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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.
Photos from our Harvest Celebration Dinner at Notre Vue Estate Winery & Vineyards. We were fortunate to have such ideal weather as we dined lakeside enjoying Chef Brian Anderson’s deliciously prepared four course meal paired perfectly with our estate wines. Beautiful, serene melodies by musical duo Steel & Ivory played in the background. All in all it was a wonderful evening amongst friends and we thank all of you for attending this year's Harvest Dinner! Click on image to view the photo gallery of the event.
Photos from our "Forever Wild" Tour de Cru event in August. Notre Vue Estate Winery & Vineyard opened its gates for guests to hike and bike along private trails that wind through its vineyards and “Forever Wild” Open Space. During the morning, guests were able to explore the diversity of the terroir that creates a rich tapestry of land and an array of grape varieties rarely found in such proximity to each other. At the Summit, hikers and bicyclists were rewarded with sweeping views of mount St. Helena to the east and to the west as far as the Pacific Ocean. Could not have asked for a more beautiful day! Thank you all for attending this year's Tour de Cru, we cannot wait until next year's TDC event! Click on image to view our photo gallery of the event.
The heat wave came and the heat wave went. And in its wake we have a cool spell predicted. We’ve been picking like crazy the last two weeks trying to keep up with the ripening process that’s been in high gear due to the heat. Now, suddenly, the brakes are on and I have nothing lined up to pick for at least a week. Maybe two. Or three. Yup, that shows you just that fast things change in this wacky business called “winemaking.”
But that doesn’t mean we’re bored. Quite the contrary as we are monitoring fermentations, prepping barrels for filling with Chardonnay juice and getting ready to press off the first Pinot Noir in a few days. As I do every morning, I tasted each and every lot today and am happy to say that this looks to be a very promising vintage already! I’m seeing great color in the Pinot Noir along with wonderful aromatics and flavors reminiscent of strawberries and raspberries. Grapefruit and citrus aromas from the fermenting Sauvignon Blanc fill the cellar. It is truly a great time of year and I invite you to come up to the winery and taste through the 2017 wines in progress with me! If you have never done such a thing, now is the time. And because we’re a small operation, I will personally have the time to take you tank-to-tank to taste.
Hope to see you soon and before the next wave of grapes hits!
Do you ever wonder why winemakers are always “worried” about the weather at harvest? Why do we constantly, and I do mean constantly, check the weather reports?
The main reason is that we need to know if there are any “problems” looming. Might rain be on the horizon? And, if so, when? How much? What kind of weather follows the rain? Or perhaps a heat spell is forecast. How hot? And for how long?
Armed with that intel, winemakers can then more appropriately decide when to pick a certain block. For example, if a heat spell is predicted and I have a block that is very close to ready, I may pick it a day or two too early just to protect that fruit and to get it into the house. On the other hand, if extreme heat is predicted and a block is healthy and far from ripe, I am much less inclined to pick prior to the heat wave. Weather the heat and regroup. Same thing with rain. Sometimes it is better to pick ahead of rain, others times we’ll just sit it out, knowing then that we’ll have to be particularly diligent about looking for and handling bunch rot if it shows.
The photo shows today’s forecast and it is as close to perfect as a winemaker can hope for! Cool nights and mornings with sun and warmth in the afternoons. That combination helps the grapes maintain solid acidity while slowly accumulating sugars. It concurrently allows winemakers to space out picking dates a little more, which eases the pressure on the pickers, on trucking and on the cellar. We’re tired enough without the added pressures of inclement weather so have a glass of your favorite Notre Vue or Balverne wine and pray for warm days ahead! You’ll be rewarded with stunning wines from Harvest 2017! Cheers!
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