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June 2009 Newsletter

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Rhone Style Chardonnay and Pinot Gris

June 2009 Newsletter

Color, does it really matter (in wine)?
I just returned from a trip to Texas where I spent a fair amount of time talking to particularly enlightened individuals about color in wine. I began to get a false sense of hope that wine drinkers in general had gotten to the point where color was no longer a major criteria in whether they liked a wine or not. I am afraid that is a false hope. While most of our customers, which are a very highly evolved sub-set of all wine drinkers, fully understand that of all of the sensory attributes of wine, the way it smells, tastes and feels in the mouth is much more important than color, most people have not gotten that far. We often judge more with our eyes than with some of our other senses. I fully accept that but I am out to change the way people think about wine, one wine drinker at a time.

Some years ago, back in the early days of my winemaking career, I was asked to be one of several winemakers at a pinot noir tasting. The format was unusual in that we were scattered among the crowd and most didn't know we were there. After the formal part of the tasting, it was opened up to questions. One of the first questions was what the winemakers felt about color in pinot noir. As I prepared to answer I noticed another winemaker rise. His answer was that color never mattered to him. When I burst into laughter I was greeted with cold hard stares from a number of people. I then realized that they didn't get his joke. The winemaker who had spoken was blind!

Perhaps we should all taste blind (with blindfolds on) or with black wine glasses. The results would be interesting. But, in the meantime, thanks to all of you who have appreciated our 2006 pinot noirs, 3 of which have the color of rosé. Close your eyes and they are so much darker...

Could have made them darker. Enzymes are cheap. Decided not to. Aroma, flavor, mouth feel are more important to me. Nuff said.

2009 Vintage Prediction

We have had all of the usual stuff - drought, late rain, cold weather, hot weather, wind, pestilence - well, not the latter. Lately, great weather during bloom which is now finished. Last year's frost-affected vines have fewer clusters, the others look about normal. All in all a good start to what could be a very good vintage. But then again we have a lot of weather between now and harvest, in about 110 days.

New Releases

2008 Gewürztraminer Saralee's Vineyard

I am guilty of a major wine geek sin. I sometimes get unduly excited about "minor" varietal wines. In the overall scheme of wines, some grape types are considered capable of creating great wines. These include chardonnay, riesling, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, pinot noir and nebbiolo. A handful of others may be included depending on who you are talking to, but a host of other varieties are relegated to minor status. Sorry, but I sometimes get more excited about the wines from these second tier types. First, I can drink them more often and with a wider variety of foods. Secondly, since I don't expect them to wow me, I am often very taken with those that actually do. One of these varieties is gewürztraminer. This is a grape that I believe can, on rare occasions, achieve greatness. It most often is a serviceable wine that works with spicy food, hence its reputation for a good wine with Thai food. However, there is a middle ground, wines that while not necessarily great are so captivating that you just can't seem to keep your hands off of them. Our friend and neighbor, Saralee Kunde, grows the kind of gewürztraminer grapes that produce this kind of wine. Whether it is the dry, austere, serious wine of Dick Arrowood; the rich, sex-in-abottle wine of John Holdredge, or the wine that we make, these grapes are truly special.

I sat down one night recently to try our very recently bottled 2008 to see if it was possible to release it with the June release. I know, releasing a wine that is thought of as a summertime treat in time for summer seems to fly in the face of our usual practice, but I thought it was worth a shot. Boy, was I pleasantly surprised. Not only is it ready for prime time, I will have a hard time keeping my hands off of the couple of cases that we are setting aside for the library.

