So you want Napa quality but you want to pay Lodi prices? The Suisun Valley has you covered. Though often overshadowed by their famous neighboring county to the North, the reputation of the Suisun Valley is changing quickly. In 2016 Napa big shot winery Caymus released their inaugural Suisun wine and so we got to work figuring out where their fruit was coming from and discovered one of their sources to be the this gem of a Merlot vineyard. The vines run along Suisun Creek and the alluvial fan that spreads out across the valley originates here. The soils feature large amounts of alluvium mixed into Sycamore Silty Loam and volcanic gravels. This is coolest section of the valley and Steelhead still run up the creek each winter. The vineyard was planted in the late 80′s making it one of the oldest and lowest yielding sites in the AVA.
The Suisun Valley itself is located just south of the Napa Valley between the volcanic St. George range to the west and the sandstone laden Vaca Range to the east.
Last chance on low inventory frozen grape must pails:
Roussanne is most famously known for it’s role in the Rhone Valley white wines of Chateauneuf du Pape, Hermitage, and St. Joseph. Here the wines are noted for their intense aromatics and distinct herbal/ tea leaf flavors. New world examples of Roussanne are better characterized by a “fruit salad” bouquet that displays a wide range of fruits ranging from tropical to orchard to citrus. The wines thrive in either neutral oak or stainless fermentations, so be very judicious with any new oak additions. The word Roussanne is derived from the French word roux which translates to the reddish- brown (russet) color that the the grape takes on when ripening. This wine can be bottled as a straight varietal or is an ideal blending partner for Viognier, Marsanne, Chenin Blanc, and can even be co-fermented with cool climate Syrah.
2016 Tempranillo Rattlesnake Hills – $145 Rattlensake Hills Tempranillo futures are now available. Tempranilllo is the most famous of all Spanish grapes and is the signature varietal of both the Rioja and Ribera del Dureo growing regions. It requires hot days to soften it’s massive tannins and cool nights to preserve it’s naturally low acidity. The sandy/ chalky soils of the Rattlensnake Hills enjoy a diurnal shift of almost 40 degrees making it in an ideal location for Tempranillo. We recommend aging on American oak and possibly blending with Mourvedre (Mataro), Carignan, or Cab. Sauv.
We all know it takes a lot of beer to make good wine. But historically the reverse also holds true. 2700 year old residues found in the chalices of the tomb of King Midas contain detectable amounts of honey, barley and grape juice. This beverage was the inspiration for Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch which helped popularize and make nationally available the beer- wine style hybrid.
The hybrid style has become sufficiently popular so that now even Coors makes one with their Grape Scott offering. But if you’re looking for the best hybrids, check out what Nate Saar is doing at the Bullfrog Brewery in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Nate’s Le Roar Grrrz Druiven is currently the #6 rated beer in the world in the Lambic- Fruit style on RateBeer.com (#1 in North America). The hybrid was steeped on Milla Vineyard Merlot using the BullFrog’s proprietary yeast and bacteria. They’re all sold out now but if you’re in the area in August be sure to pick up one of their 20th anniversary bottles featuring another American Wild ale steeped on Wine Grapes Direct’s Clarksburg Chenin Blanc juice. And if you want to try something truly distinct, try to track down their Lose the Skin cider which was spontaneously fermented on Durell Syrah Grapes and is available on tap at four Philadelphia pubs.
The Rattlesnake Hills AVA contains the ideal growing environment for thick skinned, late ripening reds like Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvedre. The AVA lies within the larger Yakima Valley AVA which itself lies inside the much larger Columbia Valley AVA. The Rattlesnake Hills averages 2700 degree days a year which is 500 degree days more than the rest of theYakima Valley to the west and 100 degree days less than Red Mountain to the East ( Bordeaux gets roughly 2500 degree days and Napa gets 2900 degree days). Night time temps drop 40+ degrees during the growing season to preserve acidity and freshness. Rain is a seldom occurrence here with the area receiving just 7-10 inches of rain per year.
The Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvedre vines are planted in the Harwood-Burke-Wiehl series silt loams that distinguish the Rattlesnake Hills AVA. These soils are a combination of wind deposited ancient or sedimentary alluvials and decomposed basalt over a lime-silica hard pan. This combination provides both exceptional drainage and ideal soil alkalinity for growing Vinifera.
One extra benefit of freezing red grape must is that you get a safe and effective cold soak. Traditional cold soaks can be risky and offer debatable benefits, but it is well demonstrated that freezing grapes actually breaks down some of the skin cell walls releasing beneficial phenolics into the wine .
Frozen is Fresher
We process and freeze the grapes the same day they are picked to preserve the fruit in a moment in time. When grapes are picked and shipped fresh across the country or continent it takes days and more often weeks. During this time the grape are breaking down biologically and oxidatively which forces the shipper to fumigate with sulfur dioxide gas. Even at 32F Gray Rot can develop in the absence of weekly SO2 fumigation according the World Food Logistics Organization.
Crusher destemmers are expensive and most of the models available to home winemakers are rough on the fruit. We process our grapes using a $15k commercial destemmer with the rollers removed and multiple berry screen sizes to ensure the grapes are treated as gently as possible. For white grapes we use $25k commercial bladder press to gently separate the juice and then settle it in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. We get the messy, expensive part out of the way leaving you with 100% pure grape must and juice.
With frozen must you take control of your winemaking calendar. Start fermentations when it’s convenient for you instead of whenever the grapes happen to be harvested. And with frozen must and juice there’s never a reason to leave your carboy empty waiting for next harvest.
The biggest event in home winemaking is this weekend in Santa Rosa, CA. Let us know if you’ll be going. We’ll be pouring as much Wine Grapes Direct juice as we can. We’ll also break open a couple very nice bottles of commercial wine to blind taste against the best of what we do. Be on the look out for us wheeling around a bucket of fermenting Durell Vineyard Syrah (Double Gold 2016 Cal State Fair). We’ve got Cuban cigars that we may or may not be sharing. There will be growlers of Pliny the Elder to cleanse your palate. It’s going to be the party of the year. And there’s also some learning that happens.
It’s official. We’re contracted for 8000 pounds of Rattlesnake Hills Cabernet Sauvignon. The vines are in their 7th year and sit at 1300 feet elevation in Columbia Valley’s most sought after AVA. Here the immense diurnal shift provides enough heat during the day to fully ripen Cab Sauv while still cooling down more than 40 degrees each night to preserve the fruit’s freshness and acidity. The soils are wind deposited glacial loess on top of Ellensburg formation cobbles. This is the Cab vineyard we’ve been dreaming about. More details forthcoming as the spectacular geology of Eastern Washington deserves it’s own post.
We’ll also go ahead and announce that the Clarksburg Chenin Blanc and Napa Valley Merlot will returning in 2016 as well. These should be available for sale as futures through the website before the start of the 2016 Winemaker Magazine Conference next week.
The winners were just announced from the 2016 Cal State Fair and we’re pleased with the results. We entered 10 wines and got 9 awards. The one that didn’t win was an experimental Zinfandel that we crushed with our feet and fermented on the stems with indigenous yeast. It’s a funky, aggressive Zin and I love it, but you don’t win awards based on how much you like your wine. You win awards for making sound wines that display varietally correct characteristics and our beloved Zin Naturale does neither.
On the other hand, Steve Tankersley’s Double Gold winning 2013 Durell Vineyard Syrah is a true show horse of a wine. It’s beautifully made and offers a check list of everything you expect in a Syrah : grippy tannins, black and blue fruit, with aromas of smoked game and white pepper. This wine was in serious contention for the most coveted award in home wine making , the Best of Class Golden Bear. I’m told that each of the elusive Golden Bears requires both hands to lift, but have yet to experience one in person.
Looking ahead, The Winemaker Magazine Conference and Awards Dinner in Santa Rosa is only two weeks out. We’ll be pouring our Gold Medal winners all weekend and I’m told Steve Tankersley may even bring one of his Double Golds. See you there.