Friday, January 29, 2010

What do You Pair with Possum?

Long story about the possum, we didn't actually serve that for dinner lastnight. We did however open the following wines:

2008 Stefania Chardonnay
2006 Stefania Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet
1999 Laurent Perrier Brut
2003 Joh.Jos Prum raacher Himmelreich Auslese
2005 Dmne de Baumard Coteaux dLayon
1988 Cos d'Estournal
2004 Dmne Santa Duc Prestige de Hautes Gigondas
1979 Santa Cruz Mountains Vineyards Cabernet Bates Ranch
1994 Woodside Vineyards Cabernet Kings Mountain
2004 Woodside Vineyards Cabernet Kings Mountain
2004 Dmne de Beaurenard Chateauneuf du Pape
1977 Carneros Creek Cabernet Fay Vineyard
2000 Chateau Siran Margaux
1982 Chateau du Tertre Margaux

My personal notes are personal. It became apparently clear to me in this line up that I've been drinking a lot of young wines and my palate is happier with brighter fruitier wines. I still don't like sweet wines (2005 Baumard), and we were disappointed with the corked Cos D'.

My top two wines of the night were the 2000 Margaux and the 2004 CDP. They both paired well with the tri-tip and orzo meal and held their own without food.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sunday, January 24, 2010

On Line Wine Tasting Feb 11th.

Rick Bakas of St Supery winery has organized a virtual wine tasting of California Cabernets for Thursday February 11th. Information and registration details can be found here:

California Cabernet Sauvignon Event

The event first came to my attention when Dave Tong wrote a blog about it last week and then a follow up blog this week. Dave was upset that the Santa Clara Valley AVA was not listed or covered at all in the event. He asked that local wineries that make Santa Clara Valley AVA wines participate in an effort to promote the AVA.

We registered this morning and will participate on the 11th. I don't twitter, so our update will be here on our blog and on Facebook. You can participate with any California wine, but I'd encourage as many people as possible to open one of our Uvas Creek Cabernet Sauvignon's. That wine is a Santa Clara Valley AVA wine.

Personally I'd rather share the wine and taste with others. If there is significant interest locally (that means more than Dave and I), I'd suggest we gather at a local spot and I'll provide a vertical of our Uvas Creek Cabernet to sample.

Friday, January 22, 2010

St Vincent's Day

We still have lots of rain and the moon is now out of cycle so we've stopped pruning. Not much going on for us right now in the vineyards.

Today is St Vincent's day. St Vincent was a 4th century saint from Spain. His feast day is celebrated as the patron saint of vine growers in Spain and France. I did my yearly trip to the Catholic Church this morning to drop off wine. Father Bennett wasn't there this morning so I left the wine at his door.

In France they usually leave their cheapest wine for the priest, but I left a couple bottles of Uvas Creek Cab and hope he'll remember to bless his little vineyard for us. I hope he remembers its St Vincent's day, I usually have to remind him each year. We don't celebrate a lot of feast days in the U.S. so he's usually a little shocked that I do.

We may do some work in the winery tomorrow, but SUnday will be a football day. Go Saints!!!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Inventory and Sales Update

It's that time of year to take inventory and figure out taxes. Most of the time I do pretty good on allocations and we don't have a lot of wine left. Ok, 50% of the time I do pretty good. :) For some reason I kept way too much of the 2006's at the winery. We ran out of 2005's the summer before and didn't have anything for people to taste when they came to visit. In a great over reaction I set aside four times more wine the next year.

That would be bad enough but I set aside four times more of twice as many bottlings! Instead of the eight cases of wine that had not been enough, I now had set aside 64 cases of wine. We don't have 64 visitors all summer! That was about 45 cases too many. Last year I seemed to get a better handle on what to keep aside for events and visitors but still we have some items from older vintages still at the winery.

Here's a breakdown on the 2006's

2006 Syrah Eaglepoint Ranch $35- We have 8 cases left. Close out of $300 per case
2006 Haut Tubee $20 - Sold Out
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Uvas Creek Vineyard $37 - We have 12 cases left. Close out of $300 per case
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Cruz Mountains $40 - We have 7 cases left. Close out of $325 per case

If you're interested in any of these send me a note at We're going to offer them first here to our blog readers and then I'll send a note out to our mailing list in a couple weeks.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Finishing Up at Chaine d'Or

How cold was it when we left after coffee this morning? So cold I couldn't keep the camera straight. It was 42 when we left the house.

It's 37 miles from our house to the winery. It's mostly freeway, but the last few miles are very steep and curvy. The seal on the dash board keeps me from taking the turns too fast up the mountain. 'Keep the seal safe', and not moving. This is Highway 85 about 10 miles from our front door. That's Montebello and Mount Eden in the distance.

