Berry Sampling

August 29, 2012

Once crop level is adjusted, it’s a good idea to start monitoring the grapes to see how far away they are from being ripe. This allows us to project (approximately) how long we have until they are ready to be picked, which in turn allows us to begin planning for the upcoming harvest.

Today we went out into the Montana Vista block of Cabernet Sauvignon and took a couple of quick berry samples. From experience we know that the grapes at the top of the hill are probably going to ripen first, so we restricted our sample to this area. As always, we were careful to randomize our sample, pulling berries from different positions on the clusters, and from clusters in different positions within the canopy.

Fruit from the North-facing side of the row gets the more intense afternoon sun, so we’ve left more vegetation on this side to protect it from being sunburned. This fruit is likely to be lower in sugar and higher in acid than fruit from a sunnier location within the canopy. The same is true of berries that are on the backs of clusters and rarely see direct sunlight.

In contrast, the fruit from the South-facing side is more exposed to the sun, and so the fruit tends to be a little bit more ripe.

For now this fruit is generally sweeter and has better flavor, although these differences will diminish greatly as the block approaches ripeness.

We were pretty sure that it would be some time before we picked this block, so we didn’t take a huge sample, just a few hundred berries to get an idea how things are progressing.

We took two different samples from this block, one from the basaltic section and one from the rhyolitic section. The fruit tastes a little less ripe in the basaltic section, where the vines are more vigorous and the crop load heavier. You can really see a big difference from berry to berry, some taste great and others still taste quite sour. We can tell that we are still at least a month away from picking this section, during which time the flavor of the grapes will mature into what we need to make a first rate wine.

This is the time of year that we get a little obsessive over what is happening in the field. It’s just the kind of focus that you need to get the kind of grapes that produce excellent wines!

Amapola Creek is Richard Arrowoods’ latest winemaking project, to visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.



More Cluster Thinning

August 24, 2012

We’ve just finished up adjusting the crop level in Montana Vista. As you may recall, we started in the more vigorous Eastern half of the vineyard, which has a deep basaltic soil. Once that was done we moved on to the Western section, which has a thinner, rockier rhyolitic soil. The rhyolitic half of Montana Vista is actually a fairly complicated  piece of vineyard, with vastly different levels of vigor and crop load in different parts of the block.

The vines at the top of the hill are moderately vigorous. This section is actually slightly flat, and so the soil here is not as fully drained as a little further down the hill. You can see on the ground that we decided to drop around three clusters per vine in this area.

The amount of fruit to drop always depends on the individual vine. A little further down the hill, where the slope is steep and the soil is much thinner, nature has done the job of adjusting the crop for us.

These vines are very low vigor, so there was no need to drop any fruit.

At the bottom of the hill, the soil actually gets fairly deep where the vineyard abuts the road. The soil in this section is actually pretty similar to the basaltic soil in the Eastern half of the vineyard, and so the vines here are really quite vigorous.

As you can see, we had to drop more fruit in this area to bring the vines into balance.

We’re starting to move fast to keep up with what the weather is bringing us, be sure to check back and see what we’re up to!

Amapola Creek is Richard Arrowoods’ latest winemaking project, to visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.




This wine sure has garnered a lot of attention! Here’s what Rich Mauro of The Gazette had to say about it;

“2009 Amapola Creek Sonoma Valley Monte Rosso Vineyard Viñas Antiguas ($42). After 15 years at Chateau St. Jean and 25 years at his own Arrowood Winery, Richard Arrowood, with his wife, Alis, established a vineyard on the western side of the Mayacamas Mountains and began producing estate wines under the Amapola Creek label. This wine shows the pedigree of its mountain source and 118-year-old vines. It is dense, with oak touches, mineral and spice notes, sleek texture and noticeable but soft tannins.”

Thank you for the kind words Rich! Click here to read the full article.

Amapola Creek is Richard Arrowoods’ latest winemaking project, to visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.


Berry Sampling

August 21, 2012

We took another trip out to the Russian River Valley this week to see how the Belli Chardonnay was progressing. As you may be aware, the current weather, with daytime temperatures in the 90’s and nighttime temperatures in the 50’s, is highly conducive to ripening. The Rued clone block at the Belli ranch is cropped very lightly, and it’s placed on a steep hillside with very well-drained soil, and so what we’re finding is that this block is developing very rapidly indeed.

As you can see, some of the vines in the Rued block at the Belli ranch have very little fruit on them, sometimes only 3 or 4 small clusters. This results in grapes that are extremely intensely flavored.

To figure out exactly how far along a block of grapes is, we use ‘berry sampling’. This technique is pretty much exactly what it sounds like; we walk through the vineyard and pick individual berries to form a composite sample that represents the block as a whole. Doing this well can actually be a little bit tricky. Berries need to be picked from random spots throughout the canopy, or you run the risk of skewing your results.

For instance, grapes that are tucked away inside the canopy (like on the right-hand side of this picture) receive less sunlight and are likely to be less ripe. More exposed clusters (like in the center of this picture) are likely to be more ripe. You have to make sure you pick a mixture of both exposed and hidden berries to get an accurate cross-section of the whole vineyard, or else risk picking at the wrong time.

