Harvest 2013 @ A.P. Vin – An end without a beginning

I used to laugh at every blog I came across, of some bright eyed, bushy tailed wine industry newbie looking to chronicle the daily experiences of their first harvest.   The story would look a little something like this – You’d read a post about their first few days or week in the winery and then poof, no posts until the end of harvest, sometimes even several months after their harvest experience was over.  Usually it was because of fatigue and lack of time to do anything else other than eat and sleep after working 12- 14-hour days.  So here I am now, writing an “end of harvest” post of my own harvest experience, without even having written a “beginning of harvest” post.  My blog is worse off than the ones I used to laugh at!

My experience at A.P. Vin Winery during the harvest 2013 season was fast, furious and intense.  After only a couple of hours removed from the end of Harvest 2013, I find myself sitting on the couch writing about how much I think I miss the pain of working 36 out of a possible 38 days.  What the heck is wrong with me?

First pinot noir grapes of the season from Ridgetop Vineyard

First pinot noir grapes of the season from Ridgetop Vineyard

After working my second harvest, I think I’m beginning to realize that despite the many stresses and fatigue of working days on end in a winery during the crush season, I really do want to make wine for a living.  There, I said it and actually mean it.  I didn’t think wine making was going to be something that I would take seriously until I had a chance to experience making wine first-hand; twice now in 2012 and 2013.

I’ve always considered myself a traditional desk job kind-of-guy, so waking up every morning, throwing on dirty jeans and going to work in a warehouse to make something with my hands was not what I was thinking when I decided to major in Finance back in college.

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Clean work boots ready for duty on the first day of harvest

I still don’t know exactly how I’m going to approach this shift in my wine industry career.  The obvious thing to do would be to find a job in a winery up north in Sonoma or Napa.  Doing so would mean we’d either have to move out of San Francisco, which we’re both not ready to do because we love living here too much or and that’s a big or, I commute at least 60 miles each way to wine country – something I’m definitely not interested in doing.  The other path I could take would be to start my own wine brand and company and make my own wine.  But then I’d be starting my own wine brand and company and that means owning a business again – something I’ve already tried and struck out with.  There’s something there for me, I know it and feel positive about it.  I just don’t know exactly what it is yet.

Before I down that path though, let’s see if I can at least re-chronicle some of my experiences this past Harvest 2013.

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Pinot Noir cluster on the vine in Keefer Ranch in the Russian River Valley

Are California roses any good?

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A few posts ago, I stated that I wanted to engage in a mini-research project that would examine the quality of California rosés in the marketplace.  Since I started toying with the idea of someday starting my own wine brand, one of the things that naturally came to mind was – “If I had my own brand, what would I want to make?”

This research project is something that will help kick-start the creative process for me.   Because this business idea is just that, a business idea, I have no clue what I want to make yet.  One thing I can tell you with certainty though, is that whatever type of wines I decide to make, that decision will have been based on a lot of product research and will be a combination of what I enjoy drinking along with what makes good business sense.

Rosés are a category of wine I would consider making.  I used to drink rosés on a purely seasonal basis, but found that I enjoy them as a drink of choice any time of year, rather than only in the spring or summer.  Most of what I reach for on the shelves tends to be from Provence, simply because I think Provence makes some of the worlds most enjoyable rosés.  Seeing how the quality of California rosés stand on their own and how it stacks up against benchmark Provencal rosés becomes my first official business start-up project.  Here is what I found:

