Here you will find news, lifestyle and entertaining tips, winemaking ideas, recipes, wine pairings, and adventurous behind-the-scenes stories:
Benjamin Franklin once wrote “ . . . nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Let me amend that statement to read “Nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes and HARVEST!”
Here we go again, kids! We’re gearing up for Harvest 2018 and I suspect we will have grapes rolling in in just a few weeks. It seems like I just finished writing a blog about Harvest 2017 . . . how time flies when you’re having fun!
Always a great time of year for a winemaker, harvest brings long days and hard work for sure, but it also brings a new beginning, a new start, a chance to try the latest and greatest ideas, a chance to make yet again another great wine. There is excitement in the air like no other time of year.
Its sort of ironic because, as I said, with harvest comes long, tiring, never-ending days. There is no question that it is exhausting, yet everyone here can’t wait for it to start! Every day people are asking me “When do you think you’ll start? How are things looking? What looks the best this year?”
The crush pad is set up and ready. Must lines, pumps and hoses are being cleaned and sanitized. The press has been checked. We’re stocking up on yeast and making sure the lab is prepped. Interns are getting last minute instructions on how things will roll, what their duties are and how to do everything we’ll need to do.
I love this time of year not only for the winemaking opportunities but also because it offers me another chance to excite a new group of young people contemplating making a career of winemaking as I did. This is a time for me to pass on my experiences, to teach them the tricks of the trade and to get them excited about what we’re doing each day. You can always tell which of the interns each year might go on to become winemakers. They are the ones that never mention being tired, always show up early, are eager to stay to the very end, never complain about being cold, hot, wet, hungry, exhausted. Always smiling, always the first to greet me saying “You gotta try Tank 324 this morning! That stuff is liquid gold!”
And all of you reading this blog, all our Notre Vue and Balverne fans out there, this is your chance, too, to get involved, to get excited about harvest. Being a smaller operation, I have the time to welcome you to the winery personally and to guide you through the activities of the day. This is your once-a-year chance to taste harvest-ready grapes, to see us crushing fruit, making juice, filling barrels and to taste the juice and fermenting wines. Don’t pass it up! We’d love to have you visit the winery, be part of harvest and to stay for a tasting of our current releases. See ya soon ??
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.
With Al Fresco season upon us, I thought I’d share a few entertaining tips for hosting your own outdoor wine tasting. I feel that culinary pleasure and entertaining with friends and family refreshes the soul, revives the spirit, and creates new memories!
This is a perfect time of year to lean toward lighter wines. I recommend our 2014 Notre Vue Estate White Wine, a beautiful blend of Chardonnay and Viognier. Perfect with Brie cheese, this wine is also an excellent accompaniment to sautéed sole and seared scallops. I would also suggest our 2017 Balverne Rosé of Pinot Noir Reserve, which is fabulous with a fresh goat cheese salad, as well as shrimp, crab or lobster.
Now the fun part begins – setting the table! I start with a fresh, white tablecloth, with a burlap runner. Staging your buffet table, roll crisp white napkins, tied with raffia or twine, with a sprig of lavender tucked into the tie. For nibbles, create different heights with 2 or 3-tiered serving platters. For a simple, outdoorsy feel, mason jars are a nice alternative to use for your floral arrangements.
Setting the ambiance with white bulb string lights and various heights of white (unscented) votives along with your favorite play list will get your guests glowing and relaxed.
Have your all-purpose wine glasses staged and ready to go. You’ll also want to have chilled water nearby, and plain water crackers to cleanse the palate. When pouring tastes of wine for guests, a good rule of thumb is a 2 -ounce pour for each tasting, but feel free to indulge with a bit more.
Feel free to share photos of YOUR Al Fresco Wine Tasting Party on our social media channels. We’d love to see your ideas too!
Executive Vice President, Notre Vue Estate
I learned that this weekend as Pam Bell from Dragonfly Floral patiently coached a group of twenty visitors (including myself and my colleague Tyffani) through the design of a Mother's Day bouquet, while Pete from Notre Vue Estate refilled our wine glasses with exquisite tastings of Rosé, Sauvignon Blanc, and a white blend.