The vintage was tough. Late season frost, small crops, uneven ripening and a host of other challenges made this one tough year. The gewürztraminer crop was so far down that we thought we wouldn't even be able to make a barrel. We have always made this wine from a very small block at Saralee's Vineyard. Across Mark West Creek from our block they planted additional gewürztraminer but I have never been as impressed with this fruit. It is heavier bearing and later to ripen. However, faced with the prospect of maybe missing a vintage, I decided to look at the other block. The fruit was very uneven, not an uncommon thing in the vintage. However, there appeared to be fruit within the block at the same degree of maturity as the other fruit. Once again, Saralee and her crew came through for us. They agreed to go through the block picking only the fruit that I deemed mature. At the end of the day they had picked enough additional fruit for us to make our usual amount. The interesting thing was that the overall sugar in the juice after pressing was the lowest I had ever seen in our gewürztraminer. I was concerned that the finished alcohol would be less than 12%. Not necessarily a bad thing, just something that we were not used to. We followed the same protocol as usual--whole cluster pressing and settling overnight before racking to small stainless steel drums for fermentation. We inoculated with the same yeast (gewürzraminer is one of the few wines we do not ferment using wild yeast). When we checked the alcohol on the finished wine, I sent it off to a lab for a confirmation. Twice. The alcohol exceeded 14%! While you will never notice it in the wine, it was a shock. Once again, Mother Nature had come along and slapped me upside the head to remind me how little control we really have.

The wine: (Gewürztraminer)
Palest of pale lemon yellow. Bright aromas of lychee and citrus pith. In the mouth it is bright, fresh and engaging. I am very sensitive to bitter and I always pick as soon as the naturally apparent bitterness in the grapes is gone. If you don't wait, you need to leave residual sugar to mask the bitterness. We make this bone dry (no detectable sugar when measured in parts per million) so this is very important. This wine walks the line on bitterness but is definitely on the right side. I hope I can get this close again as this wine is the kind of "little" wine that I get really excited over. I tasted it next to our '07, and, while a little different in style (the '07 is a little richer), I had a hard time picking a favorite. At the end of the night it was the '08, with the acidity and brightness being the deciding factor. Plus, it tamed the curry a little bit better!

2007 Chardonnay Trenton Estate

The vines are few and the grape clusters are small but when we get a crop the wine can be really special. There is no doubt in my mind that this is one of the best chards that this vineyard has produced, perhaps the best since the '77.

The wine:
In the nose, Meyer lemon/orange blossom and hints of jasmine, honeysuckle and green apple along with wet stone. In the mouth it is very bright and focused with great acidity and enough ripe fruit to balance the acidity. Impeccably balanced. Sadly, we produced slightly less than 2 barrels. Only 47 cases were bottled.

2007 Pinot Noir Cuvée de Trois

I was going to wait until the fall to release any of the 2007 pinot noirs. My take on the vintage from having tasted a fair number of pinots is that it is a great vintage that will be drunk way too soon. While the 2006's are drinking very well now and many will improve over the next few years, the 2007's seem tightly wound. Then an odd thing came to pass. We were visited by a wine writer. We tasted through a bunch of wines and since he was interested I pulled some of our '07's. I told him that they weren't ready for prime time so it was just for his interest and not for publication. He thought that they showed really well but I wasn't sure. A short time later we were contacted by The Wine Spectator asking to taste the '07's for an article. I hesitated but figured since they were being tasted against other '07's it wouldn't be a total disaster. I was very pleasantly surprised when Jim Laube wrote a little piece for their online publication entitled, "Tasting Highlights: California Pinot Noir." In it he profiled a dozen Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast pinot noirs. The Cuvée de Trois and Trenton View were two of them. The Cuvée de Trois garnered a top score of 93, along with two other wines. We were in great company in the article. Jim Laube's notes on our wines were very good. Of the C3 he wrote "shows this iconic Sonoma winery at its best, with a terrific wine at a great price". He goes on, "Shows wonderful balance and purity of flavor, depth and complexity built around spicy wild berry, black cherry, mineral, anise and spice... Full-bodied, fresh and lively. The finish sails on. Drink now through 2013." I couldn't have said it better. On a final note: wine from the same four vineyards (I know, I can't count) went into this wine as has been the case for several years. The blend is never the same as we attempt to make not only the best vineyard wines but the best Cuvée de Trois each year.

