Cabernet Sauvignon is here!

September 28, 2012

We’ve finally started crushing our flagship Cabernet Sauvignon, and we are looking at a real bumper crop this year! Not only is there a lot of fruit coming in, but it is of a quality that doesn’t come around very often. The flavors present in this this fruit are simply outstanding, we are very, very proud to be able to make wine out of these beautiful grapes.

All of our Cabernet Sauvignon is grown organically here on the property, and it is planted to a variety of Entav clones. Entav clones are known for their tiny berries and deeply concentrated flavors and tannins. This cluster is typical, small berries that are loosely packed, which allows for the penetration of sunlight and air into the cluster to aid the ripening process.

We started off this week by bringing in the very ripest spots, which were on the steepest hillsides of the China Bowl vineyard.

The weather has been so perfect of late that all the steepest sections in China Bowl managed to ripen their fruit at the same time. The areas that we brought in first are the areas that showed the most promise earlier in the year in terms of developing quality, they tended to be more stressed, lower yielding vines and so they were the first to achieve maturity.

The maturity of the grapes we are bringing in is literally visible, if you look at the stems you can see that have begun to ‘lignify’, or turn into wood, giving them a brown color.

Lignification is a sign that the vine has cut off the flow of sap to the fruit. To us, it means that the fruit has developed to its’ peak and is ready to come in.

We crushed the China Bowl Cabernet into two tanks, each from a physically distinct part of the block. We will keep these two wines separate so that we can see what each part of the vineyard brings to the final blend.

Once we were done with the ripest sections of China Bowl, we moved on to Montana Vista at the top of the property. It’s rare for us, but this year we were actually able to harvest the entire block at one time and keep it separate from everything else in it’s own tank. Again, this will allow us to see directly what this block brings to the final product.

We always wait to start processing the fruit until all of it has arrived at the winery and we know that our tank choices are correct. Once it’s all in, however, we work as fast as we can to get it processed and into the tanks to keep it from getting too warm. 

These are very exciting times for us, this is clearly going to be an exceptional vintage and we cannot wait to see how the wines turn out. Please come back again soon and see how it’s going!

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

 

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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.

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.

 

July 20, 2012

This week we have reached an important milestone for the vintage; veraison.

Veraison is a French term that translates (roughly) to ‘color change’. It is the point at which the young, green berries begin to soften and change color, it marks the beginning of the ripening process and reminds us that harvest is not that far away.

Almost all of the veraison we’re seeing so far is from the Montana Vista block of Cabernet Sauvignon. The number of purple berries to be found on the property at present is still relatively small, but it is growing quickly every day. This is actually a little earlier in the year than we would normally see veraison. The weather this season has been near ideal for the vines, warm enough to stimulate growth but not so hot that the vines become stressed. It’s still too soon to predict an early harvest, but this weather makes us optimistic that, early or not, the wine from this vintage will be fantastic!

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

As we’ve mentioned in a few previous posts, our Montana Vista block of Cabernet Sauvignon is quite vigorous, meaning that the vines are prone to growing very rapidly. More specifically, it is the Eastern half of Montana Vista that is highly vigorous, which is the half that has what is called red basaltic soil.

This red soil is characteristic of certain sections of the Mayacamas mountain range. Monte Rosso vineyards, our neighbor to the East and South, is named after this soil (Monte Rosso means Red Mountain).

This basaltic soil has a high proportion of clay in it, which means that it retains water instead of letting it drain away like a rockier, sandier soil would. More water means more vigor and, ultimately, a larger canopy.  We’ve been watering Montana Vista at the same rate as the rest of the property for the last few weeks, because keeping the vines well hydrated helps to improve set (it keeps the flowers from shattering and improves our yield of fruit). Now that set is past, we are cutting the amount of water to this block by about half to help keep the size of the vines under control.

This means that we are going to have to watch this block very closely for signs of water stress, especially if it starts to get very hot out. If you’re not careful it’s possible to damage the fruit, or even kill the vine, during sudden hot spells. This level of attention would be hard to give in a much larger vineyard, fortunately we are small enough that this kind of focus is possible.

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

More lateral pulling

June 28, 2012

 

 

 

As you may recall from earlier this week, we are currently in the process of pulling laterals off of our vines. Laterals are secondary shoots that sprout from this years new shoots, instead of from the woody sections of the vine. Left unchecked, laterals can make the canopy enormous, which creates grapes that taste vegetal and lack depth of flavor.