Sitting on the tasting deck, overlooking the pond swimming with geese and goslings, we learned how to trim, set, and arrange our flowers. That view, coupled with the fresh smell of roses and lavender, gave the whole experience an extraordinary feel. We even had some caterpillars join us for the fun!
Pam Bell has been in the floral design business for nearly thirty years. She calls flowers by name, and has an eye for placing stems perfectly in the vase. As we drank our wine and designed our own arrangements, Pam let us in on a few secrets of the business. Here are some tips we learned from her!
Pam's Tips on Floral Design:
• Always use fresh flowers, when possible, and preferably ones that haven't opened up yet
• Cut your flowers early in the morning, when the world is just waking up; the sugar balance in the plant is best
• Cut flowers at an angle, and place them immediately into water, so that they last longer
• Design your arrangement from the top and sides. This way, the bouquet will reflect its beauty from any angle!
• If working with hydrangeas, flip them over and soak them in water when they start looking lifeless; they'll come back to life
• When using a vase, try to use one with a flare at the top; the flowers naturally bloom that way!
• Use the ratio 2:3; 2-3 greens per every 3 flowers
To view more fabulous photos
of the event, please check out our
Floral Design & Wine Photo Gallery!
Here is the design that we worked with, and its accompanying recipe:
• 3 stems of dogwood
• 3 strands of viburnum
• 2 sparrieshoop (roses)
• 3 tulips
• 4-5 pinkish-orange roses
• 3 sprigs of lavender
Thank you Pam Bell and Notre Vue Estate for an incredible start to our Mother's Day celebrations. Looking forward to the next one!
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!
Sonoma County is without question one of the most beautiful places in the world. Bound on the west coast by the powerful Pacific Ocean and stretching inland to the majestic mountains, we enjoy a mild, Mediterranean climate in Sonoma. Not too hot, not too cold. About eight months of dry, warm days follow the blustery winter rains. Our grape vines hunker down for the winter and, in their dormant state, are immune to the pounding rains and cooler days. The water table builds holding this precious resource in anticipation of the grape vines’ needs as they spring back to life. The growing season ensues and another incredible vintage is born. There is a reason Sonoma County is respected world-wide for our sumptuous wines.
Of course there are variations on the theme. Some summers are cooler than others, some warmer. Some dryer, some wetter. But, all-in-all, a pretty perfect place to grow wine.
But those long, dry summers don’t come without their inherent risks. While everything may be an emerald green during the winter months due to the abundance of water, the hills quickly turn golden as the rains cease and the dry, warm summer takes over. Without exaggerating, it takes about two weeks for the grassy hills to dry to a golden hue again once the rains stop. There is a reason it’s called the “Golden State!”
Wild fires are, therefore, a constant concern here. Even in normal times, without the added challenge of the last few years of serious droughts in Sonoma, the hills are laden with dry foliage and dead trees. Fire danger is always on one’s mind here and every precaution is taken avoid sparking a blaze. The simple task of mowing dry grasses can present a hazard if sparks are generated in the process.
What we really don’t need during this very dry time is wind. And certainly not prolonged 60 mph gusts of bone-dry air. Yet that is what we experienced just a month ago. As harvest was winding down, with 95% of our grapes in, Sonoma County experienced its worst wild fires in history. We all know of the horrific damage they caused.
As those fires raged, as people lost their homes and as some their lives and their pets, the world moved on. The few grapes still out there continued to ripen though many wineries simply couldn’t bring them in due to lack of power and/or water, if they even had a winery left to work with. Workers fled to safer places and wineries struggled to finish up harvest. While it seems trivial in respect to the lives and property loses we experienced, winemakers had to be concerned about “smoke taint” as the fires persisted. We were in a huge cloud of smoke in Sonoma for over a week. As the winds died down and that smoke lay over the vineyards, the threat of smoke taint expanded by the minute. A winemaker’s concern is that the smoke settling on the grapes will be absorbed into the skins of the fruit. While a smoky character might not be detectable in the grapes per sé, the threat is that during fermentation the smoke will be released from the skins into the developing wines. In miniscule quantities, compounds in the smoke can add a less than appealing character to wine. Some say that it reminds them of the stench of cigarette ash trays or the smells we associate with a burned out fire pit. Not pleasant at all.
