This week we kicked off the first of several weeks of “Harvest Boot Camp” at Amici Cellars. We welcomed friends from around the country that want to get a true insider’s view of how a Napa Valley harvest works–and are willing to roll up their sleeves and work hard to get that view! The first week of Harvest Boot Camp was a busy one: the crew’s days were filled with early morning harvests in the vineyards, sorting stems and leaves from grapes at the sorting table, building barrels, touring vineyards, cleaning winery equipment — and, of course, plenty of fun times with good food and wine to celebrate their hard work. On Friday we sent our first crew off to the airport, with purple-stained fingers, tired and happy after five days of hard work, and (hopefully) full of great stories to tell their co-workers back home. Now to greet the next crew!
Yesterday was a great day, as we celebrated the start of another harvest and what looks like a killer 2013 vintage!
What do you get when you take 10 different wines, and add 1 gourmet food truck and 60 friends from around the country? You get one fun night. We welcomed our friends from Total Wine & More at the winery on Wednesday night for our annual chance to reconnect with old friends, meet new ones, and taste through Amici’s current and upcoming releases together. Famous burger purveyor Gott’s Roadside sent their mobile catering truck and we all enjoyed a wonderful evening of gourmet burgers and ahi tacos, wine (and margaritas — no man lives on wine alone!). It was the kind of beautiful, warm evening beneath the Palisades mountain range that makes everyone want to move to Calistoga and never leave. A warm thank you to Total Wine & More for making time for us during their whirlwind tour of Napa & Sonoma this week–hosting this group has become an annual highlight for Amici and an evening that we truly enjoy!
For more photos of the evening, view the photo album.
Preparing the 2012’s for a long winter’s nap
Last week Assistant Winemaker Bobby Donnell was busy getting the last of the 2012 Cabernets ready for their winter slumber as he prepares the winery for the incoming 2013 fruit. He and winery interns have been finishing up racking the wine, which is the process of removing the wine into stainless tanks, cleaning the barrels, and then replacing the wine back in the barrels so it can rest until an additional racking next winter.
As the wine ferments in the barrels, the sediment (the “lees”) settles to the bottom of the barrel and tartrates gradually build up inside the barrels (tartrates are the harmless crystalline deposits that separate from wines during fermentation and aging). During the racking process, Bobby will pump the wine into tanks and add a little sulfer dioxide to protect it. He’ll then do an initial cleaning of the barrels with water, washing out the sediment. The rinse is followed by a high pressure steam treatment. The steam nozzle seals the bung on the barrel and when the steam hits the cool air inside the barrel, the air expands rapidly. As the air cools, it creates a vacuum effect, pulling wine and tartrates from the pores on the inside of the oak barrel. The wine is then placed back in the clean barrels, and settles in for its long winter’s nap.
The vines are letting let us know that spring has officially arrived. Stirring from their months of dormancy, they’re optimistically sprouting verdant new growth and seem to be basking in sunny, warm days.
Inside the winery, barrels tower floor to ceiling and front to rear, and it feels like we’re bursting at the seams after the blockbuster 2012 harvest. Yields across California were the largest on record last fall, and that had winery staff across the valley (including ours) scrambling to find space for load after load of perfect grapes coming in. Tastes from the barrels of the 2012 vintage haven’t disappointed: these young wines are showing a delightful intensity and depth of flavor.
Assistant Winemaker Bobby has finished up the racking on the 2012s and now he and Joel can turn their attention to working on the 2011 blends, purchasing new equipment and all of the good stuff that comes with preparing the winery for the 2013 harvest.
The rest of us at Amici are busy getting ready for our Spring 2013 new releases and looking forward to sharing some seriously good stuff with our friends. Spring is in the air!
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: