Vintage Notes - 2012 Edna Valley, California

Call it Over

Posted on November 16, 2012

The last fruit of this vintage arrived on Wednesday, just seven tons of Syrah off our estate vineyard. We have continued to work on pressing finished red ferments all week as well, not to mention racking them to barrel and inoculating them for malolactic fermentation. The majority of our white ferments are completing primary fermentation, so we worked on degassing, sulfuring, and racking quite a few tanks.

Today marks my final day of 2012 vintage. After taking a year sabbatical from winemaking, I was excited to be back at it this vintage. This was my tenth vintage split between California and New Zealand.

It was also my third at Niven Family Wine Estates and I'm glad to have returned; I really like the crew here and we had an excellent vintage in terms of wine quality here in Edna Valley.I'm excited to decompress and relax for a couple months before starting my next contract. I haven't finalized my plans quite yet but I'm hoping to travel to Australia for vintage 2013 after a short holiday in Bali and the Philippines with Kristin.

Last Week of Grapes

Posted on November 4, 2012

We had a pretty slow week at Niven Family Wine Estates. We received less than 100 tons throughout the week: 80 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache from Paso Robles, 10 tons of Syrah from our vineyards here in Edna Valley, and 3 tons of Syrah for the Cal Poly Wine program. We also emptied several tanks draining, digging, and pressing red ferments; most of these will be filled up with our remaining 100 tons set to be harvested during the upcoming week. With our last week of harvesting upon us, the vintage staff (including yours truly) will be leaving in just two weeks. It seems like vintage flew right past, but we're glad to have a winery full of wonderful wines. Check back next week for a harvest recap detailing this vintage and its wines.

Another Rain Scare

Posted on October 28, 2012

Edna Valley, like most California wine regions, stayed relatively dry during the second rain event to scare vintners this vintage. We received only one-tenth of an inch (2.5 mm) of precipitation here, followed by warm windy days that helped dry out the vineyards quickly. After rushing in our Chardonnay last week and harvesting several hundred tons of reds from Paso Robles, we're left waiting for our Syrah to arrive this week before we'll be finished with the 2012 vintage.

This recent article from Wines & Vines indicates that winemakers throughout California are very satisfied with this vintage. All my friends in the industry seem happy about its outcome thus far. As our ferments tick away at Niven Family Wine Estates, we're all pretty excited about 2012. We're just starting to work on packing away finished white ferments, and dedicating a lot of time to draining, pressing, and barreling our Pinot Noir lots.

What Day is It?

Posted on October 22, 2012

It's been hard to keep track of the days lately here in Edna Valley. Everyday this past week saw over 100 tons of fruit to be processed: Chardonnay was the largest portion, along with some Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Grenache Blanc, Merlot, and Pinot Noir. Weather forecasts have predicted rain today and tomorrow for the Central Coast and many wineries brought harvesting forward in anticipation of the poor weather. Since the last rain event two weeks ago, warm weather fortunately prevailed and pushed the majority of our vineyards through ripening. We still hedged our bets and brought forward the remaining several blocks of Chardonnay towards the end of this last week.

It's strange to think that Halloween is still ten days away and we've already received the large majority of our fruit for the 2012 vintage. We're waiting only for several hundred tons of fruit scheduled to arrive this week (depending on the weather) and the odd later ripening blocks trickling in throughout the following week. For now, we're all hoping that the rain doesn't get us!

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Posted on October 12, 2012

The first half of this week was busy at the winery with three days straight of 100+ tons of grapes to process. We saw over 120 tons of Pinot Noir, nearly 50 tons of Viognier, 80 tons of Sauvignon Blanc, and 60 tons of Chardonnay (our first Chardonnay for the season not including several tons harvested for sparkling wine).

Unfortunately, our streak of beautiful weather finally came to an end. Starting Wednesday night and continuing through Thrusday, San Luis Obispo and Edna Valley saw upwards of half an inch (13 mm) of rain fall. I followed this storm on the weather charts since last week, but like many others thought it would miss the area and bring minimal, if any, precipitation. Of course, weather is one of those parts of life and every harvest season that is so magical and unpredictable.

