We welcome any number of spectacularly interesting and enjoyable visitors to our Vineyard throughout the year. It’s a lot of fun. We are most fortunate. We are able to hear stories as varied as our visitors. We hear about how it is to work in New York for a lifetime and retire to El Dorado County and how that came about. We get a peek into what it's like to have worked as an illustrator for Walt Disney. We get to share the aches of riding the 100 mile Tevis equestrian endurance ride from Squaw Valley to Auburn and being thrown from a horse off a 40 foot cliff. We listen to experiences about Viking River Cruises, teaching kayaking in Costa Rica's wild whitewater rivers, standing in the Machu Picchu citadel, refereeing NFL games, PAC 12, and NBA games, meeting the Queen of England, and working for a U.S. Senator from California. It's amazing! We just hang out at the Vineyard and it all comes to us as our visitors taste wine.
It's a pleasure for us to play our part. The by-appointment tasting format we have had in place since last January is low key and unhurried. There are no lines or need to engage in neck craning to get someone's attention. No more than eight people join together in tasting wines and sharing stories at the beautiful walnut table we had made for us in northern Michigan special for our tastings. As usually is the case, when people, who may not know each other, come together, the tastings start out a little quiet. However, it usually doesn't take all that long before it's hard to get a word in edgewise. For us, we're just happy to stand back pour and explain our wines and listen. We hope you are as happy with the format as we are.
We have other less talkative Vineyard visitors as well. We recently had a visit from a bear. He, or she, as the case may be, hid out in the woods just behind the Galleria for a bit, perhaps got bored and moved on. A pair of coyotes also paid us a recent visit, sang a few chords and moved on, as well. We wish the turkeys, geese, deer, raccoons, and possum would move on too, but they don't. Apparently, they like us or maybe I should say they like the Vineyard and tolerate us.
This time of year we don't worry all that much about our, mainly, nocturnal visitors since the harvest is in the barn, or better said, in the barrel. It now beginning to quiet down somewhat after the busiest time of year for us. The weeks past are the busiest time of year for us not just because we have to pick, crush, and ferment our grapes to make our wine, but, as we have for some 25 years, we sell some of our grapes to other wineries as well. That means batching, weighing, measuring, and early morning deliveries to other wineries as far away as Napa, Sonoma, and Berkeley, yes even Berkeley.
Actually, we are quite pleased by the fact that some of our grapes find their way into a number of other prestigious California wines. Some of our client wineries are very proud to point out on their labels that their grapes are sourced from David Girard Vineyards in El Dorado County. We don't blame them.
Nine inches of rain – an October record! – has fallen since we put our last barrel of this year’s wine in the cellar on October 12th, so it feels like we’re further removed from Harvest than we actually are. The rain is vital in so many ways that we all know, but I often forget how much it dictates the rhythms of the year here in the Foothills. In this case, it has encouraged a pause to reflect and breathe deeply after the fast pace of the Harvest season, a pause that we might have forgotten to take if the rain came later.
Harvest 2016! What a truly fun, fulfilling and exciting time; and the first harvest with our new helper, pictured to the right. There is no feeling quite like Harvest in the wine world. You are literally fueled by passion and driven by instinct; there’s no other way to wake up at 5:00 am to pick grapes after getting home at midnight soaking wet from cleaning the press, when that’s exactly what you did yesterday, and what you’ll do again tomorrow. You can, and of course should, plan – but once it all starts you have to let go to something greater, be along for the ride, and never once doubt that it’s worth it. Now that said, I once tried to relate it to another feeling, one that my wife Allie has known well in the past 6 months, but I was quickly told that no, no way, don’t even try – that is nothing like motherhood. Oh well.
Some stats: This year we harvested 98 tons from the Estate, which is about 95% of our seven year running average, and up significantly from last year but not quite at the bumper crop of 2012 and 2013. Quality appears to be outstanding in all varieties, but if I had to pick a winner it’d be Mourvedre, which loved the relatively cooler nights this summer and ripened evenly to quite intense flavors, with moderate sugar and no sunburn. Speaking of sugar, 2016 likely has the lowest average in our history, although acidity levels are normal. I think this is the ongoing drought at play; the vines, indeed all the vegetation on the property, seem to have been pretty tired as they crossed the finish line this year, having given it all they’ve got over the last four years. I like to think they’re pausing to catch their breath right now too.
