January 12, 2013
I had to think about my New Years Resolution this year. Well...at least I had to think about the wine related one. I like 95% of the world have the regular resolutions of wanting to start taking care of myself and train for a half marathon (especially since Tarara is associated with two this year - YIKES!) and eat healthier (but I love duck fat sooooo much). I like 95% of the population will likely fail at these great goals until my son out runs me for the first time and makes me feel old. Enough about that though. You want to know how I plan to do better things with wine, which in turn should be good for you.
This really was a hard task because if I am nothing else, I am a very passionate winemaker with no room for compromise. I only want to do the best, I do not want to cut corners, I love every second of my job and I know the type of wines i am trying to make. Well...that last one is one of my problems and the issue I would like to resolve this year. I am a very selfish winemaker and I know it. I need to look back at my first years in this industry and remember what I was drinking and what I was striving to do. My views have changed which is good in my opinion as everyone needs to grow. But, I believe one thing I have not been 100% with is really understanding others views because I can be so set on my own.
So this year my New Years Resolution is to get back to the tasting room more often and talk with you. While I will always remain focused, I do need to understand what each of our fans are saying they want and analyze if and how that all fits with Tarara as a whole and the style of wines I feel I can do the best job of. I miss being in the tasting room and hanging around people and talking wine. That is what got me intrigued with this industry in the first place and what go me to learn to craft the wines I love.
Part of my resolution of going after our wines with a more open mind is also going to fall on my day to day selection of my vinous pleasures at home. Now this is the part I am supposed to tell you the only wine I will drink is Tarara, but that would be a ludicrous lie. I can not grow and get better if I don't understand the rest of the wine world and what they are doing. That is how one falls behind the times and will end up with inferior wines. I can't ever let that happen and the day I find myself drinking only one wine because it is there is the day I need to change careers (that will never happen). Now, that said, I have been closed minded or should I say at least busy. Being a father has changed my priorities certainly, but I still drink wine. I just tend to not be as experimental. All too often I am drinking the same varieties or same regions and so on. I love Grenache from the Southern Rhone whether Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, or even simple good QPR Cotes du Rhone wines, but the problem is I know I love it and am very knowledgeable on it. What I don't know is what Cinsault tastes like in the obscure corners of the world. I don't have a good enough grasp on the intricacies of Tannat at 10 years old from several Madiran or Uruguayan producers. I don't completely understand the dramatic differences of Vermentino grown in Bellet opposed to Sardinia. These are all things I want and need to learn. It will help me here at home in Virginia!
How will my knowledge of Sardinia help me here in Virginia? Well let me explain.
While if you want to play the part of historian then Virginia is not new to wine grape growing and you can go back to when everyone had to plant 10 vines on their property and how Thomas Jefferson is the most notable connosieur in wine history. OK, cool, but the reality is our modern wine industry is very young. We really only started in the late 70's and quite frankly the dramatic growth has only been over the last 5-10 year both qualitatively and for quantity. What that means is that we don't know everything about our land, our climate or even our potential. We have all looked at the obvious choices for varieties in our vineyards like Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Merlot, etc. Some have worked and some of them really don't at all. We have started to find some varieties that work well that may not have been the obvious choices like Petit Manseng and Tannat. Well their homelands of Jurancon and Madiran respectively have some similarities to us with humidity, less temperature swing in the nights (warmer), and precipitation. What we haven't done is look around the world for more places that have similarities to us and there are such areas. We have a very Mediterranean like climate at many times Could we have some similarities to areas of Greece and thrive off Agioritikos, or Monica from Sardinia, or Nero d'Avola in Sicily. The answer is we don't necessarily know, so I resolve to enter each wine shop with an open mind and not pick up some Pinot Noir from the Russian River, but an obscure Cabernet/Cinsault/Syrah blend from Lebanon and study that wine. We need to always aim to be better and that starts with an open mind.
Now I have to go and get started by looking at our most recent wines that we made form Rkatsiteli this year and will start bottling in February and then go home and open a bottle of Croatian Cabernet that you awesome Vine Club Manager Kim's husband got for me. Time to have an open mind and understand more of our future. Salute.
September 25, 2012
So our normal harvest is about 6 weeks long starting with some Chardonnay and Viognier and then gradually working our way through Merlot, Syrah, Cabs, etc. It really feels quite fast paced and is a lot of fun. This is the time of year that we as winemakers normally complain about how hard life is standing in the sun harvesting grapes, pressing, testing and tasting through our fermentations. It is hard work enjoying your hobby 12-16 hours per day :)
So now, this year is different. We are still having an absolute blast, but there are times where almost boredom has ensued as well. We are working a 9-5 harvest! Where most years come and go in 6 weeks, this year we have already been going for 35 days and have just finished up our Chardonnay. Strangely the first thing picked was also Chardonnay. It is just one of the vintages where the weather so far is working with us and creating slow and even ripening, but really showing the differences based on the block the fruit has come from and even the side of the vine. We have been able to harvest all our blocks separately and with all but one block harvest one side of the vine (in our case South side) and still have healthy fruit on the vine to continue to mature to optimal ripeness on the other side (North Side). What does that do for us? Simply put it maximizes the ripening potential of the entire vineyard gaining complexity and weight. What is especially cool about it this year is that the cool September that we have had has allowed the acidity to hold on and sugars to accumulate slower then the flavors and phenolics meaning balanced wines with moderate alcohol, crisp acidity and intense flavors and aromatics. Using Chardonnay as an example, in just two vineyards we have harvested Chardonnay 8 times.
