WEATHER REPORT

Many moons ago the Little Old Winemaker at Italian Swiss Colony in Asti used to say that every year was a vintage year in California. This implied California’s weather was ideal and varied little from year to year. However, in the 30+ years I’ve been in the business I have never seen a vintage which hasn’t been unique.

Mike T. Having said that, isn’t it true that good wine is made every year?
Evelyn. Yes, if growers and winemakers work together they can usually react favorably to any curve balls Mother Nature may throw.
Mike T. So what are these curve balls?
Evelyn. The usual suspects – frost, heat spikes, rain, fire . . . . . . . .
Mike T. Let’s take them one at a time. Frost.
Evelyn. The window for frost is relatively short, from late March to early May, but severe damage can occur. Uneven sets and reduced yields can result, as occurred in 2008 and to a lesser extent in 2009.
Mike T. Rain?
Evelyn. Rain can be a problem. Early in the season rain and cool weather can delay grape cluster development, and chances increase for the appearance of mildew and mold. Rains during harvest can foster mildew, lower sugars and dilute the flavors of the grapes. Not good.
Mike T. Like last year.
Evelyn. Precisely. Fortunately most of our own grapes had already been picked, but several clients lost both volume and quality.
Mike T. And fire?
Evelyn. Not usually a problem around here, but in 2008 the huge fires in Mendocino and Napa resulted in some smoke tainted wines from nearby vineyards. It’s a bigger problem in Australia, where the recent years of drought has increased the frequency and severity of wildfires.
Mike T. Nothing else?
Evelyn. Well, you’ve got parasitic wasps, leaf worms, moths, mites, phylloxera, Pierce’s Disease, powdery mildew, rots of various kinds, deer, turkeys, birds. . . . . . . . .
Mike T. STOP! I need a glass of wine.

Woodshop 101

Wooden barrels have been a part of making and aging wine for millennia. We commonly think of oak as the wood; but chestnut, redwood, cherry and acacia are and have been used as well. However, oak is by any measure the wood of choice, and we will focus our discussion on it. Mike Tierney: Why is oak the overall wood of choice among winemakers? EVELYN: It appears oak has the unique ability to bring components of some wines together in a way that allows them to mature harmoniously. MPT: American versus French oak? EW: French oak – Quercus Robur and Quercus Sessiflora – are typically hand split and air dried. Americsn osk – Quercus Alba (white oak) – has typically been sawn and then kiln dried; though some American coopers have taken up the traditonal French method. MPT: You said we used wood on “some” wine. Why only some? EW: In some wines the oak will overpower the flavors of a delicate wine, like many of our white wines. We use oak in making our Chardonnay, but not with any other white wine. Oak plays a part in the making of all our reds. MPT:  How about our “Garagistes” wines? EW: On these wines we use French oak exclusively. MPT: Any particular brand? EW:  I’m a big fan of DAMY. MPT:  From the taste of the wines, I am too!

Rose Secrets

Last week we released our 2010 Sonoma County Rose of Pinot Noir. The wine is delicious and we have boosted production in an effort to meet an increasing demand. Rose is no longer a summer – only beverage, and is rightfully taking its place as a year round choice. The reason is clear – Rose can and should be an attraction to the eye and a pleasure to the palate.



Mike T. Rose is quickly becoming a real part of our family of wines. The reason is pretty clear – the wine is a treat – clean, tasty and refreshing. What’s the secret?

Evelyn W. There are a couple of things we do that set our wine apart. The first thing is our choice of grape; Pinot Noir has bright fruit flavors, especially when not overly ripe.

Mike T. Does that mean we pick our Rose fruit earlier than that out our regular Pinot Noir?

Evelyn W. Exactly. We can then accentuate the fruit while keeping the acid levels lively.

Mike T. Then what?

Evelyn W. We keep the juice in skin contact for 8 – 10 hours in order to get the color we want, and then we have the wine go through a slow cold fermentation.

Mike T. A traditional process for Rose production is known as “saignee,” whereby red grapes are crushed and left on their skins for hours, then a certain amount is “bled” off to make Rose. The rest is made into red wine. Why not use that method?

Evelyn W. Mostly because the main effort in that procedure is concentrated on the red wine production. The grapes
are picked at optimum conditions for the red wine, usually too ripe for rose.

Mike T. So now we know.

Rose Secrets

Last week we released our 2010 Sonoma County Rose of Pinot Noir. The wine is delicious and we have boosted production in an effort to meet an increasing demand. Rose is no longer a summer – only beverage, and is rightfully taking its place as a year round choice. The reason is clear – Rose can and should be an attraction to the eye and a pleasure to the palate.
Mike T. Rose is quickly becoming a real part of our family of wines. The reason is pretty clear – the wine is a treat – clean, tasty and refreshing. What’s the secret?
Evelyn W. There are a couple of things we do that set our wine apart. The first thing is our choice of grape; Pinot Noir has bright fruit flavors, especially when not overly ripe.
Mike T. Does that mean we pick our Rose fruit earlier than that out our regular Pinot Noir?
Evelyn W. Exactly. We can then accentuate the fruit while keeping the acid levels lively.
Mike T. Then what?
Evelyn W. We keep the juice in skin contact for 8 – 10 hours in order to get the color we want, and then we have the wine go through a slow cold fermentation.
Mike T. A traditional process for Rose production is known as “saignee,” whereby red grapes are crushed and left on their skins for hours, then a certain amount is “bled” off to make Rose. The rest is made into red wine. Why not use that method?
Evelyn W. Mostly because the main effort in that procedure is concentrated on the red wine production. The grapes are picked at optimum conditions for the red wine, usually too ripe for rose.
Mike T. So now we know.

