Posted By : Chris Corley
Monticello Vineyards is now on Facebook! If you’re a member of Facebook, search through ‘groups’ and join “Fans of Monticello Vineyards”. It’s an open group and you’ll be able to share photos and comments about your visits to Monticello and wines of ours that you’ve enjoyed. You’ll also be able to keep up to date with events and news at Monticello !
Posted By : Chris Corley
This week we’ve started pruning. Pruning is much more than just hacking back last years growth, it’s a critical step in setting the vine up for the growing season. Pruning can affect the training of the vine, suggest a general cropload for the season, and perhaps even influence the timing of budbreak. It is the most immediately visually altering step that we take in the vineyard, and the dramatic shift in the panorama from the 4-6 foot canes to 2-3 inch spurs really reminds you that we’re shifting gears in the field. Once pruned and perhaps disced or mowed, the vineyard is about as bare as you will see it all year. But there is a kind of simple beauty in that naked vineyard. It allows you to see the gentle undulations and soil variations that may be difficult to perceive through a growing canopy.
A lot of the time, we speak of pruning as being the beginning of the growing season for the vines. In reality, this growing season began as soon as we harvested last years grapes (2008). When the vines are relieved of their crop and sometimes still have some green leaves, the chlorophyll in those leaves are still actively doing photosynthesis. Not much (because its late fall) but this photosynthesis is important. Because there is no more fruit to ripen, this post-harvest energy is stored, and this is what can help the vine to get started back up again in the spring at budbreak. Many growers will even be sure to give their vines a post-harvest “feed”, while the vines are still somewhat active in feeding and transpiration.
Chlorophyll and compost aside, pruning is an exciting time. To watch a 2-inch spur develop throughout the year into a lengthy elegant shoot with wispy tendrils and and beautiful clusters is a joy I look forward to each year. For now it is a pleasure to watch the vineyard be slowly transformed into its most basic and pure state …
"Posted By : Chris Corley
BARREL TASTING : Tasting through the new vintage in barrel is always a treat. The wines are typically bursting with juicy fruit and have a youthful vibrancy that is, more often than not, replaced by deeper layers of complexity by the time the wine is bottled, perhaps 1-2 years down the road, depending on the varietal. Tasting wines just after harvest is a great portal into that raw and exuberant youth of the wine ...
BLOCK 1, HEIRLOOM CLONE, ROWS 1-23 : The Heirloom Clone in Block 1 is an isolation of selected vines out of Block 4. These wines from these plants have a very distinctive melon and tropical fruit characteristic that is almost Muscat-like in its personality. In 2008, these aromas are very intense with papaya, mango, and other tropical fruits. The texture of the wine is ripe and rich yet maintains a very nice balance of vibrant acidity. Barrel-Fermented with Native Yeasts. 50% New Oak.
BLOCK 1, 'DIJON' CLONE 96, ROWS 24-28 : These rows are short, so this section has typically produced just a small amount of barrels. Although its not a large quantitative contributor to the blends, I've always enjoyed the purity of the fruit from this section. In 2008, the wine has a nice honey and floral aspect to the aromas and very well balanced richness and acidity. Barrel-Fermented with Isolated Yeast Strain D254. 0% New Oak. Malo-Lactic Lot.
BLOCK 4, OLD MONTICELLO CLONE, ROWS 21-27 : We isolated these rows this year to experiment a bit with pre-fermentation skin contact. These grapes were crushed together with their skins and cold-soaked like red grapes for 30 hours prior to pressing. This is a bit of a return to an old-school style of California Chardonnay, skin contact for whites being popular when our dad built the winery in 1981. My initial observations are that the aromas are intensified and the wine has a heavier weight in the mouthfeel. I like it so far, and am inclined to pursue this line a little further next vintage. Barrel-Fermented with Isolated Yeast Strain CY3079. 0% New Oak.
BLOCK 4, OLD MONTICELLO CLONE, ROWS 28-46 : This section has consistently produced crisp, vibrant wines with hints of pear and citrus that have contributed structure and vibrancy to our MONTICELLO ESTATE Chardonnays. This year, these flavors are very intense. The mouthfeel has a slight grip on the finish, but this will pass after a few months of lees stirring. Barrel-Fermented with Isolated Yeast Strain CY3079. 35% New Oak.
BLOCK 4, 'DIJON' CLONE 96, ROWS 47-55 : This section has been a favorite of ours for many years, and typically contributes to the CORLEY RESERVE Chardonnay. This year it is showing it's classic fruit qualities - fig, pear along with some beautiful early oak influence from the new barrels in the lot. Very well balanced with vibrant acidity, this wine should develop very nicely. Barrel-Fermented with Native Yeasts. 21% New Oak.
