A More Technical Grape Growing Report for 2019

2019 Wente Clone Chardonnay

I recently was contacted by a journalist regarding the more difficult growing conditions for grape farmers in the foothills this year. Her question was about mildew on the grapes and the potential need for wineries to throw out a lot of fruit. All wineries sort fruit when they are destemming and crushing, but mildew can be a real problem, often in the interior of the bunch where one doesn’t see it.

In any case, here is my response to her question, and our particular situation. By the way, all the work I mention about opening up the vine is also useful now when we get late rains. It helps dry the vine dry out quickly and makes rots and molds (like botrytis) less likely.  One last thing. Once the grapes go through veraison (where they soften, turn color and start accumulating sugar quickly), they are no longer susceptible to mildew. The vine is (on the leaves, etc.), but the actual grapes are not! Super important when you’re growing grapes! Continue reading

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What Happens When Your Distributor Goes Out of Business?

Over the last four decades, we’ve seen a lot of changes in the wine industry. Sure, we’ve seen restaurants come and go, wine shops come and go, and even other wineries come and go. But the real change has been how small, or rather boutique, wineries operate.

Back in the 1980’s, wineries would work with distributors across the country. Even we had distributors in 12 or 13 states including New York, Illinois, Indiana, Nevada, etc. Since the tasting room business (also known as DTC or “direct to consumer”) didn’t really exist, most wineries relied on selling their wines to distributors.

The three-tier system still exists today with a winery selling to a distributor, the distributor selling to the restaurant/store, and the restaurant/store selling to the consumer. This distributor would also have complete control of our product in their market. That’s part of the deal. Continue reading

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Douro River Cruise

The Enticing Douro River Cruise
11-night Lisbon Tour & Cruise: November 8-18, 2020
7-night Cruise Only: November 12-19, 2020

Douro Bodega and VineyardOur Madrona Vineyards Douro River Cruise of northern Portugal is now 32 strong! Most cabins are on a waitlist now, however you can register online with no deposit or obligation required.  IF and when your cabin clears you will be notified.  At that time you can choose to purchase and travel, or not.  There is a 4-night pre-cruise tour of Lisbon and Porto prior to boarding the ship AmaVida.

PINHAO – Alto Douro Valley

Our cruise along the winding Douro River is spectacular.  Boats on the river gleam in the sun.  Terraced vineyards, grand old quintas and little stone brick villages along the banks make this a truly magical ride.

Sandeman Port EstateThe Alto Douro Valley (“upper Douro”) is home to the oldest demarcated vineyards in the world, dating back over 2,000 year.  It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001.  It’s a region with a Mediterranean climate, marked by hot, dry summers and cold winters.  Summer weather is generally warm to hot, with temperatures in the 80’s. However summer is a lovely, uncrowded time to experience this beautiful part of Portugal and taste the fabulous wines and ports produced in this region.

Pinhao town is a charming village of quiet cobbled streets and colorful narrow houses, situated in a perfect location at a wide bend in the river.  The surrounding terraced hillsides produce the world’s best port.  This is home to the great Portuguese wine estates of Sandeman, W.J. Graham, Taylor-Fladgate and other legendary port producers.  Old women in doorways chat away.  This is a proper rural European country town.

From Pinhao we will visit and enjoy a country lunch at Quinta da Avessada, a family owned winery famous for its hospitality.  The walk through their wine production facility is a stroll through centuries of Portuguese wine production in the Douro Valley, followed by a tastings at red wine producer Quinta do Seixo, then finishing at the Sandeman Estate.  The Sandeman 40 year old Tawny Port is extraordinary and the reasonable price will surprise you.  It’s well worth taking a bottle home.

TIP: The ship overnights here.  Weather permitting this is the best place on our cruise to enjoy a restaurant dinner off the ship, if only for a change of pace.  Evenings in Pinhao are full of wine and good cheer.  Our good ship AmaVida is a short walk from the town’s restaurants and cafes. 

