Ways to tell it’s Harvest

Saw this wonderful article on how to tell it is harvest time in Wine Country by Peg Melnik…if you have never experienced a wine grape harvest, you are missing out on the excitement.  Here at Turtle Vines we expect harvest to the around September 20th, give or take…will see how the next months weather cooperates!

The famous writer obviously forgot one important caveat: except during harvest.

As the decidedly uncivilized harvest season unfolds in Sonoma and Napa counties over the next few weeks we’ll see the signs –– the media circus, the gawkers and the tourists –– all craving a glimpse of how wine is birthed.

Their photos, of course, won’t capture the spectacle — the joy in the midst of the contractions. And it’s a messy, long labor, not unlike that of comedian Rita Rudner who complained “life is tough enough without having someone kick you from the inside.”

The gawkers, may not realize it, but the locals know who calls the shots when it comes to harvest: the grape. It’s that’s bossy diva who’s running the show and has everyone working ridiculous hours, causing sleep-deprived winemakers, growers and their crews to resemble the walking dead.

Sleep deprivation, of course, isn’t the half of it. These harvest pickers often risk their lives, and most certainly their sanity, for the optimal pick.

Case in point. For more than two decades 78-year-old Lee Martinelli has teetered on his tractor, defying gravity on Jackass Hill that, with a 60 percent slope, is the steepest vineyard in Sonoma County. Keep in mind this steep slope isn’t even legal in Sonoma County anymore, but the hill at Martinelli’s winery in Windsor was grandfathered in. The vintner keeps his boots loose when he harvests his prized zinfandel in case he needs to jump ship should the tractor take a spill.

 If the quirky name — Jackass Hill — leads you to assume that a donkey was involved in plowing the 3-acre vineyard, you’re wrong. Martinelli said the name dates back to the 1970s, and it has to do with a two-legged creature, a snarky one at that. Helen, late second wife to Martinelli’s late father Leno, once groused “only a jackass would farm that hill.”

Like the hijinks of Jackass Hill, there’s a hilarity to harvest, whether you love it or you hate it, whether you want to curse the diva or celebrate her. Clearly harvest time makes strange bedfellows. It’s that odd mix of strange and wonderful. Just when winemakers think its intensity will send them over the edge, they’re spared by exuberance.

 Perhaps you’re already beginning to feel the impact of that bossy grape. If not, keep your eye out. Here are the 10 ways to tell it’s harvest.

1. Stocking Up — You’ll notice some Type-A winemakers making a Costco run to buy ungodly amounts of frozen dinners. The jury is out on which brand is more popular — Amy’s, which is vegan-friendly, or Stouffer’s, which offers full-on, soothing comfort food. Whatever the case, these winemakers have it all dialed in. They refuse to cook during harvest — they thaw.

2. Traffic Jams, Literally — You’ll likely get caught behind grape-laden trucks during harvest because it’s next to impossible to avoid them. They’ll slow your pace so you have to factor “truck traffic” into your time of arrival. What’s more, you’ll notice a purple residue trailing behind these trucks. A few grapes always fall off the trucks and create their own sauce when you run over them. Just beware because this special sauce is slippery.
3. Oooh-oooh, that Smell — Imagine sitting in a steam room, with a punch bowl of fermenting grapes. That’s about how potent it can smell in certain swaths of Wine Country. Academy-Award winning director Francis Ford Coppola, once said that what’s so compelling about harvest is the aroma of fermenting grapes throughout the valley. Who can argue with the man who made “Apocalypse Now” in a steamy jungle in the Philippines? It definitely beats the smell of napalm in the morning, but after a few weeks, not by much.
4. Harvest Groupies — Here’s your clue. You’ll see a crowd of people on winery launch pads, snapping a picture every nanosecond, straining to capture every angle of the grapes en route from delivery to the fermenting tanks. It’s true: the harvest season reels in the most travelers because they’re hell-bent on witnessing the authentic process. Can you blame them for wanting to be the ultimate insiders? For wanting an invitation to the harvest lunches, where vintners beef up their crews with hearty barbecues? No, you can’t. And alas, these tourists probably won’t find themselves on the guest list. Alas, neither will you.

