From Dirt to Glass – Michael Larner on Heat Spikes during Harvest

Larner Vineyard Sunset

We spoke with Michael Larner out at his Ballard Canyon Vineyard in June and asked about how heat spikes affect him around Harvest.

“The nature of Syrah is that it is always harvested in October.” “We never see heat spikes in October so we don’t have to panic.”

Heat spikes cause sugars to go up. As the vines become stressed for water the first place they get it from is the berries. As the berries dehydrate from the vine pulling moisture the sugar levels increase and concentrate. This is only temporary and the sugar levels will stabilize again when the temperature drops or when the vine gets more water.

Watching the weather and planning ahead they can water before a heatspike so that the sugar levels don’t soar. This gives the clients a couple more weeks before harvesting when the wineries are typically full at the end of harvest. Michael says he tells clients “Let me water it, rather that you having to water it in the winery!”.

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Larner Vineyard & Winery

Larner Vineyard Site

Ballard Canyon

Clos Pepe, early morning picking Pinot Noir

Clos Pepe Vineyard

On and early Foggy morning in Santa Barbara, were able to film our first Harvest experience at Clos Pepe Winery.  We were looking for someplace to shoot harvest shots at night or in the morning while in Santa Barbara County. We contacted Morgen, the Executive Director of the Santa Barbara County Vintners Association to help in our search.  She guided us to Clos Pepe Winery who was harvesting a small block of Pinot Noir for a Sparkling Wine project for Flying Goat Cellars.  See a little of our adventure in the early morning fog in the video.

We pulled up in the dark in front of Clos Pepe. I texted Morgen, “the gate says no trespassing, should we go in?”  “Yes by all means” she texted, “I’ll be there soon.”  Morgen is the Executive Director of the Santa Barbara County Vintners Association and she had sent me a message the day before.  We were looking for someplace to shoot harvest shots at night or in the morning while in Santa Barbara County.  It seemed the Sav Blanc in Happy Canyon was already being harvested and everything else was holding until after labor day.  Morgen had been able to find something and sent a message saying to meet her at 5:45 am at Clos Pepe to harvest for a little sparkling project they were working on.

We pulled through the gates and parked by the house and waited for Morgen.  Michael headed down to get some photos, trying to stay out of the way.  When Morgen arrived she asked if I was going to pick.  This took me a little off guard, I would be happy to, I said, but I had never picked before and didn’t want to be in the way or slow things down.  Nonsense, she said and guided me down to meet Wes Hagen the winemaker at Clos Pepe.  Wes proceeded without hesitation to hand Morgen and I gloves, clippers, a headlamp and a bucket and briefed us on how to harvest.

We were harvesting early in the day beginning in the dark.  This has multiple benefits 1st it’s cooler, this makes those picking happier and the grapes happier.  The grapes will be cooler and firmer and the sugar levels will be lower and more stable.

It was late August, just the beginning of harvest season.  We were harvesting pinot noir. This pinot was at about 20 brix, so lower than a typical Pinot harvest because this Pinot was headed for a sparkling wine project for Norm Yost at Flying Goat Cellars.

In harvesting we were looking for full ripe bunches, but in this harvest we were not skipping unripe fruit.  Any green or pink berries could be knocked off or if the bunch was too green it could simply be dropped.  The idea was to pick the row clean leaving no fruit behind. We were also looking for botrytis.  Botrytis cinerea known as botrytis bunch rot by those in the vineyard, but others in horticulture call it gray mold. This comes in 2 forms: “Grey rot” which is the result of consistent wet or humid conditions and “noble rot” which is when wet conditions are followed by dry.  Noble rot can create beautiful desert wines like Tokaji or Sauternes.  Any botrytis that we found was to be pulled out or dropped.

The harvest team we were on was only setting out to harvest 3 rows of Pinot Noir.  We were hand picking and only looking for around 4 bins of grapes for this sparkling project.  Each of the bins were half ton so we were looking for about 2 tons. Our team was about 15 people and we finished 2 rows in about 2 hours.  It was a good harvest, most of the bunches were evenly ripened and 2 rows filled the 4 bins.

As we picked we made sure to keep our buckets  free of MOG (material other than grapes).  Also the clippers should never hang on the side of the bucket.  If the clippers fall in, they could end up in the bin and then in the crusher, which could ruin a very expensive piece of equipment.

We clipped away, first finding the bunches in the light of our headlamps, then turning the headlamps in as the sun rose to light the vines for us.  The early morning fog misted our hair and the drip irrigation dripped on our knees as we tucked in to find the ripe berries.  I worked what Wes refers to as “my agricultural muscles”.  As I tried to fill my orange bucket, I would periodically turn to find it empty again, as the bucket guys stealthily emptied it without my even knowing.  There was little that was green and only bits of botrytis that I came across.  These were firm tight bunches, sometimes they were wrapped around the vines or wires making it difficult to free them, but all in all it was beautiful fruit.