So what's next? With the coming rain we have decided it is time to bring in some Merlot that is simply incredible prior to the rain. The fruit is over the top ripe, great ripe seeds and skins and also at moderate potential alcohol (13-13.5%) and maintaining bright acidity. We are also bringing in our Tannat which is the first of the year that we expect to show some of the alcohol levels we were anticipating in August with those hot days. We will see. We are also thinking we will bringing in the South side of our Syrah vines as they have developed some incredible richness over the last week. This will leave us with some more Merlot and Syrah still our there as well as all of our Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon to weather this light rain we might have. They simply want more time, look good and will likely be harvested in 2-3 weeks from now.
All said, harvest has just been slow moving. What we normally do in 6 weeks we are now looking at closer to 10-11 weeks. It has just left us more time for true precisions winemaking an true attention to detail. A great year to learn more about our terroir in different blocks and put together the very best wines.
September 18, 2012
OK...So this is already a little outdated as I wrote it on last Friday and life changes fast in harvest world. More to come, enjoy!
It is that fun time of year again. Harvest! The number one question we hear this time of year is, what is this years vintage like. My answer is alway the same, "incomplete". We can all make our predictions as to the quality of the vintage but until the last grape is safely brought into the winery, the vintage can not be declared anything but incomplete. The second you say it is great, Mother Nature can beat you up and make you a liar.
Now that said, as we look at how 2012 is shaping up so far, my prediction is that it will be a mixed bag. After 2011 and it's relentless rain at harvest, we as winemakers are a little gun shy. The 2011 vintage looked to be shaping into a vintage of incredible rich wine much like 2010, but then came Irene. Irene said she would only drop a couple inches then go away. Well she may have, but she left behind her rain clouds to keep going until her ugly sister Lee came and sat over us for what seemed like ever. Long story short, we got a lot of rain that took the harvest from rich and exotic to light and soft.
This year has had it's similarities to almost every year I have seen since being in Virginia. The big differentiating factor was the wildly early start. We saw a beautiful cool, dry Spring and even June through flowering and fruit set. There really was not extremes. There was slight frost scares on a few occasions, but what I am finding is it simply balanced the fruit to be slightly lower yields then normal, but of better concentration potential. It didn't cause secondary fruit or anything wild, just great balance stopping greed. The we saw similarities to 2010 and early 2011 with some be extreme heat through July and most of August. This is when everyone started getting pretty excited and ancy. Sugars were coming up fast, acids were declining, veraison (when the grapes change color and ripening really excelerates) was early and it looked like we could have the earliest harvest on record. Well then came bad memories...we saw rain coming! A lot of people rushed to get all their whites in. Lot's of Chardonnay, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, etc. Well, this is where I think the mixed bag will be. Some of this fruit was ready, but lots still was not. It was simply good enough and many didn't want to risk the rain and another potential 2011 let down. It was better at 90%, then if we lost our gamble. So, what did Tarara do? We did what we normally do and went out and selective only harvested the fruit from the vines that we thought was ready and left the rest out there on the gamble. So far I am so glad we did.
We ended up not really getting much rain in our little "Lost Corner" here. On top of that we have then had some of the best ripening weather anyone could ask for. It is a strange year of rush, rush, rush and then wait, wait, wait. We pulled in about 20 (15% of the harvest) tons before any rain and processed it all in about 2 days. Well since then we have not seen a grape in almost two weeks. It is just too nice out and we are able to let everything hang until optimal maturity. Our cool nights are holding the acidity, the sugars are rising slowly and the flavors are just maturing perfectly. As of yesterday I was tasting our Chardonnay and my jaw just dropped. Man it was good. So what is the plan? Reach for the stars! It will hang until Monday with some potential rain on Tuesday and we harvest like crazy. Nothing for two weeks, but then 30 tons to harvest in one day. That is what this year is all about so far. Then the long range looks great so we will likely to the same with our Merlot, Syrah, Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. It is just that type of year so far where we can pick at our leisure. This is where the similarities to 2007 come in.
So if all goes as it looks today, it should be a great vintage, but it is way too early to declare that already. It will be like one I have not seen yet. We have had our extremes of heat and cool. We have had below average rain, and mostly well timed. We have a naturally lower yield and we have had the longest growing season I have yet to see in Virginia by up to a month on some varieties. All this so far has created grapes of impeccable balance with brighter acidity, moderate potential alcohol and luxurious flavors. I can't even predict yet on the tannin structure and color on the reds. I simply can't allow myself to jinx anything.
So with that we hurry up and wait. We will work like crazy at the start of the week, but then we will relax again. I have never left the winery at harvest, but I write this at 35,000 feet on the way to see my awesome cousin get married in Calgary. And you know what? I am not even worried. Everything is in great shape and Tim has whats in the cave under control. So far, all is good!
