August 2010

Send the Sizzle for Shizzle!

by Alan on August 24, 2010

Hotter than...

That’s right, it’s 106 deg f in Healdsburg right now. Considering it’s August 24th, this should be sending us all screaming for the valleys trying to steal someones crew to get grapes picked. However, there is nobody flailing about. Why? Well, you’ve perhaps heard the endless litany of how cold it is in CA wine country this year. Thanks to the SLOW season the grapes are nowhere near ripe, and this heat spell can’t possibly push us over the edge, sugar-wise.

I was in six vineyards today looking at progress and monitoring for heat stress etc. The amazing thing is that because of the cool weather that we’ve had, the vines were showing almost no signs of heat stress. Several vineyards were getting a good drink to help them shake off the heat but even those vines which hadn’t seen a drop from irrigation yet this year were solid as a rock.

Considering we’re dipping back down to a stretch of normal, to cool, temps in the next few days, it’s a good thing this heat spell is going to whack the vines a bit. Many vineyards were still pushing canopy growth which in a dry warm year would have stopped long ago.

One of our primary vineyards, Floodgate, is just about 100% through veraison so we’re starting the countdown to harvest. Sugar sampling will begin next week for all Cartograph vineyards. Today I saw a few guys who are notorious early pickers already out sampling vineyards that still had green grapes showing. Maybe they know something, or maybe they can’t ignore the calendar and have never seen such a late season? Better safe than sorry, I guess.

I’ll be out later this week with a camera in tow.



We wrapped up the ’09 Cartograph vintage by bottling the ’09 Pinot Noir on Thursday 8/19. It is amazing to look back on everything that has happened over the past year and to be at this point.  One year ago we were scrambling to get all of our licensing in place to crush under the new Cartograph label after moving operations to Healdsburg in June ’09. Nothing was for certain as we prayed for cool weather to delay harvest so our 02 Winegrower License would come through before the grapes hit the winery. Everything fell into place and looking ahead to harvest 2010, things are much more calm.

Watching the million moving parts of the bottling line gently gobble up empty glass and spit out full cases felt great knowing that the year we bumped up production (a whopping 320 cases of Pinot Noir) will go into the history books as one of the best Pinot years ever in California.

This past Thursday we bottled the Floodgate Vineyard and Perli Vineyard Pinot Noir. Both are vineyards we are working with again this harvest.

Floodgate 2009 Pinot Front LabelThe mobile bottling line is housed in a semi truck, which pulls up along the side of the winery.  Using various hoses, the wine moves via gravity flow from the second level stainless steel bottling tank down to the first level where the bottling line is.  The fill drum on the line gets filled with wine and the line kicks into action.  Boxes of bottles are opened and put on the line and the bottles begin their conveyor ride into the heart of the bottling beast.  The conveyor gently moves them to be sparged with Nitrogen gas then on to the filler, corker, foil applicator, and finally off to the labeling portion on the other side of the truck.  Once labeled, the bottles are assessed by hand for  “prettiness” and then placed in a box where they rocket down a conveyor into the waiting hands of the crew.  The crew stamps the boxes with the date and our bonded winery number then moves them over to the pallets where they are stacked and prepared for storage.

Floodgate 2009 Pinot Noir Back LabelWe used the same mobile bottling line to do the 2009 Floodgate Gewürztraminer back in February, and again, they did a stellar job.  They can bottle about 270 cases per hour!   We were thrilled to have seven pallets (320 cases total) of Pinot Noir!  The wine will now adjust to being in bottle and when it is ready, we’ll release it for everyone to enjoy.

Many thanks to all the people who helped make the final ’09 Cartograph bottling a great success!

-Alan & Serena


On the Seventh Day – Scooter Ride

by Alan on August 15, 2010

Serena and I took off for a scooter ride this afternoon just to prove to ourselves that it is indeed Sunday. You have to make a little time to play. We stopped in at a couple places that are on the east side of 101 near HBG. It’s an area I don’t get to very often simply due to traffic patterns, I guess.

