Sunday, March 30, 2014

A generalized, grapevine-needs-driven, viticulture architecture

Orly Ashenfelter and Karl Storchman have recently completed a Working Paper titled Wine and Climate Change, portions of which I intend to highlight on this blog in the future. My goal going forward is to evaluate their findings in relation to a viticulture baseline but no baseline was presented as part of the study. I address that deficit in this post and will build the baseline around the grapevine needs presented in the table below.

Source: Compiled from arcserver2.iagt.org

In addition to the needs listed above, the vine plant also requires a healthy environment in order to successfully complete its reproductive and vegetative cycles.

Climate

The climatic requirements for successful viticulture include: a growing season long enough to mature both the fruit and vegetative aspects of the plant; production of sufficient carbohydrates to ripen the fruit as well as to maintain future productive potential; and an adequate supply of water. Climate, according to Dr. Tony Wolff (Lecturer and Viticulturist, Virginia Tech) and John D. Boyer, is the average course of weather in a region over an extended period as measured by temperature, precipitation, and wind speed, among other variables (Vineyard Site Selection, Virginia Cooperative Extension).  Weather is itself defined as the state of the atmosphere at a specific point in time using the same variables as referenced in the climate definition above.  The climate of a grape-growing region will determine, to a large extent -- and all things being equal -- both the grape varieties that can be grown and the styles of wine that can be produced.

As it relates to the wine regions of the world, the ideal climates for vitis vinifera are Mediterranean and marine west-coast climates, both of which are characterized by mild, wet winters and warm, dry summers.  The mild winters promote long-term survivability of the vines (and increased quality of the juice as the vines age) and the wetness provides a reservoir of water that the vine roots can tap into during the grape maturation cycle.  The warm, dry summers provide the heat and light that are the engines of vegetative and crop growth while keeping at bay the threat of rot and flavor dilution that would accompany summer/fall rains.

Source:www.buywineonline.co.uk

Continental climates are modified by large land masses and are characterized by hot summers and cold winters.  Maritime climates, on the other hand, are modified by proximate large bodies of water which heat up and cool down at a slower rate than does the adjoining land mass.  This scientific fact results in the warming of winter winds as they blow over a warmer body of water and the warming of landside vineyards as the winds make landfall.  This warming could act to extend the growing season and minimize the potential vine impact of winter low-temperature events. On the other side of the coin, warm spring air blowing in over the still-cold water will be cooled down and will retard the development of landside vineyards, minimizing their potential for damage from spring frosts.

Two key grapevine needs are adequate sunlight and heat to allow both the fruit and the vegetative aspects of the plant to mature.  Vitis vinifera requires a minimum of 1250 hours of sunshine to provide ripe fruit. The progression of the grape through its various stages of maturity is influenced by the ambient temperature with research indicating that growth of the grapevine begins when temperature exceeds 10℃.  A measure -- growing degree days (GDD) -- has been developed to measure the accumulation of heat (as measured by temperature) in excess of 10℃ over a growing season.  Extensive research has yielded the following GDD parameters which can be used as input in vineyard site selection.

Source: Compiled from oregonviticulture.net

A map of the distribution of grape varieties by growing season temperature is shown in the figure below.

Source: Susnik, Kajfez-Bogataj, and Kurnik, GIS
assessment of Climate Warming Impact onWine
Growing Regions, Workshop on climatic analysis
 and mapping for agriculture, 2005, Bologna, Italy
The canopy is comprised of the stems, leaves and fruit cluster (s) that comprise the most visible portion of the vineyard. Viticulturists manage this canopy as a means of ensuring a uniform vine structure and promoting the flow of air and sunshine within. The thinning and positionaing of leaves, stems, and fruit clusters during the summer ensures that all canopy elements have equal access to the available sunlight and airflow. A well-managed canopy should have one grape cluster per shoot --assuming an average size of 5 to 8 ounces per cluster -- and 10 - 15 leaves per shoot in order to ensure proper ripening.

