Tag Archives: 2014 Harvest

2014 Harvest Wrap-Up

We went up to the Russian River and Dry Creek Valley area in late October to see the kids and grandkids, and check on the 2014 harvest. That weekend was the end of harvest for Winemaker B, and he was taking a few days off. We went to Armida anyway, to show my cousin the winery and taste some of the wines. It was a beautiful day, as you can see from the photos below. We also went to Arista, as we were invited by Kim, wife of Winemaker B and manager of Arista’s “A-List”, to their pick-up party. While we weren’t picking up any pre-purchased wine, we did come away with a few bottles of the 2012 Arista Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Two Birds Vineyard, which was our favorite from the day.

Here are the key points from the harvest:

Start early, end early. Harvest started early this year, as previously mentioned in our Harvest Update post. It’s not surprising then that harvest ended early too. From the winemaker’s perspective harvest starts when the first grapes come in, and ends when the last tank is emptied, and the wine moved to barrels. From the winemaker’s wife’s perspective, harvest starts when the first grapes come in, and ends when the winemaker gets his first day off. In between, the “harvest widow” gets to deal with the winemaker leaving the house by 6am and getting home around 8pm (if lucky), for about 9 weeks in the case of Winemaker B and family.

The drought had minimal effect. A lot of the vineyards are “dry-farmed”, not irrigated, and those handled the drought just fine, with a slight decrease in quantity. Irrigated vineyards also had a slight decrease in quantity, as water cutbacks were required in most areas. However, quantities were going to be down a bit no matter what, as the 2012 and 2013 harvests were near record volumes.

The grapes/juice/wine are tasting excellent. Throughout the process, from harvesting the grapes to the initial juice to the initial post-fermentation wine, everything is tasting great. We’ll see how things taste in a few months, when the first whites like Sauvignon Blanc will be bottled, but right now Winemaker B reports that everything is going great. He is in the medium high maintenance mode on the wines, not quite working on every wine every day, but the wines don’t go unattended for long. Those wines that are getting a malolactic (ML) secondary fermentation are starting that process, some doing it on their own and some with help and tight control from the winemaker. The ML fermentation on these wines, which takes a lot longer than the primary fermentation, should be done by about the same time as those first wines (which don’t go through ML) are bottled, so early next year is the next major checkpoint for the 2014 wines.

As to where the 2014 vintage will sit compared with recent vintages, it’s too early to say. We’re still not sure about the 2012 and 2013 vintages, although they seem so far to be quite good. In the Russian River and Dry Creek Valleys, probably the best recent vintage was 2009, with 2007 close behind.

Since we were up there seeing kids and grandkids, we brought up a couple of bottles to share with the family. We opened up a Windy Oaks Estate 2001 Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains, Proprietor’s Reserve, Schultze Family Vineyards, and a Failla 2009 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Keefer Vineyard. The Failla justified the general feeling that 2009 was an outstanding vintage in the Russian River area. The Windy Oaks was our second to last bottle of that wine. We have opened bottles for family and friends, and even for business associates. (There was one interesting dinner with an associate from France, who I didn’t realize was a Burgundy aficionado and had a 1,000+ bottle cellar. He thought the Windy Oaks would stand up nicely to some of his best Burgundies.) This has been a great wine every time we’ve opened a bottle, and this one did not disappoint. Beautiful.



Armida Harvest 2014 – I Worked The Sorting Table

A week ago Saturday, Armida Winery’s co-owner, Bruce Cousins, leaned over the sorting table and said to me “You’re getting some real winemaker excitement from these Petite Sirah grapes, aren’t you?”

I was drafted into helping at Armida’s harvest that day, since they had an intern out for a wedding or some such lame excuse. And the sorting table is where it starts when the grapes come in from the vineyard, and it’s an all hands on deck operation. Since I’m the same height as Winemaker B (Brandon Lapides), and was wearing a similar color shirt, Bruce thought he was making the comment to Brandon. (By the way, I’ve paraphrased liberally from Bruce’s actual words, which are best left to the crush pad.)

Winemaker B and Father working the Armida sorting table.

Winemaker B and Father working the Armida sorting table.

The grapes are picked and put into half-ton bins. Each bin is picked up by a forklift, and tilted over the sorting table. Grapes start coming through, and we’re supposed to pick out the clusters that have mold on them. The good clusters then go into the destemmer, with grape juice and skins dropping from there into an auger pump to go through hoses to the tank. Then the winemaking starts.

That Saturday was a big day for Armida, their single largest day for grapes. Around 18 tons were harvested, some of it Zinfandel from Maple Vineyards (Armida received 90+ scores on its Maple Vineyards Zin for both the 2011 and 2012 vintages), and the rest being the Zinfandel and aforementioned beautiful Petite Sirah from the Armida estate vineyards. This estate Zin and Petite Sirah were processed together, as they become the Il Campo field blend that Armida puts out. If I had kept track of the number of bins of each varietal I could probably estimate the relative percentage of one versus the other, however, after nearly 5 hours on my feet at the sorting table it was all I could do to stumble back to my car.

(I’m not asking for sympathy, rather, I’m in awe of Winemaker B and crew, who had been at the winery for at least 6 hours before I showed up, and had another 2+ hours of clean up after I left. I knew, in an academic sort of way, that winemaking was hard work, and harvest means about 9 weeks without a day off, with days running as long as 15 hours, but actually working there made it real. Winemaking really is hard work!)

(As another aside, while 18 tons is the largest day for Armida, of course larger wineries can handle much more with more automated equipment and more people. When Winemaker B was supervising the graveyard shift at Montana Vineyards in New Zealand, his top shift was over 90 tons of Sauvignon Blanc.)

From a quality and quantity perspective, it looks like a good harvest for Armida. The drought did not have too much effect on quantities, as many of the vineyards they source for grapes dry-farm the vines, including Maple Vineyards. The vines there are old enough, more than 75 years, that the roots have certainly found ground water by now. For the other vineyards, while water usage has been cut, there was still enough to get good growth for the vines. Some growers were extra careful about pruning off the second growth clusters (clusters that start growing typically 2-4 weeks after the main clusters, and therefore won’t ripen in time anyway) to make sure the primary clusters got their needed water. The weather has been good for the growing season, consistently warm days and cool nights, without spikes in either direction. So at this point, 2014 is looking pretty darn good.