The pounding rain on the roof last night confirmed to all that autumn has indeed arrived. Many wineries around the valley had a busy weekend getting those last loads of grapes off the vines and hauled in for pressing before this storm arrived, and now it’s time to raise a glass to what was a wonderful season. A great way to toast a successful 2012 harvest would be to gather some friends and have a harvest dinner party, pairing a delicious recipe with a wine from our own Napa Valley. The Napa Valley Vintners have compiled a beautiful electronic cookbook called “Pleasures of the Harvest Table” featuring pairing recipes from some of Napa Valley’s best chefs. We’re pleased that our own recipe from Chef John Adamson can be found on page 49. Click on the photo below to explore this fun cookbook:
Champagne corks were popping as we celebrated the kickoff of our 2012 harvest last week. Here’s a 2-minute look at the team bringing the grapes in:
Last week our good friends Jaap and Janette visited the winery, and Assistant Winemaker Bobby Donnell led us through a very fun and educational tasting of our barrel fermented wines. We did a side-by-side tasting of the 2010 Morisoli Cabernet—with two glasses of wine from the same vintage, same vineyard, picked the same day—except that one wine had been fermented in the traditional manner in stainless tanks, and one had been fermented in new French oak barrels. It was a fantastic opportunity to see the exact effects of barrel fermentation on a wine.
Barrel fermentation, a technique which started in Bordeaux and has gained popularity in Napa, is praised for producing a wine that is rounder and softer on the palate. While it is a traditional technique used for whites, its use with Cabernet Sauvignon is growing as winemakers appreciate its ability to impart silky tannins and a lush roundness to “big” Bordeaux varietals such as Cabernet. Note that barrel fermenting is completely different than barrel aging. In barrel aging, wines that have been fermented in stainless tanks are then stored in barrels and left to age. With barrel fermenting, the entire fermentation and aging process takes place in barrels.
Joel is one of the California pioneers of the technique of barrel fermenting, having used it for many years. “The complexity and richness it lends is fantastic,” he says. “The earlier the oak is introduced to wine the better. The wood tannins from the barrels are especially important in stabilizing the color, and any harsher, greener components are dissipated. In my opinion, barrel fermenting makes a ‘sexier’ wine.”
At Amici Joel uses barrel fermentation for our single vineyard wines, such as the 2010 Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2010 Morisoli Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Joel keeps the wines separate right up until the final blending process so that he can fine-tune the blend with just the right amount of barrel fermented wine.
The vast majority of wines will never see barrel fermentation because it’s an expensive, labor-intensive process, no question about it. During the fermentation process, the barrels are rotated two to four turns, several times a day. The technique requires judicious control and strict supervision to obtain best results. Visitors to the winery can see that we use plexiglass heads on some of the barrels to get a visual aid on how the rotation is mixing the barrel, and to make sure the “cap” (the flavor-imparting combination of skins and pulp that floats to the top of the barrel) breaks up sufficiently with each turn. “While the results are great, and we think it’s worth the effort, there’s nothing efficient about this process,” says Joel.
If you’re interested in learning more about how we use barrel fermentation in our wines at Amici, visit us at the winery and we’d love to show you how we manage the process. And if your timing is right, we just may have some individual barrel-fermented lots for you to taste!
There’s lots of encouraging talk in the valley about how this year’s vintage is shaping up. We caught Joel in the vineyards last week and asked him what he thought about the progress of Vintage 2012, and here’s what he had to say:
Our long-awaited summer is here, with its see-saw temperatures of hot days and cool nights. In the hills above Napa Valley, where almost every evening the cooling effects of the Pacific Ocean sweep away the day’s heat (making it an ideal place to ripen grapes), we rarely get to enjoy ourselves outside at nighttime without a sweater. I have come to adore the handful of evenings we get every summer when the day’s hot air remains trapped in the valley, the onshore breezes carrying the coastal fog stalled out at sea for a short time. Those evenings—warm, balmy and virtually insect-free—are the best part of summer. When it looks like one is coming, I try to rearrange our schedule so we can fire up the grill, invite a few friends over and enjoy ourselves in the warm night air with some summer wine.