Aspect

Aspect refers to the prevailing compass direction in which the vineyard slope faces.  Aspect is important in that it affects the angle at which sunlight hits the vineyard and, as a result, its total heat balance.  For example, in areas with cool summers and a relatively low number of degree growing days, north-facing slopes will be facing away from the sun as it "moves" across the sky.  South-facing slopes, on the other hand, will have more direct access to the sun's rays over the course of the day.  In cool climates, slopes with southern aspects (S, SE, SW) allow vines to accumulate the maximum amount of sunshine as they pursue growth and fruit maturity. In continental climes, on the other hand, eastern, northern, and northeastern exposures are preferred.

Further, southern slopes warm earlier in the spring and this can result in early bud break and the potential for spring-frost damage.  On sunny winter days, the vines on south-facing slopes can warm up resulting in decreasd cold resistance and the potential for cold injury.

Mineral Nutrients

Adequate amounts of the appropriate nutrients are required to support proper growth of the grape vine, fruit development, and fruit maturity and those nutrients are obtained from the soil.  The table below shows the mineral requirements of the vine plant, the role of each mineral, acceptable ranges of each mineral in the soil, and the impact of mineral deficiency on the vine.

Source: Compiled from LGRGP.org and others

Soil composition affects the availability of nutrients for soil uptake.  Soil pH is a measure of the acidity (3.5 - 6.5) or alkalinity (7.4 - 9.0) of soil which, through its influence on nutrient solubility and micro-organism activity, affects the number and types of nutrients in the soil. Soil pH between 6 and 7 is considered optimal for vine plant growth as most of the needed nutrients and micro-organisms are available in that range.  The optimal soil type also has a moderate content of low cation exchange capability (CEC) clay (Clay minerals act as harbors for nutrients because the positive ions of the nutrients are trapped by the negative charge of the clay minerals.  The abundance and types of minerals determine whether the clay is classed as low- or high-CEC.).

Water

Water is a key player in the development and growth of the grape vine (soil component, key raw material in photosynthesis, nutrient carrier (both in the soil and in the plant), in-vine transportation vehicle, structural element of the vine). In cooler regions a vine needs approximately 500 mm water/year while the need increases to 750 mm/year in hotter climates. Key determinants as to how much water is actually delivered to the vine include vine density and soil water-holding capacity. Water can be delivered to the vine roots either as a result of precipitation or, in the areas where it is allowed, irrigation.

Air and Water Drainage

Elevation

Elevation can be discussed either within the context of a specific location -- high point versus low point -- or in absolute terms -- feet/meters above sea level.  Regardless of the reference point, however, elevation can have a significant impact on vineyard temperatures; especially if the vineyard is located in a hilly or mountainous area.

Planting at or near the highest feasible points in the vineyard allows the viticulturist to meet the grapevine's need for good air and water drainage.  Cold air is heavier than warm air and will flow downhill to replace the warm air as it rises.  This air movement will cause the cold air to pool in areas of low elevation and can result in the formation of frost pockets.  In addition to shedding cold air, high elevations afford cooler daytime temperature during the summer and fall.  There is a point beyond which elevation becomes detrimental to the survival of the vine plant and planting at or above those levels are not recommended.  The optimal elevation range for grape vines to survive and thrive is called the thermal belt.

As in the case of air, water will flow from areas of high elevation to areas of lower elevation both on the surface and below.  This condition meets the vine's need for internal soil drainage.  Standard sub-surface water will limit the amount of oxygen available to the root system and can also destroy the small fibrous roots which are involved in the absorption of water and nutrients from the soil.

Slope

Slope is the degree of inclination of the land from the horizontal and a slight to moderate incline is desirable for air and water drainage.  Slopes in excess of 15 degrees will require (expensive) hand-harvesting of ripe fruit due to the danger of equipment rollover.   The costs of managing a high-slope vineyard need to be balanced against the style/type of wine the winemaker is after.  As has been shown in high-slope vineyards like Bremmer Calmont (Mosel) and Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg (Rheingau), the paucity of soil in these environments forces the vine roots deep in search of moisture and nutrients and this results in a desirable intensity of aroma, flavor, and terroir characteristics coupled with freshness. Slope effects can be ameliorated by terracing, an expensive proposition both in terms of establishment and maintenance.