  • Most retail shelves are dominated by import rosés or have an import ratio that is skewed towards having more import rosés than domestic.  I’m not sure why, but I have to believe that at least part of it can be attributed to dry rosé production being far more commonplace in other countries than the U.S., thus offering more supply opportunities.
  • Whatever domestic rosés I did see on the shelf, tended to come from small artisan producers.  This may also be due to the local market I live in.  There are many small, neighborhood wine shops in my city that specialize in wines from local producers.  Even the local grocery stores are stocked with wines from the independent, artisan winemaker more often than wines from the “big brands.”
  • The overall quality of what I tasted was very good.  As my individual tasting notes will attest, all the wines I tasted were pretty damn good.  I was really impressed with the overall quality.  All of the wines had character, were well made and most of all, were very tasty and extremely enjoyable to drink.
  • The type of grapes used in each individual bottle varied greatly.  One was made with malbec, another with Portuguese varieties, pinot noir and syrah were used in one and finally, the typical Rhone varieties of grenache, and mourvedre and cinsault were used in another.  One thing they had in common was that they all contributed to making good wines.
  • Quality to price point sweet spot looks to be right at the $15 range.  I rarely saw any roses over $20 from a California producer except for the Arnot-Roberts.  I think few wineries want to invest in grapes with the sole intention of using those grapes to make a rose as a final product.  Doing so would mean having to charge $20+ bottle, which I believe is a tough market for rose regardless of region.

Based on my experiences above, the domestic California rosé category looks promising for an aspiring winemaker like me.  For one, it shows that California producers can make rosés that rival and stand on the same ground as those from Provence.  Second, the retailers from where I bought these wines obviously support the smaller handcrafted wine making operation.  This bodes well for me.  I’ve always known that the consumers in the Bay Area, especially San Francisco, have an affinity for exploring and supporting wines made by small operations, so it’s no surprise that retailers make an active effort to stock wines from the small guy.  Lastly, this small exercise in some sense has helped me define my target market.  The kind of wine I would want to make would probably target the demographic (whatever that may be) of people who would shop at the neighborhood wine shop and upscale grocery stores.  I understand that it was a little bit of an exercise in self-fulfilling prophecies going to these places knowing I would probably find what I did find.  What am I supposed to do?   I know what I want and hopefully I can eventually create something that will have the same desired effect on consumers as these roses had on me.

Wines tasted in this project:

2012 Arnot Roberts Rosé

2012 Vaughn Duffy Rosé

2012 Atrea Rosé

2012 Birichino Rosé

Some other California producers making excellent rosés I’ve had in the past:

Luques (Wind Gap)

CEP (Peay Vineyards)

Farmer’s Jane

Lucy

Porter Creek

2012 Birichino Rose (Vin Gris)

Flavors:  Lots of interesting and subtle baking spices woven between layers of strawberries, peach, watermelon and roses

Nose:  Fresh cut flowers and more spices!

Price:  $15

Winery website:  Click here

Overall Impressions:  As is usually the case with how I purchase rose, I was attracted to this bottle because of the pretty, pink color of the wine and the matching, attractive label.  At first I thought it was an imported wine, because the text on the back label was literally written in French.  Upon closer inspection though, below the French text was the same paragraph written in English — interesting.  Oh well, it was enough for me to physically pick the bottle up and look at it closer, which I have to think is one step closer to victory in the marketing eyes of the winery.  I continue to be impressed by the roses made by California wineries in the $15 range.  In my opinion, the roses I’ve tried thus far are right on par with the price to quality ratio I would expect from the best rose producing wine region in the world, Provence!  I likes this wine a lot because it was smooth, tasty, pretty to look at and paired well with food, which is the hallmark of a good rose.

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...and here's that curve ball of a back label with the wine description in French on the top half and English in the bottom half.

…and here’s that curve ball of a back label with the wine description in French on the top half and English in the bottom half.

A little shameless self-promotion of my cooking skills.  Orange roughy, with orange and preserved lemon pan drippings, wilted mizuna and new potatoes.  The rose paired very nicely with this dish.

A little shameless self-promotion of my cooking skills. Orange roughy, with orange and preserved lemon pan drippings, wilted mizuna and new potatoes. The rose paired very nicely with this dish.

