Sunday, September 30, 2012

Harvest Update - Aromatic Gruner Veltliner

Read this season's previous harvest updates: Seeing More Good Fruit, Two Pinots, Slow Start, Christian's Report, Vintage is Nearly Here!.

We're teetering on the brink of true harvest here at Niven Family Wine Estates. We saw a fair amount of tonnage coming through this past week and our first six-day week. It started out much like last week with several blocks of Pinot Noir arriving; by the end of the week, we received over twenty tons of Zinfandel, a little more Pinot Gris, some Chardonnay, and 43 tons of Gruner Veltliner.

Gruner Veltliner is an interesting varietal that is slowly beginning to earn recognition in California. There was no Gruner Veltliner produced in California in 2008, but nearly 200 tons were produced in 2009 (this was the first year Zocker was produced by our winery; Zocker is a beautiful wine that has earned a lot of acclaim during its short history). Gruner Veltliner is a descendant of the Traminer family, crossed with an unknown varietal believed to originate from Austria. Today, it is Austria's most-planted white varietal and represents over one-third of the country's total wine production; Gruner Veltliner is also grown in the neighboring countries of Slovakia and the Czech Republic, along with the United States, Australia, and New Zealand (my former boss and mentor Steve Voysey pioneered Gruner Veltliner in New Zealand under his Spade Oak label).

Today was my only day off work, and luckily it coincided with some swell. Small-scale south and northwest swells combined with nice sunny weather to provide a great day of surfing and beach-going for Kristin and me. Thanks to our friend Mara, we both had new wetsuits to keep us warm; in fact, this was Kristin's first session in a full wetsuit that she happily survived! After a morning surf, we had a delicious brunch at our friend Tony's house before a serious afternoon of smash ball. A day like today defines one of the most important lessons I've learned over the years: take advantage of your days off during vintage.

This next week may be the beginning of serious harvesting. We have nearly forty tons of Sauvignon Blanc and a couple dozen tons of reds set to arrive tomorrow. A few more blocks of Pinot Noir should arrive this week, and potentially our early ripening blocks of Chardonnay, which are inching towards maturity.

Monday, September 24, 2012

An Interesting Reminder

Surfing on California's central coast involves a lot of driving. It's not uncommon to spend over an hour in car just to check a few spots, which means plenty of time to think about what surfing along this coastline involves. Are the conditions right today? What's the wind doing? How cold is the water going to be? Of course, there are certain things better forgotten. When I pulled up for a surf check recently, I thought this was an interesting reminder of those things better left unsaid. Or unpainted in this case.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Harvest Update - Seeing More Good Fruit

Read this season's previous harvest updates: Two Pinots, Slow Start, Christian's Report, Vintage is Nearly Here!.
Another week has passed and cool weather is still delaying grape maturity here in Edna Valley. We did bring in several dozen tons of Pinot Noir from our estate vineyard over the first several days of the week, along with some beautiful estate Sauvignon Blanc and several tons of tasty Petite Sirah from Paso Robles that arrived yesterday. Our Sauvignon Blanc had a good balance of vegetal and fruit flavors so I'm excited to see how it develops during fermentation.

Thus far, all the fruit harvested has arrived at the winery looking very clean. Very little presence of Botrytis has been seen compared with the past several seasons, and no significant weather events have everyone touting a great quality vintage. Botrytis cinerea (otherwise referred to as grey mold, and sometimes green mold) is a fungus that affects many plant species. It can be devastating for a vineyard when wet, humid conditions set in after veraison (the onset of ripening); this is also the fungus responsible for 'noble rot', essential for producing the icon wines of Sauternes.

Next week's harvest plan consists primarily of Pinot Noir. We're also likely to see the last of our Pinot Gris that didn't ripen up sufficiently this past week, and also some more Sauvignon Blanc towards the end of the week.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Edna Valley Wine Tasting

Edna Valley has one of California's longest wine growing seasons, and has earned international acclaim for stunning Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. Indeed, this small region with just two dozen wines has a lot more to offer. After my first week back at work and lovely weekend weather, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to take Kristin on a tour and do a bit of tasting.
Edna Valley's close proximity to San Luis Obispo makes it an easy day-trip for wine tasters in the area. We left downtown SLO on Broad St., which eventually turns into Route 227 and connects all the way through Edna Valley to Arroyo Grande Valley and to Pismo Beach via Price Canyon Road. A handful of wineries are located along Route 227, or further east towards Orcutt Road. We decided to turn off at Orcutt Road and make our first stop at Niven Family Wine Estates.
This beautiful tasting room (pictured below) is the first found when traveling south on Orcutt Road from San Luis Obispo, and is home to five different wine brands: Baileyana, Cadre, Tangent, Trenza, and Zocker. This is my third vintage with Niven Family Wine Estates and I believe the wines produced are excellent, plus their long tasting list of award-winning wines offers something for everyone. The Cadre Pinot Noir is stunning, produced from four vineyards located in different Central Coast AVAs.
Our next stop was Saucelito Canyon, just around the corner on Biddle Ranch Road. Though their tasting room sits right in the heart of Edna Valley, Saucelito Canyon's estate vineyard is actually located in the neighboring Arroyo Grande Valley AVA. They are most renowned for their estate vineyard, including three acres of Zinfandel first planted in the 1880's that still produces grapes to this day. Kristin and I sat down on the tasting room patio and tasted through the four wines on offer here: 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, 2010 Sauvage Blanc, 2010 Estate Zinfandel, and 2010 Dos Ranchos Zinfandel. I quite liked all the wines on offer, but was pleasantly surprised by the Sauvignon Blanc's lovely tree fruit flavors with undertones of fresh cut grass. It was very reminiscent of wines I made while working in Marlborough.
Our next stop was Chamisal Vineyards (formerly Domaine Alfred). This property has Edna Valley's oldest continually producing vineyard dating back to 1973. Today, their 80-acre estate vineyard is primarily split between Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but also has several acres of Grenache, Pinot Gris, and Syrah. We were lucky enough to try the recently released Pinot Noir Rose, with bright cherry flavors and beautiful acidity; an excellent example of a developing wine style here in California. My favorite wine here was their 2009 Califa Chardonnay, a good combination of new and old world winemaking styles leading to a full-bodied wine with lovely tropical fruit and vanilla flavors.

