ValleyFogBlog


Harvest 2016 Craziness: What Didn’t Happen this Weekend? by Jennifer

We are just back from a long weekend in Mendocino/Anderson Valley for several Winesong-related tasting events. It’s also the thick of harvest, which necessitated a few vineyard visits as well as picks at another two. Meanwhile, Brian celebrated a milestone birthday, so we tried to squeeze in some cake amid all of the wine work.

008_waitsmast

Birthday sign for Brian at the Andiron Inn. Photo: J. Waits

Continue reading



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



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: The Waiting Continues by valleyfog
Londer Vineyard

Swan clone at Londer on October 2, 2011

At this point in October, we’ve normally harvested the majority if not all of our pinot noir from the different appellations with which we source fruit. As of today, we’ve only pulled in one lot of 115 clone pinot noir from Londer Vineyard, and we’re still awaiting the other clone from Londer, Swan, both from Anderson Valley. Nor have we picked our blocks from Wentzel in Anderson Valley, Oppenlander in Comptche and Vineyard 11 (formerly Archer Family) in Russian River Valley.

2011 has proven to be another cool year – similar to 2010, but with a couple of more challenges, or as we like to think about them, opportunities for distinctive wines. 2010 was a very cool growing year in Northern California, especially in the coastal climates, but there were a few heat spikes in August and September. 2011 has been consistently cool, with fewer and less intense warm periods. This has pushed harvest dates out further than last year.

Also adding to the delays have been a couple of rain storms that hit last week across California. If you didn’t get a crew to pick your fruit (often a challenge when everyone wants to pick on the same day) before the rains hit, you have to wait at least a couple of days if not more to let the fruit dry out and avoid any bunch rot. The last of the rains were on Thursday and the earliest we expect to get fruit is on Monday the 10th.

We took a whirlwind trip up to Philo last weekend, staying just over 24 hours, to check out our blocks from the Anderson Valley and Comptche vineyards. Our first stop was Wentzel Vineyard, where upon arrival it was misting rain. We checked in on our the small block called “the clos” from which we get a blend of Dijon clones (114, 115, 667, 777). The most recent measurement of the sugars in the grapes, measured in Brix, was just over 21 Brix. A target zone that we look for in Brix is 23.5 – 24.5 Brix.

Wentzel Vineyard

Brian checking the berries at Wentzel

We’re not die-hard about the numbers, because you have to look at other important factors: acidity, flavor, color and consistency of the seeds, and finally your gut feeling. The berries tasted good and the seeds are starting to get crunchy, so it’s getting there. With the rains coming in and a slow, cool season, we are predicting the Wentzel will come in late this coming week of the 10th.

We took a drive over to Londer Vineyard, further West of Philo, on Sunday morning; clouds were breaking up and the sun was starting to shine. Londer has been partially picked, but the Swan clone usually comes off the vines last. The yield on these vines looks pretty good, despite some shatter (when a grape cluster doesn’t fully mature due to early season growing conditions like cold and wind) and there is a mix of clusters with small berries and some with large berries. The Swan clone is further along, around 23 Brix, and we were getting more flavors from these given that they are closer to ripening. We expect the Swan clone to come in early this coming week.

After a brief visit with Shirlee Londer (and their dogs, which kept our 5 yr old daughter entertained), we took the windy road up to Comptche, about 30 minutes north of the valley, to check out Oppenlander. In the past we have gotten 114 clone from Oppenlander, but we heard of the possibility of some Pommard and 115. We checked out all the vines, tasting berries up and down the rows, and Oppenlander is also looking good. Very minor puckering from the few warm stretches that we’ve had late in the summer. All the vines have a good canopy, which perhaps helped a little bit during the heavy rains in the last week. We will be getting a blend of 114, 115 and Pommard from Oppenlander on Monday the 10th.

Oppenlander Vineyard

Pommard clone on the vines at Oppenlander

Also on Monday, we’re likely to get our pinot (828 clone) from Vineyard 11 near Windsor in Russian River Valley. So it will be a busy couple of weeks at the winery with only one bin fermenting (Londer 115 on its native yeast) and 4+ tons coming in. After that, we’ll be pressing late into the month. We’ll keep you posted on how the rest of the fruit looks when it comes in in our next harvest update.



