Every fall we have fun hosting a series of visitors from the wine industry who come to us to take part in Amici’s “Harvest Boot Camp.” It’s a unique way to truly understand what happens at a winery during the harvest season, and provides an opportunity for our “boot campers” to put their own personal stamp on a wine, knowing they played a part in its creation.
One of our recent boot campers, Heather Boysen, wrote an article for the Argus Leader on her experience at Amici:
You’ve seen the photos: barrels toppled into chaotic heaps and rivers of red wine running though floors strewn with the glass shards of broken bottles. As Napa struggles to recover from Sunday morning’s 6.0 earthquake, the valley’s well-known spirit of cooperation amongst its wineries is once again shining.
We were one of the lucky ones: our winery was unscathed and the only sign of the earthquake was a slight shift in the barrels stacked six high floor-to-ceiling. Our wine inventory, which sits in a warehouse just a quarter mile from the epicenter, remains fine. You can bet we’re counting our lucky stars.
About 80% of the wineries in Napa fared well through the earthquake with little or no damage. But for the ones that did suffer damage, the timing was about as bad as it gets. With harvest having arrived about two weeks earlier than normal, and what looks like an exceptional-quality vintage in store, wineries across the valley were in full-action mode when the earthquake hit. Newly harvested juice is undergoing fermentation, a process that needs to be watched and controlled carefully for the best outcome. And new loads of beautiful quality grapes are coming in daily, whether or not wineries have recovered enough to resume harvest.
But this is where the Napa wine industry shines: there is a long-held spirit of professional cooperation here, which means that this week all hands are on deck helping our fellow vintners restore power, clean up barrel rooms and fix equipment so that harvest can continue. No one wants to see a fellow vintner have to miss out on an excellent harvest, one that last week we were all so excited about.
Most vintners attribute the spirit of professional cooperation in the Napa wine industry to Robert Mondavi. He always had a generous “we’re all in this together” approach to building the valley’s reputation as one of the world’s premier wine regions, recognizing that he couldn’t successfully build his own winery’s reputation without first promoting the region as a whole. There are well-known stories amongst the older generation of vintners of Bob Mondavi pitching in to help fellow vintners down on their luck, lending his equipment or doing whatever he could to help rescue a neighbor. Something tells me that at a time like this, he and his legendary generosity would really shine.
Sauvignon Blanc grapes from Laurent Vineyard in St. Helena ready for crush at Amici Cellars.
That’s the question on everyone’s lips these days as we start harvest under what appears, for now, to be ideal conditions for a third year in a row. After the banner vintages of 2012 and 2013, which delighted everyone with exceptionally high yields and gorgeous, complex flavors, vintners across the valley are knocking on wood after daring to hope that we just may be in for yet another ideal vintage.
At Amici we kicked off harvest last week, bringing in our Sauvignon Blanc from St. Helena and Rutherford. “Everything looks absolutely perfect right now,” says winemaker Joel Aiken. “The flavors and the sugars in the grapes are ideal. We’re bringing in the Sauv Blanc at 23 brix and are starting another fermentation today.” This year’s harvest is about two weeks earlier than normal.
The current weather of foggy mornings and warm days in the mid-80’s is ideal for this time of year. The red varietals, which are still on the vine, are enjoying slow, even ripening in the sunny days and cool mornings, allowing complex flavors to develop without the threat of sunburn or rains. And although this past winter was one of the driest on record, the springs rains that did come were in February and March, at just the right time to create slow and steady growing conditions perfect for a high-quality crop.
Joel estimates that if the weather stays consistent, we’ll start bringing in our Cabernet grapes early to mid-September. Stay tuned for more harvest updates!
We’re happy to announce the release of the newest wine from Amici Cellars: the 2012 Amici Pinot Noir Russian River Valley.
There’s been a lot of buzz about the 2012 vintage for Pinot Noir from Sonoma County appellations: Robert Parker rated the vintage 93 points (“outstanding”), his highest rating ever since he started rating the vintages for this region in 1978. Wine Enthusiast, meanwhile, rated the 2012 vintage for Russian River Valley Pinot Noir a staggering 95 points (“superb”).