CONVERSATIONS WITH EVELYN #4

STAFF TASTINGS 

Periodically we gather our production, sales and administrative staff for formal tastings. We choose a varietal and compare our wine with six others, often local wines. We taste the wines “double blind;” that is we cover the bottles so neither the pourer nor the tasters knows the identity of the wines beforehand. We have each taster list the wines in order of preference, and the wine with the lowest aggregate score is the winner. Before we unveil the wines, we start with the highest score and discuss each wine’s merits/demerits. 

Double Blind Pinot Gris Tasting

Mike Tierney:These tastings keep the salespeople up to date on the competition. What other benefits do you see, Evelyn?
Evelyn White: It’s also an educational tool. By tasting together we develop tasting profiles, whereby we begin to look at wines in a similar way. 
MT: So everybody is on the same page – I get it. More? 
EW: Yes. Tastings are a natural setting to utilize my experience and training in staff development. For example, we can all look at a “corked” wine, and experience first hand a common but often confusing phenomenon. 
MT: In these tastings, how easy is it to identify your own wine? 
EW: I’m usually fairly confident, though by no means infallible. 
MT: Higher points for Taft Street wines? 
EW: Not really. If a wine is well made, I’ll score it accordingly. 
MT: Anything else to say about these tastings? 
EW: I think they reaffirm the general impression of high quality wines originating in the Russian River Valley appellation. Also, it’s interesting to discover alternative winemaking techniques. 
MT: We just had a 2009 Rose of Pinot Noir tasting, and the Taft Street wine was the winner. Congratulations! 
EW: Thanks. It’s a great wine to sip while watching a Giants’ game. 
MT: Or the A’s. Have fun on your upcoming trip to Chile. 
EW: I’ll try.

Conversations with Evelyn – Episode No. 2

This is the second in a series of wine related conversations between Taft Street Winemaker Evelyn White and Mike Tierney.

This conversation focuses on Taft Street’s go-to wine – Russian River Valley Chardonnay.

Mike Tierney: Everybody loves our Chardonnay. We won our second BEST OF CLASS award and the wine has just been released. So what’s the secret?

Evelyn White: Our goal is to make fruit forward Chardonnay with enough oak background to add spice and complexity. No 100% malolactic fermentation; no heavy handed use of new French oak: slow sur lees ageing; no over-the-top Chardonnay.

MT: How do you “use” oak?

EW: We want to produce a balanced wine and I feel a selection of good French oak helps bring out the flavors and delicacy we want.

MT: French?

EW: Yes. French oak seems to work particularly well with Chardonnay fruit grown in the Russian River Valley. It works with Pinot Noir as well.

MT: We hear a lot about great wine originating from the vineyard. In many circles it seems the conventional wisdom is the winemaker’s job is simply to not screw up the vinification process. Your reaction?

EW: Let me put it this way. Great wine starts in the vineyard. We are fortunate that our growers are skilled and experienced. The fruit they bring us is hand picked; with high quality components the job of creating the best possible blend is made easier.

MT: We’ve had great success in each of our last three vintages, yet growing conditions varied considerably. Let’s compare 2007, 2008 and 2009.

EW: Away we go.

In 2007 we had an early spring and warm summer. The light harvest was early and the wines were delicate.

In 2008 we had it all: frost, heat waves, high winds and fire. Another early harvest, which was fortunate because heavy rains fell in mid October. A challenging year, but good wines were made.

The 2009 wines that are now in barrel reflect a virtually perfect growing season. Both the Russian River Valley Chardonnay and Pinot Noir arrived in pristine condition and are shaping up to be memorable wines.

MT: Can’t wait.

EW: Me either. Let’s try a barrel sample while we check on my daffodils.

MT: Splendid idea.

CONVERSATIONS WITH EVELYN, No 1

This is the first in a series of conversations between President Mike Tierney and winemaker Evelyn White on wine related topics and enjoying the fruits of our labors.

Since we have just released our 2009 Sonoma County Rose of Pinot Noir, the making of rose seems an appropriate place to start.

Mike Tierney: There are a couple of methods of making rose′; “saignee” being the process of bleeding off juice from grapes that have been left soaking in tanks for several hours.

Evelyn White: Right. That’s been the rage recently in certain wine circles. The juice is bled off, and the remaining wine becomes more concentrated as the result of more skin contact. That wine is then used in the preparation of the red wine blend.

MT: But we don’t do that.

EW: No. We treat the grapes solely for rose′ wine production. We let the grapes sit in bins for 12 hours, and then put whole clusters through a gentle press cycle. The wine undergoes a slow cold fermentation in stainless steel tanks in order to preserve the freshness of the fruit. No oak is used.

MT: Other differences?

EW: Yes. We choose a vineyard (or block) with only rose′ in mind. The grapes are picked a bit earlier than our regular Pinot Noir, so they have higher acidity and lower alcohol. The result is a fresh and crisp wine.

MT: You hit this one out of the park. Great color, fruit and balance.

EW: Thanks. Looking forward to enjoying this wine during Spring Training.