Posted By : Chris Corley
When I was a kid (well at least when I was a younger one than the one I am now), I used to like going to the vineyard with my dad. We lived in St. Helena and the vineyards are just north of Napa, so there was always a little bit of drive to get there. Back then, the drive from St. Helena to Napa kind of seemed like a big deal and the eucalyptus trees along Highway 29 just south of Yountville were always a marker for me for some reason that would only make sense to a kid riding along with his dad.
Back then the vines seemed huge to me, and indeed they were. Grown in the old school California sprawl, the shoots were incredibly vigorous and created a tangle of huge leaves and tendrils that would stretch across the wide rows and intertwine with each other. The strength of those tendriled bonds was undeniable, and it could be a challenge for a kid to work his way through a tangled row.
Most vineyards don’t look like that anymore. They’re much neater, more manicured and tended to with perhaps more precision and the increased knowledge that comes with each additional footprint in the field. I’ve got to say though that I personally have a nostalgic nod towards those old school fields. We grew up around and in them as kids, at least until we got our drivers licenses and our range increased dramatically. Its sort of like looking back at your old pictures and enjoying all the fond memories of the long hair and goofy clothes you used to wear … even though the memories are great, you don’t necessarily want to do it again.
This year, we’re replanting two of our best sites at the front of the property, Blocks I and II. Block I has produced some fantastic Chardonnays over the years. Planted to a clone we refer to as our ‘Heirloom Clone’, which we believe traces its lineage back to the old Wente Borthers selections, the wines had a wonderful balance of ripe fruit, vibrant acidity and a unique musque characteristic that was appealing. As wonderful as the wines were, the block eventually succumbed to a couple of maladies, and replanting became the primary option. We’ll be replanting this block with Dijon Clone 96, a selection that we have had great success with as well on other parts of the property, and we look forward to many years ahead of wonderful Chardonnays again out of Block I.
We are also replanting a portion of Block II, on the northwest corner of the property. In recent years we have been growing Cabernet Franc in this block with great results. We’ve been very happy with the full dark berry flavors, slight nod of pepper and rich firm tannins that we’ve extracted from these grapes. We’re looking forward to the addition of Cabernet Sauvignon in this block. This will be the first Cabernet Sauvignon we’ve grown on the property in decades. When our dad was first transitioning these fields from the previous owners old prune orchard into vineyard land, he had planted some Cabernet Sauvignon in this very block. Convinced by others that it would be too cool to grow great Cab Sauv there, he moved our Cabernet production to the warmer regions upvalley. With the planting of this new block of Cabernet Sauvignon in the same block he had chosen some 30 years ago, he feels somewhat vindicated in that early instinct, and we couldn’t be more excited about what we’re anticipating coming out this block. We’ve chosen Clone 4 Cabernet Sauvignon for this section and are confident that within the next 4-5 years, we’ll be producing a vineyard designated Home Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon to join our three other vineyard designated Cabs from Yountville, Rutherford and St. Helena.
Ironically, I still trudge through the vineyard just like I did when I was a kid. Although then the vines were a tangled jungle taller than me. Now they are a manicured wall of organized shoots. Then the clusters jumbled and hung wherever they wanted (I think this is where the word ‘clusterfuck’ originated!). Now they are neatly positioned along the fruiting wire. Then, like now, we grew grapes and made wine the best way we knew how. Then, like now, we were in awe of this wonderful process. Then we had long hair and the vines were wild-maned. Now we’re trimmed up a bit, and the vines are more manicured. Inside though, its still the same. I still feel like that little kid in the vineyard …
"Posted By : Chris Corley
We've been lucky to have the opportunity to drive across ourÂ wonderful country this summer. In the spirit of Thomas Jeffersons great explorers, Lewis and Clark, we have set out on the great Corley Family Expedition of 2012. Granted, we're going in the opposite direction and have had full hookups at most of our campsites along the way. We also have roadmaps and a GPS, but don't give me a hard time, its still a lot of fun!
Our road trip them has been the 'All-American Road Trip' and we're aiming to see as much of the country as we can and share with our kids what makes our freedoms special, unique and not to be taken for granted.
