September 2011 Archives

Hank Wetzel mentioned this morning that working under tractor lights was just as crucial during his first AVV crush - but for a very different reason.  " Our first harvest in 1975 - was a very cool growing season with average size crop.  I was grateful that harvest was late as I had a lot of infrastructure to prepare and a lot of equipment to install.  The first day of harvest my parents arranged dinner for all partners.  Of course, the equipment did not work as expected and we ended up crushing grapes by tractor light.  I remember feeling helpless at times during harvest as I was doing so many things for the first time, but in the end the wines sold well.  The Chardonnay in particular from that harvest received rave reviews from the local San Francisco buyers. " 

Night harvest - we're going 24/7

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Think the pace slows down once the sun sets durng harvest?  Not at AVV.  Our harvest crews are working the night shift so that they can deliver the best fruit possible to the winery. 

Why harvest at night?  In a nutshell it's all about quality and value. 

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Vineyard Manager Mark Houser explains: 

1)  "The fruit is cold.  This is especially important for white grapes and maintains the acidity levels".  (There's the quality component) 

2)  "It is aasier on the people.  It can get hot this time of year, so the crews are generally done way before it hits the heat of the day.  Their production is up too.  They can get done in 2/3 time it would take if they started at 7 or 8 and worked into the heat of the day."  (Just one of the keys to AVV value) 

Nightwork is not easy, but overall the higher quality fruit makes it worthwhile."

Down at the vineyard office today, AVV Vineyard Manager Mark Houser gave this update:  " Chardonnay should be done tomorrow, most of the Alexander Valley Zinfandel is harvested.  Yields are down but quality is at a superior level." 

Behind the scenes, one of the keys to AVV's success is our multi-talented staff.  I  asked Vineyard Office Manager Barb Petersen about her part in harvest:  " My job description is Office Manager.  And like always,  the paperwork end is critical - things like paying the crew for their hard work harvesting the grapes.  But when I get a call that a load of Zin needs to be delivered to the winery, or can I come help with the scales, or is it possible for me to break away and go run parts - I jump on it!!!  I love the excitement of getting here early, being out in the field where the action is, and feeling like I'm doing my share. It's all about teamwork and what can each of us to do to get those grapes out of the field and into the wineries. "  

Out in the field our harvest crews are systematically picking their way thru the vineyards.  On an average day the  harvest crew will start at 3-4 AM and pick until noon.  Sergio Murillo and Javier Patino are shown below getting ready to transfer Viognier grapes from the picking pans to 1/2 ton white boxes.  Each picking pan holds about 35-40 pounds of ripe fruit.  Mark reported that the crew started picking at 7:30 AM and finished this lot at 11 AM.  The 14 person crew hand picked about 7 1/2 tons of grapes - that is roughly 375 picking pans full of grapes. 

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We're finishing up our Syrah and will be picking the final Viognier tomorrow as well.  Winemaker Kevin Hall notes that " 2011 is a bit unusual due to the light yields from the Viognier vines so the Viognier grapes reached maturity at the same time as our Syrah.  This allowed us to co ferment the two grape varieties together which helps stabilize the inky color of the syrah and adds an intriguing floral note." 

 

 
 

Kevin Hall writes:  "Today was another busy day at the winery.  We received Zinfandel from Dry Creek and Alexander Valley.  Chardonnay continues to come in on a daily basis and it tastes great.  The juice is like honey and I can tell that the acidity is going to be crisp in the finished wine.  The Syrah, Pinot and Zinfandel that we harvested last week are fermenting away and we are actually going to drain and press our first red tank tonight.  It is a Zinfandel from the valley: dark and fruity with a spicy note that is starting to show through.  The weather cooled and the fog returned  over the weekend which gave us a slight chance to catch up but now we are back in the mid 90's.  We pressed some of the Pinot noir yesterday (clones 115 and Pommard)."