We worked the rows following the tracker the was hauling the bins.  As the sun came up the large lights on the top of the tracker were turned off.  Two people rode on the sides of the bins, doing a second sort for MOG and Botrytis as the buckets were dumped in.

By the time we reached the end of the row, the bins were full and the sun was up.  We walked back down the rows checking for any missed fruit.  It was my first harvest and while it was only 2 hours and 2 rows, I could not have asked for a better place.  What could be better than picking Pinot Noir in the Santa Rita Hills on a gorgeous morning in late August.  Thank you Wes and Clos Pepe for an amazing experience.

Remember, “Every grape wants to make wine”

See more of Wes in his Blog very informative. Visit Clos Pepe Site

Santa Barbara Wines- the Highlight Reel!

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural Central Coast Wine Country

We are back from our trip to Santa Barbara County and Paso Robles and I wanted to quickly get the highlights out and give some shout outs to people and places that made this an exceptional trip.

Pierre Lafond Wine Bistro SB

Pierre Lafond Wine Bistro SB

We started the trip in Santa Barbara, walking the beach, exploring the murals in the funk zone and then heading up to beautiful State Street for lunch and a flight at Wine Bistro Pierre Lafond.  This beautiful café has great sidewalk tables that let you take in the romance that is State Street while enjoying great food and wine.  There is great history here, more about that in a later blog.

 

Grassini Tasting Room

Grassini Tasting Room

Our next stop was Grassini Family Cellars.  This winery is located in Happy Canyon and they specialize in Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Their tasting room is located in the historic El Paseo shopping center near Au Bon Climat and Margerum.  This is a beautiful space and Katie Grassini stopped in while we were there and we had a wonderful conversation about their wines, the winery and the sustainable practices they are using there.

 

Carr SB Tasting Room

Carr SB Tasting Room

From there we headed off the beaten track a little to Carr and we tasted through their line up.  The space here is a converted Quonset hut giving it a feel of the inside of a barrel.  They also have wines available here on tap.

 

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

Now it was back into the Funk Zone proper to AVA Santa Barbara, previously known as Anacapa Vintners.  This beautiful tasting room features wines from each of the Santa Barbara AVA’s.  On the entire wall behind the tasting room bar you will find a huge Elkpen mural that shows the AVAs and describes the climates, soils and topography.  They have soil samples on the counter to look at and the staff is incredibly knowledgeable.  For wine geeks that get into the soil and climate this is heaven.

To finish our day we headed down to Stearns Wharf to Conway Family Wines Deep Sea Tasting Room.  This beautiful tasting room is on the 2nd level on the Wharf with beautiful views of the coast and the ocean.  Their Deep Sea Wines are made with coastal grapes.  Shout out to Lauren for a great tasting!

Conway's Deep Sea Winery

Conway’s Deep Sea Winery

 

We finished the day with some sunset shots followed by dinner on the end of the Wharf at Santa Barbara Shellfish Company…tiny and perfect!

Santa Barbara Shellfish Co.

Santa Barbara Shellfish Co.

 

Just before bed I realized I had a message from Morgen McLauglin from the Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association, she had been searching to see if anyone was harvested so we could go get some harvest shots.  Well she found a small harvest happening at none other than Clos Pepe.  So we were up early the next morning to meet her at the vineyard at 5:45.

Clos Pepe in the Santa Rita Hills

Clos Pepe in the Santa Rita Hills

This unexpected boon turned out to be so much more than we expected.  Michael jumped in getting shots and Morgen and I chatted and she walked me down to meet Wes Hagen, the winemaker.  Wes handed us gloves, clippers, a bucket and a head lamp and directed us on the finer points of harvesting pinot noir.  The harvest was for a sparkling project that he was working on with another winery. We spent about 2 hours helping to harvest 2 rows of beautiful tight clusters of pinot noir and watching the sun come up.  And…we were lucky enough that Wes invited us to tag onto a tour and tasting he was doing later that day.

 

Vines at Carhartt

Vines at Carhartt

After a quick cleanup and breakfast at Succulent in Solvang, we headed to Carhartt for a winery tour with Joe the new Wine club manager.  We got to see all the new buildings the harvest prep and then head up to the ridge to see the vineyards as well as the newly planned vineyard site.

 

Saarloos & Sons

Saarloos & Sons

We headed back into Los Olivos for a little wine and dessert!  “Enjoy Cupcakes” has cupcake flights available daily to pair with Saarloos and Sons tastings.  If you are here on a weekend, this is really something you shouldn’t miss.

We managed to have time for one more shared tasting at Presqu’ile.  This is a stunning tasting room that they unfortunately closed after Labor Day.  Don’t be too sad though, they have a tasting room open at their new winery in Santa Maria.  Everyone I have spoken to says the new winery is beautiful.  The wines here I found to have a unique flair which seems to come from their winemaker.  I look forward to stopping by the winery on our next trip.

At this point it was time to head back out to Clos Pepe.  I will have an entire post about our visit here.  Wes Hagen opens his mouth and fascinating facts fall out.  The wines were spectacular and the information and knowledge shared was beyond expectations.  If you are in the area and love wine, you should schedule a visit with Wes.

