In the Winery

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.






The sorting table

by Serena on September 10, 2012

It is a brilliant piece of equipment.

Whether we are sorting one ton or seven tons, I am always happy to be on this line.  When the fruit drops into the hopper I get excited knowing that shortly I’m going to be looking at each and every cluster that goes into our wine.  The point of the sorting table is to inspect each cluster before the cluster get destemmed .  Usually what this means is that I’m removing grape leaves that fell into the pick bins and grape clusters that don’t meet our standards – maybe they have too many raisins or didn’t ripen evenly.   Because we do an initial sorting of the grapes while we are out in the fields standing on the tractor rail, our grapes come in very clean and we’re just picking out an occasional leaf or cluster. There is something about the rhythm of the table that is exciting and reminds me that soon the grapes that just left the vines will be cold soaking and shortly thereafter fermenting.  It kicks off an incredible period of change for the grapes.  – Serena


“No thanks, I don’t like sweet wines.”

We hear that often when we are pouring our Gewurztraminer, because lots of people have tasted very sweet, cloying Gewurtztraminer.  That is not the type of Gewurztraminer that we enjoy nor is it how Alan makes the Cartograph Gewurztraminer. So, when we see people shying away from tasting our Gewurztraminer, that’s when we know we have a great opportunity to show them something different.

The 2009 Cartograph Gewurtz is, in fact, a “dry” wine.  (geeky side note: A dry wine is a wine that has up to 4 grams per liter of residual sugar (EU regulation 753/2002) and our 2009 Gewurztraminer is well under 1g/liter – literally no perceived sweetness) It has a wonderful floral, perfumed aroma reminiscent of apricot, white peach, and honeysuckle blossom, with underlying mineral and slate aromas.

If you stop there, the wine has fooled you. It is not a perfumey, sweet, honey suckle wine.   On the palate the acidity steps forward in a very crisp manner and balances the flavors of honeydew melon, peach, and sweet citrus. It pairs beautifully with spicy foods because it cuts through the spice and heat bringing a refreshing zest to a meal. My favorite pairing is the Gewurztraminer with Vietnamese or Indian food.  A lovely surprise I discovered while in class at the SF Cheese School was that Munster pairs beautifully with Gewurz!

Several restaurants have put our Gewurztraminer on their wine lists and we’re hearing about all sorts of great pairings from foie gras to spicy meatballs. We also received a great review in the February 2011 Wine Enthusiast (91 points and editor’s choice!) and a really nice write up in Artful Living Magazine. It’s always nice to get a little love back for something into which you’ve put so much of your heart.

So what is happening with the 2010 vintage?

The growing season for 2010 was a funky one as described by Alan previously in his post “2010- what a year in the vineyard.” We had a great time picking the 2010 Gewurtztraminer grapes as we had the pleasure of several friends participating in the process which makes those middle of the night picks a lot of fun. When picking Gewurtz, perhaps the very best thing is when you pop one of those beautiful grapes covered with dew in your mouth and it explodes with all the flavors you later see echoed in the wine. Delicious!

Ice on The Gewurz holding tank

Ice forms on the side of the holding tank pre-bottling

The 2010 vintage had a nice long, slow ferment which preserves those wonderful aromas that Gewurz has and the wine has been quietly aging in steel drums. No oak is used in producing our dry Gewurztraminer. We’ve just transferred the wine to tank (see picture at left) to chill it down to about 26 degrees. This will prompt any tartrate crystals to precipitate out so that we leave them behind before bottling. This keeps the crystals from forming in your bottle as you chill the wine for drinking. We’re excited to get this wine out to you because it is a dead ringer for the awesome 2009 version. We anticipate releasing the 2010 Gewurztraminer in early spring 2011. Stay tuned…

{ 1 comment }

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


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. We swung through the parking lot to get a look at things, and heard that they would be processing 1,100 tons of fruit in a single day.

That’s a lot of fruit. Eleven hundred tons…

At our current production level it would take us over 100 years to process that many grapes. Granted our production level will go up but that number – 1,100 – just blew me away.

Here’s a short video of the line of trucks waiting to get to the crushpad.

Each of those bins holds about five tons of fruit. So those double trailers can bring in 100 tons or more.
The coming rain has everybody picking as fast as they can but facilities are hitting their limit of how much fruit they can process in a single day. And, tank space for fermentation is a precious commodity right now.

I’m feeling very lucky that all of the 2010 Cartograph wines are in barrel. It’s a wild ride out in the valleys right now. Hang in there folks, we’re almost to the finish line.



Pressing and Barreling Down the Pinot Noir

by Serena on October 13, 2010

The last of the 2010 Pinot Noir is going into barrel today!

The grapes were picked the last couple weeks of September and had about a five day cold soak followed by 8-10 days of fermentation.  When the fermentation was over (meaning the Pinot was dry which means no residual sugars as evidenced by a Brix reading of -1.5-ish), the Pinot was allowed to “free run” into a tank.  After the free run was captured, the must was moved to the press where it was gently pressed over a two hour period to get the remaining wine from the must.

With each press cycle there is an increase in pressure which means that as you taste the wine from each cycle, it tends to become sharper and more tannic but you also get a tiny bit of sugar from the berries and mid press run the wine is very soft and supple as a result. It was interesting to notice this year in all Pinot noir lots that the pressed wine was not picking up any green or sharp characters. Our guess is that the very long growing season let us reach optimal maturity so the tannins coming from the seeds were mature and not sharp. During the Pinot pressing, the flavors varied from  soft strawberry to earthy and varied in color from a milky light purple/pink to a dark clear dark purple/red color. Depending on lot size and vineyard we go directly from the press to barrel, or sometimes let the wine settle for 24 hours, and then move to French oak barrels.

The process of going from the tank or press to barrel is called “barreling down.”  We used a combination of new, one year old, and neutral French oak barrels for the Pinot.  It’s really interesting in spring to compare the tastes between the different barrels and see how the wine is influenced by the quantity of oak that each barrel gives off.  Alan chooses this mixed regimen of barrels to get the greatest variety and depth of flavor so that when he blends the barrels together before bottling the wine has greater complexity.

It is immensely satisfying to  get the wines into barrel in such great shape. And this season, more than any we have seen,  was a challenge for growers. We owe a huge debt to Warren Burton at Floodgate and Steve Alden at Perli Vineyard for the many sleepless nights and hard work it took to deliver such wonderful grapes.

Cheers, to them.


Punching Down the Grape Must

October 7, 2010

With our Pinot noir we do one punch down per day while it is cold soaking and then increase it to three times a day while it is fermenting vigorously, and then we back off as the fermentation slowly finishes. A punchdown involves a tool that looks like an oversize potato masher and gently pushing […]

Read the full article →

Racking and Inoculation of the Gewürz…

September 23, 2010

Sounds a little ominous but the Gewürztraminer really did enjoy it.  And how do I know it did?  – by all the bubbling activity in the yeast! The Gewürztraminer grapes were picked early in the morning on Friday Sept. 16 and brought straight from Floodgate Vineyard to the winery where they were pressed over the […]

Read the full article →

2009 Vintage Put to Bed – Pinot is in the Bottle

August 20, 2010

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 […]

Read the full article →

Bottling the First Cartograph Wines

February 14, 2010

February 14, 2010 Bottling is a loud, joyous, flurry of activity. It reflects the culmination of months or even years of work you’ve done on one particular wine. All the decisions about when to pick, how to ferment the grapes, what the aging regimen will be, and so on are all over on this day. […]

Read the full article →