In The Vineyard

We spend a lot of time looking at weather forecasts and some years it gives peace of mind and some years it puts a knot in your stomach. Most years you get a little of both. Whether it is February or September, the year’s weather conditions are going to directly influence the wines we produce. We are big believers in celebrating these slight variations that the weather brings us each year. The vineyard is still king when it comes to defining the characteristics of a wine but vintage variation is often times subtle but sometimes major influence on the final wines we produce.

The past four years have been a study in contrasts. 2009 was as close to picture perfect as we might hope for with a dry winter, mild spring, warm but not-too-hot summer, and a nice cool fall with no rains or frost to force picking decisions. This year, 2012, we returned to that scenario. 2010 and 2011, however, were both years farmers are glad to have behind them. Late spring rains got things off to a late start and persistent fog kept things moving at a snails pace which had growers in the vineyard often managing canopy (leaf cover) and crop load to try and pull the grapes towards the finish line in good shape. Early rains in each of these seasons had wine makers working with late-ripening varieties biting their nails. We’re extremely lucky to work with growers who know how to react quickly and who will spend the effort to stay ahead of potential threats. We are also fortunate that Pinot noir and Gewürztraminer both ripen early in the fall harvest season which, nine times out of ten, helps us dodge those early rains.

So how does this actually influence our wines? Because we’re complete nerds at heart, our back labels list many of these weather related variables. The data is all about the wine but you can see the affect the weather has by simply comparing one wine’s info to another, thus giving you a snapshot of what our growing season was all about.

The two back labels below compare the 2009 and 2011 Perli Vineyard Pinot noir. Perli sits high in the coastal range between Anderson Valley and the Pacific Ocean. The appellation is Mendocino Ridge. Because Perli sits above the fog line is was spared some of the cold conditions we saw on the valley floor in the Russian River which had harvest a full 20 days later in 2011 compared to 2009. You can see by looking at the budbreak dates shown below that the grapes got off to a late start in 2011 and the cool conditions lengthened the hang time for the fruit. We picked Perli over a week later than the warm 2009 vintage.

2009 Perli Vineyard Pinot noir back labelThese slight shifts in start and harvest dates aren’t drastic but the rest of the data on the label shows how warm and cool years affect the wine composition. Warm years tend to give us grapes that reach physiological ripeness at slightly higher sugar levels and slightly lower acid levels, which you can see by comparing TA (total acid in the wine) and alcohol levels. Higher sugar content in the grapes translates directly to higher alcohol levels. BUT, how does the wine actually taste?

2011 Perli Vineyard Pinot noir back labelIt’s been a lot of fun to have 2009 and 2010 Pinot open in the tasting room to compare wines from the same vineyard side by side from such dramatically different growing seasons. With the 2010 wines grown in a very cool season they reached ripeness with lower sugar levels and higher acidity. This gave us wines that are bright and lively on the palate showing cranberry and strawberry aromas and flavors. These are elegant wines with a clarity that impresses with nuance rather than brawn. The 2009 wines, seeing a lot more sun, gained a depth that comes off on the palate as more robust and rich. They are just now starting to take on some secondary characteristics from their bottle aging that, especially in our Russian River Valley wines, is showing deep earthy aromas to compliment the riper dark cherry flavors. 2009 was truly a benchmark year for California Pinot noir lovers who revel in the multi-layered velvety wines a warm season brings. And for those of you who yearn for clarity, brightness and a lighter style, 2010/2011 should bring you many great wines that should age extremely well. Find the wines you like and stock up.

I hope you get a chance to compare these vintages with our wines, or your favorite winery’s wines, to experience for yourself how seasons influence what ends up in the bottle.






Drumroll please …

by Serena on September 5, 2012

Since 2008 we have focused on Pinot noir from the Russian River Valley, Mendocino Ridge, and the Anderson Valley.  We love making Pinot noir and it will forever be the grape that is front and center for Cartograph.  What you may not know, is one of the first grapes I started working with was Sangiovese.  Under Alan’s tutelage at Crushpad in San Francisco, in fall of 2008 I had the pleasure of making one barrel of Sangiovese with fruit from the Stolpman Vineyard in Santa Barbara County.  So, imagine my delight when Alan asked me to go look at the Upton Vineyard in Redwood Valley – it’s a sangiovese vineyard!

So, Cartograph Circle members will have the exclusive access to a very small production of Sangiovese in 2014.  It’s really fun to be able to come back to where I started and see what I have learned.   – Serena



New Pinot noir sources!

by Serena on August 28, 2012

Having worked with the same two Pinot vineyards in the Russian River Valley and Mendocino Ridge for four years now, we’ve branched out and added new vineyards and appellations to our world of Pinot.  It is with pleasure that we introduce two new Pinot noir vineyards: Roma’s Vineyard in Anderson Valley and a soon to be named vineyard in the Russian River Valley.


Roma’s Vineyard is a sustainably farmed vineyard located on the north east rim of Anderson Valley  above Booneville.  It sits at 1900 feet in elevation.  Because it is a cooler location, the grapes begin ripening much later than in the Russian River Valley which subsequently means it ends up being the last vineyard we pick during the harvest season.  And, even when the grapes do ripen, there are other predators we are competing with to harvest the grapes …. bears.  Yes, you read that correctly. Hungry bears spotted the ripening grapes last year and picked off multiple rows leaving naked canes as they exited the vineyard.  Cross your fingers that the grapes ripen this year before the bears find them.


