Filed under: Events, New releases, Tasting notes | Tags: Luke, pinot days, Pinot Days Chicago, Pinot Days Chicago 2013, Rose, tasting events, Waits-Mast Pinot Noir
It’s been a year and a half since the last Pinot Days Chicago, so we were looking forward to the opportunity to pour Waits-Mast wines for our Chicago fans once again. During a particularly crazy weather week, we headed to the Navy Pier for yesterday’s event. Luckily the rains/snow/flooding of the previous few days had subsided, although we were alarmed to see black smoke emanating from a fire at the O’Hare airport (apparently just an emergency training exercise) as we drove to the tasting. After safely arriving at our destination (a gorgeous room at the Navy Pier with a lake view), we set up our signage, bottles, and literature for the expected crowds of Pinot Noir consumers and industry folks.
Although this is the 5th time that we’ve poured our wines at Pinot Days Chicago, it had been a year and a half since the last event in November, 2011. Traveling to Chicago had become a fall tradition for us, so it was strange to not be there last November. Thankfully the event still took place, moving to April this year.
During this year’s Pinot Days Chicago we poured three of our more recent releases, including our recently bottled 2012 Waits-Mast Rosé of Pinot Noir from Mendocino County as well as our 2010 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir from Londer Vineyard and our 2010 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir from Wentzel Vineyard.
It was exciting to launch our brand new rosé at Pinot Days. Bottled on March 30, this is our very first rosé. Crafted from fruit from some of our favorite vineyards in Anderson Valley and Mendocino, we think it’s pretty delicious and were looking forward to hearing what others thought of this wine. We only made 24 cases of our 100% Pinot Noir rosé, so we only brought a few bottles to the tasting for the rosé’s public debut. Despite the chilly spring weather in Chicago, tasters were quite complimentary about the rosé (although some inevitably declined to taste it, preferring to stick to full-on Pinot Noir). In addition to the rosé, we also poured two other wines from Mendocino County – our 2010 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir from Londer Vineyard and our 2010 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir from Wentzel Vineyard. Here are some tasting notes from some of the attendees who stopped by our table:
2012 Waits-Mast Rosé of Pinot Noir, Mendocino County:
“fine mineral quality” (from a non-rosé fan)
“I wouldn’t send this back”
would be “great with Chilean sea bass – best of both worlds, taste of red, refreshing [quality of a] white”
“nice and refreshing”
“my favorite of the day”
“this is the best thing here”
2010 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir, Londer Vineyard, Anderson Valley:
“love the smell, can’t place it”
“smokiness on the nose”
there’s a “very feminine grace to this”
“dances across your tongue”
“violets on the nose”
“almost like tangerine” (on the tongue as a top note)
“red fruit in nose”
2010 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir, Wentzel Vineyard, Anderson Valley:
“dryer finish” (than Londer)
“rich, nice structure”
“fruitier smell” (compared with Londer)
“good with salmon, it would stand up to the fat”
“such a great expression of Pinot”
All in all, Pinot Days Chicago was great fun for us. We saw many old friends (fans, family, industry folks, and fellow winemakers) and were also happy to introduce our wines to many people who had never tried our wines before. We did miss seeing our #1 fan, Luke – we waited patiently for him to arrive at our table, hoping for some poetic pronouncements about our wine. Alas, we hope to see him next year. But, perhaps one of my favorite moments was when renowned winemaker Brian Loring of Loring Wine Company complimented us on our wines and applauded us for our small production, saying, “dare to be small.”
Filed under: Winemaking | Tags: Anderson Valley, harvest 2012, Mendocino County, Waits-Mast Pinot Noir
We love making wine in the city, but sometimes there are challenges inherent to being several hours away from the vineyards. People might think we’re kind of crazy, choosing to make wine in San Francisco, from some of the furthest Pinot Noir vineyards from the city. Clearly, our love for Anderson Valley and Mendocino County fruit drives us to extremes. But we love it nonetheless.
This time of year, though, logistics are incredibly tricky. With long, windy roads and last-minute picks being juggled with busy work and life schedules, it takes a village to get our fruit into the winery and processed. Luckily we work with incredible vineyard owners who typically deliver their fruit to us, even though it can be a 3-hour drive from Mendocino County to San Francisco.