July 13, 2012
I admit I am as guilty as anyone for opening up bottles I have been waiting to open or that I am excited about for special occasions and going to weekday favorites for general drinking. That said every time I open something "special" I think to myself, "Why did I just do that?"
Apparently as much as I tend not to tell people when my Birthday is, the word did spread yesterday. Thanks to all that offered B-Day wishes, it was a fun and very chill kind of day (well chill might not be the word when it is 115 degrees with the humidex ?). I bring it up because as we often do on Sunday anyway we had some of the Tarara family come and hang with us for dinner. Tim and Kevin who also live here on site are also pretty passionate about their fermented grape juice so I know they are going to enjoy some nice wines. Heck, they also bring some delicious juice with them. So what is the point of this story?
Once again we opened up something that we thought would shine with the Chicken in a Chasseur Sauce and man it was good. However, at the end of the night we looked back and we had tasted several incredible wines and even some tasty micro-brews and ciders. (Yes we winemakers do enjoy a nice Hop and Barley pop as well). I almost think even though each of the wines were stellar, each of them deserved to be their own spotlight and didn't get a chance because we were celebrating the day more then the wine. Really I think they could have been appreciated even more on Tuesday or Wednesday. The day overall was incredible, but these wines could have made 3 different days incredible.
So I guess what I am getting at is that I believe we need to celebrate everyday somehow. Your birthday, anniversary, New Years Eve, Thanksgiving, or Christmas is already going to be special occasions. Sure, I do still think it is great to eat and drink well on those days, but don't forget about tonight! Raid your cellar, closet, rack or local wine store and grab something to make today special. Life is too short to only celebrate "Special Occasion" days. Every day is a great reason to enjoy something that is going to make you happy. So I challenge you to go grab a bottle of bubbly, your favorite Single Vineyard selection, or any awesome wine sometime this week pour a couple glasses, cheers you friends, wife, or whoever your with and enjoy. When they ask, "What's the occasion?" Simply reply, I am with you right now and this wine is meant to be enjoyed. The occasion is that we love wine so why not celebrate it. Salute!
July 13, 2012
Almost a year ago now I sent an email to a group of local bloggers that are very interested in the Virginia wine industry to get their thoughts on what Virginia's "style" could be for wine. Since then, I have pondered for some time the replies I got, continued to read more and participated in many discussions about Virginia wine styles and just wine styles in general.
What did I come up with? A headache!
In a day where everyone has a voice through the internet I think that typicity, varietal character, tradition, convention and creative are all words that can be thrown out the window. For hundreds of years, Chardonnay and many wines have been made using barrels and still are in the home of vineyard expression Burgundy. Now we are told that the use of oak is detrimental to terroir and that the preference is toward stainless steel and non malo-lactic fermentations, yet I doubt anyone is going to turn down or frown upon a bottle of Montrachet (I know I won't).
In 1982, Bordeaux made a cultural shift toward making bigger and richer wines that are aimed at competing with Napa since the Judgment of Paris created such a need. What was the result? Well as far as the critics of Bordeaux they went two decades with really on one "exceptional" vintage in 1961. The rest of the 60's and 70's are though of as pretty mediocre, save possible 1970 which were OK. Since then though when Emile Peynaud led the charge to lower crops and pick later for riper flavors, we have seen such years as 82, 85, 86, 88, 89, 90, 95, 00, 03, 05, 09, and 2010. I understand that there is some climate change but there is lot more intent to how wines are being made than what Mother Nature has changed. California went the same way always pushing the limits of ripeness which created the fame of wineries like Harlan, Screaming Eagle or Sloan and the list goes on.
Today many are saying that this is all wrong and that we should go back to a simply leaner style with less emphasis on ripe fruit, less alcohol, less oak, etc. I find this perplexing as it is these wines that started to create a wine industry that was accessible to everyone and over great enjoyment to most people.
I ask about this today because of one of our own wines. One of our wines that is almost sold out has garnered mixed reviews and a lot of it is because people can now use their personal tastes to become "critics". This wine has done well in tastings with major publications (Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast), was rated highly in Virginia's top competition and has been praised by many customers and local bloggers. There are however a couple of bloggers that have had differing opinions and in one case the blogger simply said everyone else is wrong and that it was the worst wine that could be made giving it a rating of 60 points. At first I was frustrated, but then I realized it was simply their taste. The only problem I have is a numeric rating being assessed which then places the blogging in the position of a critical analysis which requires a more structured setting with professionals tasting blind without outside environmental influences and without ever seeing the wine even in the end. It requires staff, but when offering a critical evaluation that can't be tampered with, that's what it takes. I am absolutely all for expression of blogging as opinion, as one blog in particular knows. These blogging sites are not the easiest to please and we have made wines they don't like, but they don't say the wine is garbage, they say it is not to their taste which I fully respect.
The same happens on consumer review sites all the time. One great example again is with our own wine. On a site to be un-named one visitor gave us a perfect 5 star rating commenting on how our wines are very "Bordeaux-Like" with great concentration... whereas two comments later we get 1 start our of five with the write up saying because they are very "Bordeaux-Like". Who's right?