This November’s wines were selected specifically for the Thanksgiving table, where many of our most memorable bottles have been opened. Happy Thanksgiving!
No wine we make is better captures the essence of a vintage than the Coda Rouge, which is a blend of all four red Rhone grapes we grow. 2013 was a sunny, blockbuster year with bold wines, but a softer, sensitive side is starting to emerge. This complexity is on full display in the Coda Rouge: Grenache is at the helm for this blend, but the other three – Mourvedre, Syrah, and Counoise – have a spicy synergy that forms the wine’s soul and gives a darker edge to the flavors.
Our plan for the 2015 Rosé was to make enough to slake everyone’s thirst all Spring and Summer, but have just enough leftover to release again on Thanksgiving, where it’s a cornerstone of the holiday. The tangy, ruby-grapefruit and berry flavors somehow both cut through the fat of the turkey, gravy and buttery mashed potatoes, yet complement the other flavors of the season. Usually we ask a wine to do one or the other – contrast or complement – but this time of the year this unassuming pink wine does it all. Very cool.
If there’s any hunted bounty on your table, the gamey, wild 2013 Mourvedre is the way to go. This grape has always defied simple descriptions, but we tried to do it justice on the back label, saying “it contains seeming opposites of dried herbs and sweet fruit, and somehow fits an earthy wildness into its civilized whole.” If the table is full, this is the wine to lay down for Thanksgiving 2019 or beyond. Don’t forget to report back!
Domaine Ramonet Montrachet costs $1,257.00 a bottle. Cache-Dury Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru costs $2,302.00 a bottle. Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Montrachet costs $4,810.00 per bottle. And, if you would like to try Domaine Leflaive Batard Montrachet that will set you back $5,923.00 per bottle. It gets worse. These are all white wines. They are the best white wines in the world, or so say the critics.
Many have tried to make premier white wines that would cause palates to pause and hearts to pound. But it's not easy. To make a white wine that will make an immediate impact, get better with age, and stand up through long bottle-aging requires an exceptional vineyard and an exceptional winemaker. So we thought we'd give it a try. We are not so naive, some might say delusional, as to pretend that we belong in the company of the honored wines listed above. Of course, we would not. Nevertheless, we believe we have done something special.
For some time we have wanted to make a special Okei-San white wine in homage to our current Okei-San red. Also, we have always strived to keep setting the quality and experience bar for our wines higher and higher over time.
Consequently, you will be introduced to our effort to produce a special premium white wine in your upcoming wine club release. It is called “Shiro”. “Shiro” means “white” in Japanese. We hope that you will agree that this is a special wine, both for red wine drinkers as well as white wine drinkers.
You will be the first to taste this wine.
We have priced our Okei-San Shiro at $55.00 per bottle. But we also want to give you, our Wine Club members, a special opportunity to try our Okei-San Shiro at a very special price.
For this release, on October 15 & 16 only, we have given our Okei-San Shiro an introductory price of only $45.00. In addition, you will be given your 20% club discount of $9.00, and when subtracted from the special introductory price, brings your cost to $36.00.
As always, we appreciate your support as we try to remain on the cutting edge of small lot fine wine production.
Most white wines are made in stainless steel tanks. Some are made in cement tanks. Others are barrel fermented. In California, in particular, most white wines are very drinkable. Of course, personal taste plays a large part in what wine -red or white- one enjoys most. That is as it should be. That being said some wines are special when compared to all others, no matter what. We believe our Shiro is one of those wines. The question is: what makes it so?
It is almost a cliché to say that what makes a premier wine “premium” depends on the vineyard. But saying so does not make it any less true. It is the soil. It is the climate. It is the location. It is the topography. It is the interaction and combination of all of these elements, and more. That is what starts the life of premier wine. Not every wine can claim such a special pedigree. It is a matter of good fortune that the California foothills are blessed with one of the world's treasured terroirs. The fruit produced in our terroir has every chance to be special.