This wine certainly delivers on the promises of those enthusiastic ratings: Beautifully aromatic, the wine opens with a dazzling bouquet of rich raspberry and fragrant violets. On the palate, flavors of black cherry, raspberry and cola spice swirl around hints of earth. Velvety tannins lead to an excellent length on the finish, with a persistent core of fruit that lingers for minutes, not seconds. A true beauty of a wine, it is delicious now but will age well for 5-7 years.
You can find the 2012 Amici Pinot Noir Russian River Valley on our website.
What are you used to paying for that killer Pinot Noir from Sonoma that you love so much? $40? $50? What if we told you that you could have a Pinot that good (maybe better) for $20? Seriously.
Announcing the newest member of the Amici family: the 2012 Olema Pinot Noir. This is some exciting stuff: a Sonoma Pinot Noir for $20 that tastes fantastic? That’s a game changer. We promise you, this wine competes way above its weight class. A blend of 80% Pinot Noir grapes from Russian River Valley with 20% from premier vineyards in Sonoma County, this Pinot features the classic Russian River Valley characteristics of perfumed aromas and bright, focused red fruit flavors framed by delicate tannins.
That perfect 2012 vintage has created some of the best Pinot Noirs to come out of Sonoma County. The 2012 Olema Pinot Noir opens with a burst of beautiful berries intertwined with sweet florals on the nose. Flavors of cherry, cola and raspberry with a hint of sweet vanilla and a silky smooth mouthfeel make it a deliciously drinkable wine.
If you want to check it out for yourself, you can find it on our website.
Over the next several months, wine stores across the country will be unveiling a brand new label for our Olema wines. For the uninitiated, Olema is Amici’s sister brand showcasing excellent quality wine at friendly prices, and it has gained a tremendous following over the last couple years. We thought that it was only fitting that a rising star like Olema get a makeover suitable to its pedigree: and so, violà, a brand new look:
The new look!
…and the previous label.
How did we end up with a wine named “Olema” anyway, you ask? Good question. While Amici’s primary focus is on showcasing the best of Napa Valley, Olema looks to celebrate Sonoma. The name Olema, which means “coyote” in Miwok, honors the Coast Miwok Native Americans who lived along the Sonoma Coast and in northern Marin County. Olema wines feature fresh, vibrant flavors and excellent value.
This morning’s harvest on a crisp, beautiful morning atop Spring Mountain
Last year at this time all anyone could talk about was how 2012 was a great year. Well, then, what does that make 2013? There’s only one answer: a really, really great year.
The season got started with huge amounts of rain in December followed by drought conditions throughout the spring. Warm conditions and early flowering meant that ripening was several weeks ahead of the norm. The lack of spring rainfall allowed us to control irrigation in the vineyards, keeping vines and canopies healthy but maintaining small, concentrated berry size. The summer continued with warm but not excessively hot conditions, and just when things were looking like we’d harvest early completing a very good season, Mother Nature gave us an even better gift: conditions cooled down to slightly below normal, extending the growing season for several weeks. Weeks of sunny days and cool nights in September and October allowed the grapes to continue maturing and deepening their complex flavors without danger of over ripening, creating the best of all conditions.
With small berries providing higher skin to juice ratios for fermentation, the warm days helped the grapes retain their color while cool nights aided acid retention. We’re very excited about the concentration in the Cab we’ve brought in this year. The wine is intensely colored and rich in texture and flavor, with very good, balanced flavors and nice acid retention.
We have two Cabernet vineyards left to harvest, and will bring in the final grapes by mid-week next week. Then we will most certainly toast to an incredible vintage, courtesy of Mother Nature.
Yesterday was a great day, as we celebrated the start of another harvest and what looks like a killer 2013 vintage!
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.
Bobby does the “smell test,” alert for any off odors from any barrels.
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.
Michael Cervin of the blog “Cervin’s Central Coast” recently featured Amici in his list of cool new tasting rooms. We’re happy to have made the list!