Beef stroganoff is one of my favorite wintertime comfort foods. Normally I would recommend pairing this with our Cabernet Sauvignon, but I recently paired it with our Merlot and it worked beautifully. The tender beef, having been slow cooked in the Merlot, along with the onions and mushrooms, created a nice marriage of flavors that work well with the characteristics of our Merlot. With it’s density and structure it stands up to the creamy and savory aspects of the stroganoff. With stroganoff being a relatively simplistic dish, it really brought out some of the unique subtleties of our Merlot, allowing it to show well. As for myself, I specifically enjoyed the deep cherry characters and Merlot (which isn’t typically known for it’s spice) showed a very Continue reading
Sierra-at-Tahoe, Solstice Eatery and Corkscrew Bar
Imagine this. It’s snowing lightly as you look out the window of a lodge high atop the Sierra Nevada. Skiers are frolicking in the snow while all the time you’re sipping incredible Madroña wines paired with the culinary delights of talented chefs. Sound like a movie from the ‘40’s? In most areas, this would be too good to be true. But anything’s possible in El Dorado County, especially during California’s Restaurant Month! Continue reading
It seems that 2016 is one of those years for reflection and introspection. Most people I’ve talked to are ready for 2016 to leave and will welcome 2017 with open arms. With such uncertainty in the world right now, sometimes it’s difficult stay focused on the daily chores. But as always, each challenging era has incredible opportunities.
As I focus on my own small world of winemaking and grapegrowing, the 2016 vintage is one of those opportunities. I reflect back onto this growing year and harvest, and my mind wanders into how perfect the season was. With some amount of rain in the spring, the vines grew vigorously compared to much of what we’ve seen over the past few years. The crop load was reasonable, especially compared to the previous year. Temperatures were moderate throughout the summer, and harvest started just about right on time. Continue reading
“How’s harvest going?” That’s the most common question I hear, whether it’s in the tasting room, or my mom bringing apple doughnuts to the crew. Generally, my answer is directly proportional to the number of hours I’ve spent at the winery the previous day times the number of days we’ve worked without a break minus the number of varieties still to be pick divided by average high temperature of the last three days times the percentage chance of rain in the next three days.
Harvest=((hours x days) – varieties)/(temperature – rain)
As of today September 29th, H=((11 x 40) – 12)/(84-50). The answer is 12.588.
One can see immediately that 50% chance of rain this weekend is impacting my answer, but only in that it’s kind of balancing out the fact that I’ve worked 40 days straight. But most importantly, I only worked 11 hours yesterday, which during harvest is considered a “half” day. Pretty clear, huh!?!
To be honest, all these things do matter. The harvest, as work period, is a demanding time when an endless sea of grapes just seems to be coming in. As I get older, I find that my excitement of working the long days is starting to wane, and I’m ready for the last grape to come off when the first one comes in.
And then we have a wonderful harvest like 2016. It started off slowly with small amounts trickling in. The days were reasonable in length (8-10 hours), and the quality superb. As things ramped up, a cool bout of weather would come to slow down the grapes. This lengthening of the season takes a lot of pressure off of all of us, giving us more time to work with our limited amount of tanks as well getting us all home at reasonable hours.
So unlike the last three vintages where grapes were all picked in about 3 weeks, we are being given a more normal 5 weeks picking window to do the job. It’s almost leisurely the way we’ve worked this season, and it’s just Tim, Ryan and myself in the cellar (until John comes up this weekend).
I, however, suspect that our sanity is not so much the answer to this question as is the overall quality and quantity. Starting with quantity, the tonnages are still a bit short, growing out of some of last year’s weather impact in the Chardonnay and Zinfandel, but others are coming in a bit heavy too (Malbec and Riesling).
But quality tastes “off-the-charts”! By in large, the grapes have great acidity this year, partly from a more moderate summer temperature season. This extended season has given us a bit more hang-time, thus giving the grapes a bit more intensity. With all this has come more intensity of color and, as of today, a bit more mid-palate texture.
Taking a snapshot while the wines are fermenting needs to always be taken with a grain of salt. These are living and changing beings, tasting different from day to day. But of particular excitement for both color and extraction, the 2016 Sumu Kaw Vineyards Zinfandel and the 2016 Rucksack Vineyards Cabernet Franc are exceptional!
With another 10 days of harvesting, it all looks pretty good. Our challenge is rain this weekend although even the most delicate-skinned varieties (like Zinfandel) are ready to pick. The cool weather coming up should keep the grapes in check (rather than continuing to ripen rapidly), and we have high expectations for the vintage.
And we’re getting to sleep at night too!
Watch for the final wrap-up of harvest and the crush in the October Shrub Report, taste some new wines at the Harvest Fest in November!