BLOCK 6, 'DIJON' CLONES 76/95/96, ROWS 15-85 : This is a fairly large section of fruit. It is a core contributor, like Block 4, to our MONTICELLO ESTATE Chardonnay. These sub-sections of different clones are co-fermented and provide a nice complexity to the finished wine. It is a field blend in some senses. The 2008 wine from this block is very expressive, showing banana, fig, and pear aromas. The wine is very well balanced ans will maintain a nice acidity. We won't pursue malo-lactic fermentation with this lot in order to favor the expression of its fruit. Stainless Steel Tank-Fermented with Isolated Yeast Strain CY3079."
"It takes a lot of good beer to make great wine" ... a primitive cellar hand likely coined this phrase several thousand years ago shortly after the discovery of fermented bevereages. We certainly enjoy a cold beer at the end of a long hot harvest workday. In the cellar, we have varied tastes for beer. Most of the cellarmen enjoy the lighter styles of lagers, while I prefer a little heavier beer, pale ale. Our lab guy, Mark, tends towards the thick stouts, which I enjoy as well, particularly in the colder winter months.
This year, with some help from the guys, I'm going to home-brew batches through the winter. Yesterday was the first brew, an India Pale Ale. Given time and more familiarity with the process, we'll get increasingly creative with the recipes. I'm looking forward to home-brewing all different types of beers, but likely will gravitate towards ales, porters and stouts through the winter. I'm hopeful that the first batch will be ready by Thanksgiving so all the guys can take a bottle or two home.
In some ways the process is not all that different from making sparkling wine in the traditional bottle-fermented "Methode Champenoise", which we've used for our 'Domaine Montreaux' sparkling wines since 1983. Over the last 25 years of making Napa Valley sparkling wines, we've come to appreciate the beauty of the bubble. In both sparkling libations, the secondary fermentation within the bottle generates the effervescence.
We love growing things as well. It's in our nature to grow our own raw materials, as we've grown most all of our own grapes for our wines since day one. So it goes with beer. In the spring of 2009, we'll plant a small amount of hops so we can learn about these fragrant vines. I've ordered 10 organic rhizomes for next season. The rhizome is the root mass from which the plant develops in the spring. For this first season, we'll plant 5 different varieties of bittering and aromatic hops - Northern Brewer, Cascade, Fuggle, Perle and Willamette. As hops can grow to lengths of 20' tall, we'll grow these organically in used wine barrels along the west side of the winery building, with the trellis system supported from the roof of the building. They'll get plenty of afternoon sun and will provide some shade for that end of the winery in the summer. They'll also provide us some excellent home-brews next winter !
Posted By : Chris Corley
Anticipation is defined by Merriam-Webster as the "act of looking forward; a pleasurable expectation". Anticipation is an important aspect of our lives. We all have moments of anticipation. These moments excite us and send thrills down our spines. They make us feel alive. For me, anticipation is the thrilling blend of love and excitement that I felt standing at the altar in my clan kilt, watching my future wife walk up the aisle. For me, anticipation is the exhiliration of joy and nervousness as you await the birth of your children, holding tightly your wife's hand and sharing tears of happiness and disbelief of this magical journey of life and this beautiful little person that you're about to meet for the first time. Anticipation can be intoxicating, and always enhances the following act.
Growing grapes and making wine is full of anticipation. We get very excited at certain times of the year. Pruning in January and February inevitably leads to all sorts of wonderment of how the growing season will shape up. As the vines flower, and the berries are pollinated and develop throughout the season, we are constantly abuzz thinking about how the vintage will turn out. When the grapes are harvested, the bins are not just full of sticky grapes - they're filled with hope and future memories and celebratory occasions. When I taste wines from the barrel, which I do nearly every day, I'm not tasting today's wine. I'm tasting tomorrow's wine. I'm reveling not just in the wine as it comes out of the barrel, but also in its beauty that will be realized in time, perhaps years away.
Anticipation is what makes it exciting to hold on to a bottle for 10 years and then open it on a special occasion. Anticipation makes the wine taste just that much better ...
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 ...
Posted By : Chris Corley
NOTE : We spend a lot of our time doing Fermentation Checks each day during harvest. As it relates to our blog, ‘FERMENTATION CHECK’ will be an opportunity for us to share our cellar activities with you in real time.