Soils

According to Wolf and Boyer (Vineyard Site Selection, Virginia Cooperative Extension), the best vineyard soils "permit deep and spreading root growth" and provide a moderate supply of water year-round.  Mark Chien (Soil and Site Selection Considerations for Wine Grape Vineyards, Pennsylvania State University) posits that wine grapes do best in moderately fertile soils that are unsupportive of vigorous vine growth.  What are the soil characteristics that will permit "deep and spreading root growth" and year-round access to water?  Those characteristics are presented in descending order of importance in the table below.


The most important requirements, according to the table, are internal water drainage and water-holding capacity.  Geologic permeability (the capability of a porous rock or sediment to permit the flow of fluids through its pore spaces -- Dictionary.com) is seen by Wolf and Boyer as perhaps the most important consideration in a candidate vineyard's soil.  Chien sees well-drained soils as a  common denominator among all great vineyard sites.  These soils "strike a balance between adequate depth and drainage and water-holding capacity" and vines deployed therein will have adequate water access during the summer and can rapidly drain water from the soils in the event of rainfall during the grape-ripening period.  Vineyards sited on convex land patterns are preferable to those on concave landforms in that the former shed surface water while the latter import water as well as soils which erode from higher ground.

Vineyard soil fertility is one of those cases where more is not necessarily better. Adequate amounts of the appropriate nutrients are required to support proper growth of the vine, fruit development, and fruit maturity.  Fertile soils are generally rich in organic material and moisture.  In that grapevines are naturally vigorous, vines grown in highly fertile vineyards will produce abundant canopies and fruit but the fruit will be mediocre because of limited access to the sun and the vine having spread its resources too thinly. Most high-quality vineyards are sited on low-/moderate-fertility soils.

The next soil feature mentioned in the table is effective rooting depth.  The roots of the vine plant: i) anchor the vine; ii) absorb water and nutrients; iii) store nutrients that nourish the plant during dormancy; and iv) produce hormones that control plant functions. The vine deploys a three-part root structure to meet these varied needs.  First, quick-growing, short-lived roots deployed close to the service are tasked with moisture collection. Second, subterranean roots provide the anchoring function.  The principal roots are tasked with nutrient delivery and storage.  According to UCDavis, about 60% of the root structure of a vine plant can be found in the first two feet of the surface but individual roots can grow as deep as 20 feet depending on soil permeability, the level of the water table, and the rootstock variety.

Soil texture refers to the nature, size, shape, orientation, and arrangement of particles.  In the soil-type page I show that sand, silt, and clay have standalone properties which are transformed when the soils are combined.  Clay forms flexible elastic bridges between soil particles to maintain soil structure and preserve porosity.  Pebbles and rocks in clay-rich soils break up the soil, providing pathways for water and root penetration.  Deep, rich soils will provide high-vigor growth and large, watery grapes.

Soil pH is a measure of the acidity (3.5 to 6.5) or alkalinity (7.4 to 9.0) of soil which, through its influence on nutrient solubility and micro-organism activity, affects the number and types of nutrients in the soil.  Soil pH between 6.0 and 6.8 is considered optimal for vine plant growth as most of the needed nutrients and micro-organisms are available in that range.  Alkaline or acidic soils can be treated to bring them closer to optimal.



Click here to see my page on soil types of interest to viticulturists.

Pest- and Disease-Free Environment

The vineyard, left to its own devices, can become a haven for a wide range of pests and diseases with the potential for degradation of the quantity and quality of fruit produced. According to grapegrowingguide.com, the most effective means of combating diseases are (i) a good canopy management program and (ii) a rigorous preventative fungicide treatment program. A good canopy structure allows air circulation between the canopy components and rapid drying after rain or dew, or as a result of low humidity. Such an environment is less favorable for the development of fungal disease.

Establishment and Management of the Vineyard

A variety of factors will be considered in selecting the varieties to be planted in a new vineyard: (i) experience of other vineyards in the area; (ii) the quality of the variety; (iii) the sped at which the variety completes its annual reproductive and vegetative cycles and how do those cycles match to the climate of the region; (iv) the yield potential; (v) adaptation to climate; (vi) adaptation to soil conditions; (vii) its resistance to disease; and (viii) the varieties that are allowed by existing legislation (in an area where that is a concern). The common wisdom holds that varieties produce at their best when grown at the coolest margins of viable ripening.