We ended our day in the world’s tiniest tasting room at Carhartt’s which becomes quite the gathering spot at the end of the day.  They are open an hour later than the other tasting rooms and end up being quite the industry gathering spot. And then caught a light dinner at Avant in Buellton.

 

Hilliard Bruce

Hilliard Bruce

The next morning we were off to Hilliard Bruce.  As I was tweeting about our upcoming trip, I had a tweet from them saying, “If you can, you’ve got to see the canopy management at Hilliard Bruce Vineyards at least once before you die.”  Well with an offer like that…  So we went.  This is a mind bogglingly beautiful property.  John Hilliard and Christine Bruce are both Certified Master Gardeners and they love their plants.  The entire property is beautifully landscaped and truly, the canopy management is beyond anything you will see anywhere else.  Again, you will get an entire blog post on this exceptional property, but let me say that between the wine, the property and the people this was really an amazing visit.

Lots more fascinating details to come as well as photos and video!

First Saturday’s Wine & the Arts Parrish Family Vineyards

Parrish Family Vineyard

We had had a fairly long day in Paso Robles on our wine Travel adventure and had visited 5 wineries already…but I had heard about “First Saturdays:  Wine & the Arts”  in downtown Paso Robles.  This is a program sponsored by Arts Obispo.  From 5-8 pm on the first Saturday of each month year round this event happens in downtown Paso promoting artists, galleries, wine tasting room and other arts venues. http://artsobispo.org/content/FirstSaturdays.php

We were early, having just finished enjoying music and wine at Vines on the Marycrest and we wandered down to see what it was about.  It was quiet at the top with several wine tasting rooms listed as having something special going on and being open later than usual.  Some had special art showings, some had additional food.  We knew we could just stop at one more tasting room and the beautiful Parrish Family Vineyards tasting room called to us.

They have one of the downtown tasting rooms located on Park Street just off of the square and…they are one of  members of the new Paso Cab Collective.

Parrish Family Art Still

Parrish Family Art Still

The Parrish Family Estate is located outside of Atascadero and Paso. This area has warm days and cool evenings and here they have 40 acres of nothing but Cabernet Sauvignon.

They do source other varieties from other growers on the Central Coast and have their P.O. Box 1 label which is in honor of the family’s grandfather, Earl Henderson who had the very first PO Box in Atascadero.  Here they play with other varietals like Sav Blanc and Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Petite Sirah.

The tasting room is beautiful and they had a pairing for the “Wine & the Arts” evening with cheeses from Vivant Cheese in Paso.  I am a sucker for their cheeses.  We had them once before at a tasting and pairing at  Vino Robles and I was addicted to their “Barely Buzzed” cheese to accompany the Vino Verde Petite Sirah. If you are ever here, do the pairing!  Okay back to this evening.

The pairings were amazing.  We tasted:

Parrish Family and Vivant Cheese

Parrish Family and Vivant Cheese

2012 Sauvignon Blanc with a Honey Chevre (goats milk cheese)

2010 Chardonnay Monterey with Piave (cows milk cheese from Vento Italy)

2010 Pinot Noir Monterey with Bella Vitano Gold (Satori family gold winner)

2008 GSM Rhone Blend with Cocoa Cardona (goats milk cheese dusted in cocoa)

2009 Petite Sirah with 2 year Gouda (dutch aged cheese)

2007 Reserve Silken Iberico (spanish cheese with cow, sheep and goat milk)

2007 Reserve Cabernet Estate rustic cocoa nib cookie

 

Parrish Family Reserve Wine

Parrish Family Reserve Wine

As we were tasting the 2007 Cabernet, Mr. Parrish came to our end of the bar and apologized for neglecting us.  He said he had opened a bottle of the 2009 that is for wine club members only and he would like to offer us an additional tasting of that.  This wine was a gold medal winner in San Francisco.  I inquired as to how 2009 had been for them in the vineyard and he said he was lucky enough to pick just before the rain.  A system came through with quite a bit of rain less than 24 hours after they finished picking.  I asked how rain typically affected them, of course with the berries swelling and diluting the flavors that was an issue, but how did it affect the native yeasts?  If it rained did it wash those away and create issues?  Mr. Parrish is a UC Davis graduate and does not use native yeasts.  He believes that you have a greater possibility percentage wise of getting off putting flavors and aromas from the native yeasts.  We spoke a bit about Brett and while like me he doesn’t mind a little brett on a wine, from a winemakers perspective, it can be really hard to control.  Brett is very resistant to sulphur and Brett can overpower a wine if it is aged.  He is fine with a little brett if you are going to enjoy the wine while it is young.  If however you are going to cellar a wine (as one is wont to do with a good cab) brett can be a bit of a wild card as to what you will get when you open that bottle.  It was fascinating to speak with him and get one winemakers perspective on this.  And what a perfect way to end our day, having a wine-geeky conversation with a winemaker.  I was content.