Join us!   To register online visit: www.toursandwine.com/madrona  We have an EXCLUSIVE $500 per cabin ($250 per person) discount for members of the Madrona Vineyards Group on board. A $500 deposit per person will hold your cabin.

NOTE: Special activities and meals are included.  You must book through our tour operator, Expanding Horizons of Tustin CA, to be part of the Madrona Vineyards Douro Group.

With questions call Georgia Shoemaker at our tour operator Expanding Horizons, email Georgia@Expanding-Horizons.com  or call 1-714-988-6408


Paul & Maggie Bush

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To Filter or Not To Filter…That is the Question!

OK, so maybe I’m taking some liberty with Shakespeare’s quote here, but it is a bit of an ongoing question in the winery. And with a couple of conversations I had yesterday with wine lovers, I thought a quick primer here was in order.

Getting to the core of the subject, the answer to the question above is, “We filter when the wine needs to be filtered!” There, wasn’t that super insightful and helpful?

So there are a few background aspects that are necessary to build up a basic knowledge about filtering.

  1. There is active and passive filtration of wine. Active filtration is the process of filtering a wine through a piece of equipment and passive filtration is time and gravity slowly clarifying a wine.
  2. There are multiple ways to “active” filter wine including pad filtrations, crossflow filtrations, and sterile membrane filtrations.
  3. All active filtrations, no matter how delicate the process, can impact the wine. The basic concept is that you are filtering something out of the wine (usually solids of some sort for clarity, but also yeast, malolactic cultures, etc.). Thus filtering can also pull out some aspects of fruit or complexity.
  4. The more active filtrations you do on a wine, the more chance you risk of stripping out characters in the wine.
  5. Filtering wine (especially sterile filtering at the bottling line) improves the stability of the wine in the bottle. (There’s less chance for refermentation if that is a concern.)
  6. Wines with residual sugar and/or an incomplete malolactic fermentation usually need to be actively filtered for stability reasons.
  7. The American wine consuming public likes clear wines (no hazy or cloudy characters)
  8. Even filtered wines may throw a sediment over time.

So now, let’s get back to the original answer. At Madroña, we filter wines when we think we need to filter wines. A lot of it has to do with the basic stability of the wine, but it also has to do with where the wine is being sold and who is going to be drinking it.

Ideally, I would never filter wine. That is the purest expression of what the wine has in terms of fruit and flavor. And generally, the aging in the barrels slowly clarifies the wine as gravity settles out the solids.

So you’ll find that our highest end wines, the Single Vineyard Collection, are unfiltered. This is done for several reasons.

  1. We want that purest expression of the vineyards in your glass.
  2. Most wine consumers paying $50+ for wine understand the unfiltered nature and can expect a hint of sediment or cloudiness (if it’s there for insuring a better quality of fruit).
  3. We can expect that consumers looking for unfiltered wines know that cellaring temperatures in their houses are very important.
  4. These wines are hand-sold at the tasting room by a knowledgeable staff in small quantities. This gives us a chance to educate, and the risk of issues in the wine is minimal.

But not all wines should be bottled unfiltered.

First and foremost, if a wines still has fermentable sugar or fermentable malic acid, we would not bottle it unfiltered. There is too much risk that the wine would referment in the bottle.

Secondly, we need to take into account how the wine is going to be sold. If we will be sending the wine to distributors or stores to sell where the temperatures can vary on the shelves, we would filter the wine. The fluctuating temperatures, especially warmer, could potentially provide a hospitable environment for yeast to start working in the wine once again. Ever have a sparkly wine with some cloudiness? That’s it!

Lastly, we need to consider the final consumer in all this. Not everyone knows all the ins and outs of wine and how to store it. We need to assume that someone is buying a bottle of Madroña off the store shelf, taking it home, storing it on their kitchen counter, and then still want it to be crystal clear when they serve it. Filtering is some insurance that they will have a pleasurable experience with our wine.

