October 29, 2016

Pacific storms bring a welcome early start to our rainy season with Napa already receiving a couple inches and more on the way into early next week. While visiting tourists might not like the rain, locals are grateful for every drop we can get.

Vineyards continue to turn color giving us vibrant fall colors.  I am always amazed at how fast everything “greens-up” once rains begin.




Meanwhile cellars are busy – reds wines have finished fermentation and are being pressed off the skins and barreled down for aging.

img_2317Pommice left over after pressing wine off the skins will get composted.

October 18, 2016

Last weekend’s rains were predicted to be heavy enough to make growers and winemakers decide to bring in most of the grapes yet to be harvested in Napa before the weekend. Lots of vineyard and cellar activity on Thursday and Friday as the last fruit was harvested in advance of the strong Pacific storm that came through over the weekend.


Vine canopies have started to turn, and since yellow leaves don’t ripen grapes, the prospect of wet heavy and potentially compromised fruit has signaled an end to harvest. Overall, winemakers are very happy with both yields and quality of this year’s harvest.

This was the first significant rain we received since May. We all hope this is a harbinger of a good rainy season for the winter.

Nice to once again see water fall from the sky!


Vineyards in the Coombsville appellation looking east as the rains came over the weekend.





Winemaking is in full tilt in cellars throughout wine country.


Pump-overs to keep grape skins hydrated with juice during fermentation. Color, phenolics and other compounds contained in the skins are extracted into the wine during this process.



When fermentation is complete, tanks are drained and skins pressed. The leftovers are called pommice and are composted.



Pressed grape skins to be composted.

October 5, 2016

The 2016 harvest is almost over with just cabernet still a couple weeks out.

The heat has broken and it was in the mid 40s early last Saturday morning here in downtown Napa. The light rain we had on Sunday and Monday this week was the first time we have seen water fall from the sky since early May last spring. Just enough to wash the air clean.

Thick-skinned cabernet sauvignon can handle a little rain without running the risk of mold, but winemakers and grape growers are out walking the vineyards checking on grapes almost every day. Warm sunshine and light breezes are helping dry what little water might still be on the grapes.



Meanwhile, winemaking is well underway in the cellar for earlier harvested grapes.


Frank Family Vineyards occupies the site of the old Hanns Kornell winery in Calistoga. Hanns was one of the pioneers of méthode champenoise sparkling wine in California starting back in 1958.

Today Frank Family honors his legacy by producing small lots of sparkling wine – still hand riddled in the old fashioned way. Winemaker Todd Graff (formerly winemaker at neighboring Schramsburg) started making wine here in 2003.


Riddling racks at Frank Family.



Brut Rose on the riddling rack at Frank Family. Notice the white paint on each bottle that shows how far each bottle has been turned in the rack. This is truly old style of handcrafting wines.



Frank Family Brut Rose on the rack. Not just for celebrations! Great with oysters or greasy fried chicken.



October 1, 2016

Heat spikes a week ago has pushed ripeness along and more red grapes are coming in throughout wine country. Winemakers report average or slightly higher than average yields-a welcome relief after the small yields seen in the last couple vintages due to the drought.

People are thrilled with the 2016 vintage so far. Aside from a couple days last  week with heat in the 90s, this year has seen even and moderate temperatures throughout wine country.


Rachis and jax are all that is left after grapes are de-stemmed. This all gets composted.

September 15, 2016

Harvest is moving along throughout wine country. In Napa, sauvignon blanc, typically the first still wine grape to get harvested is all in and fermenting.

Some wineries are beginning to bring in red grapes.




Pinot noir coming in at Bouchaine winery in Carneros. Here pinot noir is picked into half ton bins from the estate vineyard. The bins are dumped into a hopper and grapes sorted on the conveyer belt that moves them into the de-stemmer/crusher. The goal of sorting is to remove MOG (material other than grapes) to prevent leaves and such from getting into the wine that can result in bitter green flavors.



Pinot Noir grapes being hand sorted at Frank Family winery near Calistoga. The stone building in the background was the original Larkmead winery built by Lilly Hitchock Coit in 1884. The site of her home nearby is marked by three tall palms trees in the middle of a vineyard. The famous Three Palms Vineyard is now owned by Duckhorn.

September 10, 2016

Picking grapes at Olivia Brion Winery in the Wild Horse Valley appellation in the hills to the east of the town of Napa.

I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with winemaker David Mahaffey for over 25 years. The Olivia Brion winery is the only winery in the small Wild Horse Valley appellation in the hills east of the town of Napa. Dave grows chardonnay and pinot noir on a hillside vineyard that gets cool breezes from the bay and coming across the Petaluma Plain from the Pacific Ocean.


The drive up to the vineyard goes by two small upland lakes. The vineyard is just above the fog line.



The Olivia Brion vineyard looking northwest. At 8:30 am the valley below is still clouded over by the marine layer. The netting to protect the fruit from birds has been tied back below the canopy to provide access to the grapes for picking.




Crews had started picking pinot noir by 7 am. Here they are going through the chardonnay blocks. We were picking the rows further up the hill.


Bluebird nest nestled in the chardonnay vines.





Clusters are picked into 35 pound picking lugs and moved by tractor to the crush pad.



Winemaker Dave Mahaffey drives the tractor with grapes back to the crush pad.





Lugs are individually dumped into the de-stemmer/crusher.


Stems get composted while mostly whole berries fall by gravity into one-ton fermentation bins. Gentle handling of the grapes from vine to lug to de-stemmer into the fermentation bins results in high quality wines.


Pinot Noir clusters harvested that morning.



Syrah grapes (much larger clusters) harvested the day before from a vineyard west of the town of Napa.



A bin of fermenting pinot noir at Bouchaine. CO2 produced during fermentation pushes all the skins to the surface. The ‘cap’ of skins will be punched down a few times during the day to keep the skins hydrated so color, tannins and phenolics are extracted form the skins into the fermenting wine.



By the time I left around 1pm, the marine layer had burned off. Here looking north from the road that leads up to the vineyard. You can see the flat top of Mt St Helena in Calistoga at the northernmost part of the valley in the distance.