Paul just loves Riesling! (I love talking in the third person!) But honestly, this is true. But for those of you who can’t believe it, let’s explain this with some of the superlative notions that I often expel in the tasting room.
Although I drink more reds (on average) than whites, Riesling would be my choice if I could only choose one wine the rest of my life. If I were stranded on a deserted island and my disable sailboat had only one type of wine in it, I would hope and pray that it was Riesling. And the best wine I’ve ever had in my life (to this point) was a Riesling (1997 Zind Humbrecht if you really must know).
Am I getting through to everyone yet? Ok, so now I’m ready to back up my words with concrete “facts”.
- No wine is as versatile as Riesling is with food. Pork, chicken, fish, fruit, spicy, sweet, fresh or cooked, Riesling will pair nicely. I can even make a heavy beef stew that is showcased better by Riesling than any red wine!
- Dry, off-dry, semi-sweet or sweet, Riesling can be made in so many styles and still be a world-class wine. (Try that with Cab. Blah!)
- No other variety showcases the terroir (the tastes of the region) better than Riesling can, partly because Riesling can grow wonderfully in so many regions. A New York Riesling is different than an Alsatian Riesling, which both are different than an Australian Riesling. But all are beautiful.
- From the grape-growing point of view, we do almost nothing with the vines in the growing season. No crop thinning, no leaf thinning, no cane tying, no nothing. The vine seems to do it all itself. Compared to Merlot (the problem child), or Nebbiolo (Uncle It), Riesling is a heavenly saint.
- Riesling ages spectacularly. It can out-age many or most reds in California simply because the variety has such wonderful natural acidity. That acidity acts as an “anti-oxidant”, keeping the wine fresh and vibrant over many years as it matures. (We just opened a 1993 Madrona Riesling today, and it was beautiful.
- Lastly, Riesling is affordable. Even the best of California come in under $30 a bottle. Compare that to good coastal Cabernet Sauvignon, and you’ll get three or more bottles of Riesling for each Cab!
So are we clear? And you respond, “Crystal!” Riesling is truly amazing and worthy of it’s own month of celebration.
Throughout the month of August, we are excited to be partnering with 5 local restauants to present a special dish paired with Riesling. Check these out!
Bear Moon Grill
901 Ski Run Drive, South Lake Tahoe
Bear Moon Grill will be featuring their House-made Crab Cakes paired with the 2014 Riesling, from our Hillside Collection. The complete description: House-made Crab Cakes set in a bed of arugula salad, spiced walnuts, and a drizzle of stone-ground mustard. Paul and I happened to be in Tahoe and tried this pairing – it’s outstanding!
The Farm Table
311 Main Street, Placerville
The Farm Table will be featuring the 2014 Dry Riesling from our Signature Collection with their Chef’s Platter. One of our favorite items on the menu! It’s the Chef’s choice of 5 items from their meat and cheese selections. It also includes sliced baguette, and house-made pickled things!
Powell’s Steamer Co. & Pub
425 Main Street, Placerville
Powell’s Steamer Co will be featuring their Seafood Louis and the 2014 Riesling, Hillside Collection. Fresh garden greens topped with your choice of crab, shrimp or both served with their housemade louie dressing. Another fabulous pairing that we have enjoyed!
Smith Flat House
2021 Smith Flat Road, Placerville
Featuring their Local Cider-soaked Pork Tenderloin paired with Apple Chutney, served with a roasted potato medley with peppers and onions and local hand-cut vegetables. This amazing dish will be paired with both the 2014 Riesling, Hillside Collection, and the 2015 Dry Riesling, Signature Collection.
312 Main Street, #104
Totem’s is featuring their fabulous Falafel (checkpea cakes, flatbread, kalamata olive, cucumber, dill/mint yogurt) with the 2014 Dry Riesling.
With Open House coming up, and summer approaching, it makes me think about barbecuing, and one dish in particular: Burgers! With that in mind I rallied my fellow burger enthusiasts and arranged a burger/wine pairing evening. Everyone that was invited was given plenty of notice to arrange a burger so extraordinary that would pair perfectly with one of three wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Barbera Rose. Normally at Open house we showcase our Shiraz-Cab, but because we have limited quantities of the Shiraz-Cab we have decided to showcase the Syrah and the Cabernet individually as well as the Barbera Rose. So, with those wines in mind, the burgers were designed.
There was a wide range of creative burgers created, from a Lamb-Curry Burger, to a Barbecued Bacon Cheeseburger, and all of them paired well with at least one of the wines.
For the beef burgers, all of the ground beef was first seasoned with garlic salt, onion powder, paprika, chili powder and parsley, and ALL burgers were grilled over a wood fire grill, served on homemade sourdough buns or homemade soft rolls.