Our last stop as we headed back towards town was Tolosa Winery. Like most Edna Valley wineries, the majority of Tolosa's production is Chardonnay and Pinot Noir; but unlike most of its neighbors, Tolosa has expanded their brand in the past several years to include several wines from outside the AVA; I liked their Roussanne from San Antonio Valley.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Harvest Update - Two Pinots

Read this season's previous harvest updates: Slow Start, Christian's Report, Vintage is Nearly Here!.  

We are still waiting to get into the full swing of vintage here in Edna Valley. This week's harvesting was all Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. Four different blocks of Pinot Noir were harvested, totaling just over 60 tons; two blocks of Pinot Gris were also harvested, totaling just over 30 tons. Now that we have a few tanks full of must and juice, it starting to feel like vintage is underway; it may sound odd, but I love the smell of yeast and fermenting juice!
The weather has remained nearly ideal all week. The lucky few of us on duty during evening fruit processing were fortunate to enjoy the winery's view of picturesque sunsets over Islay Peak and Pacific Ocean fog flooding through Los Osos Valley and Edna Valley.

This upcoming week should see vintage kick into the next gear. We're set to harvest the remainder of our Pinot Gris blocks and several more blocks of Pinot Noir as well. We may also see some of our other aromatic white varietals towards the end of this week, and maybe even a block or two of Chardonnay, which the bulk of blocks still needs more time.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Morning Fog

I took this shot a couple weeks back during an early morning visit to Shell Beach, the small community just south of Avila. I really like how the water and fog blend to make an undefined horizon, it gives an ethereal feel to it.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Harvest Update - Slow Start

Read this season's previous harvest updates: Christian's Report, Vintage is Nearly Here!

The 2012 vintage has started a bit slowly here at Niven Family Estates, but I had a great first week back in the winery. I'm happy to be back here, working with a great crew at an excellent winemaking facility. This season is also lining up to provide good quality grapes, which is always exciting.
Thus far, we've processed about 25 tons combined of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir destined for sparkling wine, along with another 12 tons of Sauvignon Blanc. Maturity tracking mid-week was showing several blocks of Pinot Noir are reaching adequate sugar levels, though acids are still too high. Most of the Chardonnay blocks are progressing well and showing nearly ideal sugar-acid balance, but will require more hang time.

We're experiencing lovely weather here in Edna Valley that will allow the fruit plenty of time to ripen properly. It could really be called ideal weather for region; cool, foggy nights and mornings with warm, sunny afternoons. I think we'll start seeing a fair bit of tonnage arriving by the end of this next week, but for now it's time to enjoy a free weekend.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sealife in Avila Beach

Avila Beach is a great place to sight see, hang out at the beach, or search for some marine life. The small beach here faces due south and is protected from prevailing weather patterns by the San Luis Bay. This means the small community of 1,600 residents enjoys mild weather compared to other Central California beaches.
Along with a handful of shops, restaurants, hotels, and residences, Avila Beach is also home to three piers: the Avila Beach Pier, the Harford Pier, and the Cal Poly Pier. The Cal Poly Pier is owned by California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo and used for marine research. The other two are publicly accessible. The Avila Beach Pier was designed for recreational use, whether its a father-son fishing trip or just a sunset stroll. The Harford Pier is designated a national historic site due to its importance during the late 19th and early 20th century while Avila Beach served as San Luis Obispo's main port. Today, it is still home to an active commercial fishing fleet, several restaurants, and a rather healthy marine population.
Kristin and I heard many stories about whale sightings in the San Luis Bay, and we thought we'd try to find a few. Unfortunately, the whales had already carried on migrating, and we were left high and dry. We still had a fun afternoon and enjoyed the other creatures that make up the bay's ecosystem. A large flock of pelicans and a handful of Harbor Seals (picture above) seem to spend most of their time hanging around the pier's cleaning station. Kristin and I had a good time guessing who would come up with the next scrap as a boat crew cleaned a healthy catch of Rockfish. Underneath the pier and on an adjacent work dock, a large sea lion colony has taken up residence. These larger pinnipeds seem to be more focused on hassling each other for the best sunbathing spots than trying to find any food. Kristin's favorite were the sea gulls for some reason, probably because they did a fly-by bombing on just one car in the parking lot. Mine.