2008 Harvest: the First Crush by valleyfog
September 8, 2008, 11:59 pm
Filed under: Winemaking | Tags: , , , , ,
Harvest is here and we just finished our first crush (well, actually, my first crush was probably back in second grade, but I digress). This year, we are making Pinot Noir from three different vineyards, from North to South – Anderson Valley in Mendocino, Russian River Valley in Sonoma and Santa Rita Hills in Santa Barbara. Given the slight differences of climates, the grapes are coming in at various times during the traditional harvest period (late August through late October.) 
Brian and Jennifer on the sorting line back in 2005 for our first crush with Amber Ridge

Brian and Jennifer on the sorting line back in 2005 for our first crush with Amber Ridge. That's Michael Brill, CEO of Crushpad, in the back, adjusting the webcam.

The first batch of grapes to arrive is from Amber Ridge vineyard in Russian River. You may have heard of Amber Ridge before, as a select number of producers in Sonoma, reputable names like Kosta-Browne and Siduri, are making Pinot Noir from this vineyard based in Windsor, south of Healdsburg. We got in on this little secret early and made our inaugural vintage with Amber Ridge Pinot Noir grapes in 2005. The nose is redolent of classic Russian River sweet cherry. The aromatics really do capture you and lure you into the wine. The palate brings home that candied cherry along with a warm five spice and a touch of vanilla on the finish.
We went a couple of years without Amber Ridge and really yearned to produce another vintage. So with some pleading and cajoling, we were lucky enough to get in on the 2008 harvest. With higher temperatures later in the summer, the 2008 harvest came in a little early on September 3rd and the clusters were small to medium and looked beautiful. We remember our first crush in ’05 when we had to pick out clusters with moldy berries, but this time around it was pretty clean. The process moved along pretty quickly. Jennifer and I got up on the sorting table with some folks at the winery and quickly sorted through bunches of grapes, pulling out shriveled up berries and any extraneous leaves, before they went into the destemmer.

2008 Amber Ridge Pinot Noir clusters on the sorting table

2008 Amber Ridge Pinot Noir clusters on the sorting table

Sometimes you add whole clusters, which are the berries and stems intact,  direct into the cold soak and fermentation to add tannins and structure. The stems were green (for whole cluster, they should be brown), so we decided against throwing in any whole clusters to avoid any green or herbal flavors.  The berries tasted great and seem like they have a tough enough skin to carry some tannin into the wine. The sugar level at picking was 28 Brix. The bunches we sorted included both 115 and 667 clones, so hopefully we’ll be able to do a little blending of both of these clones as we get towards bottling next year.
For now, the grapes are enjoying a nice little cold soak and will soon go into a warm fermentation for another 5-7 days until the sugars have been turned into alcohol. Then we’ll be ready for pressing. We’ll keep you posted on the 2008 Amber Ridge Pinot Noir’s progress, as well as the other upcoming crushes for La Encantada and Hein vineyards – likely late next week or the following.

Jennfier and Brian on the line, Sept. 3, 2008

Jennfier and Brian on the line, Sept. 3, 2008

Central Coast Tastings: SLO & Arroyo Grande by valleyfog
Wrapping up our Labor Day vacation in the Central Coast, we decided to squeeze in a few more wine tastings. We focused on those close to San Luis Obispo, where we were staying. Returning to Talley was a must – we went there on our honeymoon and they are a great Pinot Noir producer. I wanted to check out Baileyana, as I’d never been there before and the winemaker, Burgundian native Christian Roguenant, has his imprint on a number of different labels (including Alma Rosa). And Jennifer was jonesing for some sparklers, so we capped off the day at Laetitia, the premier sparkling wine maker in the Central Coast.
Marya Figueroa)

Baileyana tasting room, the historic Independence Schoolhouse, on Orcutt Road in San Luis Obispo. (photo: Marya Figueroa)

We started at Baileyana in the mid-morning and luckily for us the place was empty – the calm before the storm (read: stretch SUV limos and drunkards!). The owners also have a white-wine focused effort called tangent, so both Baileyana and tangent are poured in the same tasting room. We tried one of the tangent wines – Ecclestone, a blend of different white varietals, including Viognier, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and others. It was very refreshing, had a nice medium weight on the palate with lovely apricot and tangerine notes. I was most focused on the Pinot Noir, so I zeroed in on the 2006 Baileyana Grand Firepeak Cuvee. As suspected, it had a more Burgundian profile. The nose had a touch of earth and the palate showed red cherry, dark cherry and some clove. Good structure – still tightly wound, but there was definitely a lot going on. This is a well-made Pinot and one that should do well in the cellar.

We ambled over to Talley Vineyards next. The tasting bar is huge, with four to five sides and at least four people behind the bar. This was good because the SUV limo rolled in right after we did, so there was plenty of room for all. Plus they had a basket of toys for our Miss B to play with – bonus points for any winery that offers toys. Talley offers a number of different wines to try, so the choices can be overwhelming. Luckily they made it easy on us, as this weekend they were releasing their latest Pinot Noirs and had a flight of five different Pinot Noirs to taste. They were all amazing, but our favorites (all 2006) were the Edna Valley, Stone Corral Vineyard and the Rincon Vineyard. The Rosemary’s Vineyard was also delicious but needed some time. The Stone Corral had a restrained bouquet, but on the palate displayed both earth and red fruits and had a great finish, where I detected a hint of coca (no, not a soupcon, just a hint). We also tasted and picked up a bottle of Mano Tinta, a Syrah blend where all the proceeds from the sale of the wine benefit a special fund for vineyard and farm workers. The Talleys have been in the Arroyo Grande community for a long time, so they do a great job of giving back to the community.

Laetitia also had a good lineup of Pinots – five in their current releases. They have even more sparkling wines. Laetitia was actually founded by Deutz, as that Champagne house was in search of one of the best sites to make Methode Champenoise sparkling wines in California. It was sold to Jean Claude Tardivat, who renamed the winery after his daughter. So given its sparkling wine heritage, Jennifer, a huge bubbly fan these days, was keen on trying them. She went for the sparkling flight, while I opted for, you guessed it, more Pinots! She really liked the 2005 Brut de Blancs, while I favored the 2006 Pinot Noir “777”, which had some good earth.

There are a ton more wineries to visit in the region, ranging from Edna Valley producers down to Santa Maria and beyond, but this was all we could squeeze in this time. A good sampling and some great bottles to pack in to our already overstuffed car.