We just bottled the 2019 Pinots on August 4th. As always, once everything is in tank for bottling, Carri tastes through the wines to give her final-final blessing. I always talk about how great her palate is, and she proved it again; tasting blind, she identified 9 of the 11 pinots. But it also confirms the wines reflect their place, which says even more.
The 2019s really got some very special cellar attention. Starting in March, I had a lot of cellar work I needed to do, and Gracie offered to help. It was a surprise because other than walking on grapes a few times and assisting with club events more recently, she has never wanted to work in the cellar. I had modest expectations as I do for all beginners, and to say she exceeded them is an understatement; she blew me away, it was like she had been working in a winery for a long time.
I thought she and Carri were pranking me and that she’d been working somewhere for a friend, and spent the first day veering between shaking my head in disbelief and giggling out loud. She’s been a fixture there since, and the “finished” 2019s are very much the product of her spirit too. She is one of the top “beginner” cellar hands I’ve seen in 23 years of commercial winemaking, and while I’m biased, the kid’s a natural. Now, if I can get her to make a wine this year….
Going Live for a Great Cause
I don’t do a lot of webinars – but this Thursday, August 13 at 1 pm PST / 4 pm EST I’m joining Chefs Charlie Palmer and Scott Romano for an Instagram Live Pigs & Pinot Tutorial Series featuring a live cooking demo and wine pairing. All you have to do is check out Charlie’s Instagram @CHEFCHARLIEPALMER. The Pigs & Pinot Tutorial Series supports the Charlie Palmer Collective hourly employees. We’ll be donating 25% of all sales of the 2018 Three Sisters Pinot Noir for the next month for those who want to support the cause; please use the code #pigsandpinot during checkout so we can track purchases. Restaurant workers have had their livelihoods decimated this year; we’re honored to be able to help Charlie in this effort.
John & Carri
P.S.! We started the wine club just a few years ago, and we’ve reached a milestone of sorts; our club is now fully subscribed. It’s important to us to be sure all club members receive a guaranteed allocation of all wines, and that’s become a real challenge. An extraordinary upcoming release in December brought the point home- we only have enough for one bottle per member- and almost none for ourselves!
So, we’ve started a waiting list for people who want to join the club, but as an existing (“founding”) member you’ll enjoy the same benefits as always (plus anything new we come up with!). We remain grateful to everyone who has supported our little winery, and we hope our wines continue to find a place in your lives, and on your table.
Our first grapes arrived on August 26, which marks the beginning of our 20th harvest under our label. That event is eclipsed by the fact that it was also the day Carri and I exchanged legal “I do’s” in front of a judge before eloping to Italy to exchange our actual vows. Those two milestones mean a lot to us, so despite everything that has happened this year (and the past two weeks), we are grateful for the many blessings in our lives. However, some of 2020’s “blessings” [ahem!] are impacting our club release plans. As much as we would love to see everyone, right now, we aren’t able to accommodate a party like we normally do. So, we’re continuing our special offer of $20 shipping on the club shipment, and shipping is included in the price for any order of six (6) or more bottles.
We think this is one of the best sets of wines we’ve ever sent – and can’t wait for you to enjoy them. As always, you can customize your selection, and either add-on to (or change) the wines you receive, or you can do nothing at all and you’ll receive what John has personally selected for you. This shipment includes two new releases and as a club member, you may order additional bottles of these before the remainder is made available to the world.
YOU CHOSE…. WISELY...(Part Deux)
I know, I know; I’ve used that line before, in fact, maybe more than once, but when it’s right, it’s right. We have received the first critical reviews of a few of our 2018 Pinots and to say we are blown away would be an understatement.
From Wine Critics
Some of these wines were released early to our club members, but are now available for everyone to purchase. Club members will also receive a selection of these wines in their next shipment.
While you're browsing, check out our other wines available from 2017 which have some pretty impressive reviews as well. Shipping is included on purchases of six (6) or more bottles. Refrigerated shipping is available or we can hold your selection until cooler weather arrives. Let us know!
To you and yours,
For now, we have decided to wait a little while to re-open the tasting room. We are really looking forward to seeing people again, but we are still deciding the best way to make it safe and fun for everyone, and compatible with our layout - which is still a working winery before all else. So, while we are still selling wine, we just aren’t able to do it in person as of yet.