We've taked a route through the northeast California, The Great Sandy Desert of Oregon, along the Snake River across Idaho, over the Teton Pass where we spent a wonderful few days in the Tetons floating in the Snake and riding horseback. We continued through Cody, Wyoming where we visited the gravesites of Jeremiah 'Liver Eating' Johnson and the reassembled cabins and saloons frequented by Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. We dropped down into the Black Hills of South Dakota and ran across a stone-face group of guys at Mount Rushmore. We rolled through the cornfields of South Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin and felt like we coul see the corn growing as we move east and the weather warmed and the ground greened.
We're in Green Bay visiting relatives for the Fourth of July today. We visited Lambeau Field, arguably a birthplace of American Football. Even though I'm a 49ers fan and would have liked to have melted on the cheeseheads in the Pro Shop, there is a lot of football history on that site. From here, we'll work our way over to Canton, OH to visit the NFL Hall of Fame, then through Gettysburg, PA and on to Washington DC to visit the Capitol, Memorials and the Smithsonian. Ultimately, we will visit Geroge Washingtons and Thomas Jeffersons homes at Mount Vernon and Monticello. Along the way, we're encouraging our kids to understand what it all means while still having a lot of fun.
I can remember going on some pretty fun RV road trips with my family when I was young. These are some great memories of my youth. Theres a freedom being on the open road that is so liberating, so exciting. As I've been driving along on this trip, I've been thinking about what it takes for us to be able to enjoy that freedom. A lot of people have worked hard, suffered, risked family and fortune, even died for us to be able to pursue our individual happiness.
I'd like to post the original text of the Declaration of Independence today and ask that you take a little time to read and reflect today. Then lets all enjoy a hamburger, cold beer and some fireworks while remembering what today is really about.
Transcript of Declaration of Independence (1776)IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
The 56 signatures on the Declaration appear in the positions indicated:
This is a guest blog post by Vintage Wine Taster and good friend Ray Conti. Ray and his wife recently took a trip to the Monticello winery on Big Ranch Road in the Napa Valley. They escorted two friends who own a dairy near Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Their two Santa Fe friends, Ed & Michael Lobaugh, own The Old Windmill Dairy® just outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. They make a wonderful variety of artisan goat and cow cheeses. At a Wine & Cheese festival in Carlsbad, Monticello Vineyard's Stephen Corley approached them and indicated the winery might be interested in combining the Monticello wines with their Gouda cheeses. Monticello sent a case of their wines containing three varietals: Estate grown Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
About Monticello Winery
Monticello is a small winery by Napa standards (15,000 cases), but their quality makes up for the small quantity. Jay Corley founded the winery in 1970 and today sons Kevin, Stephen and Chris Corey are operating the winery. Kevin oversees the operation, Stephen is in charge of sales, and Chris is the winemaker. The winery lies just above the town of Napa. It is on Big Ranch Road that can be accessed from Oak Knoll Road. They have three lines of wine: Corley Reserve, Corley Family wines, and Monticello Reserve wines. Their specialties are Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Chardonnay. The friendly tasting room is opposite a 1/3 scale replica of Jefferson's Monticello; a tribute to America's first serious wine collector. This is a fun place to start a wine tour of the Napa Valley
About the Cheese Project
This is the process used to infuse the Monticello wines into the Gouda cheese. After the initial stages to develop the curd from the cow's milk, the mixture is pressed into wheels. After 12 hours the cheese hardens sufficiently it is removed from wheels and is transferred to a vat brine mixture of wine, salt and purified softened water. After several days the cheese is then removed and dried on a rack at room temperature. All these steps are done by hand and the length of time is determined by how the cheese feels to the touch and how it tastes and smells. Once the cheese develops an oily dark surface, it is hand waxed with a clear wax and than a dark red wax. After the wax is dry, the cheese is transferred to an underground cellar and aged at a temperature of 54 degrees Fahrenheit. The Monticello cheeses were aged for 60 days. The flavor results in a moister, creamier yet mild flavored Gouda. When aged for approximately 5 months, the cheese will develop a more robust flavor. Each of the Monticello wines will create a very different flavor in the Gouda cheese.
This is an ongoing project with much experimentation to get the perfect wine-flavored Gouda cheese. Ed & Michael Lobaugh are eagerly waiting to see what the Corley family thinks of this young batch of Gouda. The hope is that the project will result in cheeses the Corely family will want to feature in their tasting room and possibly sell to Napa Valley restaurants. We will be sure to get back to you when the results are in and indeed if this Gouda is available for sale.
