Harvest 2017 is a Wrap by Jennifer

What a strange year. The first Waits-Mast Family Cellars harvest for the 2017 vintage was on September 15 and then we ended up with an 11 day break, while waiting for fruit to develop further. On September 26, we brought in Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc from Mariah Vineyard in Mendocino Ridge. Two days later, we were done; with Pinot Noir picks from Oppenlander Vineyard and Nash Mill Vineyard arriving in the winery on September 28.

Waits-Mast winemaker Shalini Sekhar loads empty bins onto Mariah Vineyards' owner Dan Dooling's truck. Photo: J. Waits/Waits-Mast Family Cellars

Waits-Mast winemaker Shalini Sekhar loads empty bins onto Mariah Vineyards’ owner Dan Dooling’s truck. Photo: J. Waits/Waits-Mast Family Cellars

Continue reading


2017 Waits-Mast Harvest Begins with Wentzel Vineyard by Jennifer

At last, 2017 harvest is underway for Waits-Mast Family Cellars, as our first pick of the season took place at Wentzel Vineyard on Friday, September 15. It’s been a weird few weeks of weather and due to high temperatures, many of our winery friends are much further along with their harvests; some have picked fruit from all of their vineyards already.

Pinot Noir clusters from Wentzel Vineyard from September 15, 2017 pick. Photo: J. Waits/Waits-Mast Family Cellars

Pinot Noir clusters from Wentzel Vineyard from September 15, 2017 pick. Photo: J. Waits/Waits-Mast Family Cellars

Continue reading

2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Recap: Part 1- Technical Conference and BBQ by Jennifer

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival 2010 Begins

Wow. What a great weekend we had in Anderson Valley for the 13th Annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival.

We’ve been going to the festival off and on since 2002. The first three years that we went, we attended the Technical Conference, winemaker dinners, and the Sunday winery Open Houses.

The Technical Conference has always been a highlight for us, as we learned more and more every year about the science of winemaking and grape growing, wine marketing, and food pairing. You can see Brian’s recap of the 2009 Technical Conference here.

This year, for the first time since 2005, both of us were able to attend not only the Technical conference, but also a winemaker dinner, the grand tasting, and open houses. It was an amazing immersion into the world of Pinot Noir and it’s always fun to see friends at the festival, both winemakers and wine drinkers.

The 2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Technical Conference on Friday, May 14, was organized a bit differently, as they opened up the afternoon sessions to consumers, with a line-up of speakers that was less technical than in the morning. The entire event was MC’d by wine writer Jordan Mackay, author of Passion for Pinot.

Getting Technical in the A.M.

Held at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds in Boonville, the conference began early in the morning with a presentation by Tony Linegar of the Mendocino County Agricultural Commission about the European Grapevine Moth.

Tony provided the attendees with breaking news about this damaging, grape eating pest, which was found just a few weeks prior in North Ukiah Valley near a winery. He said that more than 1200 traps have been placed throughout Mendocino County and said that he was confident that the traps work. He expressed concern about Anderson Valley, but stated that so far no months have been found and that the county is not part of any quarantine yet.

Tony speculated that the moth may have arrived in Ukiah on fruit from Napa County and warned that any fruit and vineyard equipment coming from outside of Mendocino County should be scrutinized for evidence of the moth or larvae. Although he said that he was worried about Anderson Valley, he pointed out that “your strength is your isolation.” He also addressed rumors about how the grapevine moth came into the United States (it was first detected in September 2009) and said that there’s no answer yet, although there is an ongoing investigation, with rumors pointing to equipment from Italy or illegally imported cuttings brought in by a grower in Napa. He said that because of the arrival of this moth, every vineyard in the state of California is being trapped and quarantines are in effect for fruit leaving affected areas. Vineyards are advised to inspect fruit coming in from outside of their regions and are asked to power wash or steam clean harvesting equipment to remove all plant material.

The remaining morning presentations focused on the physiology of fruit maturation and on how terroir, clones and winery techniques work to affect mouthfeel in a wine. Things got pretty technical in both presentations, but I appreciated winemaker Greg LaFolette’s insertion of humor into his talk, with quips about “scrotal berries,” “Samsonite selections,” and his remark on disease prevention: “We just don’t want to be bringing the clap into our neck of the woods.”