There are measures winemakers can take to reduce the incidence of smoke taint in wine during these sorts of trying times. We learned a lot more about this during the Mendocino wild fires of 2008. “We know a thing or two because we have seen a thing or two,” that repeating theme in these blogs, is so true. I am happy to report that, at Notre Vue and Balverne, we had all our fruit in the winery prior to the horrific fires and, therefore, have no issues with smoke taint. And, fortunately, that is the case for most wineries. Two weeks early, these fires would have been devastating to the 2017 vintage.
As I type this blog it is gently raining and what a wonderful thing that is! Not only do we need the rain as per usual, but the rains will help the scorched, barren land spring back to life quickly and the golden hills will return to their characteristic emerald green. So we cheer on the rains, we pray for our family and friends with horrendous loses due to the fires and hope that good things will come. And remember, a holiday celebration without a glass or two of Notre Vue or Balverne wine, well, that’s just another scary thought!
Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and safe New Years!
Season’s Greetings to all! For those of you that joined us for our recent Holiday Party, it was great to see you all. Those of you that missed it, hang tight, there will be plenty more excitement coming in 2018 and we all look forward to seeing you then!
Harvest 2017 is in the house. All grapes are in, all fermentations complete (almost!) and most malo-lactic work is done. We’re busy racking the new wines off the gross lees, adjusting acidities as necessary and returning the young wines to clean barrels for aging.
Rarely is a wine bottled without some sort of blending taking place beforehand. Even the Sauvignon Blanc is a blend of two stainless steel fermented tank lots and a bit of barrel-fermented wine. The Rosé, too, is a blend of two different lots. But this is pretty much straight-forward blending. You want to use all the components so you do a trial blend and, if it tastes good, then off you go!
Blending the Notre Vue wines in particular, then the Balverne Cabernet and Pinot Noir wines, entails quite a bit more “art.” Let me walk you through my current thoughts regarding the Notre Vue Bordeaux blend.
Each month I taste through our whole inventory, lot by lot, watching the maturation process proceed and monitoring the wines for any issues that might need addressing immediately. Concurrently I am always thinking about the final blend and what might work best to create that wine. Does it look like Cabernet Sauvignon will continue to be the base of the blend? And, if so, what lot(s) will be selected for that purpose and in roughly what amounts? Or maybe Malbec is particularly strong. Might it be strong enough to be the base upon which I build the final blend? If so, that Malbec better be concentrated, balanced and loaded with fruit and strong tannins.
Winemaker Michael Westrick blending wines right from the barrel at our Winter Wonderland Holiday Party.
As those of you who barrel-tasted with us recently noted, it looks like Cabernet Sauvignon will again frame the blend for 2016. And that is by no means surprising even though the Malbec is superb! Cabernet is referred to a the “King of Grapes” for a reason. Our 2016 is powerfully concentrated, packed with dark berry fruit and graced with elegant tannins. And so I will start with Cabernet Sauvignon from Block 37 as the base. But how much? What percent of the final blend? And what will I add to that base? In what quantities?
As you might have gathered from above and from your tastings here, Malbec will certainly play a huge role in the 2016 blend. It is particularly lush and loaded with spicy, aromatic black fruit. Petit Verdot is commonly used in Bordeaux-styled blends to add structure and inky-dark color. Our 2016 Petit Verdot fits the bill perfectly and so will also play an integral part in the blend. Merlot? Cabernet Franc? How much new oak? What coopers will be included?
