The Notre Vue Blog is a wonderful resource filled with lifestyle and entertaining tips, winemaking ideas, recipes, wine pairings, and adventurous behind-the-scenes stories:
Harvest 2018 is underway! The first of our Balverne Sauvignon Blanc grapes came in this morning in stunning fashion. We’ve had a beautiful growing season to date with just a bit of a cool snap for the last week or so. While sugars might not accumulate rapidly in the cooler weather, the flavors do continue developing, the result being that I found this year’s Sauvignon Blanc ready to harvest at lower Brix levels (sugar content) than usual.
Why is this good? Because it translates to lower alcohols in the finished wines. You may have heard the adage that “wine grapes benefit from a long hang time.” That means the longer the grapes hang on the vine, the greater the chance flavors will be more concentrated in the fruit at harvest, resulting in a more flavorful wine. While we’re blessed in California with beautiful, warm summers, the heat can sometimes be a little too much of a good thing making sugar accumulation (and therefore potential alcohol levels) run ahead of flavor development. The ideal situation, obviously, is to have maximum flavor development just as the grapes reach that magical sugar content.
For me as a winemaker, a lower alcohol is important as it helps keep the wine “in balance.” Put another way, a wine with an excessively high alcohol will taste “hot” or have an alcohol “bite” to it that may not be pleasing, and that higher alcohol may mask some of the more delicate fruity and floral notes of a wine. Sauvignon Blanc, known for its lighter body and bright, crisp fruit aromas and flavors, most definitely benefits from these lower alcohol levels.
Any winemaker anywhere in the world will always tell you without skipping a heartbeat that “This vintage is the best we’ve ever seen!” Well, you know what, I’ll say that right now about Balverne’s 2018 Sauvignon Blanc. And we haven’t even made the wine yet! Make a note on your calendars to visit Notre Vue Wine Estate in April of next year to taste Balverne’s 2018 Sauvignon Blanc. Trust me, you’ll be stunned! And happy you visited!
Keep tuned to this blog to hear about our upcoming Pinot Noir harvest. The weather for the foreseeable future is ideal and the Pinot Noir grapes are already tasting simply fantastic. In fact, I’m thinking this vintage will be the best we ever seen!
A votre santé, mes amis!
At least once a year a winery is faced with the challenge of bottling its wine as it is pretty hard to sell it otherwise. Admittedly this should not be a big deal and generally it isn’t. But bottling is not without its inherent pains and worries. Its not a part of winemaking that any winemaker enjoys. Or is it?
As we gear up to bottle our Balverne Chardonnay and Pinot Noir here at Notre Vue this fall, we’re attending to lots of little details and making sure everything is in place for a successful bottling run. We have our labels, corks and capsules. Glass supposedly arrives next week. We are scheduled to bottle just after the glass arrives. All this is carefully choreographed so that everything comes together perfectly and all on time.
We need to make sure the wine is ready, too. Following any final blending we will address the acidity along with the level of residual sugar and adjust each as necessary. The wines will be cold stabilized to prevent them from throwing tartrate crystals and will be heat stabilized to prevent protein hazes from developing. Fining might be done to soften tannins and/or to remove bitter components from the wine. One last decision to be made will be whether or not to filter.
Once the wine is ready and the materials arrive, its time to bottle. Again, this should be pretty straight-forward. How complicated can it be? You fill a bottle, cork it, label it and pack it away, right? Well, yes, that is the ideal scenario. But what if the wine is too cold and moisture is condensing on the outside of the bottle such that the labels won’t stick? What if we’re under- or over-filling bottles? What if the labeler is not cooperating and your margins are off meaning the labels are not centered? Or the labeler is skipping every third bottle? Or the filler is skipping every third bottle? Or some bottles are missing capsules? Or the wrong labels are being used? Or the filter fails? I could go on and on but you get the idea. “Best laid plans, yada, yada, yada!”
But once this necessary evil is complete, however challenging it might have been, the bottling line cleaned up and the exhausted crew headed home, you sit at your desk finishing up paperwork and look up at a few samples of the day’s bottlings each with perfect capsules, straight labels and all filled with delicious wine ready for wine lovers everywhere . . . life is suddenly all good again. Grab a bottle . . . I think you’ll agree!
If you live in California you just know we’re going to have some wild fires every year. With all our beautiful forests along with our low humidities and high temperatures, fires are simply inevitable. But, holy moly, this is getting crazy!
Last year you will recall wild fires devastated Sonoma County with Santa Rosa being particularly hard hit. This year Mendocino and Lake Counties are ablaze. At last look, I counted 18 major fires up and down the state. A horrendous number of acres have burned, countless structures destroyed and, sadly, all too many lives lost.
Given that last thought, it is hard now to switch to winemaking and to comment on the damage wild fire smoke can do to wines. It all seems so trivial in light of the dire effects the fires have on so many peoples’ lives.