Our appreciation for this generosity has skyrocketed after this weekend. We had a few pick bins that we needed to take back to Anderson Valley and we figured it would be pretty straight-forward to rent a truck for this purpose. After extensive research, Brian found the ideal truck from U-Haul and reserved it online. We arrived at a San Francisco U-Haul location at 9am on Saturday, waited in line for 20 minutes, and then learned that the reserved truck would have to be returned by 1pm, even though Brian had reserved a 24-hour rental.
Exasperated, we returned home and hit the phones in order to procure another truck. Brian was elated when he found an even cheaper rental with no mileage restrictions. After booking it, we drove 45 minutes south to Palo Alto to pick up the truck. Ironically, as we traveled along Arastradero Road in Palo Alto en route to the car rental place, we spotted vineyards that I’d never seen before. I felt like they were taunting us.
As we pulled into the lot at Alamo in Palo Alto, Brian got a call on his cell phone telling him that they didn’t have trucks at that location. At this point I started getting flashbacks to a bad Ikea parking lot incident that brought out the dark side of mild-manner Brian. Sensing his frustration, the folks at Alamo suggested that Brian rent a large cargo van instead. After taking some measurements, Brian opted for the van.
By 2pm he was nearly on his way, but determined that he could only fit 2 bins in the van, even though we had 4 bins total to return. Guess those other 2 bins will have to wait….Brian finally made it up to Anderson Valley before sundown. Because of his late arrival, he accepted a kind offer from a vineyard owner to spend the night. Our daughter’s depiction of that happy arrival is pictured below.
Spending the night proved to be a good thing, as it meant that Brian could do vineyard checks on Sunday. Anderson Valley (and the entire Bay Area) experienced a heat spike both Sunday and today, so it was an excellent chance to see how imminent harvest would be.It looks like our next round of fruit will arrive tomorrow, with more to follow this week.
Filed under: Vineyards, Winemaking | Tags: 2012 harvest, anderson valley pinot noir, Deer Meadows Vineyard, Nash Mill Vineyard, Oppenlander Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Waits-Mast Pinot Noir, Wentzel Vineyard
Over the weekend we made a trip up to Anderson Valley and Mendocino to check in on some of the vineyards that we source fruit from for Waits-Mast Family Cellars. We figured that harvest was getting close, but we didn’t realize just how close. Based on visits to two of the vineyards, we decided that Monday, September 24 was the day to start harvesting some of our fruit.
On Saturday we toured through Deer Meadows Vineyard with owner Rich Savoy. We are thrilled to be working with Deer Meadows again after crafting an amazing wine from the vineyard in 2009. It was a toasty warm day when we visited and we heard throughout the weekend that this warm-up came after some recent cool weather. As we drove up to see the vineyard at 1600 feet above Boonville, we passed a trio of vultures. Two of them looked quite dramatic, with their wings spread far apart. We assumed they were guarding a fresh kill, but Rich said that they were probably just sunning themselves.
When we got to the vineyard, Rich was out pulling cluster samples from various sections of the vineyard. We met up with him to continue the process and taste some berries. After pulling samples of the various clones of Pinot Noir that we get from his vineyard, we convened in his outdoor lab in order to check out sugar and acid levels for the fruit. First we measured the weight of various cluster sizes, then we took a look at sugar levels of the samples. Finally, by using Rich’s small manual grape press, we combined all of the grapes in order to get overall readings for acid and sugar.
Brian recently purchased a shiny new refractometer, so we were able to use it for the first time, comparing its readings to those obtained by Rich’s optical refractometer. Our daughter, who has been learning all about measurement in her first grade class, was also put to work. Although she complained vociferously about the heat, the bugs, and about being hungry; she enjoyed tasting the sweet grapes and relished getting an opportunity to squeeze juice onto the refractometers.
On Sunday we made it to three more vineyards: Oppenlander, Nash Mill (a new vineyard for us this year), and Wentzel. After driving out to Comptche and tasting the grapes at Oppenlander (and getting confirmation from our 6-year-old super taster), it was clear that they still had a ways to go. Our sugar readings confirmed that. Brian walked the vineyards and tasted through the rows at Nash Mill in Anderson Valley and was confident that the fruit there still needed more time to ripen as well.