I guess in the end wine like all sensory pieces of life simply are up to the personal tastes of each individual, but it does leave me still wondering, what is Cabernet Sauvignon supposed to taste like then, how about Chardonnay, how about Viognier and what about Virginia Wine. Do any of these varieties or regions really matter anymore if a Viognier is going to be dismissed for not tasting like Moscato? Maybe I will just have to continue to make it my life long quest to understand wine and what style is the "Best".
December 1, 2011
It has overwhelmingly been the most popular question of the fall,
"What does all this rain mean for the grapes?"
Well...the short answer would be it is exactly what we hope not to happen at harvest and it creates a wicked spike in my blood pressure. That said, when have I ever given the short answer? If I could have this harvest all over again would I pray for no rain, absolutely! But, the Vintage is not as bad as some are making it out to be. We seem to have forgotten that we did have a brilliant summer leading up to the harvest season. I have heard comparisons to the 2003 vintage which is really quite crazy. In 2003, the rain started in April and never really stopped. There was simply no real ripening in 2003.
The 2011 vintage will really be a test of several aspects:
1) Vineyard sanitation
2) Vineyard yields
3) Trellis systems
4) Vine age and root depth
5) Soil drainage capability
6) Risk vs. Reward policies
7) Winemaking ability
To start, vineyard sanitation is always important. That does not however mean that it needs to have excessive amounts of chemical spray. If the vineyards are well maintained with a properly managed canopy and the fruit is not laying over each other, what spray and air that does get to the vine, can achieve more effectiveness. It is also important to have maintained a healthy vine throughout the entire growing season and pay close attention even when the pressures seem low. If there are mildew spores present as you lead up to a wet month like September, it will be nearly impossible to stay on top of it when the pressure gets bad. Luckily, this year our vineyard looked meticulous which gave us a better chance to hang through some of the rain and get what ripening was available.
Vineyard yields are one of the most heated debates among growers. Obviously if someone is buying fruit from you by the ton, then more sounds better and really can be for the grower. This is why we prefer to purchase by the area from any of our outside vineyards, or even lease the entire property. This gives us better control of the yields. This year that was vitally important. If a vineyard was growing substantial yields (anywhere over 3 tons per acre) this year it will have been incredibly difficult to ripen at all. With our vines they are generally aimed to be between 1 to 2.5 tons per acre and we have slightly higher vine density than most at around 1350 vines per acre. This means less fruit per vine. We only allow one cluster per healthy shoot and none on a shoot that is not 100%. This meant a lot of our fruit was further developed with flavor and physiological ripeness than many that had excessive yields thinking the hot summer would ripen more fruit. People will argue all the time about having more fruit for balance, or that 4-5 tons per acre is not excessive, but the reality is, lower yields often offer better ripening, better concentration, and more even ripening. It is more expensive, but in years like this year in particular it pays off hugely.
Trellis systems are crucial in moisture maintenance. There are several styles of training systems that include split canopies, vertical shoot positioning, etc. Unfortunately in years like 2011 if the canopy is too dense or divided it is simply too hard to have good maintenance on all the leaves and there are several pockets that will hold moisture which you need to dry fast in years like this. Split canopies this year were also problematic where 25% to 50% of the shoots were trained downwards because it kept the shoots too close to the wet ground. There was also a lot of weed and under vine growth this year from the rain which would then get intermixed with the canopy making it impossible to dry out and in many cases this bottom half of the trellis lost all its canopy earlier. These leaves are needed to generate sugar and ripening so the lower half of the canopy would be lesser quality. Luckily, most of our vines are Vertical Shoot Positioned and are cane pruned (all on Nevaeh are like this) which means the shoots are directed upwards away from the wet ground, get whatever sunlight was available and is not a dense canopy so it was easier to maintain.
Vine age and root depth is critical in assessing how vines will uptake water in years like 2011. This is where older vines pay off. If the vine has been around long enough and is not excessively irrigated (we no longer irrigate at all in any vintage) then the roots dig deeper. This is helpful in wet years because so much of the soil moisture is at the surface and it is helpful in dry years because the vines can often still uptake the water needed for survival from deeper subsoils. This year we definitely saw that some of our younger vines struggled more than the older vines. By this I mean we were able to physically see the size of the berry growth far more in younger vines due to heavier dilution. So the simple fix was how we went, and simply harvest them separately as micro blocks so that they could be treated differently in the winery and assessed later on.
Soil drainage capabilities vary all over Virginia. Some of our vineyards have heavily compacted clay that can hold lots of water and some are shallower clay soils with more limestone and granite that allows drainage. Each block from each vineyard had to be assessed this year to better understand the water up take. Were any of them dry, well no, but there were some that were less impacted then others. Once again it was simply telling us to harvest the micro blocks separately to preserve some of our best fruit.
