Tag Archives: Armida Winery

Armida Harvest 2016

Maple Vineyards, Maggie's Block, Zinfandel grapes

Maple Vineyards, Maggie’s Block, Zinfandel grapes

Now that I’m living up in the wine country, it seems appropriate that I spend some time helping our older son – Brandon, aka Winemaker B – with harvest. So last week found me spending a few hours sorting grapes at Armida Winery. They received that day about 8 tons of grapes from the “Maggie’s Block” of Maple Vineyards. Maple is one of the oldest Zinfandel vineyards in Dry Creek Valley, with the original blocks, such as Tina’s Block, going back 85 years or so. Armida typically makes both a Tina’s Block Zinfandel and a generic Maple Vineyards Zinfandel, provided the yield from Tina’s Block gives enough juice and the quality is high.

When we’re sorting the grapes, we’re removing bunches with any mold on them, but otherwise letting most grapes through, even some that have gone a bit raisiny. From the sorting table, the grapes are moved mechanically into the de-stemmer, and from there are pumped into a tank. The grape skins will break during this process, and yield most of their juice. Initial fermentation then takes place in the tank, with juice and skins together, for around 10-14 days. At that time the skins are pressed to get out the rest of the juice/wine, and the liquid is moved from the tank into barrels to complete the fermentation and initial aging process.

I’ve helped with sorting once or twice before, but it had been a few years, and I’d forgotten that this is real work. Fun though, to be part of the process this year.

Armida Winery tasting room.

Armida Winery tasting room.

Some quick harvest notes:

Winemaker B says that the quantity and quality of grapes that they’ve gotten in so far is pretty normal; looks like a good year. Although he did comment that the Maggie’s Block grapes that we sorted looked the best he’s ever seen. Also, sugar levels have been more consistent than usual in the Zinfandel, which should lead to some really nice wines.

I smelled the tanks for the Tina’s Block Zinfandel, and the Armida Il Campo (their estate grown field blend of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah). The Il Campo, as always, smelled big and bold, like a classic Dry Creek Valley Zin blend. The Tina’s Block smelled completely different. It already has some complexity in the nose, some subtleties, that bode well for a beautiful Zinfandel with many layers, needing some years to age and get to its full potential. We’ll see how these turn out in 12 months or so.

L’Chaim,

Larry

First Day of Harvest 2015

First day of kindergarten; first day of harvest 2015

First day of kindergarten; first day of harvest 2015

I don’t think Winemaker B (Brandon Lapides) will soon forget the first day of harvest this year. In one of those interesting coincidences, the first day of harvest for Armida Winery (Pinto Gris brought in) was also the first day of kindergarten for his first-born, Winemaker-in-Waiting Elliana. Wednesday August 19th was a big day for everyone in the family.

Winemaker-in-Waiting Elliana

Winemaker-in-Waiting Elliana

Winemaker B and WiW Elli were out in the vineyards yesterday morning checking sugar levels. The first Zinfandel was supposed to come in today; likely Sauvignon Blanc later in the week.

Winemaker B is cautiously optimistic about harvest this year. Yes, harvest is early, but the growing season started early, so the grapes got the right amount of hang time. Couple that with no sustained heat spikes, and the grape quality should be good this year. Balancing that is a reduced yield, due primarily to the drought. Still trying to figure out how much the drop in volume will be. So cautious optimism for now, but we’ll check in with him in September to see how the harvest is shaping up.

L’Chaim,

Larry

The Business of Blends

The business of wine is interesting and unique in many ways, but in other ways the same as any other business in that the basic questions need to be answered: What is the product mix? Who are the target customers? What value is being provided?

On the product mix side, many wineries choose to make not only high end single vineyard wines, but also blends. These blends allow winemakers and wineries to place with different parameters: different vineyards, different varietals, different vintages, different price points. For example, many wineries make lower price blends, meant to be consumed immediately and made primarily for cash flow reasons. Not that these are low quality wines, just that they are lower priced wines, made for lower cost with less winemaker effort. Lori and I often buy these as our every day table wines. Peachy Canyon Incredible Red (a blend of primarily Zinfandel from multiple vineyards) is a good example of this, running about $10-12 per bottle.