Our final stop of the weekend was Wentzel Vineyard, up in the hills above Philo. Our very first commercial release was from Wentzel Vineyard fruit in 2007 and it was magnificent, even grabbing a spot in the San Francisco Chronicle’s Top 100 Wines of 2009 feature. We didn’t have access to the vineyard in 2008 and 2009, but have been thrilled to be sourcing from Wentzel again since 2010.
Owner Roland Wentzel was there when we stopped by on Sunday afternoon and he drove us out to see the fruit. When we got to the section of the vineyard that we source our fruit from, we were startled by what sounded like gun shots. Roland explained that he had a propane cannon set up to scare off bears. Set on a timer, the cannon emitted loud blasts every 5 minutes that definitely made us jump every time we heard them.
Roland also showed us additional bear-proofing in the form of a solar-powered electric fence that had peanut butter slathered on it. Last year a bear showed up for the first time at Wentzel Vineyard and made off with a bunch of the harvest. When the grape-loving bear returned again this year for a small snack in the vineyard a few weeks ago, Roland decided to employ the cannon and electric fence in order to keep the vineyard safe from predators.
While walking through the rows and tasting the fruit at Wentzel (our daughter was dying to eat an entire cluster), we collected samples to take back to Roland’s kitchen lab. After doing a bunch of readings, it seemed clear that we should harvest the following day.
So, on Monday, we had our first harvests of the year. We picked one clone of Pinot Noir at Deer Meadows and picked the entire field blend that we use from Wentzel Vineyard. Both picks arrived in San Francisco late in the afternoon on Monday looking beautiful. We hand-sorted all of the fruit and both sorts were fast and easy. We picked out leaves and an occasional raisin, but for the most part the berries were gorgeous and delicious.
We’re not sure what next week will have in store, but we’re carefully monitoring all of the remaining vineyards. We’re expecting additional clones from Deer Meadows and are still waiting to begin harvesting from our blocks at Oppenlander, Nash Mill, and Mariah Vineyards (a Mendocino Ridge vineyard that is new for us this year).
Filed under: Events, Tasting notes | Tags: Pinot Days 2012, Pinot Days San Francisco, Pinot Noir, Waits-Mast Pinot Noir
Pinot Days San Francisco is the largest event that we pour at, so it stands to reason that it can also be one of the most colorful. Saturday’s Pinot Days Grand Tasting at Ft. Mason’s Festival Pavilion in San Francisco was no exception. It was packed with more than 150 wineries and hundreds of Pinot Noir fans.
It was an unusually hot summer day, but we were kept comfortably cool at the start of the event due to a breeze blowing off the bay and into the pavilion through a sliver in the open door next to our table. As the day went on, we had the sun at our back and started to regret not lathering sunscreen on our necks. As a side bonus, however, by the end of the festival, tasters were coming to our table telling us that we were in a “heavenly aura spot” with the sun streaming down on us. We tried our best to keep the wines at a cool temperature by keeping spare bottles in a cooler bag.
We enjoy doing public tastings, largely because we realize that it’s important for us to get out and share our wines with people. We don’t have a tasting room, so events like Pinot Days are one of the only ways for us to give people a chance to sample our wines without buying them. At big tastings like Pinot Days we are amid a sea of stellar producers (and we never have time to try as many as we’d like during the event), so it’s always gratifying when we hear kind words about our wines.
People who don’t know us are always curious about the name Waits-Mast. In the past we’ve heard questions about whether or not the name was nautical. On Saturday several tasters asked if I was related to Tom Waits (the answer: not to my knowledge). Another person came to our table because she had a relative named Brian Mast (not the same guy). We quickly determined that her Pennsylvania Dutch Masts seem to be no relation to Brian’s Chicago-by-way-of-Germany Masts. Someone else found the name Waits-Mast perplexing and said, “I’m never going to remember that.” On the flip side, another taster said that our names worked well together as a brand name.