5. Starfleet Academy — When you hear five languages across seven barstools in Healdsburg, that’s when you know they’ve arrived — this year’s international class of harvest interns. While their motto isn’t “Ex astris, scientia” — “From the stars, knowledge,” the sentiment is the same. They aim to drink in knowledge by day, and drink in everything else by night.

6. The Ripening — It’s not a horror film — yet –– but The Ripening movie could be filled with the same supernatural intrigue. Winemakers see ripening as magic and they use it as a clock to tell time. They know they’re getting close to harvest when grapes in the vineyard go through the process the French call veraison (verr-ray-zohn). In this mysterious transformation, green grapes turn red, while white grapes become translucent. Other telltale signs from the cosmos include ripe blackberries and tomatoes on the vine, and that sexy flower, Naked Ladies, popping up all over the place.

7. Cursing their Mother — You’ll hear murmurs of winemakers’ prayers, asking for Mother Nature to rein in her evil and unpredictable impulses. When she doesn’t comply, they’re left with no option but to curse her. The logistics of harvest are hard enough without heat spikes or unexpected rains. Lee Martinelli said the weather forecast can be scary, especially when it forces you to put off picking for a couple of days. Sure, there are some winemakers who aren’t intimated by the whims of Mother Nature. Nick Goldschmidt of Sonoma County’s Goldschmidt Vineyards is one of them. He said winemakers’ experience is greater than conditions, that they have techniques to override whatever Mother Nature dishes out. Goldschmidt must be an anomaly because there sure is a lot of cursing going on.

8. The Walking Dead— You’ll see people who are dazed and confused, the delirious who can no longer separate their days from their nights. Sadly, it has just occurred to them that there’s no clocking out in harvest. Keep in mind that sleep-deprivation is a form of torture. Winemaker Nico Cueva of Sonoma County’s Kosta Browne acknowledged some people can’t take the toll of harvest. He said “every year we have at least one intern who can’t take the pace and has to leave.”

9. The Hills Have Eyes — You’ll think Lady Gaga is having a wild party in Wine Country when you see a hillside strung up in lights. No such luck. The floodlights streaming through the vineyards are actually night picking. Here’s the skinny: cool nights keep crews more comfortable and keep the bees and rattlesnakes away. But the most compelling reason for night picking is it delivers a firmer, more robust grape.
9. The Hills Have Eyes — You’ll think Lady Gaga is having a wild party in Wine Country when you see a hillside strung up in lights. No such luck. The floodlights streaming through the vineyards are actually night picking. Here’s the skinny: cool nights keep crews more comfortable and keep the bees and rattlesnakes away. But the most compelling reason for night picking is it delivers a firmer, more robust grape.

10. Euphoria — During the fits of frustration, the convulsions of harvest, there is the inevitable joy. Winemakers who have been hibernating in their cellars most of the year, get to commune with nature. Goldschmidt said he loves harvest because “I get to experiment and create and that’s really what we do best.” Mick Schroeter, who makes wine for Sonoma County’s Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards, said the coolest part of harvest is the excitement. “The pace of harvest builds and all hell breaks loose. Everybody is working full-tilt, crazy hours, weekends and you think ‘when is this craziness going to end?’ But getting out into the vineyards, watching the final stages of ripening and making those first picking decisions, it’s exhilarating! Is it worth the fuss? Absolutely.”

2017 Turtle Vines Harvest Update – Aug 14, 2017

2017 Harvest is just around the corner, can’t believe where the time goes!

It is shaping up be a very good year. The weather (so far) has been cooperating this summer and I’m guessing we will harvest around the third week of September. Our winemaker from Hanzell (the grapes we sell) was very pleased at the balance of the fruit/canopy when he visited Saturday and we are both guessing 4+ tons of fruit this year.

As you can see from the photo, we netted the vineyard 2 weeks ago to keep the birds from eating our grapes. Now we just have to monitor the sugars and taste for the next 6 weeks and perform deficit irrigation (20% less water than normal).

Of course that means I only have 6 weeks to get in shape for harvest!!!

 

 

This is why I hate GOPHERS!!!

Gophers in West Sonoma County are stuff of legends…in some places they have eaten 1/3 of new planted vines. They are a constant nuisance and something they don’t tell you about much when you start a vineyard. So…they get trapped and hopefully the population declines over time.