This is what we came to do. This is a Cabernet plant that has been successfully retrained. This is one we retrained in 2008, so it's three years in.

Stefania and I walked each row to finish up the sawing and retraining where it was needed. We do have to stop and play ball from time to time with the dogs.

The vineyard looked very good. At this point I think we are 97% done with retraining. There are still a few plants that we will have to pull new shoots on next year. It was just a matter of not having anything in a good position this season to restart a cordon. On those plants we left a new start again and will hope we have a good cane to pull down next year.

The storm clouds started to come over about 12:30. We had planned to leave at 12:45 though so that we could get home in time for the Saints game at 1:30.
We'll be back tomorrow. There are about 30 plants in rows 1 and 2 to check still and we can do that in the rain if we need to. We also have some work to do in the winery tomorrow that will keep us busy for 5 or 6 hours.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Rain Rain Rain

We have storm front after storm front scheduled to come in this next week. Kind of a bummer for us. I have a three day weekend and we were going to prune all three days. Luckily Jerry and Stefania will just about have wrapped up Chaine d'Or by today.

Tomorrow morning I'll go out and finish up some of the old vines that need retraining that they have left for me. There's also a few hours of work to do in the winery. We're going to try and be home in time for the Saints game though at 1:30.

If I don't finish in the winery Saturday then we'll go back Sunday. Likely we'll just work in the rain and finish up any pruning that's not done. Monday we're scheduled to go test our wine that is at Big Basin in the afternoon, so more inside activity. It looks like we won't finish pruning before St Vincent's day. Not too big a deal, we'll just wait on the weather now and for the next favorable moon cycle and prune then.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Haut Tubee

Saturday night when we finally got home from our long day I checked email before bed. I wondered why we would have gotten 7 new sign ups on a Saturday in January. Could be that the Haut Tubee won a gold at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition

Official Results

Or it could be all the positive talk and reviews about the wine:

More Chatter

I love making the Haut Tubee (Hot Tub) wine. It's a lot of fun. There's still a little of the 2007 left, and the 2008 will be released this Fall.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Pruning at Chaine d'Or and Double Days

Saturday morning we lounged in bed until about 9 AM reading the paper and drinking coffee. We decided to go easy on the mornings this weekend and not get too worn out with pruning. We made it to Chaine d' Or by 10 AM though to start pruning.

Every day in the vineyard at Chaine d'Or starts with greeting the puppies! Ghillie is bigger than Sofie now and spent both days by our side out in the vineyard. She never tires of fetching the ball when I throw it. Sofie will go and hide the ball now to get a rest after about 15 minutes.

We worked down the hill each time, but there are still lots of trips back up. By then end of two days your legs will be sore. We had cloud cover on Saturday and a little on Sunday. The temperatures were not bad though and we never got too cold.

The main reason just Stefania and I went out was that a large number of Cabernet Sauvignon vines need retraining. It's something I have to do myself. Each plant that needs retraining first has to have new canes selected, then pulled down and debudded. I also have to saw off the old canes and remove any excess shoots.

It's a slow process and means I have to do about 300 squats each day. If we have a full crew in the vineyard they will prune about 75% of the plants before I can get to them to retrain. Over the past two years we've gotten about 50% of the plants retrained, but this year I was hoping to get us up around 90% total retrained.

This is a plant with new canes pulled down and the retraining started.

This is the old canes I removed. I got my size 14 boot in the picture to give some scale to the size. It takes a fair amount of time to saw through the old vine and remove it from the wire. To do a retraining like this takes 8-10 minutes per plant. That compares to about 45 seconds to prune a regular plant.

Here is one of the owl boxes we installed. Still no sign of an owl, but we're hopeful. They usually move into new homes in January and February. We had a good assortment of birds in the vineyard including Mountain Bluebirds.

We left Saturday about 3PM. We headed home, got cleaned up and headed to a friends commitment party. This is what Stefania calls a 'Double Day'. Two full days of activity pushed into one. The venue was the old Paul Masson / Martin Ray Mountain Winery. They are replanting the old vineyard.

The ceremony was held up in Napa during the week, but our friends had the party Saturday evening closer to home. The top level of the old winery is set up for events now. This used to be the fermentation room. We had a great time and even got some dancing in even with our tired legs.

The next day we worked about 6 hours. I spent about 30 minutes in the winery getting the batteries on the forklift recharged and then joined Stef for more pruning.

Below you can see some of the progress we've made. This was also a very good example of the high spurs I've talked about at Chaine d'Or. When we took over in 2007 all the Chardonnay plants had spurs this high. You can see it's well up into the first set of wires.

Over the past three seasons we've worked to lower the spurs. It's not an easy process. We have to prune the plant as normal and hope for a shoot lower on the plant. When that shoot comes out, we have to make sure to leave it during green pruning, then come back the next season and remove the old spur.