Mutt Lynch was our first stop. I’d seen their cute labels around but always shy away from critter labels… Dogs are critters, right? After a charming tasting, I’d say they deliver bang for the buck. Solid wines that won’t break the bank. We walked off with a couple bottles of the un-oaked chard at $14. If you are a dog person, this is a great stop. As a cat person, even I got a kick out of their latest dog toy (goes out with wine club shipments) the iBone. I’m lame and didn’t get a picture. Seeing an iphone themed squeak toy was a first for me, however.

Merriam was our second stop. This is a fairly new facility and the estate vineyards are young. They also buy fruit from RRV and DCV. We liked their all stainless Chardonnay but also they had Merlot that was very restrained and supple. I don’t buy a lot of Merlot but probably for different reasons than most folks. I don’t want it to be big and jammy. You don’t often see Merlot from the Russian River Valley but I’d say that these wines make a good case for Merlot grown in slightly cooler climate. The Windacre 01 and 05 were both quite tasty and I could see them as a nice accompaniment to many meals so we snagged some bottles of Merlot along with their all steel Chard.

Considering we just jumped on the scoot for  short ride through the vineyards, I’d say we did pretty well.

Cheers, Alan

If you are interested in visiting these vineyards the links are below:

Mutt Lynch

Merriam Vineyards

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How do you say thank you to the people who helped you launch a new winery? You pour them copious amounts of wine, that’s how.

We had a great time pouring at the Chowgirls Gallery ( in Minneapolis last week.  Many friends who had seen me leave Minnesota in 2005 to commence my winemaking journey came to say hello and taste the inaugural vintage of Cartograph wines.  Serena and I also had the pleasure of meeting numerous Twin Cities restaurant folks, industry insiders, and friends of friends. (And the people from the neighborhood who happened to wander in and ask interesting questions.)
It was a great night and I can’t say thank you enough to those who came and all of you who helped make Cartograph possible with your tremendous support.
Chowgirls (Heidi  Andermack and Amy Brown) prepared fantastic treats to pair with our wines.

Here’s the menu:

2009 Floodgate Vineyard Dry Gewürztraminer with:

  • Crab cakes done in a Japanese style with wasabi aioli and pickled ginger
  • Vegetarian samosas served with chutney and raita

2008 Split Rock Vineyard Pinot Noir with:

  • Rumaki – bacon wrapped water chestnuts and dates coated in a tangy barbeque chili sauce
  • Wild mushroom and leek eggrolls served with a sambal-leek aioli

2008 Two Pisces Vineyard Pinot Noir with:

  • Bison meatballs with cilantro yogurt chutney
  • Flat bread pizza topped with brie, leeks, and savory cherry marmalade

And we had crudités with delicious green goddess dip and a fantastic antipasto platter just to make sure people were satiated.  And to top off the evening, delicious little chocolate truffles.

Between the wonderful people, delicious food, and tasty wines, it was an evening filled with laughter, warmth, old friends and new friendships.  We’re looking forward to getting back to the Twin Cities this winter for some winemaker’s dinners and in-store tastings.

Stay tuned for Twin Cities locations where you can find Cartograph.

Here are some shots from that night.



Working with grapes that ripen early in the season can be a tough road at times because you often are walking a tightrope when it comes to harvest time. Warm weather can make you scramble to get a crew together at a moments notice to get the grapes off the vine before the sugar levels rise too far. Pinot noir and Gewürztraminer are both fairly early to ripen and there have been years when even a one day delay could have meant a significantly riper crop.

The cool temperatures we’ve seen this season have the vineyards here in the Russian River Valley roughly two weeks behind average. For Pinot growers, however, things look very good. Pushing harvest to late September is not worrisome since there is plenty of dry weather left at that point. And if patterns hold, this hopefully has our grapes coming to optimal ripeness after the typical late season heat spikes that keep us on the phone lining up picking crews at all hours of the night.

These photos are of the Pinot Noir Clone 777 in block 12 at Floodgate Vineyard. This block provides the majority of the grapes that go into our Floodgate Pinot. Looking across the block the clusters are uniform and the color change is also even across the entire block.