The vineyard that is currently nameless (although there are several choices being bandied about and the decision on the name is coming soon) is located in the north end of the Russian River Valley on Westside road.  This vineyard is a dream vineyard for a winemaker specializes in small lots of Pinot (AKA Alan Baker) because there are 6 different pinot noir clones on the property!  The clones are: 1A, 2A, 667, 777, Pommard, 115.  The root stock is very low vigor which means less yield per grape vine.  We’re thrilled at the opportunity to get this fruit and also excited to be once again working with our great friend Warren Burton who is looking after the grapes.

– Serena

Images from the new RRV vineyard:


I had to share a few pictures that I grabbed while looking at the grapes at Floodgate the other day. The Pinot is through veraison (when the berries turn from green to purple) and The Gewurztraminer is almost there. In the Gewurz pictures you can see a few berries that are starting to take on a golden hue. These berries are already tasting quite sweet so I’m wondering if the Gewurz will be the first fruit in this year???? The crew has been through the vineyard and dropped any green clusters that were not going to catch up with the rest of the crop so things are quite uniform throughout the vineyard. You can see what they dropped in one photo and there were some sections of the vineyard that actually set enough fruit that we thinned it out a bit to separate clusters and balance the fruit load.

Cheers, Alan


Budbreak in the Floodgate Vineyard 2011

by Alan on April 6, 2011

Budbreak comes to the Floodgate Vineyard

Spring is an amazing time to be in the vineyards of the Russian River Valley, especially Floodgate where we get the majority of our Pinot noir for Cartograph wines. As the days get warmer and longer you see and hear all sorts of birds migrating north. Even though you can’t see any visible growth on the vines, you know change is in the air, and soon we’ll see the first shoots emerge. Vigilance is required to protect the vines from frost and mildew as conditions are volatile but there is nothing like watching those first buds swell and release the leaves and potential clusters that have been waiting all winter to burst forth.

I’ll let the images speak for themselves but this was a particularly interesting year. The vineyard went from flooded, with the vines completely under water, to budbreak in a single week. The span between flood pictures and full-on shoots with leaves is seven days!



2010, What a Year in the Vineyard!

by Alan on November 12, 2010

Perli Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge AVA

Perli Vineyard, September 2010

Now that all the 2010 Cartograph wines are safely tucked away in barrel for the winter, we can take a moment to reflect on a season that held many surprises.

We had abundant rainfall in the winter of 2009/2010 and a cold spring which gave us quite a late start. And considering the cool foggy conditions that persisted into the summer months, it almost felt like summer wasn’t going to happen at all. To combat the cool wet conditions many growers had to pull most of the leaves from the fruit zone to keep the fruit free of mildew. This set up a perfect storm for some vines as the first real heat came very fast and the temperature went from 51 to 109 degrees in a single day and some fruit was quickly burned to raisins. There were a few more 100+ degree days to contend with after that, so the task of getting quality fruit meant that we had to drop a depressingly large amount of fruit that had sunburn. In our Pinot and Gewürz vines it hurt all the more because half the cluster was raisined and the other half was pristine beautiful berries. But, we knew we couldn’t pull them all apart on the sorting table so to the ground they went.

As a winemaker I was really excited by the cool summer because the cool conditions had the grapes maturing very slowly. This meant the grapes had ripe flavors at low sugar levels. We picked most of our Pinot around 22.5 Brix. In a typical year grapes at this sugar level would still have green seeds and very high acids. It was a wild ride as we dodged heat spikes and threat of rain to get the fruit in but the many passes in the vineyard paid off with beautiful grapes going into the tank. All the Pinot noir came through fermentation with alcohol levels under 14%. For every winemaker who ever said they wished they could get fruit in with good flavor at reasonable sugar levels, this was the year it was possible. We’re ecstatic.

It seems pretty nerdy to be excited about a stainless steel fermentation tank but this year we added a temperature-controlled tank specifically to ferment our small 1.5 ton lot of Gewürztraminer. It was a cold, slow, fermentation that really has the aromas popping out of the glass right now. These aromas will moderate before bottling to better match the dry mineral-driven complexity of the wine. We’re really excited by the Gewürz again this year.

We’re going into winter very grateful to have such great growers to work with who provided awesome fruit in a year that took creativity and a LOT of work to deliver such killer grapes.

Here’s to a nice mellow winter.

Cheers, Alan


Vinwood processes more grapes in a day than we’d pick in 115 years!

October 21, 2010

OK, the headline is a bit inflammatory but after visiting a Cabernet pick for Leslie Sisneros’ Ispiri wines on Pine Mountain yesterday, we drove by the Kendall Jackson Vinwood facility near Geyserville and saw the long line of trucks with loaded valley bins waiting to check through the sugar shack and unload on the crushpad. […]

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8 tons of fruit from vine to winery

September 21, 2010

In the span of 72 hours, we did three separate grape picks which yielded 8 tons of Russian River Valley grapes (6 tons of Pinot noir and 2 tons of Gewürztraminer) which kicked our harvest season into high gear.  This year we had several friends of Cartograph join us which made it really fun (thanks […]

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Harvest 2010 kicks off with Floodgate Pinot Noir

September 16, 2010

With a huge sigh of relief and a massive amount of pent up energy we hit the vineyard this morning and pulled in the first Pinot Noir of 2010. The fruit was from Floodgate Vineyard in the Russian River Valley. Several friends helped us work ahead of the picking crew to drop heat damaged fruit […]

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The Summer that wasn’t suddenly was

September 10, 2010

This has been a year that seemed to never warm up…. Until a few weeks ago when it hit 109 deg F with little warning. And this was in the Russian River Valley where temps rarely come close to that. For many growers it has been a year they are already willing to wipe out […]

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