We decided that since we can’t host you right now, the next best thing is to continue to offer complimentary shipping, the price of which is included in any new orders of six (6) or more bottles of wine!
Wine is available for purchase online (www.holdredge.com), and a refrigerated shipping option is available. Of course, we are still providing “safe” curbside pickup at the winery by appointment, so it’s been great to see people, and we have had a lot of fun doing local delivery (Gracie cannot wait to get her license!).
The Cheese Course
We turned to our friend Kate O’Donnell, the Cheese Monger at Big John’s in Healdsburg. Kate is super talented, and came up with some great pairings. Most are available nationally, but if your local specialty store doesn’t have them, they should be able to recommend something similar.
Artikass “Hay There!” (a Gouda with truffles from the Netherlands); Point Reyes Cheese Co. “Toma” (cow cheese creamy, buttery with a little zip to finish); and Cypress Grove “Humboldt Fog”, (a soft goat cheese; they also make a “Truffle Tremor” which is similar to the Fog, but has truffles. It’s another great pairing, and we sometimes use it in a potato gratin).
“P’tit Basque” (widely available, a hand-made sheep’s milk cheese from the Pyrenees;
Jasper Hills Farm (Vermont) “Cabot Clothbound” Cheddar; Bucheron (a goat cheese from the Loire Valley- many producers); and Gruyere- Kate said pick your favorite.
*Like wine, cheese is a matter of taste and preference.
John and Carri
Wine Club – March 2020
And now.....the first wines from the 2018 vintage. It’s always emotional to release new wines- we started walking the vineyards for this harvest two years ago, we vinified the grapes a year and a half ago, we bottled the wines seven months ago, and we’ve been waiting to release them since then. There is a lot of reflection that one goes through after the wine is in bottle; you wonder if the things that made the wines special to you before they went into bottle will be there when you release them. In this instance, the answer is a resounding “yes!”. This shipment covers some cool places in Sonoma County, from the Russian River Valley, to Fort Ross - Seaview, to Freestone; to say we are excited about these wines is a bit of an understatement.
Holdredge 2018 “Pratt-Sexton” Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir- New Vineyard!! Only 78 cases made. $54/btl (Club Price: $45.90)
One of the neighborhoods I’ve always wanted to work with is around Freestone. It’s an extremely cold area- it’s a pretty straight shot from Bodega/the Pacific too. The maritime influence in that area (read: cold weather) defines the wines that come from there- with brilliant acidity (grapes don’t respire as much acid in cold as they do in heat). Jim Pratt is a grower who quietly oversees some very special places- among them this vineyard on Sexton Road (hence the name Pratt-Sexton). Sexton runs south from Bodega Highway (it’s the second road east of Freestone). The vineyard is planted on a hillside at around 950-foot elevation, and in that cold climate, Dijon clones express extremely well – this is all 777.
Perhaps most distinctive about this vineyard is a savory character that runs through the wines it produces; that element defines our 2018. There is an expression in French: “sous bois”, which translates to “forest floor”, but not so much in reference to dirt- but in reference to the varying mélange of plants and underbrush etc.in the forest. Tasting this, I think of walking across a forest floor on a bed of pine needles- your boots never touching the soil, your jeans brushing against wild herbs. But ultimately, it’s not about what I smell as I walk through that “forest” – it’s about what I feel. Deep conifer forests have a quiet and patient voice, and this wine has that personality. It’ll be fun to watch develop, especially over the next 6-8 years, but it’s really drinking well right now. 105 cases made. Drink now until 2027.
Holdredge 2018 “Three Sisters Vineyard” Fort Ross- Seaview Pinot Noir- New Release! Only 126 cases made. $70/btl (Club Price: $59.50)
At 1250 foot elevation, this is our highest elevation vineyard- planted in weathered slate soils that seem to demand patience. In 2018, we took a chance and delayed the picking of this vineyard- even through the late September rains. I felt if we got through them in good shape, these grapes might show something even more special. Given the potential for disaster, it was a leap of faith, that in retrospect I’m glad I made (although there was definitely some nail-biting along the way!).
This wine beguiles me – not just for how it straddles elegance and power, or the flavor components, or even for the acid - which allows the wine, with all that power, to still speak with precision. But what really draws me in is an aromatic note of crushed flowers. We’ve made plenty of Pinots with floral notes- but this isn’t the aromas of rose petals or violets- it’s completely different- it’s the smell of fresh crushed flowers and it's beautiful.
What’s fun about this is that even though it has the depth and structure to pair with rich foods with bold flavors (Rack of Lamb is always a smashing pairing for wines from this vineyard; which historically was a sheep ranch), it can work equally well with a lot of other foods. We had it (to write these notes) with a selection of cheeses with a little of our “backyard” lavender-orange blossom honey drizzled on a couple of them, and it was wonderful. This one is delicious now, a little decanting for the next few months won’t hurt, and I think if you are the patient sort, you’ll be able to enjoy these for a good while. If such things matter to you (as they do to me), Carri says it’s her favorite wine we’ve made from this vineyard. 120 cases made. Drink now to 2027.
Holdredge 2018 “Petits Cadeaux” Russian River Valley Pinot Noir - New Release! Only 148 cases made. $54/btl (Club Price: $45.90)
We take multiple clones from the Martaella Vineyard and typically do two different picks a couple of weeks apart. Usually, the tiniest berry clones (90, 96, and Hanzell) compromise the biggest parts of this wine – around 80-90%. But all the fruit from there in 2018 (Pommard, Martini, and AS-8 clones) was ridiculously good, and we ended up with a blend that was only about 55% of the tiny berry clones; the other clones were just that good. It showed a lot of baby fat when it was young, but has continued to evolve into a nicely structured wine.
This vineyard has always spoken with a big voice, and the 2018 is no exception, but it has a personality that is both opulent and dignified. Walking this vineyard, I always sense its personality, which is it is somewhat apart from others on the Olivet Bench. Largely owing to topography and farming, it is the best part of that neighborhood. If you listen to the place, it's impossible not to feel that in its voice. I think that reflects in the way it presents itself, it is a big wine that somehow still has a deftness.
In terms of flavor profiles, the aromatics are very much like the 2014, but it has the mouthfeel and richness of the 2013. I tend to enjoy this wine a bit sooner than some of our others, but this one will continue to develop. 150 cases made. Drink now to 2025.
John & Carri Holdredge
Wine Club – December 2019
These wines are the last to be released from the 2017 vintage- and the 16 months in the bottle have had a profound impact on them. I’ve been surprised by how much these have evolved, even just since August. All of these are ready to drink now- and will handle whatever holiday foods you might pair with them. We wish you a great holiday season, filled with the love of family and friends!
Holdredge 2017 “The True” Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir- Only 101 cases made. $50/btl (Club Price: $42.50) The early season heat that hammered Sonoma County in late August was least influential in the Annapolis area, where this wine is grown. The closest proximity to the ocean of all the sites we work within the “true” Sonoma Coast allowed what marine influence there was to keep things moderate. The grapes had barely begun veraison at that time, so they were able to shrug off the heat, and the flavors and sugars developed after the heat, and at a rather moderate pace.
In the glass, it is initially the most red-fruit and floral driven wine from this vineyard that nature has given us for a few years. But as it opens in the glass, deeper-toned aromatics emerge. While it initially seems a medium-bodied wine, with some time in the glass, a ton of richness emerges. It’s really quite graceful, and even some very fine tannins coat the palate (the result of a LOT of hand punch-downs!) Drink now, although we are still decanting it- a little air makes for a world of happiness. It should continue to develop over the next 7-8 years. 94 points- Jeb Dunnuck
Holdredge 2017 “Saralee’s Vineyard” Russian River Valley Pinot Noir - Only 95 cases made. $50/btl (Club Price: $42.50) If you know our story, you know our journey into Pinot began at Saralee’s Vineyard in 2001. We lived just down the road, we knew and loved Saralee, and our son learned to fish in her ponds when he was almost 4- so the place carries some real meaning, besides growing delicious grapes. Saralee passed in 2014, but Jackson Family Wines (La Crema) now own the vineyard and are kind enough to sell us grapes.
When we finally opened our first bottle of this vintage, the first entry in my tasting notes says it all: “Classic SL”. It has the lifted red fruit, round mid-palate, and nice palate weight we always get from there- and to me, it is quintessential Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. While this is always a wine that is delicious when young, it always develops a ton of nuance in the bottle. As we tasted the bottle (Ok, “drank”), I kept thinking about past vintages- and the 2017 is very reminiscent of the 2005, which was (and is) one of my favorite wines from that vineyard. I expect it to offer great drinking pleasure to 2028. I think it really captures the voice of this place, which has, over the years, become a good friend of mine.
Holdredge 2017 “Rolling Thunder” Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir - New Release! Only 123 cases made. $50/btl (Club Price: $42.50) The two strains of Pinot we take from this vineyard (Pommard and 828), situated on a mountain top outside Occidental, are completely different, from bud break to cluster morphology, to the flavor profile. We usually pick them from 8-10 days apart, and vinify them separately, and barrel and keep them separate until blending. The 828 (picked first) was excellent, but the Pommard just seemed to have something very special. As I kept tasting the Pommard in barrel, I kept asking myself, “can this really be this good?” In a word, yes. As good as the 828 was, and it was really good, the more Pommard we worked into the blend, the more we liked the wine. The 2017 is 93% Pommard clone (the most we’ve ever used).
True to its name and place, this is a full-bodied wine that is all about power on the one hand but without sacrificing a sense of elegance. The aromatics cover a broad spectrum, from candied dark cherries and black tea to violets and dried orange rind notes. There is a purity about it- with tremendous focus, a concentrated mid-palate, and some ultra-fine tannins. Though full-bodied, it is really quite complete- a balanced wine that one person said: “just glides over the palate”. Indeed. Drink now until 2026. 93 Points-Jeb Dunnuck
Holdredge 2017 “Upper Elevations” Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir - New Release!
Only 101 cases made. $60/btl (Club Price: $51) This is our blend from three of the “true” Sonoma Coast vineyards we work with: Martinelli “Three Sisters” Vineyard (Fort Ross Seaview- 2nd ridge in from the Pacific, Josephine Soils at elevation 1260); the Campbell Ranch (Annapolis- 2nd ridge in from the Pacific, Goldridge soils at elevation 750); and the “Riddle Ranch” (Occidental area, 3rd Ridge in from the Pacific, Goldridge soils at elevation 950).Each of these places has a distinctive character- Martinelli for its notes of lifted red fruit and silky palate; Campbell (the True), which straddles power and elegance; and Riddle Ranch (“Rolling Thunder”), a consistent testament to power. The final blend is 38% “Three Sisters”, 29% “The True, and 33% “Rolling Thunder” (the 2016 was only 9% Rolling Thunder).
When we tasted it in late October, Carri’s first comment was “wow, that just absolutely jumps out of the glass!”, and it really does. The aromatics are a wonderful mix of black cherries, red licorice, and very ripe strawberries. The mouthfeel is rich and expansive, and to call it “silky” only captures part of its appeal. Although at any given moment I might identify aspects from one of the wines in the blend, moments later I might identify an aspect of a different wine. It continues to evolve in the glass and is simply delicious right now. Drink now until 2027.
John & Carri Holdredge
Wine Club – Fall 2019
So much to say, so little space to say it in. Having just bottled the 2018s, and waiting for the 2019 harvest to start (we’re ready!!), it’s been fun to re-visit these wines from 2017 as we assembled this club shipment. We are including three Pinots; two of which have been part of our lineup for some time, the third of which is newer to the mix, somewhat iconic, and has already garnered a following. We round it out with the last “Schioppettino” we will be releasing for a while, but this one is a doozy! We continue to be grateful for the many blessings in our lives; and we hope these wines convey how we feel about this very special place we call home.
Holdredge 2017 “Judgment Tree” Russian River Valley Pinot Noir - New Release Only 102 cases made. $70/btl (Club Price: $59.50)
In 2017, I may have walked Rochioli more than any other vineyard we work with. I just wasn’t feeling like it was ready- I liked the flavors a lot, but it just wasn’t speaking to me. Then one morning in mid-September, on my way back from vineyard checks on the coast, I stopped by for a quick taste, though I wasn’t expecting much difference. It was a classic cool Russian River morning, and as I walked uphill through the profound “hush” that only a heavy fog can bring, it felt like there wasn’t another being in the universe as far as I could tell. At that moment, I finally heard the vineyard. We picked the following day.
