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.
"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"
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 ...