2006 Mourvedré

For those who are unaware, this wine comes from a little patch of 1910-planted vines near Mancini Ranch and Zeigler Vineyard. Although the varietal originated in Spain, it is probably best known for its contribution to the wines of Provence, France, particularly Bandol.

The wine:
The nose shows its typical liquid pepper character but this year it is more white than black pepper, joined by aromas of blueberry. In the mouth it has medium body, slight tannins and lower than usual acidity. It is intense yet not jammy or over-ripe as the fruit had just reached maturity at lower levels of sugar when we harvested. It should continue to drink well for the next 5 or so years. 25 cases bottled.

2006 Tannat

The real challenge with this grape is the ferocious tannins that are present. We followed a similar winemaking protocol with this vintage as we had with the prior year, but seem to have had a little better success on taming the tannins. Practice may not make perfect but hopefully it does allow us to improve.

The wine:
This wine has the same pretty cherry cola with hints of licorice and black berry/plum fruit. In the mouth it is bright, lively and still a bit astringent. Although I have had old Madiran wines, I have no clear idea where this wine is going to go. Great now with hardy food, I have a feeling- -a gut reaction really--that it will soften and gentle over time to become an even more interesting wine. The next time someone brings me some wild boar, this wine is going to come out. Since that rarely happens, perhaps I will get a chance to see how well it will age! 50 cases bottled.

2005 Zinfandel Mancini Ranch

This is only the second of our 2005 zinfandels to be released. After a while the vintages begin to run together but I seem to recall that 2005 was a vintage with great structure and, we hoped when the grapes came in, lower alcohols. We seemed to get the structure but the alcohols weren't always low. Mother Nature messing with us again. Well, with this one, the alcohol was quite low by today's standards, under 14%! On the other hand, the nearby Lone Redwood Ranch, picked at comparable maturity levels, was way, way over that.

The wine:
The aromas: black pepper city. Bramble and cherry predominate. It is very bright and very focused with flavors echoing the aromas. Once again the balance is nearly perfect. Its great acidity and tannins which seem to emerge after extended airing, argue for a very long life. I doubt if I will wait that long. It is my kind of zin. 538 cases bottled.

On a side note, one of the comments I got from a number of restaurateurs and retailers in Texas on tasting our zins was that they thought that they didn't taste like zin. To wit, they weren't like dried berry pie with loads of vanilla. They liked them but weren't sure what to do with them. In the end most of them came to the same conclusion, it was time for them to start showing the wines to their customers and to use them to show them what zinfandel really is, fashion be damned. I agree!

Coming events Release of 2008 Rhose! The only thing holding it up is the label. Once that is done it will be out. And no, we did not misspell the name. The inspiration is from the wines of the Northern Rhone Valley appellation of Hermitage. They can grow three grapes there; marsanne, roussanne (both white) and syrah. From the first two they make dry and sweet white wine. From all three they make the great Hermitage rouge. I don't know if they make rosé or even if they are allowed. But, if they do/ could do it, it would probably include syrah and the two white grapes that often are included with the syrah. In that spirit we made a rosé that is about 90% syrah and the balance marsanne and roussanne, all pressed and fermented together. Once the label is approved we will have the labels printed and release the wine. Stay tuned. We will do an email announcement.

      — Rod Berglund

Upcoming Events!

1st Saturday & Sunday in August& November
we will be pouring library wines for our continuing 40th anniversary celebration.

14TH Annual Grape to Glass Weekend August 14-16, 2009
Sonoma County's Outstanding Russian River Valley Wines. Hands- On Vineyard and Winery Experiences Wine Country Regional Cuisine www.rrvw.org/grape-to-glass

Sonoma Wine Country Weekend: 4th through the 6th of September
3 days 200 wineries and chefs. We will be pouring our wine so join us where wine food and friends meet.



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