This wine was one of those that made itself in many ways. It was slow to start fermenting (native yeasts sometimes have their own thoughts), and finished slowly too, with really good extraction; the total time on the skins was 24 days. Early on, it showed a fair amount of grip which is typical of that vineyard, but I’ve learned to be patient there, as the tannins always resolve into very fine tannins. While this wine has plenty of red fruit, it isn’t at all “candied”, it’s really more of a mulled fruit note- and those superfine tannins really carry the finish, which lasts a good while. I plan on drinking this over the next 7-9 years.
Holdredge 2017 Sonoma Mountain Pinot Noir- “Steiner-Dry Stack Vineyards” - New Release Only 95 cases made. $50/btl (Club Price: $42.50)
This is the second wine we’ve blended from these two vineyards (we’ve worked with Steiner since 2012), and I continue to be drawn into the dynamic of blending wines from two very distinctive sites on the same slope of the mountain. Dry Stack (lower slopes) came in quite early (second wine in the barn), and showed a pretty dynamic (exuberant) personality from day one. The Steiner (upper slopes), true to its place, was picked three weeks later and has always been darker, more pensive, and broader across the palate. In the blend, the Dry Stack provided a
focused core of red fruit, while Steiner lent richness to the palate. This year we blended slightly more Dry Stack into the blend; as we added more, we just liked the resulting structure of the wine even more. If you like aromatics of strawberries, cherries, and dried flowers, you’ll love this one. The 2016 took a while to reveal itself- but ended up as one of the “crowd favorites” of all the 2016s. Drink now and for the next 6-8 years.
Holdredge 2017 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir – Bucher Vineyard New Release Only 125 cases made. $50/btl (Club Price: $42.50)
In a way, this wine reflects a full circle at Bucher. Our first wine from there in 2006 was all from the “Pear Tree” block- the northernmost block at Bucher (about a 1⁄2 mile north of the ranch entrance). Pear Tree is planted almost entirely to clone 667 and has always been the backbone of our wines from Bucher. Beginning in 2008, we began getting grapes from other parts of the ranch, which have been used in varying amounts over the years. 2017 marked a return to 100% Pear Tree block- it is simply better by itself, and no amount of blending gave us a better wine.
This definitely shows full ripeness, with a darker color than the others in this release. The red fruit is more to the dark cherry side of things, and the telltale rose petal aromatic note we get from Bucher is darker as well. It definitely is fleshy in the palate, but still holds the finish. This summer, we’ve been having it with a lot of grilled meats (it’s amazing how well a boneless pork chop and this wine go together). We are definitely enjoying it now- but it should continue to develop nicely for another 5-7 years.
Oscuro 2016 Dry Creek Valley “Schioppettino” - New Release!
Only 84 cases made. $45/btl (Club Price: $38.25) In 2004, we made and released the very first Schioppettino in North American history. It has been a lot of fun learning about this grape, and it opened us to some other amazing Cal-Ital wine possibilities. But our growing portfolio of Pinot places serious demands on our winemaking time and energy, so with some sadness, I must report that this may be the last Schioppettino we make for a while (although Carri has pointed out that I sometimes go to “Happyland”- which she says is at the junction of no business sense and no impulse control; so never say never).
But if we gotta say “ciao”, this is the vintage to do it with- talk about going out with a bang – this wine just smacks you in the face with a noted of cracked pepper, followed by mulberries, dark cherries, and blackberries. It is at once rich and focused, but I think it expresses luxuriousness as much as anything. Over the years, we’ve marveled at how versatile this wine is with food. Last night, I harvested some late potatoes, onions, parsley, and a few green beans from the garden, cooked some bacon, and made a simple potato salad with a little olive oil and the slightest hint of vinegar. Just wonderful. You’ll be able to enjoy this wine with food (or by itself) for the next 6-9 years.
John & Carri Holdredge
It’s hard to believe, but we are just a few days from bottling the 2017 Pinots, with the 2018 harvest hot on its heels. I haven’t said a lot about 2017 - it’s a vintage that has really stayed with me in terms of processing the lessons Nature provided, and I think I’ve been thinking about it a lot more than talking about it. But with bottling around the corner, it is an apropos time to do so.