Grapevines are selected either through mass or clonal selection and cuttings are grafted on to rootstocks based on the attributes required.

It is important that there be a balance between the vine root system and its canopy. In that regards, vines should be planted with higher density in poorer soils and less-densely in fertile soils. Many of the high-quality European vineyards are planted at between 5,000 and 10,000 vines/ha.

Vine pruning and training allows the grape grower to overcome the natural tendencies of the vine and force it to produce fruit that is more suitable to the production of quality wine. Canopy management techniques provide the berry with more or less access to the sun or protection from the elements as required.  For example, a significant challenge to Santorini viticulturists is the stiff wind that buffets the island during the growing season and could damage the berries if they were exposed to the elements. The solution that has been employed for eons is to (i) eschew vine density and (ii) train the vines such that they can afford protection to the otherwise vulnerable berries. Vine canes are intertwined and trained into a circle and the berries grow within this protective cordon. The circular structure can be positioned above ground or in a below-ground hollow where the top of the vine is parallel to the surface. A viticulturist has a wide variety of trellising and vine-training techniques available for deployment based on requirements.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Saint-Péray AOC: A fount of bubbles in a still-wine sea

The Rhône wine region runs along its namesake river for 150 miles between Lyon in the north and Avignon in the south with a division into northern and southern sub-regions at the point where the Drôme tributary intersects the main course. Northern Rhône is characterized by a continental climate, granitic soils, steep slopes, and the Mistral wind while the south has a more Mediterranean climate and stony soils. What they both have in common, though, is a sea of red wine: only 2% of the region's production is white. And an even smaller percentage is sparkling. In my previous post I covered the sparkling wines of Die, but Die lies off the Rhône beaten path. In this post I will cover the sparkling wine of Saint-Péray, an AOC in Rhône's core.

Used with the permission of Syndicat de
la Clairette de Die et des vins du Diois 
Saint-Péray is an appellation (accorded 1936) for still white and sparkling wines produced in the parishes of Saint-Péray and Touland, neighboring communes in the Ardèche Départment of the Rhône-Alpes Region of Southern France. The region, located as it is three miles west of the town of Valence, is the southernmost of the Northern Rhône appellations.


The climate in Northern Rhône is continental, with warm summers and cold winters. While Saint-Péray exists within this climatic mantle, it is somewhat cooler than Cornas -- its neighbor to the north -- thanks to a cold wind -- Bise -- which flows along the Mialan Valley from an opening in the north. Average temperature in the region is 12.5℃ and average annual rainfall is 823 mm.

The Saint-Péray soil is a complex mix of limestone, clay-limestone, and granite which owes its composition to a number of donors (rhone-wines.com): (i) granite from the Primary Period contributes a hint of silica; (ii) Jurassic limestones from the Secondary Era; (iii) marine deposits from the Tertiary Period are the source of today's clay-limestone soils; (iv) a veneer of loess from the Quaternary Period and Major Glaciations; and (v) alluvial deposits carried down from the Alps by the Rhône River.

Saint-Péray vineyards extend over 75 ha of the gentle slopes on the right bank of the river at the foot of the limestone outcrop called Crussol Hill. The vineyards have a south to southeast exposure and are at altitudes that range between 107 and 652 meters. Regulations mandate minimum vine density of 4000 vines/ha.

The allowed grapes in the AOC are Marsanne (majority of plantings) and Roussanne. The characteristics of these two varieties are presented in the table below.

