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.


Harvest 2009 Tour: Savoy’s Deer Meadow Ranch Vineyard by Jennifer
115 clone pinot noir on the vine at Deer Meadow Ranch vineyard

115 clone pinot noir on the vine at Deer Meadow Ranch vineyard

As we often have written, we are fans of all sorts of pinot noir, from New World to Old World. There are many variations just within the state of California, and our portfolio of vineyard-designate wines celebrates this diversity of flavor.

From the romantic getaways passing through the valley to the geek-out technical conferences at the pinot noir festivals at the Boonville Fairgrounds, Anderson Valley, though, has always tugged at our heart.

Because of our great love for Anderson Valley, this year we decided to expand our offering of wines from that region. Brian started putting out feelers when he was at the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival in May and as harvest drew near, we had leads on a number of amazing vineyards with fruit to spare.

In mid-September we traveled up to Anderson Valley to take a look at a few of our vineyard options for the 2009 vintage and were quite pleased with our options. One of our first stops was Rich Savoy’s Deer Meadow Ranch Vineyard. It sits at 1600 feet above Boonville and it was quite an adventure getting there. We traversed a winding dirt road and were treated to commanding views of Anderson Valley along the way.

Rich Savoy has made quite a name for himself in the wine world and his grapes have gone into many highly regarded wines. He has two vineyards: Savoy (in the benchlands off Highway 128 in Boonville) and the Deer Meadow Ranch Vineyard high in the hills above Anderson Valley. Coincidentally, on the day of our visit Rich had just received a copy of the brand-new Wine Spectator, featuring their top ranked California Pinot Noirs for the year. There on the cover was a Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir made by Roessler.

Before embarking on his wine career, Rich started out in the book business and was the owner of Green Apple Books in San Francisco, which he founded in 1967.  Being fans of neighborhood bookstores (and Green Apple customers), we were happy to learn about this connection.

Rich Savoy prunes the vines as harvest approaches at Deer Meadow Ranch

Rich Savoy prunes the vines as harvest approaches at Deer Meadow Ranch

Rich toured us around his vineyards and it was clear that he’s meticulous about his grapes.  They are farmed organically and planted in a northwest orientation (approximately 22 or 23 degrees off north) in 12 blocks that make up about 9.3 acres total. We then retired to Rich’s kitchen to snack on apples and discuss the details. We were impressed with both the vineyard and Rich’s attention to detail in tending to his vineyards, so we were honored to purchase some of his fruit.

We prefer to use lighter, more floral clones like 115 as the base for our wines, giving us the option to add punch, structure and lift in the blending process. In making the decision to get grapes from Rich’s Deer Meadow Ranch vineyard, we went for a mix of 115 and Wadenswil. Wadenswil is a Swiss clone that was imported from the town of the same name in the 1950s. The clone has a little more tannin than 115, which will add structure to the wine, and according to John Haeger’s North American Pinot Noir, “is prized mostly for brilliant, high-toned berry fruit and impressive perfume.”

With our big decision behind us, we awaited the amazing fruit and on September 24th it was delivered and we hand-sorted both clones. We placed them in the same bin to go into a nice 5-day cold soak and to co-ferment to a temperature not to exceed 86 degrees Fahrenheit (so as not to over-extract the fruit.) The fermentation needed a little coaxing, so we inoculated with RC212 yeast, a yeast that we have used selectively with other wines with great results.

Pinot noir fruit Savoy's Deer Meadow Ranch vineyard at sorting

Pinot noir fruit from Savoy's Deer Meadow Ranch vineyard at sorting

After fermentation, we pressed the wine on October 5th and it has excellent promise. The first taste of free run juice that ran through the press was tart, showing a lot of acid. After pressing through to 1.2 bars, the wine smoothed out, showing amazing structure, creamy raspberry aromas and cocoa notes. All of these important components will integrate as the wine rests quietly in neutral and new (Cadus tight grain, medium toast) barrels. We’re excited to pay this wine a visit in a few months and see how it is progressing.

It was a great experience for us to venture out and shop around for new fruit sources and trust our own judgement (and the reputation of great wines as well) in expanding our portfolio of pinot noirs. We can’t wait to deliver our customers the results of this journey.

Crush ’09: Amber Ridge pressing by valleyfog
Tasting the Amber Ridge juice in increments

Tasting the Amber Ridge juice in increments

The crush is on and Jennifer and I are busier than ever this harvest season. We’re expanding our Pinot Noir portfolio quite a bit this year (more news on that in future posts), so we’re going through waves of sorting and pressing. The Amber Ridge fruit from Russian River came in first and has gone through its cold soak (5 days) and fermentation process and we pressed it in two different sessions. We pressed the 115 clone first as that fruit came in about 4 days before the 667 and 777 came in.