After todays’ sample (assuming the weather holds), it looks like we’re about two weeks out from picking the first few tons of Belli Chardonnay. Predicting exact pick dates is a little dodgy, but these grapes are gaining sugar so quickly that it would be very surprising if the pick came very long after labor day. Be sure to check back to see what we’re up to next!

Amapola Creek is Richard Arrowoods’ latest winemaking project, to visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.

Cluster Thinning!

August 17, 2012

Veraison is pretty much finished in the basaltic section of the Montana Vista block, which as you may remember is a block of Cabernet Sauvignon near the top of the property. Once veraison is over, it becomes possible for us to start trying to figure out exactly how much fruit we can get from a given area when we eventually harvest it. This is called ‘estimating yield’, and once it’s been done it becomes possible for us to start adjusting crop load to maximize the quality of our grapes and, by extension, our wine.

What we found this week is that Montana Vista is cropped a little heavily for our purposes. This is actually not surprising, because this block (especially the basaltic section, with its’ deep, clay-rich soil) is pretty vigorous. When a vine has too much crop on it, the grapes tend to lack the concentration of flavor that leads to an excellent bottle of wine. To correct the situation, we cut the extra clusters loose and leave behind the amount of fruit that is appropriate for the size of the vine.

This is a common sight in years that the vines bear heavily. Excess fruit is dropped in the vine row, where it will eventually be incorporated back into the soil.

Deciding which clusters to remove takes a fair amount of specialized knowledge about how the canopy of the grapevine impacts the maturation of high-quality winegrapes.

There are a number of factors that go into deciding which grapes will stay and which will leave. One is how well a given cluster is exposed to light. A cluster that is tucked up in the middle of the canopy receives less light, and will generally be more likely to have unappealing vegetal characters than clusters out towards the edges.

Another factor is how much a given cluster crowds its’ neighbors, clusters that are too close together have a tendency to shade each other and restrict airflow through the fruiting zone, which can result in delayed maturation and increased risk of disease.

As you can see in comparing this picture with the one just above, we chose to remove the cluster that was tucked in between the other two, both because it was somewhat shaded and it blocked the airflow around its’ neighbors.

In the end, we are trying to create a vine where each cluster is able hang freely in the sun and air, and that has the right number of clusters on it. It’s important not to remove too many, because a vine that has too little fruit on it will develop distinct flavors bell pepper, asparagus, and other vegetables that you would not want to smell in a Cabernet Sauvignon.

This is what we would like the vines in this block to look like, the clusters evenly spaced and the whole plant carrying about six pounds of fruit.

Things are picking up, and we have a lot more great information to share about how we do what we do! Be sure to check back soon!

Amapola Creek is Richard Arrowoods’ latest winemaking project, to visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.






Today we headed over to the Russian River Valley to check out our Chardonnay, which comes from the Belli Ranch,

The Belli ranch is located at the Northern end of the Russian River Valley, where the valley floor starts to lift up into foothills. The excellent drainage and southeastern facing slope make for tiny berries that are very intense in flavor.

It’s still pretty early in the season, but we’re already seeing some maturity in the Rued clone, which is planted in blocks 3 and 5, along the left hand side of the picture above.

You can tell these grapes are starting to mature visually by their slight yellow color and slight translucence. Rued clone is a Musque selection of Chardonnay, meaning that it has a slight flavor of Muscat, which is slightly tropical in nature. This character is faint right now, but it is definitely beginning to show and will increase in intensity as we approach harvest.

The rest of the Chardonnay is further behind in terms of ripeness. The other blocks are older, and the vines are more established. They carry more fruit, and so are ripening more slowly than the Rued blocks.

This is clone 76, a Dijon selection that provides a very classic Chardonnay profile of pear, citrus, and minerality. This cluster is visibly underripe, you can tell by its’ dark green color. The fruit is starting to sweeten, but harvest for this block is still some way off.

We are currently looking at some very hot weather in Sonoma (mid 90’s through the weekend at least!), so we’re expecting to see ripeneing progress rapidly. Over the next few weeks, we’re expecting our posts to become more and more frequent as there becomes more and more action to cover, be sure to stay caught up!

Amapola Creek is Richard Arrowoods’ latest winemaking project, to visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.


Veraison in the Grenache

August 9, 2012

Read the rest of this entry »

Veraison continues

August 2, 2012




This time of year we tend to be a little light on work to do in the vineyard, letting us save up our energy for the coming harvest. Veraison is still progressing rapidly, at the rate it’s going certain spots may be done turning color by next week,

When a berry changes color, it means that the seeds inside have finished maturing, and the plant is (hypothetically) ready to have an animal eat the fruit. Of course, for our purposes, this step only signifies the beginning of the process.

Veraison is a particularly beautiful time in the vineyard, watching for purple berries is a bit like watching popcorn pop!

It usually starts off with one or two berries on a cluster turning color, followed several days later by the rest suddenly following suit.

Things are moving fast, if the weather holds, it will be harvest before you know it!

Amapola Creek is Richard Arrowoods’ latest winemaking project, to visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.