Walking around the vineyards with the Wine Boss a few days ago at the very start of harvest brought back some fond and not so fond (long hours) memories. Here are some interesting tidbits, musings, lessons learned, etc… from harvest:
The rain on Red Mountain isn’t as much of a pain as it is in the Willamette Valley. On Sunday of last week on my way from Seattle to Tri-Cities it had rained the whole way, including all night in the vineyards. Luckily the wind picked up that morning – as it always seems to do – dried off the fruit, and we were able to pick some Quintessence Cab early afternoon. Harvest 2016 in the Willamette Valley, from what I can remember, had fortunate weather. However with the chance of it raining more often and for longer periods at a time (it’s usually just short bursts in Eastern WA) and the Pinot Clusters being tighter and harder to dry precipitation definitely gives OR winemakers fits.
Harvest 2016 - Bishop Creek Vineyard, Willamette Valley
Sampling Cabernet at Quintessence
A vineyard looking more well-manicured (see Quintessence above) doesn’t mean it’s necessarily “better managed” – I think it’s more up to particular style of that vineyard manager. Perfectly groomed rows look amazing and you can appreciate the work that goes into them, however grape vines are wild plants and don’t need to be completely tamed to produce amazing fruit (see our Estate vineyard below).
Estate Vineyard 9/21/2017
A roller fermenter only yields about 1 barrel of wine (25 cases) – this small quantity alone should tell you how much our winemaking team loves them vs. doing larger stainless steel fermentations.
Grape-sampling and getting accurate Brix readings is a crucial part of making pick decisions. Here’s how I’ve been taught: pick at least 2 rows to walk down from the block that you’ll be sampling – take a certain number of steps, turn either left or right (switching back and forth each time), and choose the first cluster you see. With everything being handpicked you can assume that any green clusters or anything else that looks funky won’t be brought into the winery, but by making it as random as possible you avoid just selecting clusters that look delicious, or have a little green in them and getting an inaccurate reading.
The 2015 “Old Vines Merlot” is amazing and you can catch some pretty amazing sunrises in Tri-Cities getting up at 5 am to taste through fermentations. Cheers to a successful harvest.
Harvest is in full swing on Red Mountain, with fruit coming in quickly to find it's place in the cellar. Here is where we are so far:
We are 80% completed with Merlot. We have a new block of Blackwood Canyon Merlot along with the old block at Kiona remaining.
Fidelitas Estate Merlot, picked September 21
Quite a bit of Quintessence Cab Sauv has been picked and in tank or barrel already. We have completed block 7 (clone 169), block 9 ( clone 191), Block 10 ( clone 8) and block 47 (clone 2)
Tasting fruit in Quintessence Vineyard
The white wines are progressing nicely through fermentation. There is distinct difference in the “ovium” barrel and just regular barrels. The Ovium barrel will be the limited release Quitessence Sauvignon Blanc. The Klipsun Sauvignon Blanc & Semillon are really nice as a result of a little cooler vintage.
The Ovium: one of a kind in the U.S., made specifically for Sauvignon Blanc
We are enjoying a little cooler weather than in the most recent vintages. Last week we had several days with the high’s of the day in the 60’s. That trend will change slightly this week to a few days in the lower 80’s. This should move ripening along nicely. The quality of the vintage shows promise and reminds me a lot of 2012. This is a somewhat of a normal vintage, we just have not seen one for a while.
New signage in the Fidelitas Estate Vineyard
The plan is to continue to harvest and ferment all the new estate blocks separately and see how each block expresses itself. We do have Estate Merlot fermenting in a tank and we will keep you up to date on its progress.
We should start to see some Malbec and other Cab Sauv coming in the next 10 days.
More to come as more fruit arrives!
“5 Cabernets? Don’t they all taste the same?” No way, man.
I love September. The month we release a whole slew of 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, all from tiny Red Mountain. But don’t let the varietal or AVA trick you into thinking that these will be similar…they are far from it. Here are a few factors that play a role in creating a unique wine.
