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

Wine Review – 2006 Scherrer Winery Syrah Russian River Valley

Yes, I know that this is a horrible picture, but I’m still using the i-Phone 3. You’re welcome for the laugh.

Always one of my favorite producers, Scherrer Winery does everything well in the cellar. Whether its zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, chardonnay or their superb rose, Scherrer crafts some of the best wines for both near-term drinking and for the long term. This 2006 Syrah Russian River Valley is another standout from Fred Scherrer. The wine has a wonderful perfume of both blue and red fruit as well as a firm structure, flavors of berry and spice and a fair amount of freshness that you don’t often find in syrah.  I tend to think of syrah as more of a roughhouse, hard edged and wild type of wine, but this one definitely veered towards the more feminine and elegant side, which made it all the more interesting.

The best chance you’ll have in obtaining wines from Scherrer is to join his mailing list.  There are no minimum order requirements, prices are very fair and they offer a winery pick up option, which gives you a chance to taste current releases and the occasional back vintage and barrel sample.  The website also allows you to order from a bevy of back vintages of all varietals, which is a great way to back fill your cellar and also taste older wines to help you assess future purchases from this winery.

Wine Review – 2007 Palmina Barbera, Santa Barbara, California

Winery: Palmina WinesPalminaBarberaLabel

Bottling: 2007 Barbera Santa Barbara County

Region: California

Sub-Region: Santa Barbara

Estimated Retail Price: $22

Purchase Details: Purchased for $20 plus tax from Blackwell’s Wines & Spirits in the Richmond District neighborhood of San Francisco, California.

Tasting Notes: In the glass, I’m staring at a pretty dark and opaque ruby red hue.  On the nose, the wine smells fresh and alive.  Aromatic scents of lavender, dried thyme, red fruits and raspberries.  In the mouth, wow!  Again the wine just feels alive.  Flavors of red and blue fruits like pomegranate, raspberries and blueberries tango in my mouth. (geez that was cheesy).  A tart, but fleshy finish ends the ride.

A well-balanced wine that really drinks well now, but could definitely cellar for a few years.  Absolutely delicious!  That’s the best way to sum up the flavor experience with the 2007 Palmina Barbera.

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Wine Review – 2006 Vineyard 29 “Cru” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California

Winery: Vineyard 29Vineyard 29 Cru

Bottling: 2006 “Cru” Cabernet Sauvignon

Region: California

Sub-Region: Napa Valley

Estimated Retail Price: $50 – $60

Purchase Details: Purchased for $51.99 plus tax at K&L Wine Merchants in San Francisco, California.

Tasting Notes: A beautiful dark, pure garnet with some blue hues.  On the nose, sweet pencil lead, cherries, berries and herb.  In the mouth, this wine is unbelievably lush, dense chewy and concentrated.  A creamy, creme de cassis undertone, with minty herb on the extremely long finish.  The wine has a firm structure, with tannins that definitely signal that the wine could use some cellaring, but they are also velvety enough to allow for early drinking.  This is a very well-made, clean and polished wine.  A little much for me, but still a delicious and balanced effort.

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Wine Review – 2007 Pali Wines “Huntington” Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara, California

Winery: Pali Wine Co.PaliHuntFront

Bottling: 2007 “Huntington” Pinot Noir, AVA Blend

Region: California

Sub-Region: Santa Barbara, California Central Coast

Estimated Retail Price: $20

Purchase Details: Purchased from the San Francisco Wine Trading Company in the Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco, California for $19.95 plus tax.

Tasting Notes: In the glass, ruby red hues.  On the nose aromas of plum, spice and dark berries.  In the mouth, flavors of red plum, dusty cherries and raspberries and a slight tinge of mineral.  The Huntington is juicy, lush and a lot more fruit driven than the Pali “Bluffs” Russian River blend which shows much more of an earthy, damp earth profile.

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Wine Review – 2006 Obsidian Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon, Lake County, California

Winery: Tricycle Wine Co.Obsidian

Bottling: 2006 Obsidian Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon

Region: California

Sub-Region: Red Hills Lake County, Northern California Coast

Estimated Retail Price: $28

Purchase Details: Purchased this bottle for $24.95 plus tax at San Francisco Wine Trading Company in the Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco, California.

Tasting Notes: In the glass, ominous opaque red hues.  On the nose, dark red berries, cherries, mint and cocoa.  In the mouth, intense flavors of dried cherries, dried berries, herbs, chocolate, clove and cocoa.  Chocolate covered cherries rolled in edible graphite.  How about that?  This wine has tremendous structure, balance, elegance and power all rolled up in one 750 ml bottle.  Winemaker Michael Terrien states that you can easily age this wine for 10, even 15 years.  One taste, and like me, you’ll surely agree.

This cabernet sauvignon is just as good if not better than the first vintage I ever tried, the 2003.  At that point it retailed for around $20 which made it an absolute steal.  This wine seriously crushes and outperforms any cabernet in this price range and even those in the $40-$50 range.

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