This summer the wines on our table are the 2010 Olema Chardonnay and the 2011 Amici Sauvignon Blanc. I reach for the Chard when I’m in the mood for something with good acidity, balanced by round, tropical notes that the wine gets from being 50/50 barrel and stainless fermented, and 75% malolactic. It’s superb with cedar plank wild salmon fresh off the grill.
The Sauv Blanc is my choice when I’m looking for a complex wine that has hints of minerality alongside the fruit flavors. I love the elegance of its layers of honeysuckle, guava and melon offset by its clean, wet stone minerality. To create all these complexities Joel blended 80% Sauvignon Musque and 20% Sauvignon Blanc, and barrel fermented 25%.
When plans change at the last minute and we have an impromptu gathering to take advantage of one of those lovely warm evenings outside, I need to keep dinner plans super simple. We like to grill some halibut steaks, seasoned simply with salt and pepper, and finish them with this super simple but wonderfully flavorful Lime Butter Sauce, which I adapted from Gourmet magazine years ago. Serve with Amici Sauvignon Blanc and a balmy evening, and it’s a summer match made in heaven.
Lime Butter Sauce
1/2 large garlic clove, chopped
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsated butter, melted
Puree garlic with lime juice, salt, and pepper in a blender until smooth. With the motor running, add melted butter and blend until emulsified, about 30 seconds.
Some of the most well-known vineyards in the Napa Valley are famous for a reason: they consistently produce wines that speak of the singular place of their origin. “Terroir” is an imprecise concept, but it’s the combination of soils, sun exposure, elevation, weather, and other factors that make a specific region, even a specific vineyard, produce exceptionally distinct wines, as if the vineyards have their own signature.
At Amici we’re getting ready to let two famous Napa Valley vineyards speak for themselves. This summer we’ll be releasing our two new single vineyard wines, Cabernet Sauvignons from Spring Mountain and Morisoli Vineyard (Rutherford Bench). These are two wonderful examples of what makes the Napa Valley and the terroir of its sub-appellations so interesting, even mystical, to wine lovers.
Joel has several decades of experience working with the grapes from this Spring Mountain vineyard, as well as Rutherford Bench vineyards adjacent to Morisoli. It was fun for him to get back to vineyards he knows like old friends and, from harvest through release, craft wines that allow each vineyard to express its own unique personality.
Here’s a short video on these upcoming releases:
It’s the nature of a small winery business that once one large project is done, we’re on to another (it keeps thing interesting – or at least that’s what we tell each other!). Now that the new winery and tasting room are in tip-top shape, we’ve moved our focus on to a new landscaping project on the property. We’ve been excited to start this one: when we first looked at the property and saw the large, flat parcel in front of the guest house surrounded by views of the magnificent Palisades Mountain range, we all looked at each other with eyebrows raised and said, “Parties!” We knew we were looking at the perfect place for wine lovers to gather, relax and share great wine and food while gazing at the purple-tinged mountain range in front of them. We’ll be anxious to show off the setting when the landscape project is done in a few weeks, so stay in touch for your invitation to join us for a harvest get-together.
As most of you long-time friends know, Amici Cellars is no newcomer to the Napa Valley. We’re a group of close friends that have been making wine since the 1990’s, because wine and friends and fun are all inseparable parts of a life well lived. Our mission is to create some of the best wine coming out of California, and offer it at prices people can afford. To do this, we’ve been rigorous about keeping our standards up and our overhead low which meant, for many years, no winery and no tasting room of our own.
But when a beautiful plot of land with a home and winery came available last spring at a reasonable price, we knew we could finally have what we always wanted: a place to call home.
Our winery and tasting room are located outside the town of Calistoga on Old Lawley Toll Road. We love the quiet, rural character of the neighborhood. And we especially love the views of the Palisades mountain range right outside our window.
So, welcome to the new digs. We finally have our winery and our tasting room, which is open by appointment. Now that our tasting room is open, we can’t wait to meet all of you in person. If you’re in the area, we would love to hear from you so we can schedule a tasting and a tour around the new property for you.
Have you ever wondered just how your wine gets into the bottle and off to you? Check out this video of us bottling the 2011 Amici Sauvignon Blanc. If you’ve never seen a bottling run, it’s actually pretty neat to see the process!