2009 Barrel Samples

Before lunch we tasted some Pinot Noir barrel samples from the 2009 vintage in order to discuss some of the concepts that we covered in the final presentation before lunch.

Then, the assembled participants (as well as consumers arriving for the afternoon) were invited outside for a lunch of pulled pork sandwiches and accompaniments. It’s the tradition to bring along a bottle of wine to share at lunch and this year people were encouraged to share Anderson Valley Pinot Noir from 2008. We brought a bottle of our 2008 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir from Hein Vineyard and plopped it in the Gazebo along with the other offerings.

After lunch Jim Klein of Navarro Vineyards led a tasting of older wines, including Navarro Pinot Noir from 1991, 1994, and 2000. Although the crowd seemed to enjoy these older wines, Jim said that he tends to be more focused on what he’s currently working on as opposed to wines of the past, saying that to him older wines are “like an octogenarian actress” trotted out and propped up at an awards show. He added, “Most of us don’t age gracefully…it’s sort of like elder porn.” The wines from Navarro, as well as the next set of wines were also matched with an appropriate food pairing.

Pulled Pork Lunch with Gazebo Action in Background

Up next was a tasting focused on the wines made from Rich Savoy’s famed Savoy Vineyard. Along with Rich Savoy, panelists included Eric Sussman from Radio-Coteau, Mike Sullivan from Benovia and Scott Shapley (our former winemaker!) from Roessler.

As we tasting through 2006 and 2007 Pinot Noirs from Savoy Vineyards, the panelists talked about the characteristics of the vineyard and the resulting wines.

Eric said that he appreciated that the vineyard has “a lot of different clonal material to work with” and Scott pointed out that it’s “the most complex site” that he’s worked with when making wines for Roessler, since there are a variety of blocks with different characteristics.

Rich also spoke a little about his other vineyard, Deer Meadows, which is one of the vineyards that we sourced from in 2009. Located up at 1600 feet (compared with the Savoy Vineyard located just off highway 128), Deer Meadows will be used in a few vineyard designate wines this year.

What's in Those Glasses?

The next presentation featured Dan Sogg (formerly of The Wine Spectator) talking about the merits and drawbacks of the 100 point scale for wine ratings.

He pointed out that even though he has some “ambivalence” about the scale, it is “THE industry standard” and “everyone understands it.” He explained that the 100 point system is “brilliant wine marketing” in that it “touches our desire for control.”

He also suggested that everyone participate in a blind wine tasting in which wines are scored and then bottles are rearranged and scored again. Dan explained that the order in which we taste can have a profound effect on how we rate a wine and demonstrated by having the audience taste 2 juices. Half of the room tried orange juice first and the other half tried grapefruit first. In this unscientific test, we saw that those who tried grapefruit juice first were more likely to prefer it and those who tried orange juice first were more likely to prefer the orange juice. He argued that a wine’s position in a tasting matters, just as the position of the fruit juice had an effect on the conference attendees.

Dan also argued that since people are “hard-wired” to notice “change,” bigger, richer wines tend to stand out more in tastings and that subtle wines don’t tend to do as well. The downside of this is that high scoring wines aren’t always the best wines for the long haul. Dan said that these wines often age badly and that “Many of the highest scoring wines don’t play well with others…and hog the table” due to their bold style.

Small Bottles from DeLoach

He added that that trying 70 different wines in one day and judging them isn’t “very useful” and argued that very few people can “make consistent judgments” when trying that many wines in a day. Dan also said that when wines are judged by a group panel (vs. by a single taster), the ensuing ratings are flawed like a “horse designed by committee.”

The final session of the day was an overview of a new service that launched on May 3rd called Through this company, small 50ml sample bottles of wine can be produced as both a marketing tool and a method for sharing samples with potential customers. These small bottles can also be bundled into boxed tasting kits containing a handful of bottles. Interestingly, this is quite similar to the previously launched Crushpad service TinyBottles.