What does this all mean? And how will you actually “know?” The answer to those questions lies in the blending process. This is where art takes over from the science, where years of experience pays huge dividends. I will sit down in a room by myself, with samples of the components available, and literally start tasting trial blends of “some of this with a bit of that.” This is exactly like building a spaghetti sauce, starting with ground beef, adding tomato sauce, throwing in onion and garlic, adding basil or maybe oregano, fine-tuning with rosemary and thyme, and finally completing the sauce with a bit or salt and/or lemon juice. Exactly the same process in blending a wine but it takes much more time. After tasting a series of trial blends, I will then set up a series of new blends to taste, trying to hone in on that one blend that always surfaces as the best in each flight of trials. When that starts happening, I’m done!
Or am I? The next step is to take a sample or two home and taste the trial blends with food. Debbie will taste them with me, too, and offer thoughts. Does the blend work? Is it balanced? Does the tannin need adjusting? Are the aromatics attractive? Is the fruit strong and defined? And, the final question, does it taste good? Simple final question but not always easy to answer.
And so it goes. It may go quickly with the final blend appearing quite early in the process. In tougher vintages the trial blending may go on for weeks. Ultimately, one way or another, one blend will stand out as being the best. When that day arrives, when that best blend surfaces, we will physically assemble the parts in a big tank and “make the blend.” And that is a bit of a stressful day for a winemaker as there is no turning back once the blend is made.
I hope that gives you a bit of an idea of what the blending process entails. In 2018 we are hoping to offer a “Blending Seminar” here at the winery. This is something you do not want to miss as you’ll have a chance to work with five different wines and to come up with your own unique blend. We’ll then taste your blend against those of the other guests.
Will you be the next “Top Winemaker ?”
But, seriously, folks, “What wine goes best with turkey, in my opinion as a winemaker?” Balverne and Notre Vue! ‘Nuf said! OK, OK . . . here are my thoughts in a little more detail.
If you haven’t tasted the Balverne 2016 Rosé of late, what better time? This is a perfect aperitif wine and pairs beautifully with a multitude of appetizers. So, too, the 2016 Balverne Sauvignon Blanc. Both offer strikingly fruity flavors, rich body and nice acidity. My caution? Have a few extra bottles on the ready as this stuff will go fast!
While both the Rosé and the Sauvignon Blanc can accompany turkey beautifully, also consider Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Chardonnay pairs terrifically with mushrooms believe it or not, so works well with mushroom soups, gravies or sauces and alongside turkey stuffing with wild mushrooms. The wonderful pear and ripe apple notes of Chardonnay love crispy turkey skin, too! It’s a holiday so splurge for the 2014 Notre Vue White Blend. This wine offers a blend of Viognier, a very flowery, fruity wine with the lushness of Chardonnay in royal style that will stand up to juicy turkey. For those of you inclined to go “red,” the classic strawberry, black raspberry and cola characters of Balverne’s Pinot noir wines are a perfect match for roasted turkey and accentuate the perfumed complexity of stuffing seasonings and cranberry sauces.
Those of you preferring wild roast duckling or duck breast for your feast can’t go wrong with Balverne’s Pinot Noir but if you want to be a bit more adventurous, pair this with Notre Vue’s 2104 Rhone blend, a wine focused on spicy, peppery, Syrah wines for a real treat! Big and bold, with hints of a gamey character, this is perfect match with wild duck, pheasant and rabbit.
Prime rib, baked broccoli with a cheddar cheese sauce and pan-roasted garlic potatoes? Yup, grab that Cabernet Sauvignon! Balverne’s 2014 Chalk Hill Cabernet is delicious right now, big and bold, packed with black cherry and wild berry notes. Those of you grilling a slab of prime rib over hot coals should consider Notre Vue’s 2014 Bordeaux Blend. The lush black cherry notes of the Malbec work synergistically with the herbal black fruit flavors of the Cabernet, with just enough tannin to help carry the beef’s fatty marbling. A special wine for a very special occasion.
Whatever your choices, on behalf of all of us here at Notre Vue, I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving. We would be honored to be a part of your celebrations through the sharing of great Notre Vue and Balverne wines.
Be safe this holiday season!
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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