Seems obvious, but when the vineyards are within a mile of one another, you might not think that they’d be so different. However, if I compare just Quintessence Vineyard (which makes up the northeastern corner of the AVA) and our own Fidelitas Estate Vineyard (close to the center of the AVA, but definitely over the western ridge), the differences are remarkable. These two vineyards were even planted at about the same time but Quintessence lies further east, with intense slope, and rockier soils. The Fidelitas Estate Vineyard does not have as much slope, exhibits more silty loam, and is subject to more late afternoon. In 2015, we picked Cabernet Sauvignon a full two weeks later from our Estate Vineyard, than the Cabernet sourced from Quintessence. Red Heaven sits just between these two vineyards, with just a bit more age, while Ciel du Cheval lies further downhill from the rest, but was planted in the 1980’s…giving us some of the most established vines on the mountain.
Fidelitas Estate Vineyard (left), versus the slope at Quintessence Vineyard.
I won’t go too far in depth on clones here, but feel free to peruse previous posts for more detail on clones. Here are the basics: Charlies sources different clones of Cabernet Sauvignon to give us different attributes in the wines. While still being the same varietal, we may use one clone for more concentration and color, while another gives us bright fruit tones to lift the style of the wine. Charlie is looking for different Cabernet clones from each vineyard to create our varietal Cabernets. Quintessence Vineyard (clones 169 and 191) and Fidelitas Estate Vineyard (clones 2 and 6), contain none of what we call the “Washington Clone”, clone 8, but the Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is entirely clone 8 from four vineyard sites. It’s just another way to fiddle with the blend.
Clone 169 (left) is a special clone from France, which must be registered with the French governement. Charlie tells us it has elegance and finesse. Clone 6 (right) is what Dick Boushey calls the 'winemakers clone' because it is wonderful in the cellar and a pain in the vineyard. Those smaller berries and loose clusters give excellent structure and color.
Perhaps the most obvious way that two Cabernets may be fully different, but still worth exploring. Some wineries have a recipe that they follow, using the same oak regimen year after year or for each wine. However, for Charlie (who I swear calls me weekly to say “we’re going to try something new”), there is no formula that will work for every wine he creates. Every year is different, every clone is different, and he likes to create a perfect pairing for grapes and barrels that may not be determined until the fruit is in fermentation. Comparing the 2013 Cabernets, two received 100% New French Oak, one received an 80/20 blend of New French and New American, there is a 35/26 blend, and the last is 47% New French with the remainder being neutral wood (coincidentally, that wine was 100% New in last year…what a difference a vintage can make!). Then, even if a wine is 100% New French, there are a bunch of different decisions in the brands of barrels, the toast, and the time in barrel. But – that is a different conversation for a different day.
Harvest means I get text messages from Charlie at 6am on Monday morning. Still - so many beautiful barrels and fermenters.
I could go on and on about how wonderfully unique these wines are, but you are going to have to try them yourself to believe me. Join us for a Friday Evening Tasting in Woodinville, schedule an Elevated Tasting at either location, or let us send you some wines with notes on hosting your own specialized tasting. I’d love to hear any notes you come up with as you try these wonderful new releases!
The smoke cleared and the sun came out this past weekend just in time for our 3rd annual Estate Dinner hosted on our famous pad right in the middle of our vineyards. What a beautiful and delicious evening! Castle Catering didn’t disappoint and made sure that each dish complimented our wine.
Below is the menu from that evening.
Elk Strip Loin & Blue Cheese Duxell Canape
Duck Confit & Savory Goat Cheese Grilled Pizza Wedges
2015 Klipsun Vineyard Optu White - September Product Spotlight!
2014 The Canyons Vineyard Red Wine - 10 Cases Remain!
Fresh Spinach and lentil salad with creamy beet dressing topped with a Parmesan crisp
Freshly Baked Castle Breads with Butter of the Month
2014 Ciel du Cheval Merlot – Releases in November!
Certified Angus Beef Tenderloin Medallion presented atop
Heirloom Tomato with Creamy Fresh Barratta Cheese finished with Basil Oil and Fresh Basil Confetti
2014 Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon - New Release!
2014 Quintessence Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon - New Release!
Certified Angus Beef Prime Spinalis rolled and stuffed with Fresh Herbs & Mushrooms
Served atop Heirloom Carrot Puree with Sweet Corn Elote
2013 Fidelitas Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
2014 Fidelitas Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon – New Release!
Fresh Graham Cracker dipped in Dark Chocolate & topped with Blue Cheese Marshmallow toasted on site
It was certainly a memorable night with the most amazing sunset. Be sure to RSVP next year for this limited availability dinner in the vineyard!