As you may recall, in 2011 we decided not to use all of our estate Cabernet Sauvignon in our own program, holding some of it back to sell in bulk to another winery (or wineries). For the last few months, we’ve been keeping this portion of the Cab in stainless steel tanks to let it clarify, cleaning it up fast so that it’s in a proper, saleable condition.

Last week we finished the final racking for this wine. We had left one of the tanks of this wine slightly partial while it was settling out, but now that that step is over we are going to break it down into topped up containers for storage.

Breaking wine down into topped containers is frequently difficult, because there are usually a number of different combinations of possible containers to use. In this case, we are primarily using some of our older barrels, with a little bit of the wine going into a stainless steel porta-tank.

The older barrels have already been used a number of times, so they will not impart any oak flavor to the wine, but they will allow the flavors and aromas already present in the wine to become more concentrated as water and alcohol evaporate out through the sides of the barrel.

On a completely unrelated note, while walking the vineyards today we found that the California Golden Poppies have started blooming!

These are the California state flower. 'Amapola' is Spanish for Poppy, so it's always noteworthy when our namesake starts to bloom in the vineyards.

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

Inspecting the vineyards

February 24, 2012

 

 

 

We are officially done with tying down canes in the vineyards, so now we are just waiting for budbreak to signal the start of the growing season.

This is really a beautiful time of year, when all of the vineyards are looking tidy and the cover crops are starting to produce a lush layer of growth on the vineyard floor. This is a view from the Southeastern corner of the Montana Vista Cabernet Sauvignon block.

While we haven’t seen any real signs of budbreak in the grapevines, the warm weather is causing a bit of an early Spring for some of the other crop plants on the property.

This aprium tree, part of a small orchard near the Western edge of the Montana Vista block, definitely appreciates the recent warm weather.

A number of the wild species growing around the property are also starting to exhibit Spring-like behavior.

The live oaks around the property are starting to push their funny, rod-shaped bunches of flowers. These will be fat clusters of acorns by Summertime.

Considering that so many other plants around the grounds are waking up from Winter already, it likely won’t be too long before our vines start to push as well, and at that point we will begin the process of crafting our 2012 wines.

China Bowl from the Southeast corner.

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

Topping

February 22, 2012

 

 

 

It’s the third week of the month, which means it’s time to top our barrels again.

Even with the lights on, it can be pretty dark in the stacks. Since we are delivering the wine to the barrel using pressurized gas, the flow rate of the wine can be surprisingly fast. Accordingly, it's important to use a flashlight while topping to make sure you don't accidentally overfill the barrel.

Topping is a very cyclical part of the winemaking process, even when things in  production get slow during the early summer, there is always topping to do. At very large facilities, there are sometimes so many barrels to top that it essentially never ends; by the time the last of the barrels have been topped, it’s time to start in on the first ones again. Fortunately for us our barrel program is small enough that topping generally only takes a day or so to finish.

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

Burn Day

February 21, 2012

 

 

 

The property here at Amapola Creek is pretty large, just around 100 acres. Over the course of a year we collect a surprising amount of organic debris, some from the vineyards in the form of prunings, and some from trees that have died in the bay and oak forests that cover the remainder of the grounds. The volume of material we collect is large enough that it is impractical to haul it away, so instead we burn it.

The idea when burning plant waste like this is to start a fairly small fire and then feed more material into it as it burns down, preventing it from getting out of control. This was a really massive pile of oak branches before, but as you can see it is quickly becoming a thin layer of ashes.

Right now is a good time to burn, because the ground and surrounding forest are still relatively damp from the recent rain. Some components of the burn pile itself have been sitting around for several months, so it was dried out enough that it caught fire easily with just a few matches.

An advantage of burning our plant waste is that we can use the ash as fertilizer in our vegetable garden.

Once the fire has finished burning down we will gather up the ashes and till them into the garden soil. Wood ash is a good source of many soil nutrients, like calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium.

This is what we like to think of as a form of land management. We would prefer not to see wildfires on the grounds, so we take care of removing and burning much of the dead vegetative matter ourselves. This kind of stewardship is exemplary of the kind of care we like to take with our vineyards and the surrounding environment.

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

 

 

 

We got yet another nice review for our 2008 Monte Rosso Zinfandel this week! Restaurant and wine review website Gayot put this wine on its’ Top 10 list for wines that are a great value. We have to agree, even if we do say so ourselves, that finding a wine made from such ancient vines on such an auspicious site is an exciting prospect at any price.

For members of our A-list club this wine goes for $35 dollars, which, quite frankly, is a steal. Our supply of this wine is running down, we currently have just a handful of cases left, so don’t miss out!

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

 

 

 

This is still a relatively dry winter, but we’ve been getting intermittent rain over the last few weeks that has finally kicked our cover crops into growing a little faster.

The mustard is growing the fastest at the moment, with the oats close behind. These plants are still not quite as large as they would normally be this time of year, but they should be caught up in another few weeks.

The plants in the vineyard rows are not limited to the ones we planted there, we are also getting occasional wild carpets of tiny orange calendulas all over the property.

There are a number of wildflowers to be found in our vineyards, but at the moment these are the most charismatic.

