2013 Harvest Boot Camp with Amici Cellars

amicicellars:

Here’s a great blog post from Total Wine on the Harvest Boot Camps we hosted last fall. If you work in the wine industry and want to join in the fun and hard work next fall, just let us know!

Originally posted on Total Wine & More:

When you work inside a retail wine shop, your exposure to the wine industry is a bit one-sided.  We see a skillfully crafted, finished product.  A beautiful wine, inside a beautiful package, that customers pick up for a variety of reasons.  It is a package that elicits a wide range of emotions and caters to varied tastes and desires.

That, of course, is just one side of the wine equation.  Behind the scenes, there is an incredible amount of planning, scrambling, organizing, cooperating, praying and hard work. I was part of a small group from Total Wine & More invited to experience this other side at the Amici Cellars’ “Harvest Boot Camp” in Calistoga, Ca.

For a week, six of us joined the Amici crew to participate in the 2013 harvest.  We contributed our labor and lived the winery life alongside owners, winemakers and interns.

(L to R) Rebecca Davidson…

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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.

 

The Insider’s View of Harvest

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!

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.

Exploring the Terroir of Napa Valley Sub-Appellations

Last week we had the pleasure in taking part in an exploratory “terroir” tasting of Cabernets from six of the 16 appellations in the Napa Valley.  While the concept of terroir comes to us from France, arguably there is no better place to explore it and taste it in the glass than here in the Napa Valley.

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Terroir is an imprecise concept of how the geography, geology and climate of a specific grape-growing location can affect the resulting wine.  The relatively tiny Napa Valley, just 1/8 the size of Bordeaux and only 30 miles long by 5 miles wide, offers winegrowers a dizzying array of elements that create vastly different terroir from one appellation, and even one vineyard, to the next.

Our tiny valley has 100 different soil variations and fully half of the world’s soil orders. With five mountains surrounding the valley and volcanic knolls throughout, as well as the Pacific Ocean sitting 30 miles to the west, the valley contains micro-climates of valley and hillside vineyards facing all different directions, some cooled by ocean fog sneaking in, some much warmer.  Vineyard soils can be alluvial, volcanic, clay, loam or other.  Add the winemaker’s influence into that mix, and what you have is a concoction of almost infinite variables influencing a wine’s terroir.

Tasting Cabernet Sauvignons from various Napa appellations side by side is an entertaining, always-educational exercise that I highly recommend for anyone interested in wine.  The six wines we tasted last week, every one of them an exceptional and delicious wine, spanned a wide variety of flavors and profiles:  some showed red perfumey fruit, others deeper black fruits, some tannins were gripping and powerful, others were velvety.

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At Amici in addition to our Napa Valley blends, we love to create vineyard-specific wines that allow people to explore in-depth the characteristics of the sub-appellations of Napa Valley.  From Spring Mountain to Rutherford Bench to Oakville, we have an exciting array of vineyard-specific wines in the bottle and in the barrel now.  Each one has its own distinct personality, an expression of its terroir, waiting to be expressed when the cork is pulled.

Special thanks to those involved in this tasting: it was organized by the Concierge Alliance of Napa Valley and Sonoma (CANVAS), led by the Napa Valley Wine Academy, and hosted at the beautiful Alpha Omega Winery.