Erosion Control

December 30, 2011



The weather this year continues to be strange. The Fall was unusually wet, and now we are having the driest Winter since 1989. This has some ramifications in the vineyard. For one, our cover crops have not been growing as quickly as they would have in a more normal year because there is simply less water in the soil than would be ideal. This is not necesarily a big problem, since it is not dry enough out to kill the young plants, and one good rain should allow them to catch up pretty rapidly.

We are hopeful for some rain before too much longer, and in preparation we have begun putting some erosion control in place in our vineyards.

Erosion is a name for a category of geological processes in which soil and rock are removed from an area over time. In our case, we are specifically referring to the effect of rainwater on some of our steeper hillside vineyards. Rainwater has the tendency to break up exposed topsoil on impact, and on steep hillsides the flow of rainwater can sometimes lead to ‘channeling’, where a rivulet quickly develops into a fast moving channel that carries all that broken up topsoil away. Topsoil is, of course, requisite for farming, and its’ volume and quality are especially important to organic farming operations like ours. To keep the hillsides from washing away, we apply a layer of hay to the soil surface.

The hay works to prevent erosion in several ways. First, it prevents the rain from directly impacting on the exposed topsoil as it falls, keeping it from breaking up the soil surface. Second, it slows the water down as it flows downhill, preventing it from producing channels. The hay needs to be several inches thick for this technique to work, or the water will just carry it away.

Our steepest hillsides are in the China Bowl vineyard at the foot of the property, so that’s where we’ve been focusing our efforts so far.
This hillside is at the northern end of the China Bowl, it’s steep and somewhat long, making it especially prone to channeling.
To visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.

Mentions in the Media

December 29, 2011



We got a couple of nice mentions in various wine columns this week!

First up, wine writer Dale Robertson of the Houston Chronicle visited us here in Sonoma Valley a little while back, and here’s what he had to say,

“Most inspiring wine person: Richard Arrowood, who completed his 46th harvest as a winemaker in October, insisted he couldn’t wait for No. 47. After all these years, he still felt like a kid in the candy store when he was in the vineyards or the cellar. Arrowood and his wife, Alis, own Amapola Creek Winery just below the famous Monte Rosso Vineyard near Sonoma. He made his reputation at Chateau St. Jean (1974-90) before founding Arrowood Winery (1985-2010).” (full article)

Also, Fred Tasker of the Miami Herald had these kind words for our 2008 Monte Rosso Zinfandel,

“2008 Amapola Creek “Vinas Antiguas” Zinfandel, Monte Rosso Vineyard, Sonoma Valley: powerful flavors of black raspberries and cloves, full-bodied, very rich, smooth; $30. This is a zin like they used to make them: unsubtle, in-your-face, a hearty 15.1 percent alcohol — wonderful.” (full article)

FYI, that 2008 Monte Rosso Zinfandel is close to being sold out!

We really take a lot of effort to turn out the best product we can here at Amapola Creek, so it’s nice to hear such pleasant things back from the news media.

To visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.

This week in the cellar

December 22, 2011

This week we had several major operations in the cellar. First, we had to top our barrels. This month was slightly different from other recent months because we needed to ‘break’ a barrel of 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. Breaking a barrel means that we transfer its’ contents into smaller containers, generally stainless steel kegs.

We use a siphon to break barrels. In this picture, you can see the siphon hose draining the wine out to a vessel waiting below.

We broke this barrel because we needed more wine to use for topping the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, as all of the kegs we had on hand had already been emptied. It is possible to top directly out of a barrel, but when you do that you can end up with a very large amount of headspace over the wine, which can lead to spoilage.
After topping, we needed to rack some of our small 2011 lots off of their lees. All of our small lots (the Cuvee Alis, the Zinfandel, and the Petite Sirah) were put down to barrels a few weeks ago because we do not have stainless steel containers of the right size for them. To rack off the lees, we pump each lot to a tank, taste it, and then put it back down to barrel.

Once a barrel has been emptied, we rotate it upside down to drain out the lees. These wines are all fairly settled already, so we got less than two gallons total of lees out of all the barrels in the picture above.


 These wines are already smelling extremely clean, so with this racking we didn’t bother using the copper screen.

To visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.


New Barrels!

December 13, 2011

We’ve just received our new shipment of barrels from Seguin Moreau! This is far and away our largest delivery of barrels for the year (although compared to what many other wineries receive in a year, a shipment this size would actually be considered fairly small).

Note how the barrels are wrapped in plastic. They arrive this way because they have to be protected from abrasion and moisture during transit.
Seguin Moreau produces the lionshare of the barrels that we use in our Cabernet Sauvignon. We are planning to use all of these new barrels in the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon (they will make up about half of the barrel mix), and the remainder will go down into some of the seasoned barrels that are currently holding the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon.
We like to use a mixture of new and seasoned oak in our Cabs. We find that using too much new oak leaves the wine with too strong of an oaky flavor, sometimes described as resinous or medicinal. We also use a small percentage of American oak barrels in our Cabs. American oak is much more strongly flavored than French oak, generally adding distinctive notes of vanilla and baking spices to the finished wine. Too much American oak can completely override the profile of a wine, but just a little is just right for our style.
Now that the new barrels have arrived, we can begin to plan out our next big move, which is to put the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon blends down to barrel, while simultaneously pulling the 2009 Cab out of barrel to prep it for bottling in March.
To visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.


Stirring the Chardonnay

December 1, 2011



We put the Belli Chardonnay down to barrel just about six weeks ago. Once the wine is in barrel, the last little bit of solids (almost entirely dead and dying yeast cells) have time to settle out. This makes the wine nice and clear, but in fact at this stage we actually want the wine to get a little bit of contact with the remaining yeast cells. This improves the mouthfeel of the wine, and tends to add subtle warm, nutty characters to the mid-palate. As the yeast cells break down (a process known as autolysis that usually starts around six months after the fermentation is over) they also tend to generate a rich, creamy character that is highly desirable in our style of Chardonnay.

To keep the yeast suspended in the wine, we stir the barrels, a process also known as batonage.

This is the baton that gives batonage its’ name. Colloquially, it is known as a stirring wand. The wand is inserted into each barrel, and then it is drawn vigorously from side to side so that the hinged plate at the end drags along the bottom, stirring the yeast up into the wine.
With our Chardonnay, we like to stir the barrels once every week, so that the yeast never completely settle out and we have plenty of contact between them and the wine.
This wine was fairly clear before we stirred it earlier today, but notice how much the yeast have been stirred up off of the bottom of the barrel. This is how we would like the wine to spend most of it’s time looking during this stage of the process.
To visit the Amapola Creek winery main site, please click here.