Soquel Vineyards 2003 Trinity

Soquel Vineyards 2003 Trinity

Another example of a winery making lower priced wines is Soquel Vineyards. For years they have made their Trinity wines, initially just the red but recently a white blend also. About 10 years ago, after tasting it at the winery, we picked up half a case of the 2003 Trinity, which that year was a Bordeaux varietal blend. We had a bottle not too long after purchasing, and enjoyed it then, and again not too long after that. Both times we remarked how this was a really nice wine, well balanced, and might actually age well. So we didn’t open another bottle for another couple of years, and sure enough, that one was pretty good too.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, and we opened bottle number 5. Darn good bottle, especially with the steak we put on the barbeque. But about at its end; it’s not going to get any better with any more time. So number 6 will be opened soon. Soquel Vineyards has long been one of our favorite wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains area. Very good wine from top to bottom, and very nice people. And in this case, they got lucky with blending some grapes with better than expected quality. The result was a great wine, or at least a great value wine.

Sokol Blosser:  Evolution White label

Sokol Blosser: Evolution White label

We had another example of a lower priced blend at a restaurant last night: the Sokol Blosser “Evolution” white blend. Evolution White is a blend of Pinot Gris, Müller-Thurgau, White Riesling, Semillon, Muscat Canelli, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Sylvaner grapes. So, is this just a blend of leftovers, or is it done deliberately? Sokol Blosser won’t say, but they play up this aspect with “Luck versus Intention” on the label. My best guess is that it’s a little of both intention and leftovers. In any case, this was a nice white to go with the blackened fish tacos I had, and the grilled shrimp salad that Lori had.

Armida Poizin, the wine to die for

Armida Poizin, the wine to die for

Another blend strategy is executed by Armida Winery. They have taken their blend and made it into a real brand: Poizin. There is not just one Poizin, but three different blends, at three different price points and quality levels. There’s the lower end Poizin, available through various retail chains. There’s the mid-range Poizin, at about a $20 price point. Finally there’s the Poizin Reserve, packaged in a coffin-shaped box. “Poizin, the wine to die for.” I just had a glass of the mid-range 2012 Poizin to wash down my chopped liver sandwich. Delicious! Plus, they’ve expanded the brand to include “Antidote”, a white blend.

Blends are an interesting topic, given the breadth of blends. From high end Bordeaux style blends to mid-range Rhone style “GSM” blends to the lower priced wines discussed above, from field blends of different varietals from one vineyard to carefully mixing and matching vineyards and varietal clones, to even more variations on the parameters, there’s a lot that can be done with blends. I’ll spend more time on blends in upcoming posts.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Top 100 Wines and Restaurants; Christmas and Kinky Boots

I don’t usually pay too much attention to serious top 10 or top 100 lists, especially for wine and food. However, the lists that I do look forward to each year are those from the San Francisco Chronicle. I’ve found over the years that my tastes are usually pretty well in line with these critics; it’s pretty rare that I’ve had a sub-par experience going off one of these lists.

On Christmas we were invited to a friend’s house to join their family and friends celebration, and we brought a bottle of Winemaker B’s Armida 2012 Chardonnay, Stuhlmuller Vineyard, Alexander Valley. I had last tasted this in the barrel nearly 2 years ago, and had been waiting to taste this from the bottle, since another winery’s Chardonnay – same vineyard, same year – had made this year’s Chronicle top 100 wine list. Well, I haven’t tried that Chardonnay, but I can tell you that the Armida Chardonnay was delicious. And the Christmas party was great fun, with some great food. And wine.

The next day Lori and I went into San Francisco to see a matinee showing of the musical Kinky Boots. We love live theater, we had enjoyed the movie when it first came out 8 or so years ago, and the musical (by Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper) had won multiple Tony awards. It was a lot of fun, with the audience even clapping along to a couple of the songs.