With 115, we moved about 40 gallons, or about 2/3 of the barrel, from the bin to a neutral oak barrel. The remaining grapes and juice were pressed in increments of .2 bars, a measurement that roughly translates to pounds-per-square inch. The pressing happens in a large EuroPress, a machine that has a bladder that slowly expands with increasingly larger amounts of pressure on the skins. The more you press, the more color and flavor you extract from the grapes. You don’t want to press Pinot too much, as you don’t want to overpower the wine with too many tannins or too much bitterness from the seeds and skins.

Jennnifer does the taste test on a sunny Sunday

Jennnifer does the taste test on a sunny Sunday

After going through various increments, we stopped at 1.1 bars. Some of the increments generated the sweetness of the grape, while others revealed earthier flavors, like herbal tea, that come from the tannins. It all mixes together to provide structure, balance and hopefully, complexity.

After filling up the rest of the barrel of 115, a few days later we went back into the winery to press the 667 and 777 clones, which were co-fermenting. After about 45 gallons of free run juice were transferred to a new Francois Freres M+ oak barrel, we went through the same pressing process, this time going up to 1.2 bars. In tasting the fermented juice, we noticed lots of red and darker fruit flavors and a nice pucker of acidity. 667 and 777 carry more tannin and up-front fruit flavor, respectively, so they will complement the 115 base that we have in the other barrel.

Now the two barrels are cozy in the winery, awaiting the occasional topping (extra wine to ensure the barrel is filled all the way to the top and no oxidation takes place) and future barrel tastings. The 2009 Amber Ridge is off to a great start and portents to be a lush and complex Pinot Noir. We’ll keep you posted on its progress throughout the year.

Gorgeous Russian River Pinot Noir wine ready for barrel

Gorgeous Russian River Pinot Noir wine ready for barrel

2008 Pinot Noirs: tasting notes and blending by valleyfog
Blending session for 2008 Hein Vineyard Pinot Noir

Blending session for 2008 Hein Vineyard Pinot Noir

We’re coming up on that time of year when things get a little crazy on the winemaking side. Final blending and bottling of last year’s harvest happen this month and then soon enough the next crop comes in, headed for barrels.

Today, Jennifer and I did a tasting and review of our 2008 Pinot Noirs and went through some final blending before we bottle them. We’re extremely happy with these wines. 2008 was a challenging year — known as the year of “fire and ice” (forest fires in the late summer, frost in the spring) — but overall, the climate up and down the coast was dry, producing wines of a similar ripeness and intensity as 2007.

In 2008, we have three different vineyard-designate wines: Hein Vineyard from Anderson Valley, Amber Ridge Vineyard from Russian River Valley and La Encantada Vineyard from Sta. Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County.

We sat down with our winemaker Chris Nelson and tasted the Hein Vineyard Pinot Noir first. Due to the fires in Mendocino, this wine was 100% free run juice, no pressing (to avoid the smoke), but surprisingly, the resulting wine has a beautiful deep ruby/purple color. The brightness and acidity of this 115 clone Pinot Noir really shine through, showing the classic characteristics of that “old-fashioned Anderson Valley Pinot Noir” that we like so much.

Against this 115 “control” we tried six different samples, blending varying amounts of other clones we had at our disposal, Pommard and 777 (both from Hein Vineyard). In the end, we went with a blend of the 115 clone and 777 to round it out and bring out the best of the wine: wonderful floral notes on the nose and bright cherry and strawberry on the palate that finishes clean and bright. The wine is lovely now, and it will develop layers as it ages in the bottle.

Tasting notes from the day

Tasting notes from the day

Our next wine, from the Amber Ridge Vineyard in the Russian River, took a little less head-scratching, as we only tried two different blends. This Pinot Noir was co-fermented with both 115 and 777 clones and right off the bat is highly drinkable.

The nose shows strawberry and red cherry and a little baking spice. On the palate is the classic Amber Ridge that we love (and have missed – the last time we made this wine was in 2005): sweet cherry, lush fruit, and a smooth finish.

To add a little more structure, we blended in some 667 clone from the same vineyard and it really hit the mark. The 667 enhanced the aromatics with a touch of earth, livened the mid-palate with more structure and rounded out the finish with a bit of creaminess.

We also took a quick look at our 2008 La Encantada. This is our most intense wine. Well, as intense as our balanced style of Pinot Noirs goes. The hillside placement of this vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills and the proximity to a mountain gap that exposes it to coastal fog and winds produces a low-vigor environment that delivers a lush cherry, raspberry and dark berry mix. We’ll be back with a post on final tasting notes for this wine, but at first glance, it will be another great, lush representation of Richard Sanford’s wonderful organically farmed vineyard.

Brian puts his nose to work

Brian puts his nose to work

All three of these wines will be bottled this month. Release dates have yet to be determined, but keep a look out for a release this Fall. We walked away from today’s session very excited about our 2008 vintage and feel they will be incredibly layered and delicious Pinot Noirs.  We’re enjoying them now and feel that they will continue to develop beautifully in the bottle over time. Stay posted for release dates and final tasting notes and specs, as well as our first harvest reports in September.