ValleyFogBlog


2014 Harvest Begins by Jennifer
September 15, 2014, 12:01 am
Filed under: Events, Winemaking | Tags: , , , , , ,
Wentzel Vineyards Pinot Noir arrives

Wentzel Vineyard fruit arrives

It’s only mid-September and we are more than halfway through harvest at Waits-Mast Family Cellars. In addition to being in constant communication with our growers and our wine making facility about pick logistics, we’ve also been out doing tasting appointments, pouring at events, and scrambling to buy more barrels to hold our increasingly growing production (we plan to surpass 500 cases this year!). Our first harvest of 2014 was at Wentzel Vineyard in Anderson Valley on September 4. We greeted grower Roland Wentzel when he delivered the fruit to the winery in San Francisco that evening (after braving city traffic jams) and then raced home to pack for a trip up to Anderson Valley and Mendocino the following day.

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2013 Harvest is On… by Jennifer
Wentzel Vineyard Harvest 2013

Harvest 2013 at Wentzel Vineyard in Anderson Valley (photo: J. Waits)

Just when 2013 seemed like it would be an uneventful, dare we say, “normal” growing season, we were tossed a few interesting twists. It got me wondering if there really is such a thing as a normal year. Certainly 2013 is less stressful than some other years in which we had atypically cold summers. Rather than waiting and waiting for fruit to ripen this year, we ended up harvesting 2 weeks earlier than last year in some cases. But some of the odd twists include bringing in fruit from our coolest vineyard (always last to pick) prior to fruit from one of our warmer sites.

Our first Waits-Mast harvest of the year was from Wentzel Vineyard in Anderson Valley. In a nice bit of serendipity, we were up in Mendocino County to participate in WineSong and the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir kick-off tasting the weekend of September 7-8. In the course of our vineyard checks that weekend, we learned that we’d be in the area on the day of the Wentzel pick. Continue reading



Exit 2012, Welcome 2013 by valleyfog
Deer Meadows Vineyard, Anderson Valley

Deer Meadows Vineyard, Anderson Valley

With 2012 barely a glimmer in our rear-view mirror, we’re excited about all that 2013 will bring. 2012 was a good year in many ways, so we thought we would take a quick look back at some of the highlights of the year for our little winery and provide a brief preview of what to expect in 2013. Here are four things, in no particular order, about 2012 that made the year in winemaking for Waits-Mast Family Cellars a great one, plus a preview of things to come:

1. The 2012 Vintage: the growing season this year was consistent and cool with minimal disruptions. A few heat spikes here or there, but nothing to worry about. In 2012, we became more focused on Mendocino County and decided to only use pinot noir fruit sourced from that region, working with vineyards from Anderson Valley to Mendocino Ridge to Comptche. We worked with a total of five different vineyards this year, continuing with Wentzel Vineyard in Anderson Valley and Oppenlander Vineyard in Comptche. We returned to Deer Meadows Vineyard, 1600 feet above Anderson Valley and worked with two vineyards for the first time: Nash Mill in Anderson Valley and Mariah in the Mendocino Ridge appellation. Besides being in Mendocino County, what these vineyards also have in common is that each is independently-owned, small and well managed. We just barrel tasted the 2012s the other day and we’re excited for this vintage – but patience will need to prevail as the wines will be in barrel for a number of months (except for a rosé…wait, did we say rosé? Look at the 2013 preview for more info.)

2. Tasting Events: 2012 was a year where we poured at more events than ever. We continued to pour at our favorites, like the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival and Pinot Days, but also tried out some new events like Taste of Mendocino and Winesong. And every once in a while, a special opportunity comes along. Being able to pour our wine at Sideways the Play in Santa Monica this past summer was a blast. The play naturally drew a crowd of Pinot Noir fans and it was a treat for Brian to meet Rex Pickett, author of Sideways and Vertical. The best thing about all of these events is seeing old friends and meeting new ones. We’re always up for talking about wine, whether we’re geeking out about clones or cold soaks or just enjoying the wine and trading stories with our visitors. Inevitably, a colorful remark or gesture arises and our day is made.

Wine & Spirits Best 100 Wines 2012

Wine & Spirits Best 100 Wines of 2012

3. Accolades: our wines continued to garner strong trade press and blog reviews. Each of our 2009 vintage Pinot Noir wines received good reviews in outlets like Wine Enthusiast, PinotFile, Wine & Spirits, Daily Sip and more. The inclusion in Wine & Spirits’ “Best 100 Wines of 2012” was definitely a highlight. We were honored to have the 2009 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir from Deer Meadows Vineyard featured among some of the best wines across the world. In the PinotFile newsletter, our 2009 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir from Oppenlander Vineyard in Mendocino County received a Pinot Geek rating from the Prince of Pinot and made his 2012 California Pinot Noir All-Americans list (honorable mention).