Afterwards we wandered around wasting time before our dinner reservation, and found a wine bar and shop, Arlequin, where we could sit outside and have a glass. Lori had a Sangiovese blend from Tuscany (La Mozza, Morellino de Scansano, 2012), while I had a Melon de Bourgogne (Luneau-Papin, Loire 2012). When I think of white wine from the Loire region, I’m thinking of Sauvignon Blanc, but this is not anything like that. Melon de Bourgogne is the grape varietal used to make Muscadet wines. (Interesting side note: Muscadet is the only wine made in France that is neither called by its region nor by its grape varietal.) I found it to be closer to white Rhone wines, like Viognier, than to Sauvignon Blanc, but with a less floral nose and more acid. Quite nice actually. Lori seemed to enjoy her wine as well, which was a blend of 85% Sangiovese with Syrah and Alicante, with a few percent of others thrown in. Very much a Sangiovese to be sipped while sitting on the sidewalk and watching the world go by.

For dinner we had reservations at Lers Ros, a Chronicle top 100 restaurant that does Thai food. Wow. We like Thai food, and there are a few good restaurants in our area. But nothing like this. The soup, the prawns and asparagus, the green papaya salad took this cuisine to a new level for us.

L’Chaim,

Larry

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.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Thanksgiving 2014 – Family, Friends, Food, Merlot

I love Thanksgiving. But really, how could anyone not love Thanksgiving? 4-day weekend, non-religious and non-political holiday, family, friends, food and, of course, wine. Did I mention family? Anything cuter than 21 month old Zinnia helping her Bubie put the final glaze on the turkey?

Zinnia helping her Bubie with the final glaze on the Thanksgiving turkey.

Zinnia helping her Bubie with the final glaze on the Thanksgiving turkey.

Thanksgiving dinner is always interesting from a wine perspective because a) you can’t go wrong, b) you have guests over that appreciate the wine you’re going to serve, and c) you get to serve more than one bottle, allowing some fun wine comparisons. As Lori starts planning the food menu for Thanksgiving, I’m taking a trip into the wine cellar and planning the wine menu for appetizers, the main meal and dessert. I’ve gone in a variety of different directions for the main course in the past: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, even Zinfandel. That’s one of the things about the Thanksgiving meal and wine pairing: with the wide variety of flavors on the table, it’s hard to go wrong. (I will admit that I’ve never had Cabernet Sauvignon with Thanksgiving; not sure that Cab would work. A little bit too big of a wine.)

This year I went into the cellar and the Merlots jumped out at me. Merlots rarely jump out at me for any dinner, and I don’t have a huge selection, but there they were, begging for their opportunity to join the holiday party. OK, why not give it a try? Merlots can be very nice wines, with great flavor and balance and great with a meal. And not quite as big a wine as Cab, usually. I added to the Merlots a bottle of sparkling wine to start, plus some whites, and then some dessert wines.

Thanksgiving wine lineup included sparkling, whites, Merlots and dessert wines.

Thanksgiving wine lineup included sparkling, whites, Merlots and dessert wines.

The final lineup was

Bodkin Wines (non-vintage) Blanc de Sauvignon Blanc, Cuvée Januariis, Sandy Bend Vineyard, Lake County

Armida Winery 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River Valley

Armida Winery 2012 Chardonnay, Durrell Vineyard, Sonoma Coast

Mitchell Katz Winery 2011 Merlot, Falling Star Vineyard, Livermore Valley

Deerfield Ranch Winery 2008 Merlot, Sonoma County

Meeker Vineyard 2004 Merlot, Sonoma County

Eagle Ridge Vineyard 2005 Mad Lyn (Souzao grapes), Carter Vineyard, Livermore Valley

Peller Estates, 2010 Cabernet Franc Icewine, Niagara Peninsula

Yes, we did decant all three Merlots. Nice decanters on the table to go with the beautiful dinner, plus it helped the wine. My personal favorite was the 2004 Meeker Merlot, but everyone had their own favorite.

Clockwise from upper left:  pumpkin-chocolate brownie cooling on the stove, maple syrup glaze, sweet potatoes, another sauce, two different components of the gravy.

Clockwise from upper left: pumpkin-chocolate brownie cooling on the stove, maple syrup glaze, sweet potatoes, another sauce, two different components of the gravy.

Thanksgiving dinner had everything (the full 6-burners on the stove were in use, as were both ovens), and we’re still recovering from all that we ate. We hope you had a great Thanksgiving dinner too!

L’Chaim,

Larry

When Should You Open That Bottle?

One of the biggest questions with wine is How long to let the wine age? There are some rules of thumb, or maybe they’re more in the realm of urban legend. Such as drinking whites right away, and letting most red wines age for a couple of years, and letting Cabernet Sauvignon age for at least 10 years.