CABERNET SAUVIGNON – STATE LANE, TIETJEN & YEWELL VINEYARDS
As of today, we’ve got 4 lots of Cabernet Sauvignon fermenting in the cellar. The Tietjen Vineyard is coming in this morning. As a whole, it has been a very interesting year for our Cabernet Vineyards. The grapes reached 24 brix in early September but the flavors weren’t there. This made me a little nervous, as we had some hot weather in early September. I was concerned that the weather would force our hand, and make us pick earlier than we would have liked. Fortunately, for us the weather cooled off and we we’ve been able to hang the fruit for another 5 weeks, allowing the flavors to fully develop and the tannins to ripen completely. As an additional bonus, the sugars haven’t climbed up that much over the last 5 weeks. There are some aspects of this year’s Cabernet Sauvignon growing season that remind me of 2005, which was a great vintage all around !
STATE LANE (YOUNTVILLE APPELLATION) – This year, we’ve got two separate tanks fermenting and a batch that we’re fermenting in small bins. I’m looking forward to tasting the bin fermented batch alongside the tank fermented batch. State Lane is our first vineyard to be certified organic. The ferments smell great at this early stage.
TIETJEN (RUTHERFORD APPELLATION) – The Tietjen Vineyard has looked great all year long. The fruit has developed nicely all season, and has been in great shape right up until today’s pick. The flavors are dark red berry fruits, the seeds are fully ripe and showing a nice dark brown color. I’m looking forward to fermenting about 2/3 of this vineyard in tank and 1/3 in small bins this year.
YEWELL (ST. HELENA APPELLATION) – We harvested the Yewell Vineyard about 4 days ago, and the ferment is just getting started. We’ve got nice color development and the flavors right now are deep red berry. So far, looking great !
Please tip a glass of one of our Vineyard Designates tonight and share a toast to the 2008 Harvest of Cabernet Sauvignon !
Posted By : Chris Corley
This has been a very interesting growing season. As an industry, we had one of the worst frost seasons in recent history, then a mild summer with some very intense heat spikes and then another cool spell through September. Aside from the damage and crop reduction caused by the frost throughout the valley, this year's crop is lighter than usual. We're seeing people scrambling for fruit, and its years like this that help remind us how fortunate we are to be growing most all of our own grapes (and also how fortunate we are to have a kick-ass sprinkler system and a guy named Angel to protect every last one of our grapes from the bitter cold).
Most growing seasons you don't have a map. You know where you want to go, but there's a lot of variables that prevent you from just charting your course in the spring. It would be like pulling out your map, except that they keep rebuilding the streets and putting up detours as you're driving so the map isn't really valid anymore after you start your trip. So we don't use a map. It's more like navigating with a globe, except you've got stoplights to monitor the traffic.
In the beginning of a growing season you can see where you are when you get started, and we know from experience where we want to be at the end. The variable is all the stuff that happens in the meantime. Most of the variable is the weather, but if you've got a solid starting point and destination, you'll know how to react to the variables when they strike. You must simultaneously be immersed in the minutiae and also grant yourself a necessary distance from the details to be able to see where you are. This is like navigating a globe but with stoplights.
Thomas Jefferson had a penchant for finding the highest point in any new place or city that he visited. It gave him a broader perspective of a new locale. He governed in much the same way, granting himself a 'necessary distance from the details' in order to maintain a broader perspective. This was effective for him because he had other people delegated to sweat the small stuff. We need to do both ourselves.
When growing grapes for wine, we need to be looking down the field, and to do that you need the highest perch you can find. Literally, that is sometimes standing on the roof of the winery or utilizing aerial photography. We also pay attention to the stoplights. A vine's stoplight system also kind of works on Red, Yellow and Green but in slightly different ways. When we sample our grapes, the taste and texture of the fruit override most all other factors. We also run numbers in the lab to establish metrics. Sometimes the fruit tastes great and the numbers look good, and one may be inclined to pick.
That's when we need to pull out our globe and check the stoplights. From our perch, we can see where we are on our journey and how the road looks ahead - will it be hot, dry, cold, rainy ? The color of the vines leaves are our stoplights and can indicate to us the ability of the vine to continue down the road. If the leaves of the canopy are very green and the road ahead looks mild - go (in this case 'go' means keep hanging the fruit). If the leaves are yellow, pay close attention - the vine may be shutting down. If the leaves are red, odds are the vine has a virus, and you'll want to stop and pay close attention to those vines.
Although we don't get tickets in the field when we run lights, you'll know whether we were paying attention while we were driving each growing season. In light of recent legislature in California, we'll be assessing after this year if we need to institute a policy of not using a cell phone while we're in the field ...