One of my favorite burgers of the night was Garlic and Blue Cheese Stuffed Burger with grilled onions and fresh Basil leaves on top. This burger paired well with both the Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Syrah. It brought out some of the earthier aspects of the Cab, and it really accentuated the spice characters in the Syrah.
One of the most interesting burgers was the smoked Pablano Chile Burger. This Burger paired really well with the Barbera Rose. The patty was stuffed with finely chopped garlic, bell pepper, smoked pablano chile, pepper jack cheese, and a dash of cinnamon. The Burger was topped with thickly sliced pepper bacon, a garlic barbeque sauce, and a whiskey tangelo reduction. The spices and peppers in the burger, and the citrus in the reduction sauce really brought out the strawberry and slight red berry fruit in the rose.
The burgers that I made were a Sicilian Jack Burger and a Barbeque Bacon Cheeseburger. The Sicilian Jack burger was topped with grilled onions and sautéed mushrooms, and I dressed the bun with the Stone Wall Kitchen Truffle Aioli (which is sold in the tasting room). This burger worked perfectly with the Cab. None of the flavors of the burger were too overpowering to overshadow the wine. The Barbeque Bacon Cheeseburger paired best with the Syrah. The burger was topped with grilled onions, mushrooms, bacon, and I grilled the patty with barbeque sauce underneath the cheddar cheese. This burger was my favorite with the Syrah, bringing out the smokiness and darker fruit characters in the Syrah.
The Lamb Curry Burger was one of the most versatile as far as pairing well with all of the wines. It went exceptionally well with the Rose, but also worked with both the Syrah and the Cab. This burger was Tim’s creation, and the recipe will be posted soon.
The conclusion of our Burger pairing was that no matter what your favorite burger toppings and flavors may be, one of these three wines (Cabernet Sauvignon, will pair brilliantly with it. Hope to see you at Open House!
Since starting our transition to naturally-farmed (organic) vineyards in 2011, we’ve fully embraced the fact that we were going to be spending more hours in the vineyards than ever before. Although we’ve never looked back on the decision as anything but a chance to make better wine while insuring our farm’s future, there are days when we wax nostalgically of the easier farming of the past. Case in point, a spring like this year’s spring!
Please understand that we wouldn’t wish away the rains we’ve gotten this year. We’ll gladly take whatever moisture Mother Nature will give us. The ramification of the wetter spring conditions, however, is the rampant growth of the vines (and the weeds). The vines’ growth is glorious, especially after last year’s abysmal harvest. But the real challenge is keeping the weeds under control.
Driving past other vineyards with their completely cleaned area under the vine looks so beautiful and enticing. And trust us that we know that spectacular-looking vineyards are part of the marketing allure of the winery. Thus we battle the temptation to put on just a quick strip-spray of herbicides to knock those weeds back (kind of like a quick puff on a cigarette for someone who’s already quit).
That really isn’t quite a fair analogy. Spraying herbicides can be part of a set of sustainable practices. For our winery, however, we chose to go organic, knowing the costs would be far greater, due partly to soil health assessments. Working with two soil scientists in 2011, we pitted nine locations (6 feet deep) checking the microbiology of the first 6 inches of topsoil of each. Five of the sites had been sprayed that year with Roundup and four of the sites we had already taken organic.
The difference essentially was that in the organically-farmed vineyards, the microbiology of the soil was thriving. Those that we had continued strip-spraying showed completely void of any microbiology.
So now, we have a three-pronged approach to grasses and cover crop growing in the fields, all meant to improve the health of soils while encouraging the vines to express more terroir (the real goal of our work).
The first pass through the vineyards is with our flail mower, which shreds last year’s prunings while cutting the grass. The next pass is disking every other row to incorporate the biomass back into the soil for the vine (which helps us from needing to use commercial fertilizers). Lastly, the coup de grace is our new Clemens “under-the-vine” weeder. This is a disk and knife assembly that severs the roots of the weeds from the tops while turning the soil slowly. Although this piece has a learning curve that is fairly steep, the overall impact is starting to really help.
The nice thing about the Clemens piece of machinery is that it also tends to promote the growth of the grapevine’s roots to go downwards rather than towards this soil’s surface. This is important in that much of the unique aspect of the El Dorado appellation’s terroir (characters specific to our region) is found deeper in the soil profile. And ultimately, the goal of making our wines is to showcase what characters El Dorado has (and that no other does). That’s wine worth making!
I see thunderstorms in the forecast for later in the week. Most probably, this will sprout a new set of weeds, giving us a chance to mow through the vineyards once more. Eventually summer dryness will come, the weed stubble will dry out, and just the vines will be green. But until then, expect to find us in the vineyards in an effort to make our soils healthier for the vines. It may not be beautifully pristine, but I don’t think the vines care about that! And now you know too!