4. Restaurants and Wine Shops: we’ve been working hard to get our wines in restaurants and wine shops to make it easier for people to try and buy our wines. It was great to have the support and response from wine stores like Wine Club Santa Clara, K&L Wines, SF Wine Trading Co, Canyon Market, Wine Exchange, Robert’s Market, and Little Vine. And we’re thrilled to be placed on some incredible wine lists at restaurants like Kokkari, Michael Mina, Brasserie S&P, Liberty Cafe, The Hobbit, moto, L2o, Acadia, Boonville Hotel, MacCallum House and more. For a full list of restaurants and wine stores that carry our wine, go to the News section of our website.

2012 Waits-Mast Rose of Pinot Noir

5. 2013 – a preview: Okay, so here is a short list of things we’re excited about in 2013:

  • Releasing our other two 2010 wines from Oppenlander Vineyard & Archer Family Vineyard (RRV) this Spring
  • Releasing our first rosé of Pinot Noir this Spring  (see photo above)- wine club members will get it first. It is a saignée of the fruit from three different vineyards and it is tasting great already. More to come.
  • Bottling our 2011s and tasting them along the way to see which ones will be ready for a Fall release
  • Pinot Days Chicago – it used to be in November, but now is in April. We love the “home crowd” here as Brian’s Midwestern roots harken him back home.
  • The 2013 vintage – so hard to think about the next vintage when we feel like we just wrapped up 2012, but harvest will be here before you know it.
  • Hopefully seeing and hearing from you, our fans, along the way. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for all of these updates and more.

With that, we wish you the happiest of New Year’s and a bountiful and peaceful 2013.



Adventures in Urban Winemaking: A Tale of Two Bins by Jennifer
October 1, 2012, 9:56 pm
Filed under: Winemaking | Tags: , , ,
Two bins nestled inside a rented cargo van

Two bins nestled inside a rented cargo van

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.

Vineyard drawing

Brian makes it to the vineyard with his cargo van (Drawing by B. Waits-Mast)

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.



2012 Harvest Begins in Anderson Valley by Jennifer
Fruit on the Vine at Deer Meadows Vineyard (Photo: J. Waits)

Fruit on the Vine at Deer Meadows Vineyard (Photo: J. Waits)

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.

Collecting Samples from Deer Meadows (Photo: J. Waits)

Collecting Samples from Deer Meadows (Photo: J. Waits)

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's new refractometer (Photo: J. Waits)

Brian’s new refractometer (Photo: J. Waits)

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.

Oppenlander Vineyard (Photo: J. Waits)

Oppenlander Vineyard (Photo: J. Waits)

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.

Wentzel Vineyard (Photo: J. Waits)

Wentzel Vineyard (Photo: J. Waits)

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.

Peanut Butter on Electric Fence at Wentzel Vineyard (Photo: J. Waits)

Peanut Butter on Electric Fence at Wentzel Vineyard (Photo: J. Waits)

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.

Brian samples Wentzel fruit (Photo: J. Waits)

Brian samples Wentzel fruit (Photo: J. Waits)

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.

Bin full of fruit from Deer Meadows Vineyard (Photo: J. Waits)

Bin full of fruit from Deer Meadows Vineyard (Photo: J. Waits)

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).



Barrel tasting 2010 vintage Pinot Noir by valleyfog
pinot noir barrel tasting

Barrel-tasting the 2010 vintage

The time is nigh – we’re getting ready to bottle our 2010 vintage at long last. As you might remember, 2010 was a very cool vintage, with late spring rains and a cool summer. There were a couple of heat waves in August and then in September and October, which caused a bit of a scramble to pick the fruit before sugars spiked. After closely tracking Brix and pH, visiting the vineyards and poking, pulling and tasting the berries, in the end it came down to a nod and a smile between us and each grower – “let’s pick!”

16 months later, after the wines have gone through fermentation, racking from new to neutral barrels and resting comfortably in the winery, they are ready. Before bottling, we do a final barrel tasting to see how the wines taste and if any final blending is necessary to round out any rough edges.

The challenge when you make small lot, single-vineyard Pinot Noir – lots of either two or four barrels like we do – you don’t have that much to blend in or out. You’re really banking on the vineyard to provide interesting, unique and desirable characteristics – it was even more of a gamble when only made one barrel of a particular vineyard. As we tasted through each of the barrels across the four different vineyards and three different appellations of Pinot Noir, each tasted different, displaying variations on the Pinot Noir theme, and really didn’t require any blending.