"Posted By : Chris Corley
On January 10, 1982, Dwight Clark made The Catch. It was immediately the defining moment and iconic image of the rising star of the 49ers. At this same time, the inaugural 1981 vintage of Monticello Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon was residing in small french oak barrels in Napa Valley. Ultimately, the 49ers won their first Super Bowl, and our 1981 vintage ended up being labeled in red and gold. For both the 49ers and Monticello Cellars, the 1981 season was the culmination of perseverance, execution and a dose of good fortune. For both the 49ers and Monticello Cellars, the 1981 season marked the beginning of a wonderful run for the red and gold ...
Our dad, Jay Corley, was a colleague of Lou Spadia, when Lou was the president of the 49ers in the late 1960s and early 1970s. While Jay was busy getting Monticello Vineyards started in Napa Valley, Lou was working on making the 49ers be the best they could be, having been with the team since 1946 before rising to become president. Jay would attend games at Kezar Stadium as a guest of Lou's, and when the 49ers were gearing up to move to Candlestick Park, my dad mentioned to Lou his interest in procuring season tickets. Lou asked where he wanted to sit, and our dad said, ""On the fifty yard line and in the sun."" Done. The Corley Family has been cheering the 49ers from LE Section 31, Row 23, Seats 9-10 since the 49ers moved into Candlestick Park.
There are some correlations between football and winemaking that are not immediately apparent. We talk about both in terms of seasons or vintages. We celebrate the 1981, 1984, 1988, 1989, 1994 (and hopefully 2011) seasons of the 49ers for the exciting Super Bowl victories. In the same way, we celebrate the best of our winemaking vintages ... in Napa Valley, for example, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2002, 2005, 2007, 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon. In between the celebrated vintages are seasons that may be less exciting or even sometimes disappointing. We've certainly sat through some difficult seasons at Candlestick, but we've always kept the faith with the team and cheered them on regardless of the circumstances. I imagine we have some long time Monticello fans that get more fired up about the celebrated vintages than others. Thats okay, and its the nature of both wine and football. The important thing is, in the long run, they are still Monticello Faithful and are still excited about what we do.
In a way, this 2011 49ers season reminds me of the 2005 vintage in Napa Valley. We were excited to have Jim Harbaugh at the helm. Our dads a Stanford grad, so we follow the Cardinal, their last few seasons with Harbaugh and Luck have been as exciting as any recently. We used to go to the games at the old Stanfor Stadium when John Elway was tossing balls to a very acrobatic Kenny Margerum. My mom recently dug out those old rusty Cardinal seatbacks for those old wooden Stanford benches. Now we use them to watch my son Jackson play for the Napa Saints.
Anyway, I digress. With Harbaugh on board, my personal forecast for 2011 was that the 49ers might go 9-7 and hopefully get into the playoffs. As each game was played, it just kept working out, and the Saints-49ers divisional matchup was the most exciting 49ers game I've watched in the last 15+ years. The season just kept developing and the 49ers kept figuring out ways to win, with great team play. The 2005 vintage in Napa Valley was similar. The season started out with good expectations, but nothing that foreshadowed greatness. As the cool season continued, and we kept sampling and tasting the fruit, we began to realize that we really had something special developing. The fruit kept hanging and improving, and by the time we picked, we knew we had a great vintage on our hands. Things sometime just work out both on the field and in the field in ways that are not foreseen.
Today, I'm a little reflective thinking about the parallels of the last 30 years of 49ers football and Monticello Vineyards winemaking. Tomorrow, my brother Stephen and I will be at the NFC Championship game. Look for us on the TV. We'll be the two guys in red and gold cheering loudly. We just might need to dig out a dusty bottle of 1981 Monticello Cabernet Sauvignon next week and celebrate this season, regardless of tomorrows outcome. Somehow that seems appropriate ...
For now, Lets Go Niners!
Posted By : Chris Corley
We're currently in Costa Rica and have enjoyed a nice week in Playa Pochote, which is considered a town here, but really is more like 100 or so locals that live near each other and a campground where the 'ticos' from San Jose come to beach camp for the weekend. The local services in ""town"" include a payphone.
