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.

Throw a “Wine Country-Style” Party – Anywhere!

August is the perfect month for backyard parties, and a wine country-themed party is always a winner, no matter where you live.  We recently threw a fantastic “wine country style barbeque” for a friend’s birthday – at a location two hours from Napa Valley.  Here are a few tips for adding a touch of wine country to your party, wherever it is:

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Serve the food family style at casual long tables. Baskets of fresh bread and a few simple flower sprigs from your garden are all you need to create a beautiful, informal table.

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For a rustic touch of wine country, use two empty barrels and a plank of wood to create a wine bar.

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Create these fun and easy wine cork napkin rings for each placesetting to highlight the “wine country” theme.

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Place several open bottles of nice wine along the tables and encourage people to explore the different wines and discover their favorites. After dinner move any unfinished bottles to the wine bar and let people serve themselves as they continue to mix and mingle.

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.

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.

Welcoming Uchi Restaurant Group to Amici’s Home

It was our pleasure to host Uchi Restaurant Group of Texas at our winery guesthouse last weekend. Renowned Napa Valley chef Morgan Robinson of Smoke Open Fire prepared a fantastic meal outside under the oak trees and everyone had a wonderful evening.

Chef Tyson Cole has brought his Uchi Restaurants (Uchi in Austin and Houston, Uchiko in Austin) to national prominence serving fresh, inventive and beautiful dishes at his Japanese restaurants.

A great example of Chef Cole’s fresh and creative cooking, courtesy of Chef Cole and the Wall Street Journal, is his recipe for Asparagus Three Ways with Fried Capers.  It’s not always easy to find a wine pairing for asparagus, but with the addition of briny capers and creamy eggs yolks, this dish makes a lovely pairing with the 2012 Amici Sauvignon Blanc.

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Tyson Cole’s Asparagus Three Ways with Fried Capers

Adding a Southwestern Flair to Recipe Pairings

We live in a big country, and it’s fun to explore our many interesting and delicious regional cuisines.  When summertime comes, there’s something about the flavors of the southwest, with their deep, earthy notes of chilies and spices balanced with the fresh, lively flavors of cilantro and lime, that lends itself to outdoor summer dining.  But if you also love your wine (as we do), pairing these two sets of flavors takes a deft hand.  Too much heat in your peppers and those smooth tannins in your Cabernet Sauvignon suddenly get a little less smooth; pack too big a punch with your boldly flavored seafood and gone are the delicate tropical notes of its Sauvignon Blanc pairing partner.

But you can successfully pair the nuanced and subtle flavors in wine with some incredibly delicious southwestern-style meals, and as in any good pairing, both the wine and the food benefit.  “Wine is often traded for beer when pairing with the flavors of the Southwest, but there’s no reason that needs to be the case,” says Chef John Adamson.   Amici co-owner John Harris grew up in Texas and he loves the flavors of his childhood, so when cooking for winery events, Chef Adamson often pairs Amici Cabernet Sauvignon and Amici Sauvignon Blanc with food that highlights the complex and bold flavors of the Southwest.

“Southwestern flavors, with their mix of chilies, cilantro and lime, pair well with Amici ImageSauvignon Blanc due to its palate-cleansing, crisp tropical notes,” says Chef Adamson.  To explore these complementary flavors, Adamson created his Amici “Cantina” Fish Tacos, in which snapper or halibut gets a buttermilk batter dip before frying up crispy and delicious, topped with creamy chipotle and lime-laced cabbage and pico de gallo. The lively citrus and tropical fruit flavors and bright minerality of Amici Sauvignon Blanc bring just the right note of mouth-watering freshness for a perfect pairing.

ImageAs for Amici Cabernet Sauvignon, Chef Adamson likes to pair its dark berry and mocha flavors with a juicy, smoky grilled skirt steak and serve it with a chimichurri, highlighting the dark fruit with a palate-perking acidity.  And if you want to walk on the wild side of food and wine pairings, just try John Adamson’s grilled Padrón peppers with sea salt: everything you were afraid to serve with a Cabernet works here.  “The Padróns, with their characteristic ‘some hot-some not’ nature, enhance the wine’s fruit characteristics, while they are not hot enough to clash with its tannins,” says Chef Adamson.  His recipe for Lone Star Skirt Steak with Padrón Peppers and Chimichurri is sure to become a summer favorite for you, as it is for us.

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.

Review Roll-up: May 2013

2012 Olema Chardonnay Sonoma County Valley – Beverage Dynamics: “This approachable chardonnay was fermented half in oak and half in stainless steel, giving the wine a crisp and refreshing acidity; apple and citrus notes balance the wine and bring a creamy quality to the finish. 91 Points”

2010 Olema Chardonnay Sonoma County Valley – Wine Spectator:  “The citrus, nectarine and lemon notes are refreshing, smooth and balanced. Details of spice crescendo on the finish. Drink now through 2018.”