Iron Horse Blog
As harvest draws near, the excitement grows and grows; not just with me as the winemaker, but with everyone here at the winery.
Photo: Elieen Vasko
You know harvest is nigh when we have veraison, i.e. when the grapes start taking on the color you see at harvest. Pinot Noir starts off green, then turns purple. Chardonnay starts off green, then turns a pretty, translucent, straw gold.
Photo: David Munksgard
Other early indicators include the Naked Ladies ...
Photo: LG Sterling
... and the onsalught of squash.
Photo: LG Sterling
Here in wine country, vineyards are everywhere. Even if you are not involved in the wine world, it is hard not to feel the anticipation. My neighbor, a senior airline pilot, noticed the changing color of the grapes on his daily commute, prompting him to knock on my door to ask when I thought harvest might begin this year.
On Wednesday (July 26) we did our very first vineyard grape samples. This is when we randomly pick a cluster here and a cluster there, then mash them up in a bucket. The juice is then tested for Brix, or percent sugar. Based on this sample and general observations, I’m holding by my prediction that we’ll start the second (or possibly third) week in August.
All the winter rain along with late spring rain gave our vines a huge gulp of water. The vines reacted by growing more leaves than I’ve ever seen in my career. Too many leaves cause shading of the grapes as well as raising the humidity in the fruit zone - conditions perfect for mildew and bunch rot. I want beautiful, fully mature grapes that are free of those ugly things. The best option is to remove that excess foliage, open up the fruit zone and allow fresh air in. This is done by vine hedging mechanically as well as removing lateral growth and individual leaves by hand. It’s a "bunch" of work, but so worth it. The vineyards are looking really good. The crew has been working very hard; they are my heroes.
Wish us luck!
David Munksgard, Winemaker
Another early harvest. Has it become the “new normal”? Our intrepid winemaker says he’s not complaining. Well, maybe just a little. We asked David to provide a mid-September update on Vintage 2016. His reply came one end of summer morning; full of excitement, fearless curiosity, and a thrill for the fruits of the season that seems to grow richer each year. Before diving into his beautiful composition his quick aside summed it the season perfectly : “The Iron Horse harvest yields such a special feeling; it just gets to me. I wish I could bottle it to truly convey it”. We would argue he does exactly that with each beautiful bottle.
2016 Harvest Update by David Munksgard
There are a few major questions every year during harvest:
My first concern about an early harvest is that the weather might be too warm if we are picking in the heat of full-on summer. A later start affords cooler fall conditions. Second, I fear finding overly-ripe or "sugared-up" grapes. Third, I focus on the readiness of my crew, our equipment, and the cellar. Are the tanks and barrels empty? Do we have all the yeast and bacteria we need? My last question is a more personal one. Am I ready for harvest; am I ready for the most important time of the year? And just like that, thoughts turn to action.
Almost as soon as we started harvesting on August 4th in “Sparkling Pinot Noir Block G,” the fog returned and daytime temperatures became quite pleasant. Tasting the juice fresh off the press gave me my first real taste of the vintage. The muscles in my neck started to relax. The smells, the tastes, the sights of harvest all came rushing at me. Not everyone finds in life what they are meant to do. I have. This is it. Every year at the beginning of harvest I hope to have that confirming moment. If this one block, if this first day was representative of what was to come; then all is good with me. That day I recall glancing at Rigo, my cellarmaster. A confident smile came to his face signaling that he was ready along with the winery.
The pace of harvest for the first week and half was slow, finding blocks ready here and there with occasional days of no harvesting at all. This schedule troubles me. Once the game begins, I want myself and everyone on my team to stay focused. I remind myself that the vineyard crew has worked all year to get us to this moment and it’s imperative that we stay in the harvest mindset. But before I could lament further, this year’s harvest started to fall into a good, steady pace. The weather continued to be on our side as the weeks rolled by. Today, we have one block remaining; no hurry here, waiting for deeper, richer flavors that I expect from our Thomas Road Pinot Noir.
After the harvest of 2015, I asked Laurence and the vineyard crew to open up the canopy more in 2016 in the Hyde Old Wente blocks for our still wine Chardonnay. I wanted the grapes to look a certain way to heighten certain smells and flavors. I wanted them to be light straw in color and more translucent, which would give us more tropical scents and flavors in the wine. My hopes took shape as powerful action as the team mobilized to explore the potential pathway. Those blocks are vigorous and challenging to open up, so we bought a new vine hedger to remove some of the vine growth. We then hand removed leaves to bring the perfect amount of sunlight in direct contact with each cluster for a few hours each morning. A dream became a reality. Teamwork.