How the vineyard is managed is the next step. It is the selection of a particular varietal, in a particular location, and at a particular time within the vineyard that matters. Small lot harvesting matters, as do hand pruning, hand leaf pulling to manage the canopy, and hand picking clusters of grapes from carefully tended low yield vines.
Our new Shiro grapes have seen what is special in the vineyard. We have made those special grapes into wine.
The Shiro, which you will taste, is made of 35% Marsanne, 35% Rolle, 15% Roussanne, 15% Grenache Blanc. 18 months in barrel have impressed a complex array of aromas and flavors into the wine. Perhaps you’ll pick up aromas that are the unmistakable mark of longer aging – nutty almond, butterscotch, or dried apricot – right alongside bright, fresh flavors like citrus oil and key lime pie. We’re also betting that a full year-and-a-half in barrel has prepared this wine for long bottle-aging potential, and it will become even more interesting over the next decade of its life.
Most of all we hope you simply enjoy this very special wine at least half as much as we enjoyed making it for you.
EXPERIMENTATION: PROS AND CONS
I’ve spent the last week, when not on Dad-duty, tasting and blending the 2014 red wines: all thirty of them. “Thirty?!” You say? Yep, 30. Allow me to explain.
The vintage prior, 2013, was my first harvest, and I worked right alongside Mari, learning the methods she had honed over 9 years. By the time 2014 rolled around, I had stockpiled a whole year of “Well, what if we did this? Or that? That could be so cool!” (wherein “this” and “that” might mean using more whole clusters, picking slightly earlier/later, or playing Ravel’s String Quartet on loop next to a fermentation). Anyone familiar with the (pseudo) Scientific Method knows that for every experiment there must be a control, so many harvest batches were split into two: the traditional, and the radical* new idea. In a typical year we might have 25 to 30 different numbered lots, in 2014 we had 48 – thirty of which remain to be bottled soon.
What did we learn? So much. It was an indispensable rite of passage for my grasp of the Estate. For example, I harvested Grenache 6 different times at different levels of ripeness. The early wines have a freshness and aromatic precision that is jaw dropping, but they lack what you might call “deliciousness”. Later, they are soft and sumptuous, but can be a little hot and lack some palate energy. Blended in the right proportions, you get the best of both worlds. Also, relevant to this release, I learned that Vermentino’s complex skin flavors demand that it be de-stemmed and soaked on the skins (like rosé) before being vinified, but the rest of the whites like to be whole-cluster pressed to preserve their purity of fruit.
And while I’m grateful for this knowledge, I’ll never do it again. Harvest itself was dizzying, and it’s been arduous to keep track of all these wines. Now that we’re blending, some are frustratingly scarce (“That’s delicious! Wait, there’s only one barrel?!”), and then there’s that old devil of too many great options, or “paralysis by analysis”, which, as my wife will attest to on a visit to the grocery store, I have a particularly difficult time with. So now I take the longer, less hurried view: a few experiments every year, over the course of many years, is a lot of learning. And, of course, sometimes you just have to go by feel.
Onto the wines: the 2013 Mourvedre is just starting to blossom, and to best bring forth its floral, blood-orangey aromas it seems to prefer a little decanting. It’s full of sweet plum fruit, a hint of oak, and plenty of fresh acidity. It’s great with gamey meats, but if you’re feeling adventurous, the people in Provence drink theirs slightly chilled with appetizers from the sea.
As mentioned, the 2014 Vermentino is composed of a mere three different batches, one of them skin-fermented. The aromas are abundant, with citrus and its blossoms, and a hint of chalky minerality. On the palate, I love the lemon-oil flavors and texture, as well as the wine’s intensity, which never lets up.
Finally, the 2012 Reserve Syrah from the Fenaughty Vineyard is fast becoming a classic. Compared to last year, the violet and black-raspberry aromas are holding strong, but the wine is gaining complexity and becoming more and more true to its origin as the one-third new French Oak integrates further.
*Of course, Mari no doubt had all the answers and was happy to share them, but no, I just had to find out for myself.
Summer is on our doorstep. Who knew? School is out, or about to be out. Vacation planning is taking on a more serious tone. Outside is becoming better than inside. And, oh yes, lazy foothill winery visits are moving up on a number of agendas. We are always more than happy when we wind up on your winery visit agenda.