Risk and Reward are not words tied only to wine growing, although some of us Winemakers think we are the only people doing this analysis so often in years like 2011. It was very hard to gauge when to pick this year. On one side you were saying to yourself "This needs to come off or we will simply lose more crops." On the other side you were saying, "But it's not ready". Ultimately we took the approach that we always take and that was quality over quantity. We lost a good amount of crop by simply dropping fruit or leaving it on the vine. We took some risk and let the grapes hang until as close to maturity as possible this year. We were once again one of the latest to finish (really we are not even finished yet with Mourvedre, some Cabernet Franc still hanging and Cabernet Sauvignon still drying on straw mats) because we held off. There was still ripening happening during this rain. The seeds were still developing, and the skins were ripening to release better color and softer tannins. There was not a lot of sugar development in September, but that is only one parameter. We actually stopped checking sugar in the vineyard to not allow it to change our thoughts. Our risk of letting the fruit hang longer did result in some lost yield, but we firmly believe we were able to get some fruit of a more superior quality than if we had simply played it safe.
Winemaking for once actually does play a bigger role in years like this. There are a lot more decisions to be made by good Winemakers in years like this. Even with all the steps above, we were dealing with more rot and dilution than any normal year. Every lot had to be analyzed closely for flavor development, berry weight showing dilution, seed ripeness, etc. This year we did a few things differently than most years. We did use enzymes on our white wines to accelerate settling to get clean juice for ferments and to settle out more botrytis that was often on the fruit. We have done shorter fermentations on our reds to not allow as much time on the seeds and skins trying to extract color fast while not over extracting tannins that were greener than in past vintages. We did more small lot fermentations to micro-manage each block more. In fact, we did not even use our four largest tanks in the winery this year which was quite an accomplishment. It was very fast paced, where we are normally quite relaxed with our winemaking and most of the ferments this year we did use the safer commercial yeasts that are available instead of our general indigenous yeasts that we prefer. One really cool thing that we did this year that we would have never dreamed about in the past is some appassimento. That is simply a process that is used in North East Italy for Amarone wines. It is the process of allowing the grapes to dry prior to processing them. It is also known in other ways like Passito or Vin de Paille but is generally used for dessert wines. We did this with some of our Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Some are actually still drying on these straw mats as they average being out there about one month before we get the concentration we are looking for. Overall, for winemaking this vintage has encouraged us to micro-manage even smaller blocks and smaller fermentations as well as experiment to make great wine in a year many are saying is quite challenging.
The 2011 vintage certainly was not ideal but we really don't think it is as bad as many people are saying. There is definitely some dilution causing issues with intensity, but if managed properly there was still a chance to get some good flavor and physiological ripeness. It was certainly a year that took a great attention to detail and won't garner the results of 2007 or 2010, but with most of the wines finished fermentation we are quite pleased with a lot of what we taste. We tended to make wines with more elegance and subtleties as apposed to pure power, intensity and complexity. It is a vintage whereby many wines may be ageable due to their brighter acidity, but we will have to wait and see if the fruit intensity remains powerful enough for aging. It was not a year we normally wish for, but there are some gems that we can't wait to share with you.
August 25, 2011
I am sure you are wondering how my warped mind has me comparing winemaking with acting like a teenager. Well...you would have to start by knowing I was not always a rationale teenager, even though I thought I was. I also often argued with my mother like almost any teenager does and always figured I knew better and when it didn't go my way would simply have a hissy fit.
So what has changed? Well my actual mother and I get along beautifully and she accepts that I know better. I wish. My mother actually just went home from a great visit before harvest starts and not it is on to the other mother that I now have frequent arguments with. Mother Nature!
So far the 2011 season has been great. I almost feel very Bordelaise in that I want to come to you at the end of the year and say 2011 is the best vintage we have ever had. I haven't said that since 2010 and 2007 before that. We do seem to be having a pretty good string of vintages. That said, so far 2011 really is the best year I have seen here yet in the Nevaeh Vineyard. The big difference this year is that the vintage has been far more scattered throughout Virginia so some of our vineyard are fairing better then others. At Nevaeh we have had an extremely dry year again, but it has been slightly cooler then 2010 and even then 2007 for August. There have been a few rains at the start of August as well which is giving a little more water for the vines headed into the harvest season. We also had a very wet spring just before bud-break before it became beautiful, sunny and dry.
What does this all mean? The wet spring leading to a drier and sunny bud break with great warmth through the later half of April and May meant the vines got an incredible jump start. Since my arrival at Tarara I have never seen such vigor at the start of the year with the shoot growth. This developed a great canopy for ripening the fruit through the summer, but also meant a lot of work to maintain it and ensure it stayed under control and we didn't get mildew problems from an overly dense canopy. That was simple, since our vineyard crew is the best out there in my opinion. We also had the best fruit set that I have seen here. We made our entire way through bloom without any rains, still moist soils and no heavy winds. Wow! Perfection so far which is a first. The only downfall to this was that we knew we had some extra work ahead of us dropping fruit since we tend to grow very light yields to maximum concentration and ripeness uniformity. This year we had to drop more fruit then ever to get our vines to 1 cluster per healthy shoot, and none on less vigorous shoots. This is our normal yield in the end, but Mother Nature really wanted to give us more this year and test us to see if we would allow it. The great thing about dropping the fruit was that we were able to be far more selective on the clusters we could leave remaining. The takes us up to about June with no real issues at all.