After a full day of information and imbibing, we headed over to Standish for the post-conference BBQ. We caught up with some friends who we see every year at the festival, ate some delicious food, and again sampled from the bottles brought to the event by the attendees. It was a great start to the festival.

Jennifer soaks up the sun at the BBQ after a day of geeking out at the technical conference

Irish Wine Travel, Part 1: Our Visit to Lusca Vineyards in Ireland by Jennifer

Lusca Vineyards in Ireland

This Sunday we’ll be celebrating our Irish heritage at the event, When Irish Wines are Smiling, up in Rutherford.

Although it’s billed as an Irish wine tasting, the wine being poured is from U.S. winemakers of Irish descent.

There’s a long tradition of Irish emigrants (known as “wine geese“) starting up wine making ventures all over the world, and subsequently wineries with a distinct Irish heritage can be found from France (Chateau Lynch Bages) to Napa (Sullivan Vineyards) to Australia (Jas Hennessy & Co.).

As we gear up for that event, we figured it was time to taste some of the REAL Irish wine that we brought back with us from the Emerald Isle. When Brian and I were planning our trip to Ireland last summer, I became obsessed with tracking down wineries, vineyards, and winemakers. I’d heard rumors that there were a few brave souls attempting to grow grapes in Ireland’s hostile climate (rain, clouds, cold, little sun) and I made it my mission to find them.

Armed with the handy reference guide, The Wines of Britain and Ireland, I tried to make contact with the owners of the 5 vineyards listed. We managed to visit 2 of them (it’s unclear if the others even exist anymore), bringing back wine from both.

David Llewellyn at Lusca Vineyards

Last weekend we tasted 2 selections from David Llewellyn’s Lusca Vineyard, located in the countryside of Lusk, just north of Dublin.

David started working with vineyards 10 years ago and was originally “bitten by the bug” while working with a vine grower in Germany.

In Spring 2003 he planted vines and apples on his current property in Lusk. Although he has some traditional, open-air vines which are “not very productive,” the majority of David’s vineyards are housed in tunnels. Some of the challenges he faces include grapes that rarely ripen (in open air) and crop-destroying wasps that will decimate the vineyard if they discover ripening fruit. The first commercial release from Lusca Vineyard was the 2005 vintage.

Although his wine making venture is notable, it’s a tiny fraction of David’s overall farming business, as he has quite a reputation for his apples, apple juice and cider. Last year he only made several hundred bottles of wine, which he sells at Farmer’s Markets, in a few restaurants, and directly to customers. In the near future one will also be able to purchase Lusca wines from David’s soon-to-be-launched website Fruit and Vine.

Grapes on the Vine at Lusca Vineyards, Ireland

It was amazing for us to see the sheer numbers of grape varietals that he squeezed into his tunnels in Lusk.

David is growing Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Schoenburger, New York Muscat, Pinot Noir, and Dunkelfelder under cover. According to David, these vines are “summer-protected with over-row polythene cloche.”

His open-air vines include Rondo, Regent, Phoenix, and Madeleine Angevine grapes and David has successfully produced wine from these vineyards as well (a 2006 red wine).

The wines of his that we sampled last weekend were a refreshing, lemony 2006 Lusca Sauvignon Blanc and a 2007 Lusca Cabernet/Merlot. Both were produced from grapes grown under cover and they were very limited production (80 bottles of the Sauvignon Blanc and 250 bottles of the Cabernet/Merlot were made). They were both pleasant to drink and we even enjoyed the chilled Sauvignon Blanc a day later, which Brian described as crisp and acidic, with light pear flavors.

We were so impressed by David’s passion for winemaking and he’s truly a renegade in Ireland. Since he isn’t part of a winemaking community and is making such small quantities of wine, he has to be creative about ways to save on labor and expense. For example, he has one wine label and simply hand-writes the name of the wine and vintage on each bottle. He has his own crusher and press, but doesn’t make enough wine to justify using barrels (so he uses glass or plastic containers for storage and adds oak chips to his red wines).

Lusca Irish Wine

David prided himself on the fact his grapes are grown organically and are disease-free without the use of fungicides. He also doesn’t filter his wines. He recognizes that there are nay-sayers who critique his method of growing, but he pointed out that every winemaker makes choices and he questioned whether or not using fungicide could also be considered “cheating.”