As you know we've made a few changes over the last few months in anticipation of your visits this summer. So, I thought it might be worth mentioning a bit about what we have been up to in trying to make your visits to us worth your while, now and throughout the summer.
First, we have some pretty good wines for you to enjoy. We don't like to talk too much about how good our wines are since that's for you to decide not us. As Joe Louis was famously quoted, "If you have to tell 'em, you ain't." However, that does not make us any less proud or confident of what we are bringing to your table. Our wines are here for you when you get here.
So, you've heard that back in January we went to a modified "by appointment" format. But the second part of that statement - and the most important part - is that Wine Club Members are special.
Nobody should expect Wine Club Members to make an appointment when they simply want to:
stop by to buy a case or a bottle.
pop in for their complimentary taste-through of the latest wine release or make a pick-up.
enjoy our wine with their picnic up on the waterfall terrace.
drop in and share a bottle or a purchase a glass to go with one of our cheese and charcuterie plates out on the deck or patio.
It's not expected. It's not happening. It's not part of our program.
Wine Club Member appointments are limited only to a couple of occasions:
Tram and Tasting Tours: (This is our 1:00 personal tour.)
It's offered to Wine Club Members (two people) on a complimentary basis once a year on an available date of your choosing.
The Tram and Tasting Tour winds around our vineyard so you can see the vines up close, learn about our varietals, style of wine making, and hear a bit about the history of our property and this gold discovery area.
The Tour also comes with a sit down tasting of six varietals where each wine is paired with a specially selected local cheese.
The maximum number for any Tram and Tasting Tour is 8.
Additional Tram and Tasting Tours are available to Wine Club Members, extra guests, and non-wine club members at a charge of $28.
Complimentary Tasting Only: (Available at 11:00 A.M. and 3:00 P.M.)
A Wine Club Member can arrange for a "tasting only" by appointment providing there is space available.
It’s complimentary for both the Wine Club Member and up to 2 of the Wine Club Member's guests.
You will be offered a tasting of six of our wines with the particular varietals rotating on a regular basis.
1. Wine Club Member Pick-Up Tastings:
Unlike a Tasting Only appointment, no appointment is necessary for Wine Club Members picking up their latest wine club release.
The difference for a Wine Pick-Up tasting is:
There is no appointment necessary for a Wine Pick-Up tasting; it is on a drop in basis. (A Tasting Only Appointment requires an appointment)
You will only taste the wines you are picking up in a Wine Pick-Up tasting
2. Cheese Pairings and Charcuterie Plates:
Cheese pairings are included as part of the 1:00 P.M. tasting and tram tour:
Charcuterie plates are available for purchase and enjoyment on the deck or patio after any tasting:
For two (2): $15.00
For four (4): $24.00
In every case, we are always glad to see you when you visit. We will do everything we can to make your visit a great experience and live up to, if not exceed, your expectations.
We've been getting some rather nice comments on our 'by appointment' format. Happily for us, most have been very positive, like: "When I come to the gate and get buzzed in I feel special like the winery belongs just to me", "I like the special attention and conversation", and "To say that, at first, I didn't like the 'by appointment' idea is an understatement. I want to be spontaneous. I thought I'd be pressured to buy wine. But I don't feel any of that. I feel like it's my place."
So thank you for your kind words. Our goal is to be a special private place for you. We want you to have a quiet opportunity to linger, relax, and let the world go by. We want you to enjoy elegant wines in an elegant setting.
We'll keep working on it.
The 2015 Rosé is in the bottle. We made it in the traditional French style which means that the grapes were lightly crushed. We then removed the skins, pips and stems at just the right time to give it a color that says spring and summer to us. The result is that it has the complexity of a red wine but is served chilled to bring out its light and refreshing qualities. It’s a wonderfully crisp wine with lots of flavors which you'll find are competing for your taste buds. It is 64 % Mourvedre, 20 % Counoise, and 16 % Grenache. We only made 190 cases.
