Kicking Off Harvest 2013

Yesterday was a great day, as we celebrated the start of another harvest and what looks like a killer 2013 vintage!

Wine, and Burgers and Friends…Oh My!

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!

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Goodies await the arrival of managers from Total Wine & More stores around the country.

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Amici’s Bob Shepard with Total Wine’s Director of Wine Operations Robb Kimbles.

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A group shot before the Palisades backdrop (and no, Total Wine does not believe in child labor–those children in front are part of the Amici family!)

For more photos of the evening, view the photo album.

Winemaking 101: Cleaning the Barrels

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.

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Bobby does the “smell test,” alert for any off odors from any barrels.

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Wine sediment from the barrel washes out during the initial rinse phase of cleaning.

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.

Spring in the Vineyards

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.

Budbreak on a Rutherford Bench vine.

Budbreak on a Rutherford Bench vine.

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!

Pleasures of the Harvest Table

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:

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Tasting Barrel-Fermented Wines

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.

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Bob and friends enjoy a tasting of barrel-fermented wines at the winery

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.

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Assistant Winemaker Bobby Donnell with Janette

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!

 

Summer Wines and Summer Evenings

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.