The most tense moment of the event came when a festival-goer inquired about our tasting order. Not a fan of “big” Pinot Noir, he was reluctant to try our final wine (2009 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir from Deer Meadows Vineyard in Anderson Valley) because of its placement in our tasting line-up. After some back and forth, I explained that we actually don’t make “big wines,” so there was no reason to fear the final wine, as we just felt that it was our “most complex” wine. I breathed a sigh of relief when the taster enjoyed the wine and left the table with a smile on his face.
At tastings people always ask us “which is your favorite?” and “which is your best wine?” This always makes us uncomfortable, as it’s sort of like picking a favorite child. Additionally, wines are living things and go through different stages of development. Some days we might be in the mood for one wine, other days we might select a different one. So, whenever possible we try to re-direct that question. If people really only want to try one wine, then we’ll try to gauge their preferences or we will steer them towards a crowd favorite.
Several tasters asked to try more Burgundian wines, but there were others clamoring for big wines. Someone came to our table and asked, “Could I try your least oak, most Burgundian wine? I’m sick of Pinot Noir producers putting syrah in it.” Although we strive for balanced wines and don’t think of our line-up as being oaky or Syrah-like, we recognize that there are a variety of palates out there. Not everyone is going to like our wines and not everyone is even going to interpret our wines in the same way that we do. We were surprised when one taster described our wines as being “more on the full-bodied side, but still unmistakably Pinot.” Someone else said, “they stand out and have nice structure,” whereas another said, “it’s refreshing to taste some really awesome pinots.”
As it approached the 5:00pm closing time for the event, we maintained our sense of humor as the crowd entered into palate fatigue. We didn’t see anyone making out (as we’ve heard happens at the Zinfandel-focused Zap festival), nobody knocked over our wine-filled dump bucket, and thankfully we didn’t have any close encounters with broken glasses. However, we did step in to assist after someone came to our table following a Pinot Noir accident (she blamed her husband) down the back of her bright yellow summer dress. I offered a bottle of stain remover and we continued pouring tastes of wine while the fumes from the mysterious stain-fighting elixir wafted towards our table. At that point in the day, very few people even noticed.
Here are some of the other comments from Saturday’s tasting:
2010 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir, Londer Vineyard, Anderson Valley:
“dried cherries and Lucky Charms”
“great tannin on back-end and great brightness of fruit.”
2009 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir, Amber Ridge Vineyard, Russian River:
“warm fruit on the nose”
2009 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir, La Encantada Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills
“The most Burgundian style La Encantada that I’ve tasted. Usually it’s Broadway–you know it’s there. This is more like Hair than Jesus Christ Superstar.”
“some of the most grace in a Sta Rita Hills pinot noir”
2009 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir, Deer Meadows Vineyard, Anderson Valley
“I want this to pair with the dinner that I’m making tonight” (she had lamb marinating at home)
“high floristics,” specifically daisy
“this is the favorite one that I’ve tried”
Filed under: Events | Tags: Anderson Valley wines, Mendocino wines, Pinot Noir, Taste of Mendocino, Waits-Mast Pinot Noir, wine tasting events
Brian and I began a busy week of events (Pinot Days is this weekend) by pouring at Taste of Mendocino in San Francisco yesterday. The full-day tasting included both a trade event in the afternoon and a consumer portion in the early evening. Attendees had the opportunity to not only sample a huge array of wines from Mendocino County, but were also able try a variety of other food and beverage offerings from the area. The setting was the beautiful Terra art gallery in the South of Market district of San Francisco. In addition to the food, wine, and art; attendees were also treated to music performances, acrobats, and a rock and roll-themed food truck on the outdoor patio.
For this tasting we poured three of our Waits-Mast Pinot Noir selections from Mendocino County, including the 2009 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir from Oppenlander Vineyard (Mendocino), the 2009 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir from Deer Meadows Vineyard (Anderson Valley), and the 2010 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir from Londer Vineyard (Anderson Valley).
As is always the case, different tasters had varying opinions on the wines and there was no standard answer to the question, “What’s your favorite?” We enjoy hearing the descriptors that others use when tasting our wines, so we did the best that we could to capture some of our favorite comments throughout the day.