Rosé pairs well with appetizers like salads, olives, melon, and spreads such as hummus. It also is great with pizza, Mexican food, and grilled foods (sausages, burgers, fish, and shrimp). If you're making a turkey sandwich, a glass of Rosé should be close at hand as well. At under 13% alcohol you could even enjoy a glass or two with lunch.
At such limited quantities if you are a Rosé fan - I mean an honest legitimate classic Rosé fan; not a blush wine by any means - you may want to shop early.
The other two wines included in your shipment include:
The 2012 Coda Rouge is a wine of depth, character, and complexity. Expect the cherry, tobacco, mint and cedary-spice notes to keep evolving in this beauty for quite a few years to come.
The 2012 Grenache is framed by fine-grained, almost sweet tannin, making for a fleshier wine overall. With a dense mid-palate full of red fruit, dried herbs, and a hint of minerality, it’s also extremely gulpable…. Heck, 2012 was such a perfect year, it’s no surprise that this wine fires on all cylinders!
RUN FOR COVER
A couple of years ago we started planting a special blend cover crop. You may have seen the seed drill busily wrrrring away between the rows the last two falls. Planting a cover crop is both old school and new school. The basic premise hasn't changed, however. Many, including us, believe it is the best means by which to return nutrients to the soil. As we watched the vines go from bud break to flower and leaf this year, it has been obvious that the program is paying dividends. The vine vigor is noticeable even at this early stage. We have always been proud of our vineyard, but this year looks particularly promising. Good vines. Good wine.
See you at harvest,
Our winemaker Grayson and his wife Allie welcomed a new baby boy on Friday, April 29th. Albert Osprey Hartley (AKA Ozzie) took his time arriving. We thought his entrance was a bit overdue, but were not entirely sure. It may be more a matter of mere calculation. Hard to say. No fault of Grayson and Allie. They tried all the usual encouragements including milk shakes, Skipolini's pizza and long walks. We even heard a rumor that castor oil was on the list but was scratched for reasons of good taste, or bad, as the case may be. At any rate, welcome Ozzie! We are all very excited about this new addition.
Our Tasting Room Manager Rod suddenly found himself in ICU for a short stretch with a bit of a ticker issue.
Our Events and Hospitality Manager Kara bolted for the emergency room to have her appendix removed a few days ago.
Our bookkeeper was in ICU and now recovering from a serious auto accident.
Me? I only had hand surgery.
Oh yeah, a power outage fried the electrical components for the front gate. We're still awaiting delivery of a crucial panel.
So, as you can tell, we seem to be somewhat like a bad episode of General Hospital meets Grapes of Wrath. The good news is that everyone and everything is on the mend. Meanwhile, we apologize if we have been a step behind or a beat off this past week or so. Sandy and Jessa have been amazing in stepping up and filling the gap. In fact, everyone has pulled together, nicely, to help keep the gears turning.
By the time you read this we should be back to full strength - or close to it. In the interim we appreciate your patience and look forward to trading our medical histories with you next time you visit.
I was pruning vines over at the Vineyard House the other day, and it dawned on me that the wine which these vines produce – the Coda Blanc – doesn’t get enough respect. In an era where so much of what we consume is carefully assembled within the parameters of repeatability and predictability, this wine stands out as a refreshing risk-taker. Please allow me to explain.
Back in 2003, when David and Ron planted the block in that coarse sand, they did something that not many had done since the 19th century Italian immigrants: plant 5 different grape varieties side-by-side with little concern for demarcating rows or sections. 150 years ago it was just what one did, these days it’s affectionately called a “field blend.” Because we can’t easily tell the Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, Viognier and Vermentino (Rolle) apart, we’re forced to pick them all together. Each variety is at a wildly different level of ripeness – when picked separately at the main vineyard the Viognier is usually ready in August but the Marsanne not until early October – but they all get pressed into the same tank. You’ll hear hip winemakers boast of their “co-ferment”, which is when multiple grapes are fermented together, but the Coda Blanc has been co-fermented all along (it just hasn’t done enough boasting, I think). What all this means is that, instead of making each wine separately and titrating the amount in a blend to exact, repeatable specifications, the Coda Blanc is a wild, unpredictable ride each year. The simplicity of the process – pick grapes, press grapes, ferment together, bottle – allows us to offer the wine at a modest price, but don’t let that fool you. It’s a unique and wonderful snapshot of the growing conditions of the vintage, and always crisp and refreshing.