Now, two last items. One. If you remember my push to get a crossflow filter here at Madroña, it is an expensive piece of equipment we bought several years ago. I wanted this type of filter because I only have to filter a wine once (instead of multiple times with pad filtrations), and I find the wines “less beat-up” after filtering than with traditional filtrations. That has allowed me the luxury of filtering some of the high-end Cabernets and not losing any of the subtle characters in the wine.

The second item is that filtering wine will not prevent all sediment or turbidity from forming. The crystals on the cork (tartrates) can form over time by the tartaric acid “salting out” with temperature (generally cooler temperatures) and pressure changes. This is not a quality aspect as the wine would not have been cold stabilized in the winery (like all red wines!). And remember that you can save up these crystals and make cookies as it’s just cream of tartar!

Older reds too may have sediments due to aspect binding up in the wine (pigments with tartrates, etc.). Just be careful pulling the cork out as the sediment will have collected on the cork if the bottle is aging upside down.

And finally, instabilities with proteins in the wine such as heat and polysaccharides instabilities are not filterable if they haven’t already formed. But all of these instabilities (including the tartrates) are purely cosmetic and have nothing to do with the flavors of the wines. But that’s all for another blog!

So back to the basic question, “To filter or not to filter?” Well, I stand by, “We only filter when we need to filter, and even that we try to do sparingly!” Sound good?

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Annual Open Houses—Madroña 39, Rucksack 1

Madrona Open House 2019No, it’s not a one-sided baseball score between the Madroña Bushmen and the Rucksack Hikers. And no, it’s not a count of the tasters in the tasting room. Instead, it’s the number of Open Houses we’ll be celebrating this year on May 25th and 26th.

First and foremost, I think you need to absorb in how truly unique this celebration is. We have been hosting an Open House every year at Madroña since 1981. If you can remember that far back, Ronald Reagan was president, the US inflation rate was 10.35%, and the interest rate was 15.75%! And some of you may not even have been born yet! (And if you’re wondering, the 1981 Cabernet Sauvignon is still tasting great!) Continue reading

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Passport 2019 Wrap-up

Menu PageWHEW! and WHEW again!   We made it through another Passport!  This year we had so much fun developing recipes that focused on earth-friendly, non-meat recipes.  So many people, including myself, are guilty of thinking that the best pairing with wine is meat.  It’s my go-to thought.  But there are many fabulous recipes that pair beautifully with wine, and this year, we featured 3.  As always, we had many requests for the recipes, and we promised to provide them!  Bon Appetit!

Sweet Potato Fries, Dipped two ways!
Vegan Ginger/Soy Aioli
1 cup veganaise
1.5-2 Tbsp minced ginger
1-1.5 Tbsp Soy or Tamari sauce
Squirt of Lime Juice

Continue reading

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Pre-Passport Event

This Friday, April 5th from 6pm-8pm
As you undoubtedly know, the wineries of the El Dorado Appellation are celebrating our Passport Experience over the next two weekends. We also know that locals often enjoy the more tranquil celebrations of our wine region by visiting on quieter days. Thus our Pre-Passport Party (for the last 12 years or so!).
This Friday (April 5th) from 6-8pm, we will be tasting all the wines we’re showcasing during the Passport weekends. For us, we’ll have the winery all decked out for the event while you’ll get to be a part of our Passport without the crowds!
What’s Happening this Friday?
     Vertical Malbec Tasting (our VIP Experience!)
     Release of our ’15 Single Vineyard Enyé Malbec (dry-farmed!)
     Barrel Tasting (and Futures) on our 2017 Signature Zinfandel
     Release of our 2018 Hillside Grenache Rosé
     Wines paired with Pulled-Porked Sandwiches (in a Malbec sauce)
     El Tinto Lot 38 at just $100/cs (our annual Passport Special) 
Tickets are just $10/person, and space is limited to just 80 people (and we’ve been selling tickets for a couple of weeks now). So Click Here to get yours and come relax this Friday with wine, food, new-releases and friends!
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