of a positive future action. The inner dialogue amongst the selves is the nip of a creative soul, and also the dynamo that propels us toward more answers and their subsequent questions ...
It's fitting that we've had so much rain over the last week. It's certainly welcome as things have been a little drier than we would like for the last couple of years. Our vineyards on the valley floor soak up the water pretty well. Because our vineyard is pretty flat, we don't really have erosion problens to speak of, although some friends up on Mt. Veeder have let us know that they're losing some soil and plants to erosion form some of the recent heavy rains. Our concern is the Napa River, which delineates the rear boundary of our property. We've had big trouble in the back of the property when the river has jumped its banks inpast years. So far this year, the rains have been coming in waves that the river has been able to drain everything without any grief. But give us lots of rain and a high tide and we'll be on alert !
In addition to the recent downpours, there's a lot of wine being poured around the valley, and we're happy to be contributing to the cause! With the Napa Valley Vintners annual trade auction 'Premiere Napa Valley' coming up this weekend, there are multiple wine tastings being offered around the valley which Monticello will be pouring at.
FIRST TASTE OF YOUNTVILLE www.yountvillewines.com Thurs, Feb 19
This afternoon, we'll be pouring several vintages of our CORLEY State Lane Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon along with a pre-taste of our Premiere Napa Valley lot, which is a unique blend of 85% State Lane Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon & 15% Knollwood Vineyard Syrah. Very tasty, in my unbiased opinion.
APPELLATION ST. HELENA www.appellationsthelena.com Fri, Feb 20
On Friday February 20, Dave Yewell and I will be pouring a couple of vintages of our CORLEY Yewell Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Yewell Vineyard is located on Ehlers Lane a few miles north of St. Helena proper. We're very happy to be working with Dave and Nancy Yewell and really like the fruit that we get from this special vineyard site.
RUTHERFORD DUST SOCIETY www.rutherforddust.org Fri, Feb 20
Also on Friday February 20, my brother, Stephen, will be pouring multiple vintages of our MONTICELLO Tietjen VIneyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Tietjen Vineyard is located on Niebaum Lane in Rutherford, just west of Highway 29. It's a great site that we've been sourcing grapes from for a little over 20 years.
PREMIERE NAPA VALLEY www.napavintners.com Sat, Feb 21
On Saturday, we'll be pouring our wines along with a hundred or so other wineries at a trade-only event put on by the Napa Valley Vintners. Brother Stephen is actively involved as Vice-President, and our dad Jay has served as past President of the Vintners. Brother Kevin has led the charge in recent years as Director of the Beverage Committee for the Napa Valley Wine Auction in June. This year, we've donated a 5 case blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Syrah from our State Lane and Knollwood Vineyards.
Weather aside, I'm looking forward to the oncoming downpours. These events are always fun and informative, and help to raise the community awareness. Please say hello if you find yourself at any of these events over the next few days ...
Posted By : Chris Corley
As I mentioned in my last post, it's people that make the difference. There are many ways to measure success in any business. This also holds true in the business of wine and grapes. In our family business, we pay close attention to the quality of our wines, the health of our vineyards and our financial statements, as any responsible business owner would. We have another important guage that we pay very close attention to that may set us apart from other wineries. We also measure our success in our people - our extended family. Happy employees that stay with us for a long time are indeed a major satisfaction and an important metric for us to guage how we are conducting ourselves as managers of our company. For this post, as we are just on the tail end of harvest, I'm going to focus on the Cellar Crew. Future posts will be dedicated to our other teams.
""UNCLE"" BRIAN CRAWFORD ... Uncle Brian (my mom's brother) really has no title. Over the last 25 years at Monticello, Brian has done just about everything. He has run the frost in the winter, driven the tractor up and down every vineyard row on the property countless times, and literally supervised tens of thousands of tons of our grapes going through the receiving hopper. He built most of the inside of the winery including all of our catwalks and barrel racks. Brian has lived on the property at Monticello - a stone's throw from the winery for almost 25 years. Brian is known to everyone around Monticello as ""Uncle Brian"".
RODOLFO CUEVAS - ASSISTANT WINEMAKER ... Rodolfo has worked with Monticello for nearly 18 years. He started in the field, working with the grapes, and moved full time into the cellar about 14 years ago. Rodolfo and I have worked side by side for all of those 14 years. Rodolfo has diligently worked hard over the years, and has performed just about every task imaginable in our cellar. He is currently our assistant winemaker and is also responsible for running our botling line.
ISAC AVILA - CELLARMASTER ... Isac has been with Monticello for about 9 years. He manages the daily operations in the cellar, and tracks all the work tags. During harvest, Isac is our PressMaster and supervises all of the grapes that go through the press. This is an important step in the winemaking process, and we're very happy to have Isac monitoring the pressing of our fruit.
