2010 Vineyard Profile: Oppenlander Vineyard, Mendocino County by Jennifer

Being Guided to the Oppenlander Vineyard in Comptche. Photo by J. Waits

After crafting such a delicious wine with Oppenlander Vineyard fruit in 2009, we feel very lucky to be working with them again this year. Brian first got turned on to the vineyard last year, after tasting pinot noir crafted by Phillips Hill and Baxter from Oppenlander fruit.

Owned by the Shandel family, Oppenlander Vineyard is way off the beaten path in Mendocino County outside of the town of Comptche. It’s about 8 and a half miles from the Pacific Ocean as the crow flies at an elevation of 250 feet.

Touring Oppenlander Vineyard. October 2010.

We visited the vineyard on October 10th, just a few days before our fruit was harvested. Owner Bill Shandel showed us around the family vineyard that he owns with his brother Norman and talked to us not only about the fruit, but also about the history of the land. They are 5th generation owners of the property, which was originally homesteaded in the 1860s by their ancestors from Denmark (via the Gold Rush in Australia). The site of the vineyard was originally a meadow amid the woods. Bill told us that his great-grandfather Charles Oppenlander bought the land and then sent for his girlfriend to join him by traveling across the Isthmus of Panama.

Vintage Truck at Surprise Valley Ranch

As we looked out across this hidden vineyard amid the woods outside of the town of Comptche, it was hard to not reflect on its history and on how remote the location must have been in the 1860s, as it’s still quite remote.

The property is now known as Surprise Valley Ranch and the Shandels produce their own Shandel’s Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noir from the vineyards, which they originally planted in 1997 (after a test plot in 1985). We’re sourcing our fruit (114 clone) for our single-vineyard Waits-Mast Pinot Noir from a section of the vineyard that was planted in 1999.

On the property we also saw lots of brambly berry bushes, from which the Shandels create wild Himalayan blackberry jam. Bill gave us a couple of jars of it after we wrapped up our vineyard tour, so we’re looking forward to sharing it with our family on Thanksgiving. Vineyard-owner crafted jam has become a holiday tradition for us ever since we first got a hold of Shirlee Londer’s raspberry jam. It’s an interesting coincidence that jam-making operations seem to go hand-in-hand with many of the vineyards that we are sourcing from this year; so we are eagerly anticipating our family’s Londer vs. Oppenlander jam tasting at the Thanksgiving table in a few weeks. In the meantime, watch this space for our next post, which will delve into the details of the Oppenlander harvest and crush.

Harvest 2010: Londer Vineyard Crush by valleyfog


Londer Vineyards 115 clone

Londer Vineyards 115 clone


The 2010 harvest and crush craziness continues as we rolled through our next round of fruit from Londer Vineyards in Anderson Valley. We sourced two different clones from Londer, 115 and Swan. Different clones ripen at a different pace, and impart different flavors. The 115 came in earlier on October 5, while the Swan came in a few days later on October 8.

Ripening this year was a concern up and down the coast as this growing season was very unpredictable. With late spring rains and a very cool summer, dotted with a couple of heat spikes, it was unclear how well and when fruit would ripen. Veraison, the onset of ripening that happens later in the growing season when red grapes like pinot noir change color from green to purple, arrived later than normal.

As we began to adopt the stress that the winegrowers deal with every day, winegrower Larry Londer was great about keeping us posted with measurements on ripening as September marched on. We look at measurements like Brix, a measurement of sugar levels, and pH, a measurement of acidity. In a normal (ha!) year, target range for ripening can be at around 23.5 Brix or higher. But you can’t look at Brix alone. In late September at Londer, we were seeing the 115 go up past 25 Brix, but the pH was still at around 3.2. An ideal range for Brix and pH in pinot noir if you are looking for a balanced, integrated, and food-friendly wine is 23.5 – 25 Brix and a pH of 3.4 – 3.6.

In the end, while measurements are a guide, you have to rely on other factors: flavors – do the grapes taste sour or sweet?; seeds – green, brown, crunchy?; do the berries come off the stems easily and are they pliable when you squeeze them? chewing the skins; and then it’s just gut instinct.

