Lots of water

March 30, 2012




It hasn’t rained again for the last 48 hours or so, but the ground is still completely saturated.

The lowest point on the property is in the China Bowl block. This area is being budded over to Grenache in a few months, and there are a number of holes in the vineyard rows where we took dirt to bury our benchgrafts a few weeks ago. As you can see, the water table is high enough that the holes we dug are completely filled. This is a very good thing for the T-budding project, it means these vines will be able to grow very quickly and powerfully in the early part of the season.

There is enough water in the ground that we even have temporary streams forming in some spots.

This near the top of the China Bowl, the water you can see on the ground is actually running over the surface, making it's way all the way down through the vineyard and pooling near the rock wall.

After such a dry winter we’re ecstatic to have all this rain, it’s really going to help us establish the canopy we’ll need in the summer. Short term, all the mud is keeping us from getting the tractor out and continuing to flail mow (this will actually be good in terms of soil building, the remaining cover crops will grow like crazy with all this water and create more organic matter to put back in the ground), so we’ve been focusing on cellar work at the winery this week.

First we did our monthly topping round. Since we've bottled the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2010 Zinfandel, and the 2010 Petite Sirah, it was less work this time than it has been in recent months.

We also took advantage of the lull in vineyard work to give our 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon lots one final splash rack.

Today we are racking all of the 2011 Cab lots to separate tanks and then splashing them through a copper screen as we put them back down to barrel. This is a good opportunity for us to taste through all of the lots and see how they're shaping up.

The rain will probably let up in a week or two, and then it will be back off to the vineyards to keep mowing the cover crops!

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





Tune into KSRO 1350 AM this evening at 5 to hear Richard and Alis speak with Steve Jaxon on the Wednesday Wine section of the Drive!

For those of you living outside of Sonoma County, please listen online by clicking here, and then clicking again on the ‘Listen Live’ button.

It’s bound to be an interesting show, don’t miss it!

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

Rain and more budbreak

March 27, 2012




California is still significantly behind on rainfall this year, so we’re pretty glad to see that it has started raining again today.

One consequence of the rain is that budbreak will probably slow down a little bit. Budbreak in grapevines is stimulated by warmer weather characteristic of early Spring. The rain is keeping the temperature out in the vineyard down around 50 degrees F, so it’s likely that we won’t see very aggressive pushing until the weather clears up.

On the other hand, we are still seeing small signs of budbreak in certain parts of the property.

Several vines in the Western end of the Montana Vista Cabernet Sauvignon block have pushed their buds. The soil in this end of the block is very rocky, and the vines are a little bit smaller here than elsewhere, which predisposes them towards going through budbreak a little earlier.

While it would be great to get the buds pushed and the vines growing, we are still very happy to have the rain. When rain comes this late in the year it is actually more beneficial for us, because the water status of the soil will remain elevated for longer into the growing season, keeping us from needing to switch on our irrigation systems.

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


March 26, 2012




This past weekend we observed our first budbreak of 2012! Budbreak is when the buds finally burst open and the young shoots start to emerge.

Budbreak marks the start of the growing season in the vineyard, and so it also signifies the unofficial beginning of Spring.

While February was relatively warm, March has largely been cool and wet. As a result, budbreak has been slightly delayed. The first block to go through budbreak this year is our Grenache in the Bobcat Run vineyard. This is typical, as Grenache is a relatively ‘early’ variety, meaning that it tends to do everything, budbreak, flower, ripen, etc., a little bit ahead of our other varieties.

As you can see, when the shoots first emerge they tend to have a slightly pinkish-yellow color.

After a day or two, the yellow color is replaced by green. The shoots are still very compact right now, but soon they will begin to grow rapidly. This will be especially true this year because of all the water in the soil.

We’re starting to see hints of budbreak on other parts of the property, be sure to check back to see what’s happening later this week!

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

Flail mowing

March 23, 2012




Budbreak is right around the corner for most of our blocks here on the property, so we’re taking advantage of a break in the weather to go ahead and start flail mowing our cover crops. It’s a good idea to get flail mowing done before budbreak if you can, because taking a tractor down the vineyard rows when the shoots are very small can cause ‘tractor blight’, which is to say that the tractor can knock the young shoots off the vine if you’re not careful. We would have liked to start this process a little bit earlier in the month, but the recent rains left our vineyard rows too soft to get the tractor through without it getting bogged down.