In late August, we experienced a heat wave that was unlike anything I’ve ever seen here. It was like working with a blast furnace in a steel mill on a very hot day; just an unbelievably oppressive and relentless level of heat. It continued unabated- with no respite from the fog. As a result, we didn’t ease into harvest - it was dropped on us like a ton of bricks. I saw a few winemaking buddies around town in the middle of it; each time nobody said anything - we just shook our heads and never broke our 1000 yard stares.
Of course, the weather always changes - and when the break came it came in the form of a couple cold rainy days. I was driving home one of those mornings after checking a vineyard (which I had decided to pick), and as I rounded a curve on Westside road, I was hit with an amazing view of the rain as it was crossing the valley, coupled with a realization that made me pull off the road just to think about it.
I called Carri, and told her that over the years, I’ve come to fully embrace my role as being more of a custodian than a winemaker. As I’ve learned these lessons over the years, I’ve become very comfortable with that role- which emanates from truly understanding that wine is made by Nature- not winemakers. In fact, my role has largely been reduced to one critical decision- calling the pick. It’s not that I don’t work- I work like crazy - it’s simply that the work I do is undertaken from the standpoint of letting the wines define themselves. But the picking decision is the one moment where I am not a custodian - it’s the moment where I get to shape the wine.
And I told her that I loved that I was so comfortable with the fact that I had this one job, this one thing I do, that in many ways defines the ending quality of the wine. But I had just realized that to that point in harvest 2017, I hadn’t called a single pick, not one. Nature had called them all for m e- every time I said it was time to pick, it was because Nature had already decided it, and made it crystal clear to me. As I thought about it, I realized that perhaps it was always so, I just hadn’t really grasped it.
I think the wines reflected that pedigree- from the onset they were very strong willed, with a lot of personality. It’s said that there are three questions all humans ask: who am I, where am I from, and where am I going? In a way, I think the personality of the 2017 vintage is a certainty and self-assuredness – as though these wines know the answers to those very questions; and they carry themselves with the certainty one might expect from that knowledge.
Some of the 2017s were sampled by the public during the barrel weekends- and it was surprising how evenly the love was spread among them, which I suppose is a very good sign. And yet, their direction remained elusive to me in many ways - as though they were making me wait to find out who they were determined to be. Which is a lot like raising kids I suppose. The wait has been more than worthwhile; Nature left a huge imprint on this vintage- and fans of elegant, rich, red fruit driven Pinot will be very happy.
We’ll be turning our attention to the 2018 harvest soon enough, for now, we keep tasting through the 11 pinots we are bottling, all of which are in tanks for bottling, and we keep fine tuning things. Bottling is a crazy time for us, but it’s the home stretch for what I believe are some very delicious wines. I can’t wait to share them with you.
John & Carri Holdredge
Quite understandably, the question I’m most often asked at this time of year is “how’s the harvest?” As I’ve grown as a winemaker and as a person, I’ve really moved away from thinking about specific fine details of the wines at this stage- I’m just starting to know them. Aside from the process of managing fermentations, what I tend to focus on this time of year is the emotion of the harvest. By that, I mean how does Mother Nature treat us? What is her mood and how does she express it? And what do the wines say as a result?
Every year, Nature places her stamp on the vintage. Whether it’s a hot year (2002, 2003), a cold year (2011), a year with a huge crop (2012), a year with a small crop (2010), she always has her say. But challenges aren’t always the emotion; some years, the weather is simply ideal, and Nature stamps the whole vintage with a nurturing feel; it’s a very real thing to connect with, and the best part of the journey. In such years (like 2007, 2015, 2016) the connection I feel to the earth, through the emotion of the vintage, is beyond explanation.
We work pretty hard to prepare for crush. Since my return to cycling last November, I was in better shape for a harvest than I think I’ve ever been, and felt very prepared. Emotionally, the year was feeling much like 2015 and 2016, except the grapes weren’t going to be picked as early as those years, so we had a little extra time, which was nice. The labor pool was challenging; we weren’t sure if there would be enough picking crews, and I literally didn’t have interns confirmed until late August, but despite those uncertainties, we felt on track.
And that was the precise moment Mother Nature decided to remind us that she can change it all in a heartbeat; and dropped the mother of all heat waves on us. When I say “heat wave”, these were the highest temperatures ever recorded around here, and for multiple days. The string of 100+ degree days that were projected (and we were at 113 and above) seemed to stretch out forever in the forecasts.