I had zero expectation of finding any local wines in Costa Rica, so didn't even think much about it. I was ready to spend my time guzzling Imperial lagers in the sun and looking forward to the fresh fish. To my surprise, when we went to the little village market in the next 'town' called Tambor, the fellow in the store directed towards the the surprisingly well stocked wine aisle, where I found several Costa Rican wines.
It struck me at that moment, that my subliminal notion of wine automatically referenced my own experiences, that is grape wine. There were actually shelves full of all sorts of local wines - fruit wines - pineapple, orange, and grapes too. My interest in traveling is in tasting the local efforts. I didn't come all this way to drink and eat things I can get at home. So I loaded up a few bottles of the local wines and headed home, excited to taste these wines.
Please keep in mind, I'm a winemaker, not a critic nor a winewriter. I'll just stick to describing rather than critiquing. At these wineries in Costa Rica, no doubt there are a group of people of that are trying to do the best they can with what they've got, and I have no interest in disparaging their or anybodys efforts, regardless of the results.
SAN PEDRANO 'VINO DE NARANJA' - I'm not really sure what I was expecting before tasting wine made from oranges, but I was a little surprised when I poured it in the glass and it looked like a slightly oxidized white wine. The aromas were not nearly as strong orange as I anticipated. The wine was pleasant on the palate, with a nice acidity, basically dry (no residual sugar), and was not as strong in orange flavor as I thought it would be. This wine would be a good match for a bowl of fresh ceviche on the beach, and I wouldn't be surprised if thats the way its most commonly consumed.
SAN PEDRANO 'VINO DE PINA' - This wine was the most enjoyable for just sipping on by itself. The aromas and flavors of pineapple were much stronger than in the orange wine. The nature of the pineapple tones kind of lent themselves to a refreshing tropical drink. The texture, just like the orange wine, was more similar to grape white wine than I was expecting. The wine was visually clean as though it had been filtered, or at least fined very well. The texture was not viscous or syrupy at all, like pineapple juice can be. Chilled, this was my favorite of the three.
MONASTERI 'VINO DE UVA' - This wine was interesting to taste. Its the one wine we found that was actually made from grapes. It was difficult to discern any particular fruit flavor from the wine. The acidity was a little tart and out of balance, likely due to the citric acid addition mentioned in the ingredients. This was somewhat balanced by the residual sugar. This wine was interesting to taste and I think would be best served chilled and with some really spicy food.
On a completely unrelated-to-wine note, I've got take a moment to talk about some artwork that we came across here in Costa Rica. My wife, Julianna, and I have for years enjoyed collecting masks. We try to collect one at every destination, whether its an old Indian ceremonial mask at the pueblo in Taos, a cloth spiritual mask in Peru, or a simple wooden mask from Isla Roatan. They're great personal reminders of shared adventures, and if chosen well, can be very reflective of the culture. We've got a growing wall full of them in our dining room at home.
That said, in Costa Rica, we've come across some of the most ornate masks yet. They are made by the Boruca Indian tribe, an indigenous people of Costa Rica. They are carved of balsa wood, so are soft and light. The carving is very impressive, but the intricacy and vibrancy of the painting is extraordinary. The masks are carved and painted so vividly to represent the devil and originally were utilized to scare off the invading Spanish conquistadors. These are the most colorful and vibrant masks we have personally come across, and its reassuring knowing that some of the proceeds from the sales of the mask go back to help fund the preservation of the Boruca Indian culture, which there are only about 2000-2500 living Borucan Indian tribemembers on the reserve. The tribe hosts a festival around New Years, the 'Danza de los Diablitos', reenacting the war between the indians and the conquistadors. The indians win ...
"Posted By : Chris Corley
We've spent the last ten days in Brazil enjoying the holidays. This is our first time in Brazil. We've really enjoyed the people, the food and the warm December weather. We've also found Portuguese to be one of the more difficult languages to grasp. Despite having reasonable Spanish skills which serve me well in Mexico, I found myself often staring blankly when spoken to in native Portuguese, even when conducting simple transactions. The language sounds to my ears like an indecipherable mix of Spanish, French, Italian and Japanese. We didn't pack a Babel Fish either. Very few people that we have encountered speak English, and most of them were a younger generation that no doubt are taking English classes.
We've enjoyed trying the local foods and wines. One of our favorite dishes has been Baiao de Dois, which is kind of like a paella dish. Lots of rice, beans, sausage, linguica, cheese and mandioca (cassava), which is fibrous potato-like vegetable that was really good and added a nice texture to the plate.