MARK SULLIVAN - ENOLOGIST ... Mark joined us as a harvest intern in 2006 and again in 2007. Leading into the 2008 harvest, we hired Mark on full time. Mark tends to all of the fermentation tracking during harvest and performs all of our in-house analysis and prepares our trials tastings. Mark has a degree in Organic Chemistry from UC Davis.
RAFAEL CORTEZ-PEREZ - CELLARMAN ... Rafael has worked with Monticello for about 13 years. Most of those years he worked the vineyards as our main tractor driver. He joined our cellar crew a few years ago and has been a great contribution to the cellar. Rafael works diligently at the task at hand. During bottling season, Rafael assists Rodolfo in running and supervising the bottling line.
FEDERICO GUITERREZ - CELLARMAN ... Federico has been with Monticello for about 3 years. Federico joined us with little experience but a desire to work hard and learn. He has blended in with the team and has proven to be a very productive and welcome member of our cellar staff.
HEATHER FOSTER - ADMINISTRATIVE ... Although Heather isn't out on the cellar floor, she's an important part of our Production Team. For the last 2 years, Heather has organized all of our winemaking and packaging compliance, and kept our winemaking records organized and accessible. Her efforts in keeping us organized have been an enormous help.
Here's to our Cellar Crew! On behalf of my family, I want to say Thank You. We appreciate all that you do, and sincerely hope that we'll spend many more vintages together. You've become part of our extended family ..."
On Friday, we brought in our last batch of grapes for the vintage. It's a nice feeling to have all the fruit in for the year. It's been somewhat of a challenging growing season, but with patience and attention to the details we've worked through each challenge, and are extremely happy with the preliminary tastes of the vintage. The reds are concentrated and showing nice fruit and tannin balance. Our Chardonnay lots are showing excellent aromatic complexity and even some nice oak integration, as the barrel fermented lots have now been in barrel nearly a month and a half.
Every year, we tend to the vines and grow the grapes as carefully as we can, all the while showing our respects to Mother Nature. In the cellar, we hover over the tanks and bins, and tend to the barrels with care. However, with each year that goes by, I find more and more aspects of our lives on Big Ranch Road that I take deep satisfaction, pride and pleasure in.
A week or so ago, I was standing on the crush pad, enjoying an extremely rare moment to simply observe the pad as a whole. As I was watching everyone working diligently at their tasks at hand - unloading the bin trailers, weighing fruit, preparing the sorting table, cleaning the press, etc. - I was once again reminded about the single most important aspect of growing and making great wine. People. You've got to have people who care about what they do. Otherwise, that shiny piece of stainless steel equipment that you just bought is just an expensive accessory - pretty but kind of useless. People make good things happen, and it's people that can coerce the magic out of a pile of sticky grapes. People are what counts.
We've got a gaggle of geese that spend their autumns in our fallow fields. They like to rummage around in the freshly spread pomace in the mornings and evenings. The sight of them flying through the sunset sky is one of my most memorable visions of harvest. The sound of them flying over my head on the pitch black crush pad before the sun comes up one of my most memorable sounds.
Geese work together. They fly in a formation to help everyone cut through the wind. When one bird gets tired, they switch around and the rested bird takes the lead for a while. A good winemaking team functions much the same way. We help each other and as a team, our individual skills and shortcomings are balanced by one another.
As I was watching the geese recently, it struck me that an upcoming post should be dedicated to our team. So our next post will be dedicated to the 2008 Monticello Harvest Cellar Crew ...
We're fermenting some of our Chardonnay lots with Wild Yeast this year. These native fermentations typically are slower, longer and a little more nerve-racking for the winemaker than fermentations which are conducted with isolated commercial yeast strains.
Our Block 1 Heirloom Clone Chardonnay is nearing the end of its fermentation, so our lab dude Mark is regularly checking each individual barrel to confirm its status. Some of the barrels still have a little more sugar to be fermented, and the lots are cooling down.
As the fermentation tails off, less CO2 gas is produced so the yeast start to slowly sink to the bottom of the barrel. It's important for us to keep the yeast floating in the juice. If all the yeast is at the bottom of the barrel, they can't very easily ferment the juice that is near the top of the barrel!
Over the years, we've tried all manner of techniques to keep the yeast in suspense - from playing Alfred Hitchcock theme music in the cellar at night to starting jokes in the barrel room and then not giving up the punchline. In the end, we figured out that the best way is simply to stir the barrels.
Usually the Wild Yeast has the last laugh as it keeps us in suspense right up until the end. While we are excited about the excellent aromatic complexity and killer flavors up to this point - until the wine is completely dry and settled down after harvest, we won't know what we've got ...