Through June, July and the start of August it was simple vineyard maintenance. There was very little disease pressure since it didn't rain until August and the vigor of the vines started to slow a little. We simply did our regular work of tucking shoots, very little shoot thinning and opened up the canopy a bit around the actual clusters to allow better air flow and more sunlight to the fruit. This all while finishing the job of dropping the unwanted clusters. It was a great time of the season. Mother Nature didn't bother me and I didn't bother her.
August has been a little more challenging in that we have had more of a balance of rain and sun. At this time of year my attitude gets far more "colorful" when it rains. The grapes have gone into veraison (changing color, soften and the final stages of ripening) and the vines just suck up everything and send it to the fruit. That means, too much rain can mean dilution. It has not been a problem this year actually so far though. It has slightly pushed harvest back which could be a good thing for added tannin and flavor development. That said more rain now can be downright bad. Certain varieties like Chardonnay, Viognier and especially Pinot Gris are right around the corner. In fact Pinot Gris is being harvested on Friday and Saturday before any potential rain, but that is sold anyhow to another winery. All three of these varieties and Pinotage from Honah Lee are very tight clusters and earlier ripeners. What that means is right now the berries are pressing quite hard on each other and added water can cause them to split before being quite as ripe as I would like.
This is when I start acting like a teenager again. I try to defy Mother Nature and tell her, "No you want drop 2 inches of rain on us, or heaven forbid a hurricane!" We have had a great season so far, but the most critical time is now. It becomes me against Mother Nature and I have to admit, every time she tests with a sprinkle of rain I have to be sent to my corner because I will have a bit of a tantrum.
So here is to hoping for some great weather for the next 7-8 weeks to complete what could then be another banner vintage. I can't say it is yet, it is way too early, but my excitement is balanced with my fear of the unknown over the next few weeks.
Until we know better, happy sipping and I hope you are enjoying the 2008's, 2009's and 2010's that are currently available for you. Cheers!
July 29, 2011
It was not long ago there were a lot of people that had a saying "Friends don't let friends drink Rose". My new favorite saying comed from a great winemaker in Washingont State, Charles Smith, who says, "Yes, You can drink Rose and still be Bad Ass."
Rose took on a really bad name several years ago when the market was flooded by Mateus and sweeter styles of White Zinfandel that show more like a fruit cocktail then a wine with balance and intrigue. Now there are tons of interesting Rose's coming from all around the world whether it be it's home in Provence, Tavel, California or even here in Virginia. Now, is Rose great from all places and done in all styles? In my opinion, no, but this is something I learned more about yesterday.
The three Rose's could not have been more different in style from each other. The first one was a darker style, almost Ruby like with deeper fruit, lots of intensity and clean characters, if not slightly too soft to be as refreshing a Rose I normally enjoy. The second wine was my personal favorite in that it was crisp, bright and clean. It woudl make a great summer sipper which is part of the charm of Rose to me. I also found it somewhat complex, but not as much as I found it perplexing. If I had tasted this wine from a "Black" glass and couldn't see the color I would have said Sauvignon Blanc 10 times out of 10. It was grassy, showed grapefruit and boxwood notes, had bright acid, what else could it be. Turns out it was a Mourvedre, Grenache and Syrah blend, what do I know. The third wine was the one that stuck out from the buch. It was full, rich and lucsious. There was intense aromatics and flavor profiles that showed strawberry preserves, stewed raspberry, caramel, and smoke. The palate was full, soft and generous. Once again, I though, well, it I couldn't see the color I might have a different impression of the wine. It was potentially my least favorite of the three as a Rose, but I was certainly alone. The other 6 people tasting unanimously said this was their favorite wine. It wasn't that I didn't like the wine, it was just different as a Rose.
So it turns out, and I did know it before I even sat down because of the color, that wine three was our own 2010 Rose. So why that glowing review I gave my own wine? It simply shows that there is often a matter of preference. All three wines were very well made and you could understand their direction in which they took. The first wine was a Rose from Viader (Their Dare line) from 2008 in Napa Valley and it is clear that it is going after the deeper Tavel style that is classic of the Southern Rhone appellation but using Bordeaux varieties. The second wine was clearly more in the traditional provencal style (almost Bandol like) in its bright acidity, lighter nature and it was from predominately Mourvedre which makes sense. I would also not be shocked to taste something like this made from Cabernet Franc in the Loire or really anywhere for that matter. It was the 2010 L'Aventure Cote de Cotes Rose. Ours, was coming from the 2010 vintage which was obscenely hot and dry. The fruit just had outrageous concentration so I was somewhat stumped on how to treat the wine. the flavor development started to occur only once the sugar was much higher then we would normally aim for Rose. Knowing the wine was going to have some higher alcohol for a Rose (just over 15%) I knew we could not simply do a cool stainless ferment, clean it up and get it in bottle. The wine would not have had the depth or weight to stand up to the alcohol and would be out of balance, so what did we do? We did a much warmer barrel ferment getting up to the mid 70's at teh peak of the fermentation. The oxygen exchange also gave the wine some extra "fat" to handle the intensity of the fruit. The finished wine is different, but everyone is telling me it is their favorite that we have produced. I think it would be a great Rose for sipping at a late Al Fresco dinner once the sun has gone down with some Roasted Game birds in Pan juices or some other rich poultry type dish. That said, it is pretty high octane for sipping at 100+ degrees in the middle of the afternoon and I also like it a bit warmer then most Roses.
