Winemaker & Vineyard Blog
Enjoy our blog posts as we chronicle with Derek Irwin the making of our fine Sierra Foothill wines and the development of our vineyard at the Seminary and Novitiate of the Oblates of St. Joseph in Loomis.
While this may be a "Lost Spring" for so many of us as COVID 19 has isolated us in our homes, our vines are oblivious to our pain and suffering. This is Year #4 in our vineyard's development and it is a very special year. This will be the year of our first harvest and the making of our first Mount Saint Joseph Estate wines.
For a few of our owner volunteers who have assisted this Spring, the vineyard has been a quiet refuge from the lonlieness and anxiety of the pandemic. Take a short journey with us over the past few months.........
We were very busy almost every day in February as we did the final pruning of our vines, retied their trunks and most importantly selected and tied the lateral cordons to the cordon wire.
We finished our work just in time. March brought us bud break - that amazing time that the vines begin to awake from their winter slumber. First the buds begin to swell and gradually begin to burst as the green tips emerge. First to break was the Petite Sirah, followed closely by the Petit Verdot. The Cabernet Franc continued to snooze and finally decided to wake up in late March.
April brought the beginning of the growth stage with leaves unfolding as one, two, three, four....nine and more leaves emerged. As the leaves emerged so did the beautiful poppies sprinked about the vineyard. We were far more than spectators as we worked day after day to sucker unwanted vines and tuck those that we wanted behild the trellis wires to encourage a vertical growth habit.
Of course in April, not only did those Spring rains bring vigor to our vines, the rains brought vigor to unwanted weeds so....our owner volunteers spang into action as we mowed and weed whacked to give the vineyard that well kept, manicured look.
Now, in May, we have seen the first indications of coming grapes - the inflorescence emerges, followed by the flowering and falling off of the caps and the emergence of the young fruit. Again, it was the Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot leading the way with the Cab Franc a week or two behind.
June will be busy as we continue to postiion shoots and prune off unwanted laterals. Fruit will continue to develop as the clusters grow and begin to change color in veraison. Stay with us as we chronicle this first harvest season. Of course, we are guided every step of the way by the incredible Derek Irwin.
This harvest was a doozy!
It was an unusual and very prolonged harvest. Mentally, it was very taxing.
Our Malbec came in as expected - about 3 weeks before the Cabernet Franc and Mourvedre. The Malbec was ripening just fine, but then we had the heavy early season rains and the ripening of our grapes just kind of stalled (as it did in vineyards throughout Northern California). Fortunately, Cabernet Franc and Mourvedre aren’t as sensitive to rain as Malbec is. All three lots were picked at night and processed at our Napa winery before noon.
With all 3 lots we did what we have always done - a 2-3 day cold soak. Fermentation started spontaneously as we anticipated a fairly quick fermentation - particularly with the Malbec....and so it went. The Malbec fermented in 10 days, the Mourvedre and Cab Franc in 17 days. We had to heat the Mourvedre a bit to make sure it finished due to the fact that we had a few cold snaps during the peak of its fermentation. All 3 lots were pressed at near 0˚ Brix and sent directly to barrel for MLF (malolactic fermentation). I am currently performing the Battonage (lees stirring) on a weekly basis on these wines.
Finally........our 2019 harvest is in!!!
This morning, under an absolutely beautiful harvest moon, we picked our Mourvedre and Cabernet Franc grapes. While some funky fall weather and four days of PG&E power outages made things "interesting", the grapes are fabulous and well worth the wait. We loaded just over 4 tons on the truck this morning and the Mourvedre and Cab Franc grapes have just arrived at the Napa winery. There they join the Malbec the we harvested in late September. The Malbec has taken its sweet time completing fermentation but is now just about bone dry.
2019 marks our 5th Mount Saint Joseph Wines harvest at Naggiar Vineyard. My goodness.... how time flies! Next year - 2020 - will be very special for us as it will be our first harvest at our own Loomis vineyard at Mount Saint Joseph. Stay tuned for vineyard developments there as the new year unfolds!
This past year Paulette and I were vacationing in Mexico…it was very apparent to us that the number of starlings and pigeons that normally soar around the food concessions were gone. How could this be??? Then we saw why....the resort had employed a young man with a trusted partner on his arm – a ‘Red-Tailed Hawk”.
What a great idea !!! Then I remembered the device in the vineyards up at Naggair Vineyards in Grass Valley… an electronic device that sends out the sound of a ‘Bird of Prey”. This device allows the vineyard owner to select the ‘Bird of Prey” that is native to the area and thus, release those calls of “attack, attack, kill, kill". For my vineyard.....it’s the Red-Tailed Hawk.
The results are great. The starlings and bluebirds hate the sounds of the “Ever Present Red-Tail Hawk Simulator” … They have moved on.
Adding assistance to the “Bird Guard”,,, I have doubled down with adding the traditional bird balloons with flashing ribbons to make sure those berry eating bird villain’s stay away.
Looking forward to a Great Harvest.
My goodness.....about a month ago I bottled two wonderful new wines. I've been just dying to tell you about them but Joe made me wait until we released them. Some kind of marketing nonsense..........
Well, the wait is over. Our 2017 Napa Sauvignon Blanc and 2017 California Muscat have been released and are now available at our Vin Uva tasting room in Granite Bay. You are going to love these new white wines!!!