Since we’re focused entirely on Pinot Noir in our own winemaking endeavors, I asked him a bit about his efforts with that grape. He told us that he just has a few Pinot Noir vines, currently not enough to make wine from. His plan is to plant more Pinot Noir and is anticipating a harvest in 2011 for wine in 2012.

To get some more perspective on winemaking in Ireland, I talked to Stephen Skelton, author of The Wines of Britain and Ireland and UK Vineyards Guide 2010. According to Stephen, there are only 3 Irish vineyards listed in his current guide. He explained that some of the older vineyards in Ireland (rumor has it that some date to the 1950s) were just not productive enough. According to Stephen, “Basically Ireland is too cool and wet. They can grow some apples there, but its mainly Bramleys which are cookers and do not require that much sugar, and growing grapes outside would be difficult.”

He added that, “Tunnels are legitimate and there is nothing in the law that says wine grapes have to be grown outside. One of the best UK reds – Beenleigh – is made from Cab and Merlot grown in tunnels.”

Kudos to David Llellewyn for his commitment to making wine in Ireland. Although most people think it’s crazy to even try, I admire his perseverance and I’m always one to champion the underdog. I’m reminded of a comment that I read about Tool front man Maynard James Keenan’s Arizona wine making project (chronicled in the film “Blood into Wine”). Someone quipped, “why doesn’t he just make wine in Napa.” Well….isn’t that the point?

New Wine Documentary “Blood into Wine” Chronicles Arizona Winery with Rocker Roots by Jennifer

Music and Wine Collide at Noise Pop 2010

When I scanned the schedule for the annual Noise Pop music festival in San Francisco I was surprised to see that amid all of the film festival events, there was a screening of Blood into Wine, a documentary about winemaking.

As I read more about it, I was even more intrigued since it tells the tale of a musician-turned-winemaker who is pioneering a full-scale wine operation in the hostile conditions of Northern Arizona.

We don’t often think about the worlds of rock and roll and winemaking colliding, but in this instance the connection is forged by the passion of Maynard James Keenan.

He made his mark as a musician with TOOL, A Perfect Circle and Puscifer and now has legions of fans lining up to buy his Caduceus wines (an audience member at the film screening told me that she had her mother stand in line for 4 hours at a Whole Foods in order to get a signed bottle of Maynard’s wine).

From the film (screened last night at Viz Cinema in San Francisco), it’s clear that this isn’t just a celebrity slapping his name on a bottle of wine. Keenan is living and breathing his winemaking project and talks about the similarities between making art/music and making wine.

Director Ryan Page told me that Maynard wasn’t always a wine drinker, preferring to drink beer when he was back stage at shows. When he saw that the record executives were drinking wine, he took notice and his wine exploration began.

Grabbing some free Wente wine at the film's reception

Maynard moved to northern Arizona in 1995 and eventually began his project to plant grapes in the Verde Valley after purchasing a vineyard in 2003.

Under the guidance of his winemaking mentor Eric Glomski (formerly a winemaker at David Bruce, he’s the owner and winemaker at Page Springs Vineyards and Cellars and co-owner of Arizona Stronghold Vineyards), he started to make wine with fruit sourced from Arizona and California and began planting his Merkin vineyards in Arizona at elevations between 4200 and 4800 feet.

The film Blood into Wine chronicles the winemaking process, from planting to pruning to veraison to harvest to processing to blending and bottling.

The romanticism and spirituality inherent in the vineyards and the land is beautifully portrayed, but is also interspersed with interviews with music writers and TOOL fans, comedic interludes, and sassy one-liners from Maynard (ever the performer).

We learn about the challenges of growing grapes in Jerome, Arizona; from packs of wild boars eating the grapes to cold snaps and snow. But we also see imagery of Maynard and Eric “on tour” doing meet and greets at Whole Foods and sitting down for radio interviews about their wine venture.

Yet despite all of the fans and the rock star persona, both Eric and Maynard say in the film that “we’re not chasing scores,” with Maynard adding, “we’re like an indie band.”