With that, the 2014 Coda Blanc begins our wine presentation. This vintage was straight from the House Block – no other ends and pieces blended in – so it’s 34% Viognier, 25% Rolle, 15% Marsanne, 14% Grenache Blanc, and 12% Roussanne. But I’m sort of cheating, since those percentages are based on vine counts, not weight. The year was warm-to-hot and evenly sunny, and this bottling exudes the sun back into the glass with fully developed notes of citrus flowers and tropical fruit carried by zesty acidity.
Let Coda Blanc begin your next meal, and let its diametric opposite, the 2014 Dessert Wine, (aka Port) end it. I should admit that, while calling it “2014” as a point of reference, this wine is multi-vintage. In traditional fashion I’ve been trying to reserve some of the older wine to blend with each vintage, as well as mixing in a small quantity of the latest vintage for freshness. This 120 gallon blend has 15 gallons of our 2013 Dessert Wine and 5 gallons of 2015. In 2014 the Touriga Nacional was very light, so there’s a little Merlot in here as well. The wine is sweet and heady with blackberry and currant fruits, but not at all cloying at 7% RS (residual sugar). It is truly delicious!
Finally, the 2012 Triptych has been one of our most popular wines ever, so we knew we couldn’t go wrong including it in this shipment. This Syrah based blend has been in high demand with all of our local restaurant partners, so we thought it’d be a good idea to share it with you once more before it’s all gone. Triptych was designed by Mari to be a flashy, unabashedly Californian wine, and in a perfectly Californian vintage like 2012 the wine just sings. Enjoy the full-bodied, spice-adorned dark fruits with anything off the grill when you first light it up this Spring (if you haven’t already!).
Thank you for your kind accolades and patient understanding as we move into our new "by appointment" tasting program.
When we first decided to try and improve our wine tasting experience for you we held our collective breaths before stepping off into space. We, now, are glad to say that, thus far, your comments are reflecting very favorably on the goals we are attempting to achieve though our by appointment wine tasting program (less hectic tastings, more individual attention to you, better presentation of our wines, tasting enhancements through cheese pairings and the creation of an enjoyable and interesting tour experience). Again, thank you for your kind and generous feed back.
Wrinkles and Bungles
On the other hand we need to iron out a few wrinkles. Also, we need to rethink a couple of things we have bungled.
One major wrinkle is that our Vino Visit online booking service has some glitches. It's a bit confusing to guests who are trying to book online. When you get to the "completed" part of the Vino Visit web site you would reasonably think that you've done all you need to do. As we are finding out, that is not the case. More information is required before you've actually booked an appointment. As a result guests are arriving at the front gate thinking that they have an appointment when they don't. It's our problem to solve, not yours. We're working with the Vino Visit people and revising our website to solve the problem. But, you don't need Vino Visit at all if you just want to call the tasting room directly at 530-295-1833 and speak to Rod, Kara, Sandy or leave a message. Another wrinkle is the intercom. We are working on that as well. Verizon cell phones work just fine to call the tasting room: 530-295-1833. You'll be buzzed in if you've forgotten or haven't received a gate code for the day. Unfortunately, ATT cell phone connections are poor at the gate. We are, truly, sorry for any inconvenience to you. We will sort it out just as soon as possible.
We are not overly proud to say that we bungled our picnic policy. As we thought about it, early on, we reasoned that our carefully thought out cheese pairings and deli trays could easily allow us to eliminate picnics and better enhance your wine experience. Maybe so, but that is not what many of you thought. So, lesson learned. We will continue offering picnic venues exclusively to our wine club members, by appointment. Wine club members will be able to reserve a picnic site at the waterfall terrace, deck overlook, front entrance tables and gazebo venues. Upon request we will provide transportation by golf cart to the waterfall terrace venue for those who need mobility assistance. We will continue to exclusively reserve our covered fireplace patio venue for non picnics (wine only, and our elegant cheese pairings and deli trays).
Thank you for caring. Thank you for your feedback. Thank you for all that you do for us. We appreciate you more than you can imagine.