Monday, February 8, 2016

El Nino Winter in Anderson Valley

Although we've been busy traveling on sales trips, rehabbing the tasting room for the New Year, and generally dealing with a business and a one-year-old, this is theoretically the quiet time at Foursight winery and Charles Vineyard. (I admit I'm beginning to think "slow time" or "quiet time" is a big joke!) Regardless, the vines are mostly pre-pruned, we just reopened in the tasting room after a three-week winter break (where we got snowed in on the East Coast by Jonas), and the wines are resting in barrel, with no imminently planned activity except topping.

New-release 2013 Pinot Noirs at our Boonville tasting room

This is our first El Nino winter in years, and, to be honest, we didn't start to feel like it until the new year. Our rain year, which starts October 1, was almost identical to 2015 -- a drought year -- until the beginning of January. The last few years we had what skiers called "June-uary," which were sunny, warm and more Margarita weather than skiing weather. January 2016 was decidedly not.

It was wet enough last month that we were starting to get a little weary of our soggy, muddy state of living. And then, in true Mother Nature fashion, it changed. This weekend has been sunny and warm and gorgeous, which is a wonderful break as long as it starts raining again at some point! Our rain total for the water year is more than 26" right now via our weather station (a hand count of our manual rain gauges usually shows a little more).
Evan and his cupcake

Today our capsules for 2016 summer bottling were delivered, which was a little reminder of the year, looking forward. We've had a busy tasting room, and we're starting to really plan our spring events. By April we won't take a breath until post-harvest, except to close one weekend in June when the enormous music festival comes to town.

We enjoyed our San Francisco Super Bowl 50 refugees this past weekend, and celebrated baby Evan's first birthday, so I guess he's toddler Evan now -- walking, talking and who-knows-what-else soon!

Until the next time!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Harvest 2015: The End Draws Near

As we heard a slight drizzle on the roof last night, we were thankful that harvest is almost over for us at Charles Vineyard. As it seems to happen when the season is very cold or very warm, everything came in all at once. We started with Sauvignon Blanc on August 15, and brought in the last of the Pinto Noir for ourselves this past week. All we have hanging on the vine is Semillon (which tends to handle a little water like a champion).

As I have addressed in my two previous posts, it was an unusual year where warm weather and a lack of fruit came together to create the earliest harvest in California to-date. Quality looks good, but there just isn't much of it.

This vintage was unique for us not only because of the early start (we moved bottling back a few weeks and still managed to bottle and pick in the same week), but also because it's the first vintage with baby Evan. I've had to take a little bit (or a lot) of a back seat for the long days, instead having my own long days with our six-month-old. In the best possible way, of course. His fascination with everything that goes on here (tractors, forklift, people, delicious grapes) imbues us with a new sense of wonder at the business we've chosen (it's sheer insanity for a small amount of the time). The middle-of-the-night wakings also add to the harvest fog we normally have, even though we realize that this time will pass very soon.

Our only disappointment with harvest comes with the lack of fruit. We purchased a new tank and chiller for the express purpose of making more Sauvignon Blanc from our estate. Unfortunately, this will have to wait for another vintage. Our Pinot Noirs will also be more limited than usual for vintage 2015.

Right now we have fermenting Pinot Noir in the back, getting several punchdowns (by hand of course!) per day. This will increase and then decrease again until it's time to press the new wine off the skins and put it into barrel. By October we will be done with this process and with the official crush season.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Harvest 2015 Has Started!

It's here! This Saturday we picked our rows of Charles Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, kicking off vintage 2015 for Foursight Wines. It was also baby Evan's first harvest day; he had a sample of some grapes as they arrived at the crushpad (although he likes it a little sweeter)!

My previous post talks about some of the challenges with this particular vintage, but the one we're feeling particularly is the lack of fruit in most of the North Coast. We believe our estate is more than 50% down in tonnage for our Sauvignon Blanc, and 30-40% off in Pinot Noir. Gray, gloomy weather during the spring caused a bad set. Clusters are small, berries are small, and there's not much of them.

Unfortunately for us, that means less production for this vintage. We won't feel it until we release the wines in a few years, but knowing this will make us address the 2016 vintage differently (like producing additional quicker-to-release wines like our Vin Gris perhaps). We also won't be able to use our new tank, purchased for the express purpose of producing more Sauvignon Blanc this year as it keeps selling out too quickly! Murphy's law, right?

The Pinot starts coming in next Friday, after several days of bottling the 2014 Pinot Noirs. Given the small crop, we're planning to focus on our mainstays (Zero New Oak, Charles Vineyard, and Clone 05 Pommard Pinots) and, with the warmer year, perhaps some Paraboll. Wish us all luck!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Harvest 2015: What We're Seeing So Far

   Foursight Winemaker Joe Webb prepared the below post on harvest 2015. Bottom line: let's hope you have a talented winemaker, because this year could be fantastic or it could be, well, not.


   This winter was wetter and milder than the past few (32” of rain as opposed to 20"-22" the last few years).  Bud break was one week early. We had cool weather through flowering in April, which caused shatter in the Sauvignon Blanc (cold weather causes flowers to stay closed and not be pollinated, simply falling off). Shatter means reduced yields, and it looks like our Sauvignon will be scarce this year. 
   The same cold weather caused Millerandage in some of the Pinot Noir, also known as hens and chicks in English. This is a condition that means berries are pollinated, but set improperly. The affected bunches develop berries of different sizes that mature at different rates. It is commonly viewed as a problem, as it reduces yield, but a vintner can use use it to his or her advantage as the berries that do develop tend to be highly concentrated in flavor.
    This past week we saw cloudy days and some sprinkles, which should put harvest back into a normal range, starting in September.
    It will not be a great vintage for farmers (lower tonnage than average) but the potential for concentrated fruit due to that low tonnage combined with more skin tannin and color from the small berries could make for some excellent wines.  Managing tannin from the small berries plus tannin coming from stems and oak will be different than in years past, but the all-mighty basket press is the great equalizer. We employ a traditional, wood-slatted basket press for our wines, which allows us to taste as we press and get the desired amount of tannin before the wines go into barrel. We can also use less new oak for less oak tannin, and more for more.
    To test the fruit before harvest we typically take samples of 100 berries from each block, then test that. Because of the irregularity of the clusters I will be taking cluster samples this year instead. 
   Timing irrigation, if there are any heat waves near harvest, will also be key to keep the little berries from shriveling into raisins.
    This will certainly be a vintage where I feel small wineries with extra attention to detail in the vineyard and winery will show.

Joe Webb
Winemaker, Foursight Wines