2017 Napa Sauvignon Blanc - Many of you have asked when we will offer a Sauvignon Blanc....well, here it is! This is a 100% Yountville Sauvignon Blanc. Made in a classic Napa style this wine has 13.1% alcohol and was harvested on August 24, 2017 at 22.5 Brix. It offfers up notes of gooseberry and toasted nuts with a medium, grassy palate and nice finish. I think you will find it more complex than your normal Sauvignon Blanc.
2017 California Muscat - Whenever we taste our wines at events around town, we always get the same question from a handful of customers - "Do you have a sweet white wine?". Until now, we had to politely say "no". Now, the answer is emphatically "yes!". This is a delightfully sweet Muscat blended with a touch of Viognier. It was stainless steel fermented and kept on the lees for six months. With 13% alcohol, residual sugar at 7.5 grams and a pH of 3.59 - it offers up a traditional Muscat nose and a soft, pleasant mouthfeel. The sugar is nicely balanced with the acidity.
Please come on into Vin Uva to taste these two wines. You won't be disappointed!!!
Growth in Year 2 of our vines has been vigorous - the "girls" are ahead of schedule.
A short time ago, Derek and I walked the vineyard and made the decision to begin pruning the vines to redirect their growing energy horizontally - for lateral growth - rather than allowing them to direct all their energy upward. What this does is to begin to train their growth along the horizontal wire and thereby put them ahead of schedule in the development of the bilateral cordons.
We couldn't be more pleased with the progress of the vineyard at the Mount. The "girls" clearly love their home as much as we love them!!!
While the July heat has kept many of us indoors with the AC cranked up, my vineyard team of MSJ wines owners has been hard at work. Earlier this month they finished up the trellis work in both the Petite Syrah and Petit Verdot sections of the vineyard.
Part of the crew erected the lateral guide wires for each row while another part attached additonal clamps on the turn buckle assemblies. Finally, a few crew members walked each and every vine row to make sure that the drip irrigation tubes wer emitting the proper amount of water to each and every one of the "girls" in the vineyard.
We also had a new recruit, Zachary Halloran (13 years old), who learned a little about farming and earned "Community Service Acknowledgment" for his work with his Dad on the trellis wires in the Petite Syrah section of the vineyard.
My thanks to my Owner Vineyard Team - you are the best!!!!
I spent a great day at the winery with Derek yesterday as we dreamed, created and then finalized on the blending of some of the best wines we have produced to date.
With the July 26 bottling date just a few weeks away we completed the most fun part of winemakeing - that is putting together the final blending for our first 2016 varietal offerings - the Sierra Foothills Zinfandel, Sangiovese and Syrah.
We tasted comination after combination after combination before we settled on these tasteful blends:
- Zinfandel - 88% Zinfandel, 12% Syrah
- Sangiovese - 85% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Franc and 5% Syrah
- Syrah - 80%,15% Mourvedre and 5% Petite Syrah
I almost feel guilty that I brought home the remaining half full 750ml bottles of these blends to taste over the next 48 - 72 hours.....I want to see how they open up. It's a tough job but someone has got to do it.
P.S. - we won't release these wines for quite some time but......we just released the absolutely amazing 2015 Cabernet Franc, 2015 Malbec, 2015 Petite Verdot and 2016 Marello. They are all available at our new Granite Bay tasting room Vin Uva in our Limited Release tasting flight!
Oooops - I wasn't supposed to tell you that today is our "soft opening" of Vin Uva (we only sent the email to wine club members for now). Don't tell Joe and Henry.........I figured that any of you who read my blogs deserve to be the first to visit us at 8629 Auburn Folsom Road in Granite Bay!!!!!!
When we first blended the 2015 Zuppa red blend, we were almost giggling over the name since calling it “Spaghetti Red’ or “Italian Table Red” just didn’t carry the day. Then a number of our owners came up with their suggested names - there were quite a few creative ideas! The winning name came from Joe Smock – Zuppa just seemed to joylessly express the zest of this 7-varietal blend.
Ever since it's release, Zuppa has pleased just about everyone who has tasted it....and it being priced at under $20 seems to be pleasing as well! The review that I love the best came from Avery Drewe from Southern California… Avery states in a posting to our website…..
“Wow. Total surprise. I must qualify this by saying that my guilty pleasures are blends, meritage's and table wines. (Mostly a Pinot/Burgundy drinker). The risk of that is/are very bad, over jammy wines. The rewards are really great blends and wines that are different. This is one of those. Sort of fruit forward. Yet not. Sort of dry. Yet not. Sort of soft. Yet not. Probably a great Thanksgiving wine. Hope to find out if I can get some by then. Congratulations on making a truly fun and great wine.”
I think Avery has a future as a wine reviewer. Thanks to Avery and thanks to all our customers.....enjoy the Zuppa!
It is November and our vineyard at Mount Saint Joseph is going into "hiberation". Last week we completed the seeding of the vineyard with 250 lbs of mustard and canola seed. It didn't take long after our recent rains for the seeds to germinate (as you can see in the photo below).
These plants will protect the vineyard from erosion during the rainy season as well as provide a rich supply of nitrogen next spring when I mow and disk this natural supplement into the soil. A side benefit of the mustard is the beauty of the yellow flowers....just a prelude to the beauty of the vines as they grow into Year 2 of their development.
Thank you to our owners on our Vineyard Team for making our ‘Girls’ entry into this world so lovingly successful. Your physical labor of love and devotion truly make this vineyard very special...The Owners Vineyard.