The Napa Earthquake: Showing the Spirit of Cooperation

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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.

Are We Looking at a “Three-peat”?

Sauvignon Blanc grapes from the Laurent Vineyard in St. Helena ready for crush at Amici Cellars.

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!

Announcing our Newest Pinot Noir — It’s a Game Changer!

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.

ImageAnnouncing 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.

What to Expect from the 2013 Vintage (Hint: Expect a lot!)

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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.

 

Harvest Day for Missouri Hopper Vineyard Cabernet

There was a nip in the air on Tuesday morning as we brought in the fruit from the Missouri Hopper Vineyard in the Oakville AVA.

A New Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

We’re getting ready for tomorrow morning’s harvest at our newest source for Pinot Noir: Oakwild Ranch Vineyard, in the heart of Russian River Valley.

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!

Checking in on the Sauvignon Blanc Vineyards

Winemaker Joel Aiken heads out to the Sauvignon Blanc vineyards to look at how the grapes are coming along for harvest 2013.  At this point, Joel estimates a Sauvignon Blanc harvest date of late August, about two weeks earlier than the usual September date.  Chalk that up to a warm, dry spring in which the grapes have ripened evenly in mild temperatures.

Supporting the Napa Valley Farmworker

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An outpouring of largesse from attendees boosted Auction Napa Valley 2013 fundraising to record highs

Auction Napa Valley 2013 will long be held as a benchmark year for the event with its staggering $16.9 million in funds raised, more than 60% greater than the previous high water mark.  It was a year to remember, to be sure.  But amidst all the glamour of the auction, amidst its happily frenzied bidding on lots featuring sports cars, exotic trips, and some of the finest wine and food imaginable, it’s sometimes easy to forget why we all gather for this 4-day bacchanalia on the first weekend of June every year.  We do it to support the neediest in our community.

The Napa Valley may be world-famous as the source of some wonderful wines, but we in the valley have to remind ourselves often that none of our success would be possible without the thousands of underprivileged workers that live and work here.  With land going for up to $300,000 per acre, the Napa Valley is not exactly the most affordable agricultural community in which these workers find themselves.  These hard workers that support the wine economy perform a variety of important tasks:  they’re cellar workers, restaurant dishwashers, hotel cleaning staff and migrant farmworkers that prune and harvest the vineyards.

The migrant farmworkers in particular perform important tasks under what can be harsh living conditions.  While 75% of the grapes in California are picked by machine, in Napa Valley roughly 75% are picked by hand. This means that come harvest, thousands of workers are needed to get those grapes immediately from the vineyards to the crushpad.  Experts estimate that 8,000 to 12,000 migrant farmworkers live in Napa Valley, many seasonally.  A lack of beds, particularly in decades past, has meant that migrant farmworkers were often living in makeshift camps in the woods, under bridges, in cars, or bunking six or more men to a bedroom.

Thankfully, life for migrant farmworkers in Napa has improved dramatically from years past and is far better than most agricultural communities.  Through the work of Napa Valley Housing Authority and other important organizations, for about $12 a day many of these workers can have a shower and a hot meal when they return from the vineyards, and sleep in a clean bed in a shared room.

In 2002 vineyard owners voted to assess themselves $10 per acre to create a program which helps house and feed migrant fieldworkers. Those tax revenues along with donations contribute to provide a wide safety net for these workers, including not just housing and food, but healthcare and job placement.  While in other farming communities migrant fieldworkers are sadly exploited, paid little and charged exorbitant living expenses, in Napa hourly wages for fieldworkers are an average of 9% higher than the rest of California.

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Vineyards workers race against the warming sun during harvest 2012

It’s satisfying to be part of a community that recognizes the importance of the often unheard group that supports our economy.  As a whole, the community of vineyard owners and winemakers in Napa understands and appreciates that we couldn’t be successful without these workers.  Every year the proceeds from Auction Napa Valley go to programs that support this community of workers and their families, helping with everything from housing and food to medical care and after school programs.  With all of its glitz and glamour the auction is certainly a fun time, but every year it’s the end result that makes it worth it.