“Blood into Wine” premiered last week and is now in limited release in various cities in the U.S. For those in San Francisco, it will be screened again tonight (Feb. 26th) at Artists Television Access as part of the Noise Pop Film Festival.

2008 Pinot Noirs are Bottled and Numbered by Jennifer
Getting Ready to Bottle the 2008 Vintage

Getting Ready to Bottle the 2008 Vintage

This is the time of the year when things start to get a bit crazy around the winery. Last night we just finished bottling our 2008 Pinot Noirs and are expecting some of our grapes to come in from the 2009 vintage within the next week.

We decided to emphasize the “small lot” angle starting this year and opted to go DIY by hand numbering each bottle of wine. Jennifer also digs the fact that this personal touch is reminiscent of hand-numbered limited edition vinyl records.

Figuring that this task was more than our 20 fingers could handle, we enlisted the help of several wine pals last night and made a party out of boxing up, numbering, and sealing up all 75 cases (900 bottles) of 2008 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir.

Bottling the 2008 Waits-Mast Amber Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir

Bottling the 2008 Waits-Mast Amber Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir

The evening began with us tasting samples of the 2008 Pinot Noir from La Encantada Vineyard (Sta Rita Hills) and the 2008 Pinot Noir from Amber Ridge (Russian River).

We’re really happy with how the wines have developed and think they are super tasty already. With our stamp of approval the bottling began for La Encantada, followed by Amber Ridge. As the bottles came off of the bottling line we loaded them into the cardboard cases and Jennifer meticulously marked each box with a set of numbers (1-12, 13-25, etc.) to make our hand-numbering task a bit easier.

As our friends Richard, Bryce, and Darleen arrived, we slipped off into another room with our metallic markers in order to hand number each bottle’s label (1-300 for each vineyard-designate). Along with the Amber Ridge and La Encantada, we also worked to number the previously bottled (as of a few weeks ago) 2008 Hein Vineyard Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley.

We were so glad to have the help, as writing numbers on the tiny space on each bottle required a lot more concentration than we’d anticipated. It was still a lot of fun, and we joked about our favorite (1/300, 30/300, 111/300) and least favorite numbers (anything with 8s or with 3 digits).   We resisted the urge to mark bottles with secret messages, our initials, or whimsical numbers (Jennifer was very tempted to write her favorite radio station’s frequency of 89.7 when she got to bottle number 89)…at least this year.
The 300th Bottle

The 300th Bottle

We’re anticipating that we’ll release the 2008 Waits-Mast Amber Ridge Pinot Noir in November 2009 and will release the Hein and La Encantada in Spring 2009.

In the meantime, we’re about to begin the whole wine-making process for 2009. Our grapes from Amber Ridge Vineyard are expected to be picked this week, with others to follow in September/October and we are excited to again hand-sort the grapes.

Thanks again to our friends for the help with numbering, loading bottles into boxes, and lifting and sealing up cases of wine. We hadn’t anticipated all of the manual labor that would be involved and thank Bryce for volunteering to do much of the heavy lifting.

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival 2009: Day 1 by valleyfog
BOONVILLE, CA — May 15, 2009. As we’ve mentioned before, Jennifer and I have been attending the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir festival for a number of years now. We have such an affinity for the valley because of the remoteness, the tight-knit community and of course, for the amazing wines, specifically Pinot Noir, made there. Now that we’re making Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley, it is a thrill for us to actually pour our wines for the first time at the festival’s Grand Tasting this year.

Mendocino County Fairgrounds, home of the AV Pinot Fest Technical Conference

Mendocino County Fairgrounds in Boonville, home of the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Technical Conference

There are many events at the festival, which runs from May 15 – May 17. Day one kicks off with a technical conference at the Mendocino Fairgrounds for winemakers, grapegrowers, industry folk and the wine geek in all of us consumers. It is something we attended years ago as a lark (okay, we’re kind of geeky that way), and we really enjoyed it, even though we may not understand everything being discussed. The agenda is usually a selection of presentations on oenology and viticulture, some wine tasting and a presentation on marketing to consumers. This year, the growing and winemaking themes were on water use, native fermentations and native microflora and clonal selections in Burgundy. The tastings focused on different appellations and vineyards in and around Anderson Valley.