Yesterday we finished Montana Vista at the top of the property. That site is vigorous, so we usually start there. After finishing Montana Vista, we moved into the Foxtrot block further down the hill.

So far we’ve gotten about half of this block of Cabernet Sauvignon finished, we will likely complete the rest today.

This process takes a fair amount of expertise and a lot of time to do correctly. The workers have to carefully select out only the lateral shoots for removal, taking out a fruit-bearing shoot by accident would mean losing crop and upsetting the overall balance of the canopy. Every cut has to be deliberate and well thought out, the crew has to know what they are doing or the resulting quality of the grapes and wine could be adversely effected.

This is just another example of how much effort it takes to produce excellent wines!

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

Pulling laterals

June 25, 2012

 

 

 

Now that we’re done cane positioning, we are transitioning over to pulling ‘laterals’. A lateral is a shoot that is growing out of a new bud on one of this years new shoots.

This is a lateral shoot, note how it has sprouted from a green shoot, as opposed to a dormant bud on one of the woody parts of the plant.

Grapevines like to grow. A lot. From the vines’ point of view, the best thing it can do is get as large as possible. Since we removed a number of shoots from the vines earlier this year, they are now trying to compensate by pushing laterals.

Montana Vista, the block of Cabernet Sauvignon near the top of the property, has several sections which are quite vigorous (the vines grow quickly), so the effect of lateral growth is most obvious there.

This is what the canopy looks like once the laterals start to grow out. Note how large and bushy the vines appear; in this state the canopy would provide too much shade for the fruit and the airflow around the fruit would be restricted, both of which favor the growth of mildew and would later interfere with ripening.

Once the laterals are removed, the vines start to look much as they did just after cane positioning, with the shoots trained more or less vertically, instead of growing out horizontally into the row.

This kind of hand-work in the vineyards is pretty much non-stop this time of year, the vines will continue to grow and we will continue to trim them back into the shape that will produce the highest quality wine. You can get an idea of how much the vines are growing by looking at how much vegetation has been discarded in the row. All of that is lateral shoots that have grown in the last couple of weeks.

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

Bloom!

May 21, 2012

 

 

 

 

Our vines have started to flower!

This is a cluster of Cabernet Sauvignon from China Bowl that has started to flower. Grape flowers don’t really have petals. Instead they have a ‘cap’ of green tissue that covers the male reproductive organs of the flower (stamens). When the cap falls off, the stamens pop out, giving the flowering grape cluster its’ fuzzy appearance.

This is a very crucial moment in the vintage. The flowers are extremely delicate at this stage, almost anything could damage them or knock them off of the cluster, reducing the yield at harvest. Rain, for instance, could have a major effect during flowering because the impact of raindrops is enough to knock most of the flowers to the ground.

Fortunately, the weather is clear and dry right now, and should remain so for the foreseeable future. In fact, the conditions at the moment are ideal, it is clear and sunny, but not overly hot. The vines are very active, but not particularly stressed.

Bloom is moving very quickly in certain spots. China Bowl, near the foot of the property, is close to 15% through bloom, as is Montana Vista, near the top of the property. There is a little bit of bloom in the Grenache, and everything else is still waiting to go. Be sure to check back to see how it’s going!

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

More Rain

April 10, 2012

 

 

 

It’s raining in Sonoma Valley, which means our vineyard operations will be put on hold again for a few days. Fortunately, China Bowl was dry enough yesterday that we were able to get about three quarters of it mowed.

Mowing here, at a high point in the vineyard, was easy because drainage made the soil drier. We left the softest areas at the bottom of the hill for last, since they are most likely to bog down the tractor. We will come back to them when the soil dries out again, and in the meantime keep ourselves busy weed-eating the parts of the block that have been mowed.

Before the rains came, we also found that the Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the Southwest corner of the Montana Vista block have started pushing shoots (this is the next step following close on the heels of budbreak).

Due to the rain, we are planning to spray this area with a very light dusting of sulfur and copper oxide, to prevent mildew from taking hold.

 

We also noticed that discing made the rocky composition of this section of Montana Vista much more obvious.

All these rocks make for better soil drainage, which in turn makes for smaller vines. Smaller vines tend to break bud and push shoots a little earlier, so this is why this section of the vineyard is a little further along than the rest.

Even though it delays our vineyard work a little, we are very happy to see more rain. This is turning out to be a late year, but it could easily catch up with more warm weather, having a lot of water available to the vines will help with that process, letting the vines grow quickly as we move from Spring towards Summer.

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