Tag Archives: Armida Winery

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.



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!



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!



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.