Well, this time of year I really hate them because they like tender new shoots from young vines that are producing grapes for the first year…after I have carefully tended them for almost 3 years. As you can see in the picture they killed this vine just yesterday with grapes still hanging.

Hate to say this out loud…but I hope to say RIP to this gopher later in the day.

Just FYI…
2012 – 18
2014 – 40
2015 – 55
2016 – 33
2017 – 25 as of 8/5/17

Turtle Vines Status – July 2, 2017

For those unfamiliar with the vineyard season…most of the daily work is performed from early March to the end of June.  So what is left for me to do?

As you can see the vines are in great shape this year.  We had record breaking rainfall this winter so the vines still have not been irrigated, and I’m hoping that continues for a few more weeks.  When I do need water, I have to “stress” the grapes with only 75% of their water needs to produce flavorful grapes.  Next…I have 2 or 3 more sprays with oil to prevent mildew and botrytis.  Then…we finish tucking the vines in the wires and hedge the top a second time.  Additionally…the nets go up the end of the month to prevent birds from eating our crop. Only then do I switch hats from vineyard manager to winemaker on a full time basis to monitor the crop and decide when to harvest!!!

From the picture below you can see the bunches are about ready to close and then veraison will occur when they go from green to red.  Approximately 60 days later we will harvest…and 2017 looks to be a pretty good year based on what I see so far.

I’m guessing we will be harvesting around September 16th…so if you are in the area contact me and be prepared to work!

Broken Screwpull Cork Puller?

After 20 years and many, many wine bottles opened…our Screwpull cork puller broke!!!  If you can see in the picture, the metal on the top snapped.  At least it broke when opening our 2015 Turtle Vines Pinot Noir which we were testing to see if it is ready to be released in the fall.  So, like breaking a leg, I’m considering this to be good luck…and yes, the 2015 will be ready in a few months!

FYI…we might buy a new one on the Amazon website. The original was made in France…the new one is made in China…or might just get another original one on eBay.    Hopefully we will get another 20 years with the new one!

Update on 8/2/17 – after reading all the reviews…we ordered an original made in France from eBay…so far, so good.

 

Weird Weather or Climate Change

A week ago on Sunday 6/11/17 we were thinking that June has been a cool month and it looked line rain.  Well, later in the afternoon we had hail!  This is not an unusual occurrence in many parts of the country, but for us in Russian River Valley, we don’t even get much rain in June.

Now a week later we are having a heat wave.  It was 97 yesterday and will be 96 today.  The next 5 days look to be 96, 89, 92, and 95!!!  We don’t get this kind of heat in August.

So, is the vineyard OK?  So far…the picture below shows we still have green grass between the rows.  It is looking to be a good year!

Just so happens I was speaking to someone this last week about climate change and the subject of “The earth is cooling” from the 70’s came up.  So I decided to do a little research and looks like those research papers assumed we would increase sulfurs in the air by 4X.  But…we changed regulations and the greenhouse gases have taken over…so, I do believe in climate change and now can understand the “cooling” argument from the 70’s.  Check out my link above for a little information.

Russian River Applellation – History of Exceptional Pinot

I came across this article today in our local paper, The Press Democrat, about the history of Pinot Noir in Russian River Valley and thought it would  be of interest to the lovers of Pinot!  Thanks Michael Austin for writing this article!

You can find good examples of pinot noir in nooks up and down the California coast — it’s a big place — but one of the state’s most renowned spots for the beloved wine style, if not the single-most renowned spot, is the cool-climate Russian River Valley appellation in Sonoma County.

With its coastal influences (at its closest point, it is less than 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean), including the maritime fog that creeps in daily through the coastal mountain range opening known as the Petaluma Gap, the Russian River Valley provides just the right conditions for the notoriously fickle grape variety.

To clarify, there’s the Russian River (a waterway), the Russian River Valley (a long, inland plain that is home to several appellations), and the Russian River Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area), which sits within the larger Russian River Valley. All clear? I don’t want to hear anyone out there saying, “It’s all Russian to me.”

Stretching from Healdsburg in the north to Guerneville in the west, and all the way down to Sebastopol and Santa Rosa in the south, the appellation covers close to 170,000 acres of low plains, and 15,000 of them are planted with vines.