When I asked around the table why everyone loved this wine so much over the others, the answer was pretty uniform in that it offers more substance acting like the structure of a Chardonnay, but the flavor style of a Pinot or other lighte red. It has appeal to those that don't tend to go toward a Rose. So I wonder, how many people really like Rose the way I do? We are coming up to harvest time for 2011 and I have myself guessing, was the 2010 Rose on to something even if it is not the style I gravitate toward? We are having a similar vintage so far (maybe a touch cooler which I know is hard to believe with the last two weeks heat) so it could be in the cards. Maybe we should do as we do every year and make that a gut feeling at the time of harvest?
So many decisions to make, but it is so hard without knowing the right questions. I know one question I have is, "Where is Rose going in the next 10-20 years?"
July 27, 2011
I was lucky enough to spend this last weekend in Charlottesville at the Wine Bloggers Conference 2011 with some of the countries most passionate wine people. There is a lot I learned or at least realized while I was there. I think the most important lesson was that these bloggers don't get paid for the most part, they do it because they love wine. So really that makes them a lot like you most likely if you are reading this.
Bloggers came to Charlottesville from all over the United States and Canada to explore different blogging ideas, learn from two of the worlds most renowned critics and hopefully a strong portion were there to learn about Virginia wine and taste a few. We had the opportunity to pour for several of these bloggers on Wednesday here at the Tarara, and then again four times in Charlottesville. The opportunities included two "Live Blogging" Sessions, a massive tasting at the Monticello (way too awesome) and an event called "The Other 46". The Other 46 was a tasting of wines from anywhere in the USA not including California, Oregon, Washington and New York.
What I found was an overwhelming excitement and appreciation for our wines. It really did not matter where they were from, I seemed to only hear positive feedback. This was difficult for some because they had been outside in the blistering heat as we experienced over 100 degrees with crazy humidity that day.
So, besides a great experience meeting several bloggers (check out our twitter page or look up the #WBC11 on twitter) what do we at Tarara think of the boom of wine bloggers? Though still new, we are trying to understand it a bit more, but in short it is great! To put this in perspective, we poured wine for close to 300 people on the weekend. One of the people we poured wine for was Jancis Robinson who is arguably the second most influential wine critic in the world. Will she write about our Viognier, Nevaeh Red or TerraNoVA? I have no clue. I hope she does, but I just don't know. If she does, it will absolutely not be a cover story so will be part of a much larger program and it will only be there from one person regardless how influential she is. We have currently received 72 tweets directly involving the rest of the group that tasted our wine. Most of these are brief tasting notes about particular wines and all are very positive. I have no idea how many blogs might link us by the time they are all tallied from this group, but certainly there are some and it is great to be viewed by people from all over. Many of the bloggers were not local and it was exciting to read their streaming comments. It was all is very cool.
The blogging world is not without its flaws though. Most of the bloggers in the world are not classically trained in wine like most of the traditional journalists. That said, Robert Parker, Jr. is a classically educated lawyer, not sommelier or Master of Wine, etc but he is the most influential wine person in the world and has been said to have the greatest wine palette in the world. Does he? I don't honestly know, I have never met him or tasted with him or most of the world. I have tasted now with a lot of these blogger peers though and there are some very talented tasters. There are also some that are still learning, but what is cool is that they want to learn more so this media format should constantly get better and better. I think what is really key in reading blogs is that everyone needs to find particular bloggers that seem to match their own style. Find a blogger that enjoys similar wine as you, similar wine experiences as you and follow them for their suggestions. The biggest difference I find with bloggers and traditional media is that traditional media is forced to shy away from biases. They are supposed to attempt to taste simply on qualitative aspects regardless whether it is a Barrel Fermented Chardonnay, crisp Riesling, Carbonic Maceration Gamay, or massive Syrah. Does this ability to turn a blind eye to preference really exist? I don't know, I know I can't do it. Bloggers include their preferences which can be great, but can also upset some wineries. I don't think there is any need to be upset by it though. If someone slams Tarara Winery for not having sweet Chambourcin or fruit wine, why should I be offended? We don't offer that and I would hate for someone who is only interested in fruit wine to arrive at Tarara only to be disappointed. There would be nothing for them to buy and would just leave miserable. It does not help the winery or the customer. If someone is only interesting in unoaked whites, or lighter reds, same story. We have limited offerings. But, if someone is interested in more extracted reds and rounder lush whites with terroir as a focus, then the likelihood is they will enjoy our wines, and that goes for bloggers as well.