You can see in this picture the job is almost done. About 95% of the spurs are now lowered onto the fruiting wire and out of the first set of catch wires. It also gives a great perspective on how high the spurs were compared to were we are now.

Stefania is back out in the vineyard today and Jerry is joining her to help.

Friday, January 08, 2010

The Church

A few years ago the Catholic church around the corner from us got all new landscaping. One of the things installed was a little vineyard of 20 Cabernet plants. Stefania and I drive by a lot on our way to our local coffee shop or the gas station, and the vineyard looked like hell. The plants were not pruned properly, and they never got around to finishing the wiring.

Two years ago I called the priest and volunteered to take care of the little vineyard. At first it was a little hard to get him to understand that we'd just do it for no charge, but we did.

We cleaned up the plants, and tried to get them retrained correctly. Jerry and I also installed the correct trellis supports and installed a 5 wire catch system.

Last year the vineyard got a little fruit and we harvested that and used it for our grape stomp. The rather bizarre rules of the state of California mean we can't spray anything on the vines, so they do get mildew every year and we won't end up using the grapes for anything but stomping.
Stef and I did the pruning this year. We let the vines get pretty wild last year with a lot shoots. When trying to retrain a vineyard this usually works best because you have more options on shoots you want to keep and work with. Here's a vine before we started.

You can see we have the starts of a cordon and spur VSP system going. Each spur threw two shoots, we just had some extra shoots to remove.

On some plants we are still pulling down new canes, and here's one we have started now.

The finished spurs from the plant above. These vines should fill in nicely this year and it is one of the better looking parts of the landscaping now.

On some plants we left three spurs, on others four. It just depended on the spacing. One thing we have to be careful about is leaving two spurs from different plants too close on the ends of the plants. Then you end up with four tightly spaced shoots and that increases the risk of mildew.

Here is a new spur, and our trusty FJ Cruiser.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

On to the Backyard the Original Haut Tubee

These vines are what we've left in the backyard. Originally there were 20 vines packed in. We've thinned it down to 8 and last year began the process of converting them from Head trained to Cordon and Spur on a 5 wire Vertical Shoot Positioning system (VSP). This is the system we use in our other vineyards and all the pruning from here on out will be Cordon and Spur on VSP.

On this Syrah vine you can see the remains of the arms and head from the previous pruning. When doing a conversion we try and get a shoot to come out and pull that down to the wire. The thing is we never really know where a good shoot might come from, so we end up leaving a 'mess' of arms.

We were excited that we got good shoots to start cordons on these plants. The plants were in such good shape too that we were able to get vertical shoots started last year. We do this by pruning off the end of the shoot when it reaches the right length. The plant will then send shoots up since it can't grow out any longer.

Sometimes these side shoots can be weak and we end up removing them, but you can see this one has a small but healthy bud. I'll keep these two buds on this plant and it will become the spur on the plant.

After pruning and cleaning up the plant is all set up like a three year old Cordon and spur trained VSP vine. The vine is actually 9 years old this year, but the training is like a three year year old vine.

This vine gave me the chance to show pruning on a three year old and four year old vine at the same time. Last year I was able to pull a cordon down and get it started on the right side of the plant. So that side is like a four year old plant, while the other side is like a three year old plant. That is the hot tub in the background.

This is the four year old section of the plant. You can see the different wood colors and that the spurs have already started.

This is the three year old side of the plant. It has thrown some new spur starts, but not at every junction. On this side we will have to use buds on the new cordon to start the spurs.

On the four year old side I had this spur started and in good health.

I count up two buds and make the cut. Like roses it's best to cut at a slight angle so that moisture can not build on the cut and start rot.

This is the new spur. It will have two shoots and 2-4 bunches of fruit.

The finished vine showing the 3 year old side on the left and four year old side, with spurs started on the right hand side.

Here's a close up of the spurs, each with two buds.

Here's a good example of why it's called a Vertical Shoot Positioning system. This spot had a bud that was pointed out horizontally. The shoot would have come out at a horizontal angle to the cane. I nipped out the bud so it will not grow.

This is a little blurry but it is a vertical bud, pointed straight up. This is what we want on the three year old side. This will send a shoot up into the wire system and establish a new spur.

The plant usually cooperates pretty well with this pruning method. One bud tends to point up and the next tends to point down. This is a shot from further away of the bud above. In this picture you can see it pointed up.

Next up we'll do the little church vineyard and then on to Chaine d'Or this weekend. Both are VSP systems. We'll be able to do those pretty fast.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The New Mourvedre Vines Get Pruned

Stefania wanted to prune the twenty five new Mourvedre vines herself, so I took the pictures. The vines are one year old and at this stage require some special pruning techniques. The focus is on getting the plant established and trained properly in year two so we're not worried about fruit at all.