In fact, we’re going to leave them as is. That’s our goal in the first place with making single-vineyard Pinot Noir – to retain the site-specific characteristics of each wine, rather than try to blend together the perfect Pinot Noir. We are extremely pleased with all of our 2010s and feel like they are ready for bottling, and soon after going through bottle shock, ready for our fans to enjoy. Here are the tasting notes for the different wines:

2010 Wentzel Vineyard, Anderson Valley: We’re excited for the return of Wentzel, our 2007 effort being the only other vintage we had made from this organically-farmed Anderson Valley vineyard up in the hills above Goldeneye. And a winning effort at that – it was featured in the San Francisco Chronicle’s Top Wines of 2009. We worked with Roland Wentzel to acquire some fruit from a small hillside parcel called “the clos”, which has a mix of Dijon clones 114, 115, 667, 777. From our tasting today, we picked up on aromas of toast, sweet cherry and raspberry with a bright cherry and juicy palate, lively acidity making it dance along to the finish. There is a purity to this wine and is very much reflective of that red-fruit driven Anderson Valley Pinot Noir that we love. Read more about our harvest and crush of this wine here.

2010 barrel tasting notes

Random scribblings on the 2010s

2010 Oppenlander Vineyard, Mendocino County: this is our second vintage from Oppenlander, a small vineyard situated northwest of Anderson Valley, closer to the coast. It has much cooler daytime temperatures and is harvested later than most Anderson Valley wines. This one also has great acidity to it – that oceanic acidity we’ve picked up on before with Oppenlander – and also feels slightly denser than the Wentzel. The wine is a beautiful violet and crimson color and is showing some nice earth and spice notes on the nose, with a sweet cherry palate that has some tannins and chewiness to it. The Oppenlander and the Wentzel will do well with age and we’ll likely release them later in the fall. Read more about Oppenlander and the 2010 harvest here.

2010 Archer Family Vineyard, Russian River Valley: formerly owned by the late Gary Archer, this vineyard is close to Amber Ridge, another Russian River vineyard with which we’ve had great success. We worked with the Dijon 828 clone from this vineyard; 828 tends to have a more dense color pigmentation and lower pH (= higher acids). This wine is ready to come out of its shell – nice herbal and red-fruit notes on the nose, clean cherry and strawberry on the mid-palate and a juicy finish. Expect to see this released in the Spring/Summer timeframe.

2010 Londer Vineyard, Anderson Valley: we made four barrels total from Londer, with a mix of 115 and Swan clones. As we tasted through each glass representing each clone and new(since racked to neutral) and neutral oak barrels, each was displaying an interesting component, from earthiness to tea leaves to chalkiness to bright and pretty flower petals. In the fifth glass, we combined all four barrels and this wine really comes together beautifully. Each of those elements, and others, mix together well to create a Pinot Noir with bright red fruit and a depth of character. Read more about the 2010 harvest and crush of our Londer Vineyard Pinot Noir here.

Jennifer Waits barrel tasting

Jennifer searches for the right adjective

Wow. As we’ve said before, the waiting is the hardest part. You can do your best to respect the fruit in the winemaking process, let the wine take its course and hope everything turns out right. Especially after a stressful vintage due to the cool weather, these wines strike a wonderful balance and have turned out really well.

The 2010 Pinot Noir will continue to evolve, of course, and on release of each vineyard-designate wine, we’ll go into more detail and description in our tasting notes. Until then, we’re thoroughly enjoying our 2009 vintage, as our many of our customers, restaurants, retailers and the press. Head to our web store to see what strikes your fancy and order some Pinot Noir today. After reading all these tasting notes, you must be thirsty!



Harvest 2011: Cold Summer, Late Rains and Bears, Oh My! by valleyfog

Russian River Valley pinot noir arriving at the winery

It’s October 15 and we still are waiting for more pinot noir fruit to get picked and sorted in this 2011 vintage. Today, we sorted our Russian River Valley pinot noir fruit from the vineyard formerly know as Archer Family Vineyard (it was recently sold and new vineyard name is TBD). Usually RRV fruit comes in sometime in mid-late September.

The fact that you have Sonoma fruit getting picked in mid-October tells you what a crazy growing season this has been. Not only did the cool summer push back the phenolic development of the grapes, but the rains in early October caused ripening to stall momentarily. In some cases, it pushed back the ripeness, with sugars going down.

And then, when you get a region like Anderson Valley, where our grapes have come in normally in late September to early October, things are getting pushed back even further. We are still awaiting another lot of Anderson Valley pinot noir, with our Wentzel fruit scheduled for pick on Monday the 17th.

Evidence of a hungry bear at Wentzel Vineyard

And did we say bears? Yes, bears. A little visitor has consumed a few pinot noir clusters at Wentzel Vineyard, further challenging the final yield of the vineyard. Suffice it to say, we are lucky to get our little ton of pinot with all the challenges the year has brought.

Despite all the challenges or idiosyncrasies of the 2011 vintage, the fruit looks *and* tastes good. For growers overall, yields are down due to shatter, dropped fruit because of mold or lack of ripeness and general damage from the rains, but what remains after this close attention to quality are excellent grapes that hopefully are benefiting from an additional two to three weeks of hang time. As Bonne notes in his own 2011 harvest update, more hang time (and cooler growing conditions) means more complexity and more balance.

We’ll see – as Tom Petty growls in his hit from the 80’s, “the waiting is the hardest part.”