There are bloggers that have wine preferences and there are bloggers that focus more on the experience than the wine. Some love dog friendly wineries, some family friendly, some want a more formal tasting experience and some really don't care as long as the wine is awesome and to the style they want. Are any of them wrong? NO! That is the difference with new media instead of traditional journalism. It is far more opinionated. They tend to also lack scores for the most part which is a good thing in this case. If you are not trained and cannot act without bias, then you shouldn't "score" a wine or an experience because that is a critical analysis. To add scores is to quantify a result so scoring should be left to those that have specific criteria other than opinion. Opinions are great in written word so the reader can understand why someone loves or doesn't love a wine or experience.
A great quote that I remembered that might have seemed off putting to some was from Jancis Robinson. "Bloggers are, like people". This really was a great quote, because what is says is that it is far easier to connect with a blogger about their experience with a wine than a critic in hard copy form. You can interact with bloggers and comment on most of their sites. It really can open up a dialogue and a relationship with the blog you most like to read.
In conclusion, what do I think of how bloggers are so prevalent in the wine industry now? Well, it doesn't matter what I think because the reality is the Internet was created and it has developed into a place where everyone has a voice. But, I do love it anyway. I think it creates a challenge to consumers to find the voice of someone who might have similar tastes. Bloggers are bringing a new focus to all wine styles, all experiences and truly are helping to remind many of us the importance in supporting local since many of the bloggers are massive advocates of local. Most serious bloggers are on a constant mission to better their personal blog and their knowledge of the subject matter and that is why there is a Wine Bloggers Conference. I look forward to the future of wine blogging and seeing how it further benefits not only the current world known wines and regions, but makes wine more global for all regions and wine styles. I also hope that we do not lose traditional media as they both hold separate uses in my mind. Blogging simply gives more accessible information to the broader public at the touch of a button. Very Cool.
Just for a little plugging of our local bloggers, here are some great blogs if you have not already checked them out:
June 30, 2011
Over the last ten year I have seen more and more wine enter the market to have me say, "Wow, is that already a such and such vintage?" I have already seen loads of 2010's on the market and it seems a huge majority of the wines on the market are 2009 both White and Red. I think about it and say (if from the Northern Hemisphere), "Hey this wine was only harvested about 21 months ago.
If you look at most of the old world, or traditionally crafted wines of the world you are just now seeing the 2008 reds hit the market and a mix bag of 2008 and 2009 whites. Are the younger wines here because of the want to maintain fresh primary fruit, or are they here because there is an urge to get some revenue from the wine the owner paid for over a year ago?
I am a huge fan of the school that believes wine requires patience to be truly great. When a wine is too young it full of energy and can have gobs of fruit. In my opinion, that fruit driven wine can often be one dimensional and can really mask some of the great complexities that the vineyard wants to show. This may be completely suited to some styles of wine like a village level Beajolais, or an entry level Shiraz when the focus is on that lush fruit that will seldom gain complexity and was never meant to be an expression of a great terroir or be the most "complex" wine. They are for sheer enjoyment and are not built to intrigue the senses.
Our traditional style of winemaking is simple. On average our reds spend between 20-30 days on the skins to get great extraction before being racked to barrels for 18-20 months to get the best integration and let the wine mature a little prior to being bottled. This also allows us to have a far "cleaner" wine at the time of bottling from better settling so we can bottle unfiltered. It is about a patient way of taking a minimalist approach. We then aim to allow the wine to rest in bottle atleast 12 months prior to release, as we believe it takes this long for the wine to truly recover from the aggression of bottling after being locked down for 18 months in a barrel. So in reality for our reds it normally takes almost three years before we believe it is ready to be show to the customer. With our single vineyard whites and Chardonnay it is a bit shorter, as we tend to only have a 10 month elevage because we don't want too much oak extraction. That will start to change as we get a better percentage of older oak from tje Jupilles forest to help with longer elevage and still getting less oak dominance. The whites are then held atleast 8 months prior to release for the same reasons as the reds, but with the short time in barrel they can handle a little less bottle time before they come back around.
The big reason that this intrigues me is that we are currently sold our of our 2009 Three Vineyards Chardonnay, Nevaeh White and Honah Lee White that were all released in April. Great problem to have, but still a problem. We will be bottling our 2010's of these wines in 5 weeks from now, and my thought is that many wineries would get them on their shelves right away to fill that void. Well, I question if this is a good idea. While it would be great to have the cash flow from selling these wines, I would be concerned that they just are not showing how we want them to show. At this point we are down to one white wine that we produced in our tasting room until April of next year if we don't release our single vineyard whites early. While we will be carrying some other whites from great friends
(Glen Manor Sauvignon Blanc 2009, 8 Chains North Sauvignon Blanc 2009 and Delaplane Maggies Vineyard Viognier 2008) to fill some of the void, I am anxcious to get our new Single Vineyard whites out there. I just don't think we should comprimise. I am also concerned our Nevaeh Red will be gone by the end of the summer only to be released around the same time next year.
So, as a consumer, do you believe it is better for you to be able to get our best white wines as soon as possible knowing that they do have limited quantities? Or, should we be sticking to our guns and only release the wines when we think they are ready to be released? It is a question so many wineries around the world have to ask themselves and it is the reason I think we are seeing more and more wines made for early release to keep sales rolling, instead of having some patience and offering what they believe is the very best wine.