With most of Edna Valley's Chardonnay still on the vines, this rain may cause significant issues for some of the valley's winemakers. I'm sure plenty of wineries were still bringing in fruit yesterday despite the poor weather. Our crushpad crew donned their rain suits and battled the weather to process nine tons of Chardonnay, half a block that our vineyard crew was forced to stop harvesting due to the rain. 

We are set to have over 60 tons of grapes arriving at the winery today. This morning's skies still have remnants of the storm, but fortunately it looks like we'll enjoy sunny weather for the next several days. This should dry out the vineyards rather quickly and will hopefully prevent the formation of grey mold.

Line of Trucks

Posted on October 8, 2012

We had a busy week here as harvesting finally kicked into full gear. We received about 100 tons a day with over 200 tons of Pinot Noir, 50-60 tons of other reds, and several hundred tons of aromatic whites (Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and Albarino). We have a handful of white ferments that have finished already, and a dozen that were just inoculated this past week. Our second group of red ferments are nearing completion, which of course means there will be some draining and pressing. So, it's really beginning to feel like vintage now: the bees have arrived on the crushpad in full force, the cellar smells like yeast, and everyone is logging in long hours of work. 

Beautiful weather is still gracing the valley and should continue. We're planning to have another busy week starting today, with 100-ton days scheduled through Saturday. Some cooler weather at the beginning of next week should give us a few days to catch up in the cellar before the second big wave of harvesting hits.

Aromatic Gruner Veltliner

Posted on September 30, 2012

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.

Two Pinots

Posted on September 16, 2012

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.

Christian's Report

Posted on August 22, 2012

I was reading through the Niven Family Estates' August 2012 newsletter Club 1909 this morning and thought I'd share my friend and mentor's update on the 2012 vintage. Reading this makes me excited to get back into the winery for another season and make some wine, so hopefully you enjoy it too. Here's 'Update from Winemaker Christian Roguenant':

After the rather challenging vintage of 2011, I am happy to report that we are back in track in 2012! Conditions so far have been textbook, reminding us why Jack Niven chose to plant winegrapes in the Edna Valley back in the early 1970s. Thanks to his foresight, we are still growing and harvesting top-quality fruit almost 40 years later. And thanks to his wife Catharine's vision, we are making great wines as well!

This vintage's growing season began with budbreak in mid March, and there were no late frost incidents to speak of. Spring rainfall totals were in the normal range, and temperatures have been nice and even. Shoot growth and vines are healthy, a testament to our vineyard management team. All factors are ideal so far; we are extremely excited about the quality this year!

The Pinot Noir clusters are just beginning to go through veraison (one of the first stages of ripening; the berries begin to turn color), as are some of the earlier ripening blocks of Chardonnay. Over the next few weeks, they will get softer and juicier, sugar levels will rise and acid levels will drop. When those factors, along with the pH and flavors in the fruit come into perfect alignment, we pick! The rest of our varietals should follow suit nicely, setting us up for a picture perfect harvest and crush.

Meanwhile, our 42 goats are munching away at brush and overgrown trees, ensuring that the tributaries running through our vineyard run clean when the rainy season hits next spring. Gunner, our sturdy Great Pyrenees, stands guard daily, protecting them from coyotes and other predators on the property. One of the best sustainable examples of riparian management.

Vintage is Nearly Here!

Posted on August 4, 2012

Vintage should kick off in just a few weeks, so I'm busily trying to get everything organized in time. I'm looking forward to getting back into the winery, especially one that I am familiar with; having worked at Edna Valley's Niven Family Estates for two vintage previously, I know that they have a great crew and make beautiful wines. I also really like Edna Valley as a wine region, and the San Luis Obispo area in general. I have a lot of friends there, so it will be great catching up with everyone!

The weather here in San Diego has been beautiful, and my friends and family have given Kristin and I a warm welcome back to California. That being said, there is no surf to be found whatsoever and I haven't even been in the ocean since I've returned! That will hopefully change today as I accept the fact that I'm not in Bali anymore (of course, it's pumping there right now) and indeed stuck in the middle of California summertime (dismally small wind swell). Still, vintage season still means surf season so I'm looking forward to getting those magical fall days soon!

Copyright © 2022 :: Michael Horton
Copyright © 2022 :: Michael Horton