More experimentation came when the first grapes arrived. I was so pleased and excited that I changed plans on how we would handle the fruit. Instead of whole cluster pressing, we destemmed into the press where we held them soaking with the skins for three hours. The juice was so incredible. Over the next few days from the same blocks, we extended the skin-soaking from a few hours to overnight. This process extracts even more of those yummy tropical tones. So far, the fermentations are telling me that the plan was a good one.
Overall I’d describe this year as a simply beautiful harvest. Crop size (as I estimated pre-harvest in a previous blog post) is more than last year, less than big years like 2014 and 2013. Standouts? I'm pleased with everything. Every year there is an opportunity that arises and it’s great when a well laid out plan comes together just right.
Last month, we started a recurring blog series of dispatches from our Iron Horse Winemaker David Munksgard who thoughtfully selects his favorite bottles for the special circle of friends and fans in his “Winemaker’s Choice Club”. We’re excited to share his December wine recommendations, perfectly timed as we dance into the holidays. Find out what our winemaker is drinking and thinking as we get a sparkling start to Christmas and New Year celebrations!
The final 2015 Winemakers Selection of the year includes the 2010 Cuvee M (sorry to say we’re now sold out … just another reason to join the club, so you don’t miss out in the future) and the 2012 Estate Pinot Noir.
2010 Cuvee M is made entirely from a single vineyard block called Block M, planted to Stony Hill Clone of Chardonnay. This wine has great meaning to me on a very personal level. In the winter of 1974, I was visiting my father-in-law in Napa. He arranged for a visit to Stony Hill Winery in the hills above Napa Valley. On that chilly, foggy, rainy day we were greeted by Stony Hill Winemaker Mike Chelini. This was my very first visit to a winery and Mike took his time and explained things in such a way as to not intimidate anyone. Heck, he even taught me how to swirl a glass of wine. We climbed on barrel stacks, tasting from them with a glass wine thief. That first winery experience could not have been better. And I fell in love with that specific clone of Chardonnay.
Twenty-two years later, I arrived at Iron Horse to be their new winemaker. I quickly learned that they had two blocks planted to the Stony Hill Clone; one was Block M. In 2010, I decided to pick block M early and use it for bubbly. The wine from this picking was so stunningly unique, it screamed to be bottled on its own.
Soon after, both blocks of Stony Hill were pulled out due to old age and replanted to Pinot Noir. Though I lost the vineyards of Stony Hill Clone, I still had the wine in time capsule fashion.
Stony Hill Clone to me has always been a benchmark, displaying lean citrus elements along with a signature of wet stone minerality. This is the only vintage we made of this wine. Total production was a mere 200 cases. Ready to impress now, this rarity will continue to gain in complexity well over the next eight to ten years with proper storage.
The 2012 Estate Pinot Noir is the still wine I chose for the December Club shipment. This wine’s evolution has been fun to follow as it continues to gain complexity and supple structure. Enjoy with your holiday meals or stash it away for three to five more years to enjoy those dried rose petal and herbal tones that bottle age brings.
All my very best wishes,
We’re starting a monthly blog series of dispatches from our Iron Horse Winemaker David Munksgard who thoughtfully selects his favorite bottles for the uniquely fanatical wine club members in his “Winemaker’s Choice Club”. We’re excited to share his November wine recommendations, perfectly timed as much of the country is already bundling up for winter. Find out what our winemaker is drinking and thinking as we get a propitious start to Thanksgiving celebrations with the full moon on the 25th!
For the November 2015 Winemaker’s Selection I’ve chosen a Sparkler and a Pinot Noir.
The bubbly is the 2011 Winter’s Cuvee. As I write, much of the country has received an early start to winter. The Northeast has just received its first snowfall, in some places, while the fall colors were still at their peak. The pictures I saw on the Weather Channel were amazing.
Winter’s Cuvee is my vision of the perfect bubbly for cold weather sipping. The dosage for the 2011 Winter’s Cuvee is unique. In order to give it a bit more of an aged tone, I made a sugar-wine syrup from 1980 Blanc de Blanc that was just disgorged off its fermentation lees (yeast). That along with a bit of estate 1987 Pinot Noir brandy gives this wine a toasty, yeasty creaminess that lingers deliciously in your mouth. Winter’s Cuvee sells out very quickly every year. If you plan on doing any holiday celebrating that involves bubbly, you might want to place your orders for extra ASAP. The drinking window on this wine is from now for the next two years, if properly stored.
The still Pinot Noir in this shipment is the 2013 North Block. Comprised solely of the Calera Clone, this wine displays a bright red fruit focus that is extraordinary for a wine this young. Supple and brimming with ripe flavors, every sip demands yet another. Drinking window on this wine is now to the next four to five years (possibly much longer), again, if properly stored. I’m going to be enjoying some this winter, and then age the remainder for three years and try it again.
All my very best,