The local fruit juices have been a real treat as well. I particularly enjoyed the juices of the Umbu and Graviola, both native fruits to Brazil, which to the best of my understanding don't grow anywhere else. Both juices were white and milky in texture. The Umbu was more tart and the Graviola had a creamy tone to it. Both were very good on their own, and I imagine would be great mixers for your favorite rum.
We have also enjoyed trying out some of the local wines. There are some local wines known as 'country wines' that are primarily poured by the glass. these wines are generally lower quality and I didn't care for them. I'm also not a critic, and not interested in disparaging my fellow winemakers, so I'll just comment on a few wines that I found of interest during our visit. On the map below, you can see the major wine regions of Brazil. The lower regions roughly line up horizontally with some of the winegrowing regions in Uruguay, Argentina and Chile. Interestingly, we had a tough time finding many Brazilian wines in stores. Most the wines we've seen on the shelves in South America, and perhaps not surprisingly, have been from Chile and Argentina.
MIOLO 'Reserva' 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon (Camphana) - This wine had dark berry flavors and well extracted tannins. Full bodied and plenty of lively acidity, this wine was best enjoyed with a meal (Baiao de Dois?) rather than on its own.
DUETTO 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot (Vale dos Vinhedos) - This wine had a little reduced (stinky) tone when we popped the cork, but it quickly opened up with some air. It had a softer texture and a fuller body than the Miolo. The fruit and acidity were a little muted but this was the best wine for just having a glass on its own.
CASA VALDUGA 'Premium' Chardonnay (Vale dos Vinhedos) - This Chardonnay had very bright acidity and the green apple flavors made it taste more like a Sauvignon Blanc than a Chardonnay. Crisp and refreshing, this half-bottle disappeared pretty quickly.
We've enjoyed are our visit to Brazil and have been introduced to many new tastes, textures, sights and sounds. I hope you've enjoyed reading about a few of the highlights."
Posted By : Chris Corley
This past weekend, we had the pleasure of hosting the VIP guests of the 'Live In The Vineyard' event that congregated in Napa for a long weekend of Music, Wine and Food. What a great time. Billed as 'An Intimate Pairing of Music, Wine and Food', 'Live in the Vineyard' is the brainchild of the ebullient pair of friends Claire Parr and Bobbii Hach-Jacobs. Its a unique semi-annual event that brings fans from across the country out to Napa Valley for a weekend of live music, winery visits and food & wine presentations. Check out the official website at www.liveinthevineyard.com .
We have had the pleasure of hosting two events this year at Monticello. In April, we had our guests come out to Monticello for a livefire barbeque, live winemaking demonstrations and live music. It was a wonderful experience. The smiles and enthusiasm of the guests, many who had not been to Napa Valley before was infectious and a thrill for us as hosts. The weekends concerts in April at The Uptown were also fantastic, as we got to see Lenny Kravitz, Michael Franti and Colbie Caillat among others.
The Fairchilds Warming Up in The Jefferson House at Monticello
This past weekend, we hosted a wonderful group of people as well, VIP winners of the radio contest that brough people from afar. Chef Lisa presented seasonal 'superfood' recipes in our winery cellar oriented towards awareness of 'City of Hope' www.cityofhope.org , which is an NCI-recognized cancer research and treatment organization. In addition to our wine presentation on the crush pad, we enjoyed a live concert in the cellar from 'The Fairchilds' www.thefairchildsmusic.com , headed by Cyril Niccolai www.cyrilniccolai.com . The music sounded really great in the cellar, and it was a nice exclamation point towards the end of harvest to have a concert in the cellar. This past weekends concerts at The Uptown included Daughtry, Christina Perri and Safety Suit.
We've been presented with two Fender Squier guitars signed by all the artists from the last two LITV events ... Lenny Kravitz, Colbie Caillat, Michael Franti, Hanson, Default, Parachute, Cyril Niccolai just to name a handful. What a totally cool and unexpected treat for us at Monticello!
Ruby Corley, Future Wine Rock Goddess
It was lot of fun to have all the guests in from out of town. Their enthusiasm spread and was a reminder to us how fortunate we are to live in such a beautiful place, which was brightened even more by all the smiles and laughter over the weekend.
"Posted By : Chris Corley
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 ..."
"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 ...