Countdown to the 2009 Release: Oppenlander Pinot Noir by valleyfog

We continue our countdown the release of our selection of five different vineyard-designate pinot noirs from the 2009 vintage. Last week we looked at Deer Meadows Vineyard in Anderson Valley and this week we head out of Anderson Valley and into the hinterlands of Mendocino County.

Oppenlander Vineyard, Mendocino County

Oppenlander Vineyard is well off the beaten path in Mendocino County outside of the town of Comptche. It’s about eight and a half miles from the Pacific Ocean as the crow flies at an elevation of 250 feet. Oppenlander is owned by the Shandel family, 5th generation owners of the property, and was originally homesteaded in the 1860s by their ancestors from Denmark (via the Gold Rush in Australia). You can read more about our visit to Oppenlander Vineyard in our blog post from last year.

The vineyard sees consistently cool temperatures across the growing season and is harvested later than other regions, closer to when they harvest pinot up in Willamette Valley, Oregon. This cooler temperature range and coastal proximity can deliver a certain “oceanic acidity,” lending structure and complexity to the wine. How does that climate and location translate into the actual flavor profile of the wine? Check out our tasting notes for the 2009 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir, Oppenlander Vineyard:

The most striking observation about the 2009 Oppenlander Pinot Noir is its color – a vibrant violet-red color that has been visible from crush all the way through to the bottle. On the nose, dried lavender mixes with mushroom and earth tones for subtle aromatics. On the palate, tart cherry and raspberry are wrapped in a taut package that shows a lot of balance. Definitely one for aging and well-suited for pairing with your favorite pinot-friendly meal.

Here are the details and specs for this wine:

  • Clone: Dijon 114
  • Harvest/Brix: October 2, 2009 at 24 Brix
  • Alcohol content: 14.2% by volume
  • Fruit: 100% whole berry (no stems)
  • Fermentation: native yeast
  • Barrel aging: 17 months in French oak, 25% new (Remond)
  • Bottled: March, 2011
  • Production: 48 cases

Ahhh the wonders of Mendocino County Pinot Noir! But wait, we have  one more from Anderson Valley – next week we’ll look at our 2009 Hayley Vineyard Pinot Noir.



Harvest 2010: Oppenlander Vineyard Crush and Pressing by valleyfog

Oppenlander Fruit Upon Arrival at Winery, Oct. 2010. Photo by Jennifer Waits.

For many vineyards in the cooler growing valleys and hillsides in Northern California this year, it was unclear when — and sometimes if — grapes would ripen. That was certainly the case at Oppenlander Vineyard in Comptche, California. As we mentioned in our profile of this tucked-away vineyard, it is a little closer to the coast and experiences cooler growing conditions. And with the 2010 growing season as cool as it was, predicting a pick date was like throwing darts.

Luckily a warm beginning to autumn, with no rain in sight for most of October, prodded things along in Mendocino County. By the second week of October, the sugars had passed 23 Brix and pH was hovering around 3.3. Vineyard owners, the Shandels, picked the 114 clone of their pinot noir on October 14 and trucked it on down to us in San Francisco for our Waits-Mast Pinot Noir.

Punching down Oppenlander fruit, October, 2010. Photo by Brian Mast

We knew that the vineyard struggled to ripen this year and so the fruit looked slightly uneven. But as we set to work on sorting, we meticulously sifted through the clusters and berries, throwing away any questionable ones. Berries were small to medium sized and clusters ranged from small and tight to medium and loose.

After a five-day cold soak, the 1.18 tons of fruit went into fermentation mode and needed inoculation with RC212 to stoke the fermentation and get those yeasts converting sugar to alcohol at the right pace.  As we did punchdowns on the fruit, we could start to see that wonderful, vibrant color that we remembered from our 2009 Oppenlander crush and pressing.

At pressing, we transferred the free-run juice to neutral barrels and then moved the rest of the juice and berries through a few cycles. We pressed as high as 1.4 bars and stopped there – the pressed juice went into a new French Damy barrel from the Vosges forest in Burgundy. That vibrant color was still there and the Oppenlander tasted tart, juicy with some earth and tea notes.

Spooky Pre-Halloween Oppenlander Pressing on Oct. 26, 2010. Photo by Jennifer Waits.

After all the fuss about a cool growing year, this could turn out to be a pretty intense wine. The Damy barrel should impart some nice warm spices like cinnamon and clove. We’ll check back with you on its progress throughout the next year or so to see how it evolves and comes into its own.