Flail mowing a cover crop is not entirely dissimilar from mowing a lawn. The first step is to secure the mowing attachment to the back of the tractor.

If you look carefully, you can see where the tractors' hydraulics link into this attachment, allowing us to lower it to whatever height we want, and shift it from side to side as needed.

The flail mower gets it’s name from the blades it uses to cut vegetation.

These blades are set on hinges that let them swing as the axle they are attached to rotates. This allows them to 'flail', or gather more speed as they approach the vegetation to make a more effective cut.

There are several reasons to flail mow a cover crop. One is to reduce competition for the vines; during the early stages of shoot growth we like to make sure that there is nothing (like the roots of the cover crop)┬árestricting the vines’ access to water. This is especially important in organic vineyards like ours, in which the vines tend to have very loose, spread-out networks of roots. Another reason for flail mowing is to provide nutrients for the vines; as the mowed cover crops decompose they will slowly release nutrients into the root zone of the vines that will help them to grow more healthily. This form of fertilization of the soil is one of the reasons that organic vines tend to have such spread-out networks of roots, the nutrients are not concentrated at the base of the vine (as they tend to be when commercial fertilizers are applied) and so the roots have to quest outward from the plant to find what they need.

As you can see, the flail mower makes short work of the cover crops. The pulverized vegetation left behind is called 'green manure'.

Flail mowing pretty drastically changes the appearance of the vineyard.

Here is a picture of Montana Vista taken yesterday.

Here is a picture taken today from the same spot. As you can see, the volume of vegetation is much less after it has been mowed.

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


March 19, 2012




Today is the big day, we’re bottling our 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (made from our Estate grown organic fruit), our 2010 Monte Rosso Zinfandel, and our 2010 Monte Rosso Petite Sirah (this is actually the first varietal Petite Sirah we’ve ever made here). The mobile line rolled in and set up on Friday morning to be ready to start first thing today.

It was still raining pretty steadily on Friday, and we were worried it would still be raining during bottling. Since the cases have to be moved from inside the winery out to the truck, this could have presented a problem (cardboard does not like water). Fortunately the weather dried up for just in time for us and we were able to get our bottling done without a snag.

Getting ready for bottling also involved our staging all of the dry goods. Dry goods include everything that goes into the package that isn’t the wine itself; in our case that would be bottles, labels, corks, and capsules. A lot of our dry goods are used in more than one product (for instance, the 2010 Monte Rosso Zinfandel and Petite Sirah both use the same corks), and a lot of them are unique to individual products (like labels, obviously you couldn’t put a Zinfandel label on a Petite Sirah bottle, even though the corks are the same). Even for a small, artisanal winery like us, things can get confusing. It is therefore crucial to keep the dry goods extremely well organized.

These pallets are separated out by product, if a box of corks or labels is destined for one particular wine, it is marked and then set on the pallet that will be set outside when that wine is bottled. Getting the dry goods mixed up would be a very costly mistake.

Once everything was in place, we went ahead and set the bottling line running.

Bottling is hard work. The wine is slowly pumped into the filler inside the truck from the bottling tank. Empty glass is loaded in the back of the truck, and a conveyor carries it to the filler, which in turn fills it with wine. The bottles then pass through the corker, the capsuler, and the labeler before being brought back to the rear of the truck where they are repacked into cases which are then loaded onto pallets by hand.

It’s a lot of work getting ready to bottle, but once you get started it’s generally over in a pretty big hurry. Bottling is a potentially risky activity because once the wine is in the bottle you can’t really correct any mistakes you make. Fortunately everything went fine today. It’s a relief to have these fantastic wines safely in the bottle!

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




Here at Amapola Creek, we have historically focused our efforts on classic Bordeaux and Rhone red varieties. However, when we found we had a chance to get our hands on some Russian River Chardonnay from grower Joseph Belli in 2010, we knew we had an opportunity not to be missed.

This wine is stunning, and we only produced 210 cases of it. Be sure to check it out before it’s all gone!