The warmest and driest part of the year here, when wild fires are at their height, typically coincides with our grape harvest. As grapes ripen and skins soften, the fruit becomes very susceptible to damage by smoke. “Smoke taint” is caused by grapes absorbing volatile phenolic compounds produced when wood burns. These phenolic molecules then bind to sugars inside the grapes to form glycosides.
Once these glycosides are formed, the original volatile phenolic compounds can no longer be detected by smell or by taste. There is no perceived smoke taint at that point. The problems begin to surface as the grape juice is fermented and wine is made. As the wine develops and ages the acidity in the wine begins breaking down these glycosidic bonds releasing volatile “smoky” phenolics back into the wine. It is these compounds that give a “smoke tainted” wine its characteristic old campfire smell or odors reminiscent of a cigarette ashtray. These are not pleasant smells or tastes and are not to be confused with the lovely toasty, smoky notes associated with some oak barrel treatments.
A wine can even smell just fine but, when consumed, taste of these campfire/ashtray characters. The thought here is that enzymes in your mouth are breaking the glycosidic bonds and releasing volatile compounds literally as you consume the wine.
Though methods are available to rid wines of the volatile smoky compounds, they are by no means 100% effective. While the volatile compounds that exist at treatment time might be removed, more will be released as the wine continues to age. Consecutive treatments are therefore needed and even then there is no guarantee that the problem will have been resolved.
Here at Notre Vue Wine Estate, I am happy and relieved to report that we have had no smoke damage to any of our wines produced to date. While we might be surrounded be fires, none is close enough nor the smoke thick enough to have caused any smoke-taint issues.
For all of you so negatively affected by the fires, please know everyone here at Notre Vue Wine Estate is praying for your well-being. Our thoughts are with you always.
Thank you for joining us for Winter WINEland last weekend - the perfect winter escape to taste current vintages and multiple varitals along Wine Road – Northern Sonoma County! Participants got to taste current releases of both Balverne and our exclusive, limited production Notre Vue Wines in our transformed Winter 'Wineland' tasting room. Click on the image to view photos from the event. We look forward to seeing you again soon!
Like clockwork the rains have started! Almost every year, just as the last gondola of grapes rolls in, so too the rain clouds. Uncanny! Of course there are times when the rains jump the gun a bit and come in before we finish, but we usually finish up with Cabernet Sauvignon. Given its thicker skins and therefore better resistance to adverse weather, it is generally not a problem. Always causes a bit of anxiety for winemakers, though! But doesn’t everything ? ? ?
2017 will go down in history as one of the toughest harvests to date. Those of you that are faithful readers of my blogs read earlier that, no matter how long a winemaker has been making wine, no winemaker worth his salt will ever say he’s seen everything. Mother Nature always has a curve ball in the bull pen for us!
This year one of those curve balls was a couple of horrendous heat waves back to back. Now a heat wave during harvest is by no means unusual. Happens all the time. For a few days in a row we may hit the high 90s or low 100s but generally there is not much damage done. Believe it or not, above about 94F or so, grape vines shut down to protect themselves from the heat. As the cool air returns, the vines quickly recover and return to their normal ripening schedule. This year, however, we had a couple of heat waves that extended outwards of 10 days with temperatures in record high 100s or low 110s. Now that is hot for anyone! Records were broken and our poor grapes vines found little humor in those long, unrelenting blasts of scorching heat. Equally unusual was that the recovery took much longer than normal. Cool days eventually returned but it took the vines about two weeks to get back to their normal routine. During that two week spell, I honestly thought this time the heat had been too much and the show was going to be over before the grapes were ready. Things were a little tense here, to be perfectly honest!
Never let it be said that the grapes of Sonoma are wimps. Far from it! Sure enough, though it took a nerve-rackingly long time, the vines sprung back to life, ripened their fruit to perfection and offered up a delicious harvest. Both Notre Vue and Balverne are in fine shape with a cellar full of a superb 2017 wines from which to craft our upcoming offerings. “I know a thing or two because I’ve seen a thing or two.” Add one more “thing” to that list!
Please come visit. I’d love to taste the 2017 wines with you and celebrate another great vintage with you. Cheers!
P.S. Yes . . . we did have a bit of an issue with some wild fires. See a future blog for a review of that “fun!”
Winemaker Michael Westrick along with Phenix Wine Distributors held a wonderful winemaker dinner reception for the California Yacht Club in Marina del Rey, Ca. Our premium award winning estate Balverne wines were served including: the 2016 Balverne Rose of Pinot, 2013 Balverne Pinot Noir, 2016 Balverne Savignon Blanc, 2014 Chardonnay, and the 2012 Chalk Hill Cabernet all deliciously paired with a four course meal. The menu consisted of delectable dishes such as chanterele mushrooms, diver scallops, Maine lobster rissoto, and New York beef pavé. Michael poured and educated guests about Balverne's history and our committment to sustainability as the sun set over the Marina. Here are some photos of this fabulous event.
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