As you may remember, we are converting some of our Cabernet Sauvignon vines over to Grenache this year. The T-budding process is very close at hand, so we are putting the vines through their final stages of preparation.

This vine has been topped, meaning we cut the 'crown', or upper part of the vine off (you can see it laying on the ground), and stripping the outer layer of bark away from what's left of the trunk. We are planning to splice the Grenache buds in just a few inches down from the cut. If you look carefully, you can see that the loss of the crown of the vine is causing latent buds to push further down the trunk.

It also looks like our Grenache benchgrafts are doing well, all of them are pushing shoots and setting out fully formed leaves.

The cardboard carton around this benchgraft is there to protect the young vine from rodents like voles and rabbits. Once the cover crop has been cleared, unprotected young vines like these become an easy target for small herbivores.

The growing season is really starting to take off, be sure to follow it along with us!

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





The warm weather is drying things out, but the Eastern half of China Bowl is still a little too wet to mow.

Water drains from the soil more efficiently on the slopes, which is why they were dry enough to mow. As you can see, the rain has done wonders for the remaining cover crop.

All of that water in the East end of China Bowl may be slowing down our efforts to flail mow, but it is actually a very good thing. All of that soil moisture has encouraged our Grenache benchgrafts to go through budbreak!

It's a little hard to make out in this photo, but the little round piece of vegetation in the very center of the frame is actually a tiny grapevine shoot poking up through the soil.

This is exciting because it proves that our planting efforts late last Winter were successful. Now that the benchgrafts have started to go through budbreak, we will have to take some special precautions to make sure they grow properly. Be sure to check back tomorrow to see what it is we do!

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

Warm weather!

April 16, 2012




The sun has been shining for the last few days, and we are seeing a significant warming trend (it got over 70 F today), so the vines are catching up in a hurry!

A week ago there was barely any movement in the China Bowl Cabernet Sauvignon, and now just about every bud has broken. All this sunlight, coupled with rising temperatures, signals to the vines that it is time to start growing.

The Grenache in Bobcat Run was already through budbreak before the sun even broke through, and now it is really starting to take off.

As you can see, the Grenache is already putting out fully formed leaves. From this point on, we are expecting the shoots to grow very quickly.

We are looking at temperatures in the low 80’s later this week. This sunnier, warmer weather is exactly what we need after all of the rain. The soil moisture will be high, so the vines are going to have no problem establishing canopies for the Fall. This is a somewhat late year so far, because the early Spring was so cold. Happily, we are still far enough away from harvest that catching up shouldn’t be a problem, especially with weather like this!

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

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.




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.




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.

More pruning

January 26, 2012




Now that things have dried out a little bit, we’ve been able to move back into the vineyard to keep pruning. This morning we moved into the Cabernet Sauvignon in the China Bowl block.

You may recall from a previous post that we train our vines according to the Guyot system. Pruning the vine back to two canes is the first step with Guyot, and today we started in on the second step, which is bending the canes downward and fixing them to the lower trellis wires.

Look along each cane and you will see little bumps, or 'buds'. In the spring, each bud will release a shoot that we will train upwards over the upper trellis wires above.

Usually we would wait until all of the pruning was done and then go tie down all the canes in a single pass. However, this morning it started misting a little bit, which can make safely handling the pruning shears difficult, so the vineyard crew switched over to tying down until the weather cleared up again. Soon all of the Cabernet will be done, and it will be time to start collecting Grenache budwood for the T-budding project!

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





Today we are putting our 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon down to barrel. We ended up with three different lots of Cab this year, each of which is going to contribute some volume to the final blend.

This has been a very unusual year, the timing of harvest coupled with the volumes of fruit we received meant that we had to organize the lots of Cabs in a slightly different way than usual. Generally we try to keep the wines from every vineyard block separate before going to barrel to maximize our flexibility at blending later on. This year, in order to keep topped tanks, it worked out that we had to do a little bit of blending beforehand. For instance, we found it convenient to crush the Petit Verdot directly to tank with the Cabernet, while in previous years we have kept it separate until the final blending. The result is three distinctive lots of Cabernet Sauvignon that, taken together, make a gorgeous example of what our estate vineyards have to offer.

Since this year was very cool, the wines are slightly more delicate than usual, so we’ve decided to pull back just a little on the American oak in our barrel profile for the Cab, from about 20% American oak to about 15%. American oak adds strong flavors of vanilla and butterscotch, so a lighter handed approach will better suit the elegant profile of our 2011 Cab.

The largest lot, 12 barrels that will likely form the base of the final blend, is a mixture of China Bowl, Montana Vista, and approximately 8% Petit Verdot. The second lot, 7 barrels of pure Cab, is comprised mostly of the Foxtrot block with a little bit of China Bowl blended in. The third lot, also 7 barrels, is a mixture of China Bowl, Montana Vista, and close to 20% Petit Verdot from Bobcat Run.

It’s hard to know exactly what these wines will taste like when we pump them out to prep them for bottling two years from now, so we will refrain from any further blending until then.

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

Preparation for T-budding

January 5, 2012




Deciding what kind of vines to plant  in a vineyard is a complicated task. You won’t get any fruit off of the vines for a minimum of three years, and they may not reach their full production until as many as seven years after planting. Trends in wine consumption can vary wildly from year to year so it is possible that, by the time the vines you have planted begin to bear fruit, the demand for those grapes may be much lower or higher than you had originally expected.

Fortunately, a vineyard is not necessarily locked into the variety it was originally planted to. Through a process known as ‘T-budding’, you can actually transform a grapevine, causing it to produce a different variety of grape than it was originally planted to.

Here at Amapola Creek, demand for our Cuvee Alis (a blend of Syrah and Grenache) has actually started to outstrip our supply. This, of course, is the right side of the coin to be on.

In order to keep up with the demand for Cuvee Alis, we are planning to T-bud some of the Cabernet Sauvignon vines from the China Bowl vineyard over to Grenache and Mouvedre (Mouvedre is another red variety that is commonly blended with Syrah and Grenache). It will take a few years for these vines to start producing at their full capacity, but once they do they should almost double the amount of Cuvee Alis we are able to make.

This is one of the Cabernet Sauvignon vines that we are going to bud over. Now that we are well into winter, all of the leaves are gone and the vine is completely dormant.

T-budding involves grafting new tissue onto the old grapevine. This  will happen in late Spring, once the vines are growing vigorously. This is so that the grafts will be able to bind quickly to the vine and begin to grow right away, before any fungi or bacteria are able to infect the site of the graft.

This time of year, we are getting ready for T-budding by pruning the vines in a special way that will allow them to grow very vigorously in the Spring.

Here is a vine that has just been pruned in expectation of T-budding. Note how each of the canes left is fairly long, maybe eight inches to a foot. Normal winter pruning would leave each one only a few inches long, which would reduce the potential size of the plant during the growing season and keep it appropriately balanced to produce fruit of the quality we want. In the case of the vines we are going to T-bud, we actually want the plant to get very large so that it will be as strong as possible and the grafts will have an easy time taking hold.

It was something of a tough call to decide that we were going to graft over some of our Cabernet Sauvignon vines, because in our opinion the wine they were producing was really lovely. The Cuvee Alis, however, is unique to us, and so we ultimately decided that it was worth a small sacrifice to the Cab program to keep such an interesting wine in supply.

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