It wasn’t just “hot” either, it was an incredibly heavy, oppressive heat, which I have little to compare to other than the desert, but even that feels different. No matter, sugars skyrocketed. It was so hot that grapes didn’t raisin, so much as they seemed to just lose moisture on a cellular level.
This led to the only place it could: total pandemonium. We usually start with a couple small picks from two small places, and then it’s a week or more before anything else comes in. It works out great, and always gives us a chance to get everyone dialed in. Not this year. We picked those two places, and four other vineyards, all on the first day, which itself was a solid two weeks earlier than I had expected. Other vineyards, that days earlier I thought were two or three weeks out, were ready for picking “tomorrow”. We had barely gotten the winery ready and we were just flat-out slammed; long days back to back to back, with no respite in sight.
Was there an emotion to the early part of harvest? Yeah- it was like Mother Nature was swinging a steel hammer, and connecting. It was a relentless pounding that reverberated through us like it feels in a steel mill when a huge machine relentlessly pounds metal to shape it. That was the emotion. Winemakers would see each other and there’d be no small talk, just a painful shake of the head and move on.
And then, when it just had to end, it did. The heat broke, and after a bit of rain (leading to speculation on my part as to whether a volcano would erupt before the locusts would arrive), the weather changed to a more moderate pattern, things slowed to a most civilized pace, and it was just absolutely glorious in the vineyard and in the winery. It ended up being a very compressed, but very wonderful harvest.
It’s funny; in a way it’s somewhat difficult to remember how hard it was just a few weeks ago, because even with that start, it was an amazing experience. The onslaught of heat made everyone come together and the interns turned out to be two of the best we’ve ever had. Wayne, who you know from our Tasting Room, jumped in to help, and my son worked a few days before leaving for college. Growers and winemakers took care of each other as they could; we were all getting pounded, and we all pulled together. And, as I tasted the fermenting wines, I was struck by their personalities, even the earliest picks.
Over the years, I have come to fully embrace the fact that as a winemaker I only do one significant thing, and that’s to call the picking date. As I drove back one morning from a vineyard check, I realized that I hadn’t called a single pick so far - Nature had called them all. At first, that kind of irked me, it’s my one job. Then I realized Nature had reminded me in a big way that I only get to do my job if she lets me; and that sometimes when she does it for me, fabulous wines can ensue, which was a different version of her annual reminder to stay within myself and to remember I don’t know it all, if I know anything at all.
As it turns out, I’m a bit captivated by the 2017s; if there’s a common theme, it’s that for wines so young, they all seem to share a real sense of purpose. Wherever they go, it won’t be me steering them- they already know it for themselves. I keep asking myself how those personalities came from that experience, but perhaps, akin to having been forged in heat, they are just more resilient, or something like that. Perhaps I will be as well; I experienced a harvest like nothing I’ve ever seen, and I hope to be a better winemaker as a result.
So how is the 2017 harvest coming along? In all honesty, it’s been absolutely brutal, and it’s been absolutely incredible. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.
We’re bottling our wines from the 2016 vintage in a couple weeks, so it’s really a pretty intense time for us; there a ton of logistical details that all have to come perfectly together, not to mention the fine finishing details of all the wines themselves. It’s akin sending the children off into the world, and you can do nothing further for them- it’s frankly emotional on a lot of levels. We fret over small details, and the actual bottling days can range from a grueling ordeal to getting a real beat-down! But that’s part of the price nature demands if you want to make Pinot, and when it’s over, we look at each other and laugh as we know we managed to [somehow!] do it again.
Over the past few months we’ve made our blending and barrel selection decisions, and we are extremely happy with them. It looks like we’ll bottle eleven Pinots from 2016. This includes a new Pinot blended from two vineyards on Sonoma Mountain, one at the top along the sandy eastern slope, and one near the base of the west slope that seems planted in shale. Sonoma Mountain is a special place, and dramatically different from other places we get Pinot, and the wine is dramatically different. We’re also bottling a small Pinot blend that celebrates some of our higher elevation vineyards along the coast. These two new wines represent geographic bookends for our vineyard sources- ranging from Sonoma Mountain to the mountain sites in the True Sonoma Coast.
- John Holdredge