The actual Russian River is named for the Russian immigrants who settled in this part of California in the early 1800s and traded furs at the coastal Fort Ross. It is believed that Sonoma’s first wine grapes were planted there, and eventually the Russian pioneers migrated inland and south, to spots near Sebastopol, to continue their agricultural pursuits.

Part of that agrarian grand plan was to grow wine grapes, and by the late 1800s an estimated 7,000 acres of vines had been planted. The 1960s ushered in the area’s modern winemaking period, when grape growers began relying more on the cool-climate grapes that would eventually do so well there — chardonnay and pinot noir. Today 70 percent of all grapes grown in the Russian River Valley are either chardonnay or pinot noir, with pinot noir accounting for almost a third of them.

The Russian River Valley appellation was established in 1983, and by the 1990s, the area had built a reputation for producing consistently exceptional pinot noir. In 2005 and again in 2011, the borders of the appellation shifted, making an already large region even larger. There are also two smaller appellations within its boundaries: the Green Valley AVA and the Chalk Hill AVA. More than 100 wineries call the Russian River Valley appellation home, and even though the renowned grapes of France’s Burgundy region are the area’s bread and butter, close to three dozen other grape varieties are grown there.

But, of course, the pinot noirs stand out. Don’t count on strawberry-kissed fruit explosions in every bottle, but do expect consistent ripe cherry, tangy cranberry, some earthy and savory elements, refreshing acidity, a velvety mouth feel and multilayered, long finishes. These are elegant wines, often with enough bright New World fruit to please the folks whose tastes veer toward the jammier styles of pinot noir. They’re not cheap. Considering that they are among the best pinot noirs our country has to offer, though, they don’t seem so expensive after all.

 

2014 Turtle Vines Pinot Noir @ Gravenstein Grill !

Turtle Vines is excited to to be available by the glass and bottle at Gravenstein Grill in Sebastopol !!! We have been six times in the last 2 months…food is wonderful, people are amazing and the wine fabulous!…and it is only 1 mile from the house.

Pictured…Local wine celebs enjoying our 2014 Pinot Noir. Four time Sonoma County Sommelier of the Year Christopher Sawyer who approved the wine, Ziggy Eschliman (Ziggy the Wine Gal), Amy Lieberfarb (Sip on this Juice) and Michele Anna Jordan (Michele Anna Jordan Cooking Blog)

 

2017 Turtle Vines bud break and estimate contest

It is time for our second annual harvest date and amount prediction.  We winner of each category will receive a bottle of their choice from our current Pinot Noir releases at the time the contest closes.

A few hints…we have 3100 vines which produced between 2.1 and 3.8 tons the last 3 years.  Harvest has occured between August 23 and September 13 for those vintages.  BTW, bud break was 4 days later this year than last 2016.

Please email dww@sonic.net to enter!

Sediment in Wine?

What is unfined/unfiltered and why do I need to know this?

Back in 2014 I discussed how easy it is to make wine vegan and gluten free, but now I want to touch upon sediment in wine and why you should not fear sediment or crystals in your wine.

The process of fining wine adds components to remove defects and treats wine with the use of animal and plant proteins, clay, fish bladders, plastics, etc.  You make a wine more consistent wine year to year, but you are removing flavor.

Filtering the wine removes small to microscopic particles… again at the expense of flavor.

Our Pinot Noir does not get fined or filtered, we just “rack” off the wine from the sediment on the bottom of the barrel during the winemaking process. This may leave a small amount of sediment in the bottle/cork but we have not removed any of the unique flavor of the grapes!

As far as the glass like crystals…these are tartrate crystals.  Most large wineries either fine these out or cold stabilize the wine below 32F to allow the crystals to adhere to the side/bottom of the tank.  Small high end wineries are concerned that losing these crystals will remove flavor, so they limit the cold stabilization to around 38-40F.  Since Pinot Noir is served at room temperature, you should not see these crystals, but you might in your glass of Chardonnay.  The only cold stabilization we do is naturally from the chill of winter in our barn!

When is sediment and crystals bad?  When the wine has gone bad and you can taste it in your glass…otherwise, don’t worry about it.  In fact many boutique wineries feature unfined/unfiltered wine to preserve the flavors, just like we do at Turtle Vines.