One taster told us that it was “very nice to taste some pinots with some delicacy and depth too.” Others described the wines as “beautiful,” “otherworldly” (from a non-Pinot Noir fan), and “sinewy.” A few were directed to our table by friends, with one person proclaiming, “I hear you are the shizzle!”
Here’s a quick recap:
2009 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir, Oppenlander Vineyard (Mendocino):
“smells and tastes like it’s supposed to”
it has fruit and aromatic intensity and “it’s a monster”
“beautiful mid palate”
“very Burgundian, earthy”
“the most aromatically intense Pinot Noir here”
“has plenty of acid, but wish it had more”
2009 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir, Deer Meadows Vineyard:
“tasting perfect now”
“more jammy aroma” (than the Oppenlander)
“acid in balance”
“nice balance and complexity”
“a nice mushroom risotto would go well with this”
“delicate, but complex” (from someone who said he’d dumped every other wine he tried)
2010 Londer Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley:
“wild cranberry and spice”
“much different nose…almost like a cherry cordial.”
“well-rounded…favorite (of the 3)”
Filed under: Events, Tasting notes | Tags: anderson valley pinot noir, Mendocino County Pinot Noir, Pinot Days Chicago, Pinot Noir, Russian River pinot noir, Sta Rita Hills Pinot Noir, tasting events
We had an incredible time participating in Pinot Days Chicago on Saturday. It was our 4th time pouring at the event, and as in previous years, it was great to catch up with old friends and fans of Waits-Mast Family Cellars.
Each year has been memorable, in 2008 we met some folks who have become regular customers, in 2009 we were told that we had “bangin’ juice,” and last year we heard that the wine tasted like “fall in a glass.”
This year, we poured a selection of our 2009 Waits-Mast Family Cellars Pinot Noir releases throughout the day. Most who stopped by our table got to try our wines from Anderson Valley (Hayley Vineyard), Russian River (Amber Ridge Vineyard) and Mendocino (Oppenlander Vineyard). After we poured through those wines, we had visitors sample our release from Deer Meadows Vineyard in Anderson Valley and from La Encantada Vineyard in Sta Rita Hills.
Response to the wines was amazing and we experienced a first for us when a new fan actually started tearing up after trying our wine from Deer Meadows vineyard.
Here’s a quick sampling of some of our favorite reactions to the wines:
2009 Waits-Mast Family Cellars Pinot Noir, Hayley Vineyard (Anderson Valley):
Tasters called this wine “elegant,” said it had eucalyptus characteristics, and described it as “earthy” on the nose, yet “California” upon tasting. One person said, “this is a revelation” and remarked that it has “fabulous complexity in the nose.” Another said, “I’m an Oregon guy…that’s exciting.” Others said that it had a “roundness” and was “velvety” and “delicious” with hints of “strawberry.”
2009 Waits-Mast Family Cellars Pinot Noir, Amber Ridge Vineyard (Russian River):
One of the tasters inhaled this wine deeply and said he was “just getting high” off of the nose and said that it had a “hint of creme brulee,” and was “nice and soft.” He added that, “I’ve been to every Pinot Days from the beginning and this was definitely way up there.” Another person said that it was like a “blast off in your mouth.” Someone else said it was “smokier” than our other wines and that it had an “interesting finish.”
2009 Waits-Mast Family Cellars Pinot Noir, Oppenlander Vineyard (Mendocino):
Folks who came by our table and tried our Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noir described it as “tart,” with a “little more acid” than our releases from Hayley and Amber Ridge Vineyards. Another said that it was “earthy” and would pair well with steak. Someone else noted that it had an “unexpected dryness.” One person said that initially there’s a burst of fruit, followed by “tannins at the end” with a nice finish. At least one person said that it was their favorite wine.
2009 Waits-Mast Family Cellars Pinot Noir, La Encantada Vineyard (Sta Rita Hills):
We only brought a few bottles of this wine to taste. The few who were able to sample it had nice things to say. One taster said that it tasted of “burnt cranberry, orange and raspberry” with “not a lot of earth.” Another person exclaimed that this wine was an “orgasm in my mouth.”