                                                  Saint-Péray Varieties
Characteristics
Marsanne
Roussanne
Synonyms
Marsanne Blanche, Grosse Roussette, Avilleran, Ermitage, Ermitage Blanc
Franceas Rousette, Bergeron, Plant de Seysel, Fromenteau
Site preference
Warm, dry, stony
lean soils; arid; rocky
Vine
Vigorous, high-yielding
Vigorous; semi-erect; sometimes fragile
Leaves
Large; round; rough; 3-5 lobes; matte dark green upper surface, tufted lower surface
Medium to large; thick; 3 to 5 lobes; rough; Dark-green on upper surface, downy on lower
Bunches
Conical, winged, medium-sized
Medium-sized; elongated; semi-cylindrical; winged
Berries
Small, round, thin-skinned; deep golden color on ripening
Small; round; sometimes irregular; golden with rust spots at maturity
Flesh
Soft; juicy, sweet
Crisp
Juice
High alcohol level; deep color
Sweet
Wine
Light; dry; short-lived; added to Syrah to provide finesse; when combined with Roussanne, results in aromatic, delicate, interesting wine; toast, honey, and almond aromas
Blended with Marsanne; used in Vin de Paille; Lime and blossom aromas
Other
Susceptible to disease; sensitive to temperature extremes
Low yielding; susceptible to rot; difficult to ripen; prone to oxidation
Sources: Grapes and Wines of the World, www.winelit.slsa.sa.gov.au; bbr.com

Sparkling wine production using the Traditional Method has been practiced in Saint-Péray since 1829. The grapes are harvested and then quickly transported to the cellar to prevent oxidation. After slow pressing, the juice is directed to vats or oak casks for fermentation and then to barrels or tanks for aging. Oak is used fairly commonly in the region in order to add complexity to the mix. Second fermentation occurs in bottle with the wine residing on lees for a minimum of 15 months prior to market release. Allowed yields are 52 hl/ha and a max of 11.5% abv for sparkling wine (The corresponding numbers for still wine are 45 hl/ha and 13%). Sparkling wines can be 100% Marsanne, 100% Roussanne, or a blend of the two. Blends are the dominant market-facing elaboration.

According to rhone-wines.com, 2012 Saint-Péray production amounted to 2686 hl ( yield attainment of 35 hl/ha) while sales amounted to 3008 hl, most of which was consumed domestically (9% exported).


©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Cremant de Die and Clairette de Die: Two faces of sparkling wine

In my continuing research on sparkling wine regions, I encountered Die, a wine region 30 miles off the Rhône beaten path, with sharply contrasting sparkling wine production methods. I share my findings regarding the region and its wines in this post.

The Drôme River is a tributary of the Rhône which, conveniently, serves as the dividing line between the wines of the north and south. Die, and its wines, are located in this river valley. Die produces both sparkling and still wines (Chatillon-en-Diois for reds and rosés, Coteaux de Die for whites) but it is in the sparkling wines that our interest lies.

Used with the permission of Syndicat de
la Clairette de Die et des vins du Diois 

Used with the permission of Syndicat de la Clairette de Die et des vins du Diois 

Die's climate can be described as Alpine Mediterranean because of the impact of both bodies on its environment. The region lies at the northern extreme of the Mediterranean climate and, as such, is subject to periods of extended warm weather and intense sunshine. On the other hand, its proximity to the Alps subjects it to rapid-development mountain storms and rain showers. In addition to affecting the areas' climate, the Alpine Mediterranean juxtaposition also contributes to a significant diurnal temperature effect.

The geographic environment is characterized by glacial rock formations and high cliff faces. The vineyards lie on a granitic base over which is overlain by chalky clays and sedimentary limestone rocks. The 1500 ha of vineyards all lie along the hillsides on both sides of the river and, end to end, extends over 31 municipalities. Elevations herein range between 200 and 700 meters.

The Die sparkling wine appellations -- Cremant de Die and Clairette de Die -- are described below.

Cremant de Die

Cremant de Die is the appellation for sparkling wine made in the Champagne manner and utilizing the following varieties: Clairette (55% minimum), Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (5 to 10%), and Aligoté (10 to 40%). Production of this wine began in the 1960s and, until 2004, was restricted to Clairette only. The wine was awarded AOC designation in 1993.

Grapes for the wine are whole-bunch-harvested and then run through the traditional method. The wines are aged on lees for a minimum of 12 months with the norm being somewhere between 12 and 36 months. The finished wine is described as having rich aromas with notes of apple and green fruit and freshness on the finish. The altitude, limestone and clay soils, and temperature shifts results in high levels of natural acidity in the wine.

Over 40% of the region's sparkling wine is classed as Cremant de Die. The 13 producers involved in the business make 400,00 bottles annually with 85% of that production being consumed within France.

