February 23, 2012

We're on some prestigious Bay Area lists...

To our Bay Area friends--

You'll be pleased to know, that in addition to being available at Draeger's in Menlo Park and Blackhawk, you can now enjoy our Gleason Family 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon at:

November 17, 2011

Late Season in The Valley

Sterling Winery and Three Palms Vineyard
After the late Fall flurry -- the fruit is in, the crush done -- peace descends on the Napa Valley.  For about two weeks the sweet musty smell of grape-becoming-wine is everywhere.  Then things change.  The night lights guiding the pickers are gone.  The port-a-potties in the vineyards are gone.  The flatbed trucks flying down the Silverado Trail are gone.  The rhythm returns.

Celebrate the end of the season.  Take a deep breath and think about the approaching winter rains and the next season.  Mother Nature celebrates.  The vines are going to sleep and, together with the
Clos Pegase
hardwoods, first they celebrate with a riot of color. California has a two-season climate. We are not renowned for Fall color-- but you don't  have to go to Vermont for a great show. 
Growers are fertilizing (manure), planting cover crop, installing erosion control, doing basic maintenance.  

Barn north of Calistoga
And taking in the color.  
Summer vacations don't happen here.  In summer you manage your vineyard.  A lot of Napans "leave Dodge" after Thanksgiving.  Hawaii and Cabo are popular destinations.  There's not much going on here in winter.  It rains like hell with temps in the 40's and an occasional frost.
It's a great time to visit.  The restaurants will welcome you.  A lot of the wineries will make private appointments.  If it's raining find a cozy spot and build a fire.  Take a walk -- the rain and the mists are magical.
Don't forget the Fall.  It explodes with color.  Each year -- each 'vintage' -- is different. 

Peach Orchard at Deer Park and Silverado Trail

November 2, 2011

When it's time...it's time.

Bad weather is rolling in tomorrow, so we picked ahead of the cold and the rain.  Last night we had 50 mph winds over the hilltops.  Broken tree limbs all over the place.  No fires, though-- a real concern at this time of year.  Of course everybody in the valley saw the same weather forecast, so today was frenetic. Our vineyard manager runs crews all over the valley. Many started at daybreak yesterday and shut down around 9:00 PM.  They started up again at 2:00 in the morning (with lights of course) and will probably go to sunset.   Tomorrow will be wet and quiet.

While the pick is on, the vineyard is full of chatter.  Spanish from the pickers while the winemakers talk about brix and anthrocyanins.  The pace is rapid-- a crew will do a few acres-- and several tons-- in an hour.  In the Napa Valley, it's still largely hand work.  Drop the cluster, fill the bin, dump it in the box-- these guys work hard. 

The fall colors, the smells, the noise, it's all in the rhythm of the vineyard.  From the vineyard the fruit goes to the winery.  It's weighed, goes through the crusher-destemmer, and then just soaks-- to extract the best of the color and flavors.  After a few -- or several-- days, the winemaker innoculates the juice with his chosen yeast, and fermentation begins.  Our 2011 crop surpasses expectations-- our yield was up about 20% from 2010.  This is remarkable given the very strange growing season.  Our fruit looks really good.  We look forward to enjoying the wine.

October 29, 2011

Almost Ready....

We checked the sugars in the vineyard this morning.  All the blocks are in the 25 to 26.5 range-- pretty close to where we want them.  Sugar content (or "brix" as it's known in the trade) is important-- it translates to alcohol in the finished wine.  The winemaker looks for other indications of ripeness: have the seeds turned brown, for example.  Most important, are the flavors fully developed?  We strive for intense cabernet character that reflects the personality of our vineyard.  So the fruit has to be really ready. 

Checking sugars involves a walk through the vineyard with a supply of plastic baggies, while pulling  individual berries to try to get a "representative" sample.  You pick from both sides of the vine rows since the orientation to the sun differs.  

You can measure the "brix" in the field with a device call a refractometer-- a gadget with a prism inside which measures how much the juice bends sunlight.  You smush up your berry sample right in the plastic baggie,  place a couple of drops on the refractometer, look through the eyepiece, and voila! 25.4 or 26.2, or whatever.  The kids love to participate.  They run up and down the rows with their baggies, grabbing grapes, then smushing them all up.  Their sample may not be that scientific, but it's lots of fun.  The big reward comes at the end.  Run the pink juice through a strainer into a cup.  At this point the juice is 20% sugar or more-- what kid won't love that!

Our harvest is already seasonally late.  The basal leaves on the vines are turning yellow.   The last several years we have picked the crop by mid-October.  This year has been late from the get-go.  Spring and bud-break were late, as we had cool weather and rain well into May.  The calendar sets up the annual contest between the vineyard manager, who wants to get the crop in and avoid a nasty weather surprise, and the winemaker, who is all about flavor ane "hang-time".  To produce an extraordinary wine, you take some risks.

Wine farming involves lots of challenges.  "Mother Nature bats last" is an expression you hear a lot in the Napa Valley.  The 2011 season began with a drawn-out winter, a very late spring, and a serious rain in the middle of June.  The timing of the rain could not have been worse for a lot of growers.  The vines were in bloom, and the rain knocked off a lot of the flowers.  In many areas of the Valley, this significantly reduced the fruit "set".  Some growers lost most of their crop.  The olive crop has been similarly impacted.  Fortunately, because of the location and orientation of our vineyard, our vines are always slower to get going, and we dodged this bullet.

 The summer has been cool for the second year in a row, which pushes the season further into the Fall.  This works for us, since our particular clone otherwise tends to sugar-up more quickly than it ripens.  Things get hairy when the weather turns cool or we start to get rain after mid-September.  This year we've had both.  Damp, cold weather can wreak havoc in the vineyard.  The ripening process slows, and mold and botrytis can develop quickly-- two things we don't want in our fruit.  The rain went away, and we removed the lower leaves around the fruit to allow more sun and better air circulation.  It's been a little breezy and the days have warmed up and dried things out.  It was 38 degrees in our vineyard last night, but will make it well into the 70's for the next few days.  These conditions look perfect for finishing off the 2011 crop.

April 9, 2011

Welcome to Summer Hill Vineyards

Our Summer Hill Vineyard is located on a narrow lane in the Calistoga Appelation (AVA) of the northern Napa Valley.  The property is flanked by 100-year-old olive trees and a grove of eucalyptus.   We planted two acres of Cabernet Sauvignon in 2001.  The hillside portion of the vineyard covers a southwest-facing slope where it bakes in late-summer afternoons.  The vines grow in a thin layer of topsoil on the hill of volcanic tuff.  The rest of the vineyard is planted in an ancient and rocky alluvial river bed.  Here the soil is very deep, and the roots go down forever.

Our site is water-challenged, as are many of the vineyards in the upper valley.  Careful pruning and canopy management keeps the grapes from getting sunburned.  We limit the crop to get the best from the vines. The combination of rocky soils, southwestern sun exposure, and limited water stresses the vines and allows us to produce fruit with big tannins and intense cabernet character.