Winemaker - Kevin Hall writes today:  "The very warm weather has kicked the winery into high gear.  We have been bringing in Chardonnay, Syrah and lots and lots of Zinfandel.  The flavors from the Zin are great.  At this stage it is all about fruit flavors of raspberry, cherry and plum.  The spicy side of Alexander Valley Zinfandel usually shows itself once fermentation begins.  Dry Creek Zinfandel will display a spicy side from the beginning.  I was out in Dry Creek today and the fruit looks good.  I have scheduled the harvest of the first dry creek zin for next Monday.  The weather is going to cool down dramatically over the weekend with a very slight chance of rain on Sunday. 

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In the winery we are busy inoculating the tanks and racking settled Chardonnay juice off of its lees.  We will start to barrel down some Chardonnay juice for barrel fermentations.  I have included a picture of one of our crew "Carlos Martinez" prepping French oak barrels for Chardonnay."

We brought in Sangiovese yesterday for our Rose'.  After destemming the fruit was cold soaked to get the desired color.   Then we wait..... and check......and wait.....and check.....  Well you get the idea.  After about 5 hours the color was just right.   The night crew drained off the juice and dug out the skins, then we pressed.  The juice went back into tank and it's now settling out.

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Today we picked most of our Estate Pinot Noir including clones 115, Pommard and 777.  We are still waiting on 2A, thought it looks likely that we will be picking that next week.  Our crews are heading up the hill to pick some zinfandel, then we start harvesting the Chardonnay in front of the winery tonight when it is cool to maintain the bright acidity level in the fruit.  The winery is now going 24/7 thru harvest. 

The question we are most often asked:  "How's the vintage?"  While it is way to early to get a true vintage report, Kevin Hall says "the zinfandel so far is looking good, yields are down (as expected), but quality is superb.  We are getting some good raspberry flavors and not alot of overripe fruit." 

Saturday, we celebrated the start of harvest with AVV's annual Harvest Party.  Wine lovers got their chance to see what it is like to harvest ripe fruit, crush a little and then enjoy the rewards.  It was a great kick off to the what looks to be a good harvest. 

Kevin Hall writes:  "Next week is going to explode.  We will bring in the Pinot, Sangiovese for rose', some Zinfandel and start Chardonnay.  Everything looks great and has been hovering at the same maturity level.  We have had a few days of heat and this week end is supposed to be warm so everything is going to jump.  So far acidity is up which keeps those bright fruit flavors up front."

Finally, two weeks later than normal the grape harvest has begun for Alexander Valley Vineyards.  The first grapes to be harvested are from the Gore vineyard in northern Alexander Valley.   This cool prolonged growing season will go down as one of the latest starting harvest on record.  Yields are much smaller than normal with few clusters per vine and clusters with many small berries.

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This morning in fog and 50 degree temperatures the Gores and their harvest crew picked Zinfandel from the oldest grape block on their property.  Planted in 1962 without root stock this block is the only one known to the Wetzel family to be grown without a pest resistant American root stock.  Perhaps because of the gravelly soil and high winter water table, as these grapes are grown next to the Russian River, these vines have never succumbed to root pests such as Phylloxera and nematodes.

 

Today I sampled the grapes from some of our Pinot Noir, Syrah and Zinfandel vineyards.  The nights and mornings have been very cool and even though we reach temperature in the low to mid eighties it is only for a few hours in the afternoon.  The grapes are maturing, but at a very slow pace.  The pinot noir clones are starting to differentiate themselves at this stage.  Currently, clone 115 which has very small berries and small clusters is the ripest if you look only at sugar content.  I am still waiting for more flavor development.

 

I also checked a Zinfandel vineyard that we use for SinZin that is located in Cloverdale.  Cloverdale is warmer than at the winery and the grapes are further along.  I think we will be harvesting the "River" block of Zin from the Gore vineyard on Thursday or Friday.  The grapes are tasting great, so this will officially the first grapes of the 2011 vintage.

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