Clairette de Die

Clairette de Die is the appellation for a naturally sparkling wine made from Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (75% minimum) and Clairette. This wine has a long history with AO status granted in 1910, AOC designation in 1942, and designation as "ancestral dioise process" in 1971.

Clairette de Die grapes are sourced from the same vineyards as are grapes for Cremant de Die. There are a total of 300 farmers involved in grape production, 250 of whom are associated with the Cave de Die Jaillance coop and the remainder either being part of smaller cooperatives or functioning as family farms.

The Clairette de Die production process stands in stark contrast to that of the Cremant de Die. The grapes are rapidly pressed and placed into vats where they are allowed to ferment at low temperatures. After 1 to 2 months, the fermentation is stopped -- the must still contains residual sugar -- and the proceeds bottled. This partially fermented wine is kept in bottle, at temperatures of approximately 12℃, for about 4 months during which time fermentation of the residual sugar continues. The carbon dioxide released during this fermentation is secreted in the wines and will provide the bubbles upon opening. Unlike the traditional method, there are no additives along the way.

Fermentation ceases naturally when the wine is about 7% to 9% abv and, at this time, the wine is ready for drinking. As there is no opportunity to manipulate the sugar content of the wine, it is only available in a Brut style.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Playing with the big boys on their second go-round: wineontheway.com Syndicate and BRAND #PNV14

Two Orlando-wine-retailer-led syndicates (wineontheway.com, The Wine Barn) enjoyed success at the recently concluded 2014 Premiere Napa Valley (PNV) Grand Tasting and Auction with the wineontheway.com syndicate snagging lots from BRAND (5-case lot, 2012 Double Horseshoes Red Blend) and Stone the Crows (5-case lot, 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Thomas Rivers Brown winemaker) and The Wine Barn syndicate capturing a 5-case Cabernet Franc lot produced by Oakville East. This was the second PNV event for both wineontheway.com and BRAND. In this post I will profile BRAND, a relative newcomer whose wine was so well regarded that it ranked in the top 3.5% of participating wineries in terms of price/lot.

Deb Whitman and Ed Fitts of BRAND
Brand was founded in 2006 by Ed Fitts, previously a 40-year veteran of the packaging industry, who had bought the property on Pritchard Hill primarily for the view. He had developed a fondness for the west coast as a result of servicing many of the fast food businesses in the area. The property that he bought came with three acres of vines and, not knowing that he had bought into one of the best wine producing areas in the Valley, he thought that he would maybe do a boutique winery. Once he began to understand where he was, he decided that if he was going to be on Pritchard Hill then he would have to add value. That was the thought process that led to the realization of BRAND.

As Ed realized, Pritchard Hill, has an unsurpassed pedigree in the annals of Napa Valley winemaking. This highly regarded lieu-dit (55 miles long and 20 miles wide) is located in the Vaca Mountains between Lake Hennessey (northwest) and the Atlas Peak AVA (southeast) with the Oakville AVA on the valley floor to the west. Notable Pritchard Hill wineries include Chappellett, Continuum, Ovid, Bryant Family, and Colgin.

The areas' vineyards sit at elevations that range between 800 and 2000 feet and, as a result, they are bathed in sunshine while the valley floor is still shrouded in fog. Moderating influences on the climate include a steady breeze blowing up from the valley as well as proximity to the lake. With most of its vineyards west-facing (Colgin is the exception), the region is able to direct every last bit of the sun's rays towards ripening grapes. There is less diurnal shift on the mountain which means that the berries continue sugar production well into the evening hours.

The soils are a red clay loam of volcanic origin which is shallow, thin, and boulder-strewn. In many cases the rocks have to be dynamited to provide material for soil. The thinness of the soil allows for good drainage while its lack of depth places great stress on the vines, yielding small, thick-skinned berries which are endowed with intense flavors.