At the end of September and beginning of October, Northern California finally got its summer and a heat wave set in. Temperatures in Anderson Valley were rising above 100 degrees F. The Londers did a fair amount of irrigation during this heat wave, watering almost every day, to allow the grapes to ripen at the right pace and not get burned or raisin-y. In early October, the 115 finally saw its acids drop enough (it’s confusing – pH goes up means acids go down) and catch up with the sugar levels and they got picked on October 5.


115 sort

Jennifer and our buddy Bryce scrutinize the 115 clone


Waits-Mast Family Cellars has used the 115 clone in a number of our wines as the base clone, blending in 667, 777 or other clones with it. For some of the vineyards we have used, the 115 has imparted more of a floral, bright red cherry flavor. Londer told us that the 115 on their property yields more of a black fruit characteristic.

When the 115 came in on the 5th, the grape clusters were nice and uniform, small to medium sized berries and a tiny percentage of raisins that we pulled off during the hand-sorting process (the fancy new de-stemmer at the winery also de-stems the good berries and leaves the hard raisins on the stems that get ejected out the other side). It had awesome, rich flavors, which are carrying through, along with deep color, as we punch down during the fermentation process. This clone spent 5 days in cold soak and has been fermenting with native yeasts.

We chose the Swan clone because Larry advised that it would impart more red fruit flavors and spice that would balance out the dark fruit of the 115. The Swan clone, which originates from a pinot noir clone that Joseph Swan planted in his Forestville (Russian River Valley) vineyard in 1969, also ripens the latest in their vineyard, so we were intrigued to see how it would come out in a year where everything was ripening late.


Londer Swan clone

Londer's Swan clone at harvest (photo courtesy of Londer Vineyards)


The Swan clone came in on October 8 and was picked at 23.2 Brix and 3.38 pH, less ripe in terms of sugars than the 115, but just as ready. Tasting the berries as they came in, we knew this would provide that bright acidity to the wine as we blend it in with the 115 later on.

The sorting of the Swan was probably the cleanest and easiest sort we had done this harvest. There were little to no raisins and the clusters were beautiful.

We took in two tons (four barrels) of Londer fruit, which is the largest amount of any vineyard we have produced. We are excited to have the extra flexibility with four barrels (vs. two) to blend in different cooperage, clones to create the final product. It all looks very promising right now and as we raise this wine, we’ll do our best to represent everything that Londer Vineyards has to offer.

2010 Vineyard Profile: Londer Vineyards, Anderson Valley by valleyfog


A foggy morning in Londer Vineyards in late September 2010


When we went to our first Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival almost ten years ago, in addition to other consumer-friendly events, we decided to go to the technical conference. It’s a day for growers and winemakers, full of sessions about microbes, yeasts, phenolics and yet, there’s still a fair amount of tasting Anderson Valley pinot noir. We embraced it like the true geeks we are, and enjoyed it all, even though at the time, we didn’t understand half of it.

We sat next to a very nice gentleman who introduced himself as Larry Londer. We hadn’t heard of him, or his winery. He was very welcoming to us curious neophytes and he became one of the many growers and winemakers from this small community that we have gotten to know over the years.

At the 2003 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival we went to a winemaker dinner at the barn at Londer Vineyards featuring wines from Londer, Copain Cellars, and Roessler Cellars. Highlights included the dinner prepared by Wells Guthrie (winemaker at Copain) and the delicious Londer wines (they served a 2001 Gewurztraminer and a 2001 Pinot Noir). We continued to stop by the Londer barn at every subsequent Pinot Noir Festival, and quickly became club members.


Londer Vineyards - Upper Blocks

The upper blocks, including 115 and Swan clones, of the Londer Vineyards


This year, almost ten years later, we are now making pinot noir from Londer Vineyards – another event that marks the continued crazy evolution from wine drinkers to winemakers for us here at Waits-Mast Family Cellars.

Larry and his wife Shirlee moved to Anderson Valley in May of 2000, from Albuquerque, New Mexico, after a three-year search for the right plot of land in this wonderful valley. When we first visited the vineyard the weekend of the winemaker dinner, we distinctly remember Larry driving us up the hill to show us the newly planted vines. They planted 15 acres of pinot noir and one acre of Gewurtztraminer. At the time, the vines were not yielding enough fruit and so to get the winery up and running, they were making incredible wines from other Anderson Valley and Russian River fruit with the help of renowned pinotmaker Greg LaFollette.