If you remember a goal of this project was to cut water use in our yard, so we watered these plants very little last year. They are smaller than we'd have in a commercial vineyard as a result, but still in good shape. This is one of the more vigorous vines.

This vine is ready to be pruned back to two buds that will establish the arms or cordons for the plant. Stefania is pointing to the two buds she's selected to start the new cordons. It's important to select buds below the wire. The new growth will grow up and if the buds are two high the cordons will have to loop down to the wire and will be prone to breaking.

Here she makes the cut below the wire after having selected the buds she wants to grow.

On a new plant like this all the buds will grow though so she has to clean up the buds she doesn't want to grow and nip them off with the pruners. That's the phrase, "nip it in the bud". She cuts off any other growth on the plant and cuts off the other buds. This will focus all the plant energy on the two remaining buds and allow the trunk to grow strong.

The finished vine. Stef often advises people thinking of putting in a vineyard that in winter it will look like "A stick and wire farm".

And a rare picture of the master pruner. Many wineries are actually very picky about who prunes. Because it is a specialty skill and each plant requires special attention it's difficult to get an untrained crew to do a good job. In general we just use the 'A' team to prune.

This plant is not yet to the wire. About 10 of the 25 did not reach the wire yet. We'll take this plant back to a single bud near the base. That way it can focus all its energy into growing a strong trunk this year.

Stefania points to the bud that she is going to keep to establish the trunk. This vine should actually grow enough this year that we'll be able to get one cordon started on it after it reaches the wire. In year two each cane should grow 5-10 feet.

Stef makes the cut. We actually keep two buds. In our urban environment with people passing by the buds are prone to damage. The second bud is a 'safety' in case anything goes wrong with the first one. We'll remove the second growth as soon as the first gets established.

The final step again is to clean up the plant of any remaining growth or buds. You can also see that the wildflower ground cover is starting to come back again. We choose self seeding plants for the vineyard. We've also decided not to clean up under the rows this year. Usually we'd keep the area under the rows clear so the plants are not in competition with the vines. For the yard though we've decided to let the wild flowers go. The soil is pretty fertile and the vines should do just fine.

The finished vine. I'll have more tomorrow on the vines in the backyard and how to prune a three+ year old cordon and spur plant.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Pruning the Haut Tubee Vineyard

Today Stefania and I started with coffee in bed and some oatmeal, then off to the gym for an hour workout. The first full moon of the year was December 31st. Wait - not the new year you say? That threw me off in 2008 also when we started pruning very late in January. I'd mixed up my Roman calender with our modern calender. The ancient new year would have begun with the first new moon after the winter solstice. So the first new moon of the ancient lunar year, the one we prune by was December 31st.

I started with the 9 year old head trained vines by the driveway. These are the last head trained vines we have at the house, everything else is on wires now.

The term 'head trained' is probably misleading. Crown trained or maybe even 'Medusa' trained would be more descriptive. It basically means the vine has a single stalk the comes out and then branches out into arms that contain the spurs where new growth will come from. The 'head' is at the point the arms branch out. Which is why I don't think it's a great term. Most things don't have arms coming out of their heads.

This is what it looked like when I started. with last years growth. We tie the growth up a single post. That's how it's done in the Northern Rhone. Most head trained vines in California, Spain and elsewhere are not tied up, they flop on the ground.

The first thing I do is figure which of the two or more stalks I'll keep. I want a strong one with good buds, and the buds should point up not down so they will grow up. I also check spacing and try to imagine how the buds will grow so that there is good spacing and enough room for the fruit to come out.

These two stalks grew last year from two buds I had selected. It's almost impossible to describe the difference between one year old wood and older wood without a picture, but in this picture you can clearly see the one year old wood is lighter. This will be what produces new growth this year. The older wood will not.

Here are the two buds I selected. I liked the health of the stalk and the direction and spacing of the buds. The buds are the little nubs sticking out from the stalk.

After making the cut I'm left with one 'spur' that contains two buds. These two buds will produce two new stalks and 2-4 bunches of fruit. This Grenache plant will grow 6-12 feet during the season from these two small buds.

This is a good shot of the buds. It's all about the buds. We count buds, nip buds, look for bud positioning, directions of the buds. The buds have the new growth and the new fruit for 2010, so we work hard to pick the best ones and the right ones.

The finished plant. The one year old wood will become the spurs for new growth and this plant should produce 15-20 bunches of fruit. I've left five spurs and a total of ten buds on the plant. This particular plant is one of the most vigorous we have had in any vineyard, but last year it started to slow down a little. That's one reason old vines are prized, they tend to moderate their growth as they age.

More to come this week. I'll go over pruning the new one year old Mourvedre vines, and the cane and spur vines we converted from head trained in the back yard.