What happens when wine ages? From a technical perspective, a bit of oxygen sneaks in through the cork, and then CHEMISTRY happens. From a taste perspective, this can have the effect of softening some of the bolder, fruit flavors that are more typical of a younger wine. In the best cases, when this really works, softening the big fruit flavors allows more subtlety, more complexity to express itself in the wine. In other cases, that complexity is not there to begin with, and and when the fruit flavors soften the wine just tastes a bit flat. And even with the wines that will age, there does come a point when it’s aged too much, and the wine loses its balance between fruit, acid, aroma etc.

Also, to be clear, there are a lot of wines, probably the majority of wines made, that are meant to be consumed within the first couple of years after harvest and bottling. Moreover, screw cap closures are helping wines maintain that fresh, fruity, just-bottled taste by not letting any oxygen into the bottle, so chemistry is not happening with those bottles.

For those wines that you’re thinking about buying and aging, the advice from the wine industry is to buy a case and drink a bottle every so often – every year, or two years, or whatever seems to make sense – so that you can understand how the wine is aging and make sure to drink as much of the case as possible as near to the peak of the wine as possible. Well, that simply isn’t practical for most of us, including Lori and I. The cost, and the storage capacity, just aren’t reasonable.

My first rule of thumb is never buy wine to age from a winery that I’m not familiar with. You could view this as a chicken and egg problem: how to figure out if their wine ages well if you can’t buy a bottle? Typically wineries make a variety of wines, and not all of them are meant to age. If you like the style of the winery/winemaker, go ahead and take a chance on some wine to lay down for a few years. Second, taste the wine you’re interested in investing in. If you don’t like it now, it’s unlikely to taste that much better to you to justify your investment.

As to when to open a bottle, if you can buy more than one, you could get some idea of how it’s aging as you go. However, if you’re making an investment in this wine, the thing to do is to open it for either a special occasion, or with friends and family that will appreciate the wine. Hopefully those two conditions have significant overlap. We’ve had that happen recently, and have opened some older bottles. Here are some tasting notes:

Peachy Canyon 2004 Old School House Zinfandel in the decanter.

Peachy Canyon 2004 Old School House Zinfandel in the decanter.

2004 Peachy Canyon Zinfandel, Old School House Vineyard, Paso Robles: One thing that happens with older wines is that they can collect sediment; various things coming together and crystallizing in the wine. More oxygen also helps the wine. And decanters make serving the wine more elegant. So decant your older wines. As far as Zinfandel not aging well, it’s a good rule of thumb, as most Zins aren’t built to age well. This one was built that way, and was delicious at the 10 year point. Probably doesn’t have much longer to age. But excellent a few weeks ago.

2004 Soquel Vineyards Zinfandel, Schmierer Vineyard, California: The winery is in the Santa Cruz Mountains, but these grapes are from a vineyard in Lodi, and this vineyard is more than 100 years old. Normally I wouldn’t expect a Lodi Zin to age well – Lodi Zins can be great when young – but in the hands of a really good winemaker, this wine has done just as well as the Peachy Canyon Zin.

2001 Archery Summit Winery Pinot Noir, Archery Summit Estate Cuvée, Oregon: Good Pinot Noir, like good French Burgandy, does age well. This bottle was a bit over the hill; not bad, but not what we hoped for.

2004 Goldeneye Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley: Very nice bottle of wine, with still a lot of fruit flavor up front. Will at least hold on for another few years at this level, and maybe get a bit better.

2010 Armida Winery Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River Valley: Sauvignon Blanc is usually built to drink now. However, some of the best Sauvignon Blanc – French white Bordeaux, or wines from the Loire region – will age nicely. This wine started its life as an excellent Sauvignon Blanc, with big fruit flavors, crisp texture from good acids, great nose. We’ve opened a couple of bottles in the last few months, and it’s even better now. The big fruit has been toned down, the balance of the wine is better, and the real quality of the grapes is coming through. I wouldn’t recommend aging most Sauvignon Blanc, and really this was not done purposefully on our part (too many other Sauv Blancs to drink kept these from being opened), but what a great accident!

L’Chaim,

Larry

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.

L’Chaim,

Larry