2009 Waits-Mast Family Cellars Pinot Noir, Deer Meadows Vineyard (Anderson Valley):
As with the La Encantada, we were only able to bring a few bottles of this wine to Pinot Days. This was the wine that made a taster cry and that others described as being like “velvet.” Waits-Mast “super fan” Luke (amazingly not the taster who was brought to tears) explained his love for the wine, saying, “I don’t want to stop drinking [it] with my nose.” He told us that tasting the wine was akin to listening to the “Star-Spangled Banner” in that it produced “goosebumps.” Luke added, “You saved me months of meditation.”
Thanks to everyone who stopped by our table at Pinot Days Chicago. It’s always a fun event for us, largely due to the warmth of the crowd.
Filed under: Events | Tags: Pinot Days Chicago, Pinot Noir, Waits-Mast Family Cellars
It’s hard to believe that our first public wine tasting happened 4 years ago at Pinot Days Chicago.
I vividly remember setting up our table and anxiously awaiting customers. As one of the newest labels at the event in 2008, we weren’t sure that people would even stop by the Waits-Mast table. Our fears were unfounded, as plenty of people sampled our 2007 vintage at that event and we ended up making quite a few friends who we look forward to seeing at Pinot Days Chicago every year.
We’ll be pouring for the 4th time at the Pinot Days Chicago Grand Festival this Saturday, November 12, 2011 from 1pm to 5pm. At the tasting you’ll get a chance to sample a selection of our 2009 releases. If you are planning to attend, you can use the discount code WAITSCH11 to get 10% off your ticket. We hope to see you there.
Filed under: Events, Tasting notes | Tags: 2011 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival, anderson valley pinot noir
Although billboards across the land had warned of impending doom on May 21, 2011; what was utmost in our minds on that date was the 14th Annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival’s Grand Tasting at Goldeneye Vineyards.
This was our 3rd year pouring at the grand tasting and we couldn’t have been happier to be there on a breezy May day. Around 40 wineries offered samples of Pinot Noir made from Anderson Valley fruit to the crowd of eager tasters.
Although we’d hoped to be previewing our 2009 vintage at the tasting (which is still aging will be available in a few months), we ended up offering tastes of the nearly sold-out 2008 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir from Hein Vineyard and of the 2006 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir from Hein Vineyard (a library selection).
Just like last year, people were able to compare and contrast the vintages. We ran across fans of both wines, with tasters saying that our ’06 was “the best wine we’ve tasted today by far” and that our ’08 was “our favorite today” and had a “nice, earthy component” with “nutmeg and cinnamon.”
We also pulled out one bottle of our prized 2007 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir from Wentzel Vineyard from our personal collection (as it’s completely sold out) and were told that “it sneaks up on you” and paired well with the peanut butter cookies that were being served at the festival. We couldn’t be more excited to be producing more wine from Wentzel Vineyard in 2010 and 2011 (in a future post we’ll share photos from our recent visit to the vineyard).
Following the grand tasting we headed over to Roederer Estate to refresh our palates by sampling their line-up of sparkling and still wines before heading out to a winemaker dinner at The Apple Farm. In our next posts we’ll recap that dinner as well as our travels to various winery Open Houses on the closing day of the festival. And, if you missed it, our summary of the Technical Conference on Friday, May 20 can be found here.
Filed under: Events | Tags: 2011 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival, Anderson Valley, Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival 2011, Pinot Noir
I clearly remember being at a wine event back in 2005, several months before we starting making wine, and snickering when during a Q&A session someone inquired about the name of the particular forest in France that a barrel was crafted from. To me, it seemed to be an extreme example of wine geekery and it reminded me of arcane conversations about stereo equipment or car parts. I also felt it was kind of a showy comment, perhaps meant to reveal the extreme wine knowledge of the questioner.
Well, now it’s 6 years later and Brian and I have become that geeky wine guy. As I sat through the Technical Conference at this year’s 14th Annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival last Friday, I was amazed to think about how far we’ve come. I can now understand why forests might matter to some winemakers, as there are so many factors that can influence the taste of a glass of wine, from the grape clone to the soil type (and numerous other farming practices including canopy management, watering, and pest management) to one’s philosophy about organic to the date that the grape was picked to sorting practices (hand sorting, whole cluster, etc.), to pressing strategies (free run? how hard of a press?), to fermentation practices (time, yeast strain or native yeast, cold soak, etc.), to the barrel type (forest, cooper, percentage new oak, type of toast, etc.), to the amount of time in barrel, to blending the wine, to the amount of time in bottle, and on and on.