2012 Atrea (Saracina) Rose – Skidrose

Flavors – Very fruity and juicy, but still pretty focused and clean with ripe flavors of strawberries and watermelon

Nose – The aromas echo the flavors

Price – $15

Overall Impressions – I’ve never been very fond of roses fashioned from malbec and while I don’t hate them, I don’t love them either.  They tend to be clunky and UN-interesting, which very well could be more of an issue of me just not having the right one.  This Altrea though, is enough to change my mind and compel me to be a little more open to the varietal.  This wine highlights for me based on this past experience, just how important a grape’s place of origin and production method affects the final product.  Nothing like a wine like this to keep my open-mindedness and taste in check.  In fact, let this be a lesson to all wine consumers out there — Keep an open mind!

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2012 Vaughn-Duffy Rose

Flavors -  Strawberries, roses and watermelon

Nose - Fresh, lovely, pretty, ethereal, and any other word you can think of that makes you want to plant flowers and write poetry

Price - $15

Palate and overall impressions - A great rose that is right on the mark with price and return on pleasure.  Many roses I’ve had from California that are this light in color tends to lack in flavor and character.  In my experience, I’ve found that many consumers associate a light colored rose with quality — the lighter the better.  Well…I’ve had many roses that were light colored, but completely lacking in flavor and character.  Watery acid water if that makes any sense.  This was not the case as this wine was great.  The label is fun and modern, the story about the proprietors on the website makes you want drop everything you’re doing at the moment to run out and buy more of their wine and in fact, their story inspires you to even make wine yourself.  In fact, The Grape Crusader says the 2012 Vaughn-Duffy Rose is the feel-good wine of the year!

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2012 Arnot-Roberts Rose

2012 Arnot–Roberts Rose – Tasting Note

Flavors – There were loads of stone fruit flavors like peach and apricot as well as strawberry and even a little raw almond on the finish.

Nose – Sweaty.  I had a difficult time pin-pointing what it was that was so intriguing about the nose of the wine, but for some reason, sweat kept popping into my mind, so I’m just going to go with it.  Let’s just attribute it to complexity.

Price – $25

Palate and overall impression – This rose was extremely well balanced and simply put, wonderful to drink.  The flavors were expansive on the palate and the mouth-feel had a deceptive richness combined with lift and freshness.  One of the most interesting roses I’ve ever had.  Fresh, enticing and very complex and worth every penny.  At $25 this was definitely on the higher side of the price point spectrum for me with rose, but well worth the experience.

Grilled salmon, sauteed spinach and braised radishes to go with our wine (cooked by me of course)

Grilled salmon, sauteed spinach and braised radishes to go with our wine (cooked by me of course)

A little better look at the oh so pretty color of the wine.

A little better look at the oh so pretty color of the wine.

Domestic California Rose Mini Research Project

As I embark on a journey to create my own wine, I find myself at the portion of the business start up phase containing the least amount of stress and the most amount of fun – Market research!

I’m finding that the initial difficulties at this stage of the game are deciding what type of wine I eventually want to make.  I know for certain that it will be a small endeavor in the beginning – an artisan label and operation of sorts.   Enjoying certain types of wine for pure consumer pleasure is one thing, but deciding what to make on a commercial level is another; so many factors to consider.  I love California Pinot Noir, but do I necessarily want to enter a very competitive varietal field?  I don’t know yet.

Research Goal

To kick things off, for the next week or so, I will look for and purchase from retail shelves only, 3 – 5 California roses at a variety of price points and producers.  With every wine, I will consume at home with our nightly dinner and follow up with a tasting note post.  At the end of the mini research project, I will summarize how the entire tasting experience affected me and how it might possibly affect any future business and creative decisions.

As you can see, I’ve already started the project this past Sunday…tasting note on my first selection to follow soon.

Rose section at Whole Foods Portrero Hill.  In what has become a common theme on the shelves of most retailers, most of the roses offered are of the imported variety versus domestic.

Rose section at Whole Foods Potrero Hill. In what has become a common theme on the shelves of most retailers, most of the roses offered are of the imported variety versus domestic.