Another interesting thing to note is a change we’ve made to the way we prune our Grenache in the Bobcat Run block. You may recall that we generally prune our vines following the Guyot method, where two canes are left after pruning which are tied down to the trellis wires in an arc. On the advice of our vineyard consultant Phil Coturri, we are switching these vines over to what is known a ‘spur-pruned’ style.

With spur-pruning, a number of very short canes (the eponymous spurs) are left on the vine. The canes that the spurs are attached to are now known as 'arms' or 'cordons'. Each spur has two buds, each of which will put out a shoot in the spring which will be attached to the trellis wire above.

Since we are switching these vines over from the Guyot system, not every one of them has two canes strong enough to support the spurs, so in some cases we are leaving a cane behind that will be grown into an arm over the next year, after which it will be spur pruned.

This vine is about to make a right turn.

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

More T-budding prep work

February 10, 2012

 

 

 

As you may remember, we are planning to T-bud some of our Cabernet Sauvignon vines over to other varieties in the Spring. T-budding requires some living budwood (dormant canes from the variety of vine we are switching over to). Some of our budwood will be purchased from a grapevine vendor, but the rest will come from our own Grenache vines in the Bobcat Run vineyard.

The process starts with gathering some of the canes left over from pruning.

Once we had gathered enough canes to produce the amount of budwood we will need, we started to sort and clip the canes.

The canes selected need to be a little larger than average, ideally about as thick around as an adults' pinky finger.

Not every cane is alive at this time of year, so it’s important to clip the canes and make sure the tissue inside them is still alive.

A cane that is still in good condition will have a cross-section like this, fully green all the way around the margin. You will also frequently see a trickle of sap coming from the cuts.

Once all of the canes are trimmed to the right size they are bundled together for storage.

Bundling them tightly is important. It makes them easier to move and store, and it keeps the canes from abrading each other and killing the buds.

Once they are bundled, we seal them in garbage bags filled with sawdust and a little damp newspaper, to keep them from drying out and dying. Once they are packaged, they are placed in a refrigerated room. Keeping the canes cool is important, because it ensures that the buds will not try to push before we are ready to use them.

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

Barrel Maintenance

February 7, 2012

 

 

 

Sometimes it happens that you wind up with empty barrels that need to be stored. If a barrel is new and hasn’t ever been filled, this is not really a problem, you can just leave it inside the winery and wait for next year. However, if the barrel is older and has already been used to store wine, special maintenance is required to keep wine spoilage organisms from taking hold and rendering the barrel useless.

The first step is to set all of the older, empty barrels out and stage them with their bungs facing down. Next you spray their insides with very hot water, followed by ozonated water, which together knock any microbial populations down to negligible levels. The eight barrels that are separated out to the right in this picture are getting sold to another winery.

Once the barrels have been rinsed, we allow them to drain for a few minutes to make sure that most of the water has dripped out. Next, we flip them right-side up and lower a burning a sulfur wick into each of them.

A sulfur wick is a piece of paper that is impregnated with elemental sulfur. When you burn it inside a barrel it releases sulfur dioxide gas, which dissolves into the water clinging to the inside of the barrel and forms sulfurous acid, which has strong antimicrobial effects. This will help keep any microbes from starting to grow in the barrel during storage.

The final step is to insert a paper cup into the bung to keep the sulfur gas from drifting out (it’s pretty irritating to the lungs if you breathe it in). To keep the cups in, we put a strap of packing tape over the bung.

Once the cup is in we flip the barrel back upside down, in case there is any more water to drip out. The cups frequently fall out when the barrels are stored in this position, so we like to use the tape to keep the floors free of litter and to make sure that the inside of the barrel is not exposed to open air.

We repeat this process approximately every month, it’s a lot of work, but that’s what it takes to do it right!

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

 

 

 

Today we released our 2009 Monte Rosso Zinfandel to the general public! The 2008 was fantastic, and we’re a little sad to see our stockpile of it whittled down to a handful of cases, but the 2009 Zin is an absolutely gorgeous wine, and we’re excited to be able to start sharing it with our customers. This Zin is blended with about 8.8% Petite Sirah, also sourced from Monte Rosso, which lends this wine an extra edge of depth and fruit character.

Zinfandel (especially old-vine Zinfandel) tends to ripen unevenly, with berries at many different stages of maturity to be found on every cluster. This is what gives Zinfandel its' huge range and depth of flavors, a characteristic which is evident in the 2009 vintage.

The 2009 Zinfandel is not a wine to miss, we hope you all enjoy it!

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

 

 

 

 

This week the vineyard crew is still plugging along, pruning the Cabernet Sauvignon vines down in China Bowl.

The vines in the foreground of this picture have not been pruned, but if you look very closely near the center of the picture you can see the vineyard crew working their way up the hillside.

Another thing of note this week, the Pacific bay trees growing all around the property have started to flower, so when walking the property lately one is frequently treated to bursts of their lovely scent.

This entire plant is very aromatic, the leaves have a smell very similar to that of the Mediterranean bay which is used in cooking, and the aroma of the flowers is reminiscent of hyacinths.

Last but not least, we got several nice reviews in the media this week.

First, Peg Melnik of the Press Democrat had some very nice things to say about our 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Second, blogger Jolene Thym of The Picky Eater had some kind words for our 2009 Cuvee Alis.

We work hard on our wines, so it’s always fantastic to hear positive reviews!

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