This year’s Technical Conference featured presentations on “Fertility Management Strategies” (which dissected the types of soils in Anderson Valley and how that relates to winemaking practices and Pinot Noir), “Fermentation Issues and Strategies” (which looked at the science of color and fermentation issues that arise from “chasing color”), “Winemaking Techniques and Color Enhancement,” as well as a panel discussion about the use of whole grape clusters in making Pinot Noir.
I was particularly interested in the panel about whole clusters, as that’s something we’ve only done once in our winemaking career.
In our first vintage, when we made a pinot noir from the Amber Ridge Vineyard in Russian River Valley in 2005, we decided to throw in about 20% whole clusters of grapes (grapes with the stems attached) to see what kind of effect that would have. Since then we haven’t used any whole clusters, in part because we were under the impression that green stems were a “no no.” We’d assumed that green stems would lead to a more herbal or vegetal flavor. During the panel Jeff Brinkman of Rhys Vineyards said that he actually uses “neon green stems” in his winemaking practices and explained that what’s more important than stem color is the dryness of the stem and whether or not it is still running sap. He said that he will use whole clusters of grapes if the stems are dry when chewed on and have a walnut quality to them.
Jeff also pointed out that doing 100% whole cluster wine is dependent upon vineyard practices and that the types of grape clones used (he said that the Swan clone works well for whole cluster Pinot Noir) can have an impact. Additionally, he said that picking the grapes early is best when doing whole clusters and added that hand sorting of the fruit after picking is also critical.
He explained that it can take him 3 to 5 hours to sort through a ton of fruit because they are doing it so methodically. There have been years when they have thrown away 50% of the fruit because they are searching for the ideal clusters to use and they are not picking off berries from a cluster. If part of a cluster looks bad, they will toss the entire cluster. Jeff said that the care taken with sorting also gets extended into the processing of the fruit.
When fermenting the wine, Jeff does punchdowns by foot because he is doing 100% whole cluster fermentation. He said that it’s impossible to use a punchdown tool because during fermentation the fruit is like concrete. He admitted that making 100% whole cluster Pinot Noir is “hard to do casually.”
Joe Webb, the winemaker at Foursight Wines, also talked about using whole clusters in his winemaking practices. He said that it’s really important to use gentler techniques during fermentation and he does hand punchdowns in order to take care with the stems. He said that he starts out with whole clusters on the bottom of the bin and never lets the punchdown tool touch the bottom of the bin.
As was the case last year, the conference featured a more consumer-oriented series of sessions in the afternoon. Author and wine educator Karen MacNeil rhapsodized about the appeal of Pinot Noir, another session provided a comparison among wines crafted from fruit from Ferrington Vineyards, and the last session including a tasting of rose style Pinot Noir from Roederer and Toulouse.
Throughout the day some memorable statements were made about Pinot Noir, beginning with UC Cooperative Extension viticulture and plant science advisor Glenn McGourty’s comment that pinot noir is “kind of like a princess.” Karen MacNeil dissected Pinot Noir even further, suggesting that there’s a “non-obviousness about great Pinot Noir,” explaining that it is not someone with a “big fur coat.” She added that Pinot Noir is “essentially unknowable in one sip” and that in fact its texture may be more important than its flavor. Karen described the essential character of Pinot Noir as being “more primordial than other grape varieties” with its “good corruption of rotting leaves and sweaty men.”
Following the technical conference we headed over to Navarro Vineyards for the official after-party BBQ. On a chilly May evening in Anderson Valley, we noshed on empanadas, paella, and a variety of donated Pinot Noir options, while chatting with wine writer Greg Walter, the man behind PinotReport (and also the MC for this year’s Technical Conference).
A band played classic rock tunes while winemakers and wine lovers danced, ate, and drank. At the end of the evening, with a warm cup of coffee in hand, we said goodnight to the winery sheep and turned in for some rest before the big day ahead at the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Grand Tasting.