Years later, their vineyard has matured and their estate pinot noir, with the guiding hand of current winemaker Rick Davis, delivers incredible depth of flavor with intense dark fruit, layers of earth and herbs with a body that is still svelte and belying. Sound inspirational? You bet.


Larry Londer of Londer Vineyards

Larry Londer checks flavors on a late September morning


Beyond the quality of the fruit at Londer, it’s gratifying for us to be working more closely with Larry and Shirlee Londer. Ever since our first meeting they’ve been down-to-earth and welcoming and this hospitality has continued as we’ve embarked on our own winemaking adventures. So when we were approached by them this year to make our own pinot noir with Londer fruit for the 2010 vintage, we were thrilled.

Londer Vineyard is located west of Philo, California, on the south-west side of Highway 128. A few miles off the road, the vineyards are set corralled by forests of conifer, and benefit from foggy mornings, warm days, and cool nights. Most of the vineyard is on south facing hills with a combination of well-drained sandy loam covering an underlying clay loam. All of these conditions combine to create a perfect environment for the slow development of flavors and structure that makes for an excellent pinot noir.

In 2010, Waits-Mast Family Cellars is proudly making 100 cases of Londer Vineyards pinot noir, utilizing a blend of Dijon 115 and Swan clones. Stay tuned for our next post about harvest and crush of the Londer fruit.


Londer Vineyard Swan clone

Londer Vineyards Swan clone ripening in late September, 2010


Harvest 2010: Wentzel Vineyard Crush by valleyfog
October 4, 2010, 9:00 am
Filed under: Winemaking | Tags: , , ,

Wentzel fruit rolling into the winery in San Francisco

After many vineyard visits, finalizing commitments and fretting about the 2010 growing season, harvest is finally here. The big question every year is, “when to pick?” Some winemakers and winegrowers may have strict guidelines about sugar levels (measured in Brix), others go by color of the seed and other visual indications of ripeness, and many more judge just by tasting the grapes.

While we definitely have opinions about ripeness and flavor development, we also rely heavily on the winegrower’s instinct. They spend much more time with these grapes than we do, and so they are probably the best judge as to when the grapes are ready. This was certainly the case with Roland Wentzel, winegrower for his Wentzel Vineyard in Anderson Valley.

It has been a very cool grape growing season in California with late spring rains and a cool summer. A couple of heat spikes have helped prod things along, but 2010 will be known as a vintage for those with patience. As harvest drew near and temperatures started to climb, giving us a proper summer just as fall arrived, growers and winemakers started to check daily on measurements, flavors, health of the canopy (the leaves above the vines) and overall gut feel.

With temperatures rising in Anderson Valley, Roland emailed us and said that sugars were at 23.5 Brix. All things being equal, a range of 24 – 25 Brix is a pretty good target for more elegant, balanced pinot noir. Given that it was going to get even warmer, we asked how many days away we were from harvest. This is the stage of the game where you go with your gut, and more importantly what the winegrower thinks.

A "field blend" of different clones from Wenztel Vineyard

Roland replied, “A sweet spot is when there is a mini-explosion of flavor with a nice acidic edge, not tart and not pruney.  I think we are close to the sweet spot.” This is what we needed to hear. We said okay – and two days later, he delivered a ton of pinot noir from “the clos,” the small block on his property from which we had arranged to get fruit.

The clos is a small parcel with a mix of clones — 114, 115, 667, 777 — and each clone traditionally ripens at its own pace. But these clones were all picked on the same morning, so the fruit that came in showed a mixture of ripeness. There were a few raisins on clusters that were hold-overs from a heat spike in August — this is something that is pervasive this year from the vineyards that we’ve seen. We easily pulled those off the clusters as we sorted the fruit. Other than that, the berries had great flavor, depth and acidity. The clusters were small — some tiny, others elongated — with small-medium berries.

And thus the elevage (the “raising” of this wine) begins. We will tend to it closely, just as Roland has tended to the vineyard, and will patiently, yet eagerly await its progress. We’ll keep you posted on updates, including pressing, and barrel tasting throughout the coming days and months.