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

Gearing up for bottling

March 13, 2012




Next week we are going to have our Spring bottling run. We will be bottling our 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, our 2010 Monte Rosso Zinfandel, and our 2010 Petite Sirah.

Outside of the day of harvest, bottling is probably the single most critical day in the life of a wine. No matter how much effort you put in to making the wines, it can all end up being for nothing if they are not put down to bottle properly. You only get one chance, and you have to get it right.

Right now we are consolidating our bottling supplies. Over the last few weeks we have been receiving things like corks and capsules. Yesterday, we received our glass.

The glass is the bulkiest of our bottling supplies. The road leading to the winery is very narrow, so we had to have this delivery split into two trailers that we guided separately up the hill. Storing the glass inside the winery prior to bottling is always a little tricky, because once we start bottling we will have to be able to reach the glass to bring it out to the bottling line, but still have enough room to bring the finished pallets of bottled wine back inside to age.

The other thing we’re taking care of right now is to get the blends out of barrel and into their final bottling tanks.

We pumped out the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon blend a couple of months ago to open up some seasoned barrels for the 2011. During that time we kept it in topped up containers, but now that bottling is approaching we will blend it into two of our stainless steel tanks.

Bottling takes a lot of work to do it right. Be sure to check back to see how our preparations are going!

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




Today we were able to finish planting all of the Grenache benchgrafts in the China Bowl vineyard.

The Grenache is going to extend from the bottom of this picture to just past the point where the slope starts to rise up in the distance. As you can see, the mustard in our cover crop is doing very well in this section, thanks to the warm weather coupled with intermittent rain we've recently experienced. At the moment it looks like the weather is starting to wake the vines up, we will probably see budbreak within the next two weeks.

Once the buds on our vines start to grow, there will be one more step to take with our newly planted benchgrafts.

The benchgraft is buried under the small pile of soil in this picture. After budbreak we will push the soil away, and then slide the cardboard carton down over the benchgraft to protect the young vine from small herbivores like rabbits and voles.

It will still be a few years before these vines are ready to produce fruit, making fine wine is a game of waiting!

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

Planting benchgrafts

March 5, 2012




As you may recall, we are converting a portion of the Cabernet Sauvignon that we have planted in the China Bowl vineyard over to Grenache, which we will use in the Cuvee Alis. The majority of the vines will be converted via a process known as t-budding, where Grenache buds will be spliced into the Cabernet Sauvignon vines.

In some cases, however, the Cabernet Sauvignon vines are missing, and so there’s nothing to splice into. Missing vines, or ‘skips’, usually result from either gopher damage to the vines’ roots, or sometimes a large rock directly under the vine that disrupts the normal growth of its’ root system.

Skips are not uncommon in most vineyards. Each of the white cartons you see in the picture above represents a missing vine in China Bowl.

When a vine is missing, we replace it with something called a ‘benchgraft’. A benchgraft is two small specialized sections of grapevine that have been spliced together.

These are some of the benchgrafts we picked up this morning. The bottom section that the roots are growing out of is called the 'rootstock'. The upper section (past the bluish wax) is the scion, this is the part of the bechgraft that is Grenache. The rootstock has a special resistance to certain soil pests that would kill the scion if it were planted directly in the ground. There are a number of rootstocks to choose from, each of which have different properties that will help the scion thrive under different environments. In this case, we have chosen a rootstock called 101-14 that is low vigor, meaning that it will not let the Grenache portion of the vine get too big.

Planting the benchgrafts is simple, we dig a hole in the spot that a vine is missing, and we place the benchgraft in it. You have to be careful to bury only the rootstock portion of the benchgraft below the soil surface, so that the scion will not put out roots. The scion then gets covered up with dirt to protect it from the elements until dormancy is over. Once budbreak hits (probably sometime soon), the pile of dirt covering the scion will be shoveled away.

If the ground is dry, this can be back-breaking labor. Fortunately it has rained recently and the digging is going smoothly.

On some vineyard sites it’s a good idea to wait until later in the growing season to put in benchgrafts out of fear of a late frost, but our vineyards are situated high enough off the valley floor that frost is not a major threat. We are going ahead and putting our benchgrafts in early to make sure that the young vines have as much time as possible to grow before going dormant next winter.

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