The first tasting of the day - a clean tasting mat!

The first tasting was focused on Greenwood Ridge. Greenwood Ridge actually overlaps between the Anderson Valley appellation and the Mendocino Ridge appellation. The Mendocino Ridge appellation is further west and runs along the coast. To be appellation-designate, vineyards must be above 1200 feet, which is necessary to stay above the fogline and get enough sunlight and warmth for the grapes to gain full ripeness. The conditions are probably similar to the true Sonoma Coast vineyards like Hirsch Vineyard. While it would seem that the temperature would be cooler closer to the coast, the grapes in Mendocino Ridge get more hours of sunshine because they are above the fogline, while the valley floor gets fog rolling in early in the evening, making for shorter days of sun. I tried two Pinot Noirs from Greenwood Ridge and one from Ferrari-Carano and they all had good structure – medium tannins, with the F-C exhibiting darker fruit characteristics than the Greenwood Ridge wines.

We broke for “A Very Good Lunch,” which was indeed very good: huge lamb burgers on delicious ciabatta bread. This paired well with the BYOB selection of Pinot Noirs available at the gazebo on the grounds. I brought two bottles of our 2007 Wentzel Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley to share with any takers and both were quickly consumed with lots of nice compliments like “great depth and complexity,” “long finish,” and “great mouthfeel.” Remember, this is a tough crowd – local growers and winemakers.

My lunchmate Colin and local winemaker Mary Elke holding forth over lamb burgers

My lunchmate Colin and local winemaker Mary Elke holding forth over lamb burgers

Lunch was followed by a flight of Goldeneye vineyard-designate Pinot Noirs from up and down the valley. Winemaker Zach Rasmussen walked us through the climate variations that along the valley, from Boonville to the “deep end”, the area adjacent to the redwoods that separate it from the coast.  The group tasted Goldeneye wines from the Confluence, Gowan Creek and Narrows vineyards. They were all lush, yet showing good structure and owner Dan Duckhorn made no apologies for the more forward (yet restrained by California standards) style of Pinot Noir they make.

Later in the afternoon, photographers Andrea Johnson and Bob Holmes walked through some of their photos from their recently released book, Passion for Pinot, co-authored by Jordan Mackay. Jennifer actually poured our wines at a Passion for Pinot book event at Omnivore in San Francisco, an event which I was unable to attend. So it was nice to introduce myself to Bob and Andrea and hear their stories about traversing the West coast and meeting the growers and winemakers behind some of the best Pinot Noirs in America.

The last tasting of the day was led by a Master Sommelier from the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Joe Phillips led a tasting of three different Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs to demonstrate how a sommelier will describe these to customers at restaurants like Michael Mina in the Bellagio. Phillips noted that the Bellagio has 11 fine dining establishments, in addition to 20 other food and beverage outposts and buys over $40 million of wine every year. As he described it, “the Bellagio is like a village.” In the tasting, he pointed out the distinct elements of Claudia Springs, Handley and Foursight wines. He described the Foursight wine as “Flintstones Vitamins” and that apparently was a good thing. The wine showed different fruit flavors that you would find in those vitamins (cherry, lime, orange, etc.) and had the minerality you would get such daily supplements. After hearing that description, I could totally see the parallel. When I was a child, I almost had to get my stomach pumped from eating too many Flintstones vitamins in one sitting, so that description may not be the most positive one for me.

Copious tasting notes for copious amounts of wine...

Copious tasting notes for copious amounts of wine...

After consuming copious amounts of information and wine, I wrapped the day with the BBQ social at Husch Winery. Jennifer and I had never been to this event in the past, so it was fun to hang out with the locals and visitors and down some good pulled pork sandwiches and Pinot Noir. At a certain point, a few of us were ready to diverge from Pinot and try some of the other wines at the BYOB table. I had a glass of the Cole Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon from Esterlina and it was excellent: lush, rich blackberry and blueberry fruit with wonderful toasty vanilla and cocoa. Finally, the few of us hanging at the outdoor bar decided it was time to go and rest our palates for the big grand tasting the next day.