BRAND is sandwiched between Colgin to the east and Montagne to the west. The estate's 12 acres of vineyards, divided between named Upper and Lower Vineyards, are the result of 6 years of groundwork, preparation, and acquisition. Once the decision was made to become a full-fledged winery, the vines that came with the property were pulled out, as were the rocks from the adjoining land. In this manner, the Upper Vineyard was expanded from 3 acres to 8 acres (the elevation of the land was lowered by two feet as a result of the extraction of the rocks). Resting at between 1300 and 1400 feet elevation, the Upper Vineyard is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon (50% of all vines, both upper and lower), Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. The Lower Vineyard was an opportunistic acquisition. It is 4 acres in size, sits at 1135 feet and is planted to Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. Cabernet Franc represents 28% of the estate's plantings while Petit Verdot and Malbec represent 17% and 5%, respectively.

The Vineyard Manager is Josh Clarke of Clarke Vineyards and he oversees a viticultural regime that adheres to organic principles but is not certified organic.

Winery design and operations have been the bailiwick of Philippe Melka, one of the leading consulting winemakers in the valley. Philippe has overseen the construction of a state-of-the-art winery which would be the envy of any self-respecting winemaker.


BRANDs first vintage was its 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (mono-varietal) which was released to the market in September 2012. The grapes are harvested by hand in a single pass through the vineyard and then brought into the winery where they are de-stemmed and further selected on the sorting table. The berries are gravity-flowed into the stainless steel fermentation tanks where they are fermented with indigenous yeasts. The juice remains on the skins for up to 25 days with skin contact enhanced by pumping-over. After maceration the juice is racked over to French oak barrels (83% new) for malolactic fermentation and aging which can run between 18 and 26 months.





I tasted the BRAND PNV 14 offering initially at the Melka event in St. Helena and then again at the Garnd Tasting on the morning of the auction. The 2012 Double Horseshoe blend is 65% Cabernet Sauvignon and 35% Cabernet Franc. It was impressive. So much so that I sought to arrange a visit to the winery on the following Sunday with the GM Kelly Willard. Dr. Vino, in his recap of the event, scored the wine between 9.0 and 9.5 and described it thusly: "Inky purple in the glass, this wine smells of earthy cherry, cassis, and licorice. In the mouth juicy and darkly intense black cherry fruit is coated in muscular tannins. A nice earthy note lingers in the finish. Lush." I liked the wine but I had no idea that so many others did also; and that they were willing and ready to show their love in a major way.

As I noted in my earlier post, I arrived to the auction late from lunch and so I had no idea where Adam (Chilvers; owner of wineontheway.com) and Eric (Kunichika; Partner) were sitting. The first indication that I had that these guys were even in the running for the wine was when I received a text from Adam's wife (Gigi; who was in Orlando, by the way) that they had won the bidding for the lot. I sent Adam a congratulatory text immediately (still couldn't locate him in the room) at which point he indicated that they had also copped the Stone the Crows lot. This placed even more pressure on us -- the score was 2 - 0.

I met Adam and Eric later that evening as they were having dinner at Redd. They were tired but elated. Elated does not really describe their emotions. They were euphoric. Eric is normally inscrutable, but he was smiling broadly. He ordered me a Tuna Tartare that I did not really want to eat because I was late for dinner (But it was so good I had to hang around and demolish it.). We were meeting for brunch at Bouchon the next day and Adam indicated that the BRAND owners had invited them up to the winery the following morning as a thank you and would I like to come. Hell Yeah.

We had a wonderful brunch the following morning, an event marred only by Adam showing up in a bright red Canadian hockey Jersey (I don't know how many of you recall that Canada won the Olympic Hockey Gold.). After brunch we rode up into the hills to meet with BRAND management.



Adam Chilvers, Deb, Ed, and Eric Kunichika
We had a lengthy and fruitful session at the estate with much of the information that I have shared in the profile provided to us therein. Ed and Deb still seemed just a  bit shell-shocked by what had happened the night before. Their new venture had entered the arena with giants and had not only played, but had also bested most of the rest. Early vindication and validation of the team that had been put together and decisions that had been made. It was touching to see the manner in which Ed expressed his thankfulness to the members of the wineontheway.com syndicate that were present on that morning and his planning for future events at which the facilities of the winery would be thrown open to them as a thank you for helping to elevate the BRAND.

This is a good fit.


©Wine -- Mise en abyme