Notes, stories and fun mishaps around winemaking.
It seems that we frequently find ourselves saying, "This is an exciting time in the vineyard." And rather than apologizing for it, we'll just own it. The fact is, producing wine means that every year we hang on each stage of our fruit's development. One may liken it to raising children. Just as parents are over the moon when their baby first smiles or sits up independently, so do we feel exhilarated when the first signs of budbreak emerge and when flowering begins.
Right now we are witnessing the onset of veraison. Véraison is a French word which has come to mean the beginning of grape ripening in English. Why is it exciting? Because we get a palpable visual image of what our little grapes will become. It's like hearing the first cracks in an adolescent boy's voice or seeing those first whiskers sprout. Up until this point, the vineyard is straight green: green leaves, green shoots, green grapes...all thanks to the green pigment chlorophyll. In red and black grape varieties, anthocynins now become responsible for the blue-purple-red color of the fruit. During this transition, the berries begin to accumulate sugars in the form of glucose and fructose, while acidity begins to diminish. The grape varieties used to produce our red wines begin to turn various shades of purple, and our white varieties begin to turn to a yellow-green hue. In addition, the berries begin to soften.
The color change may occur in just one grape in a bunch or many grapes in a bunch may change color simultaneously. Our hot and sunny micro-climate in Happy Canyon, coupled with low-volume pruning techniques, mean that veraison is early in our vineyard...an indication of high-quality fruit...and that little Johnny may grow up to be a fine man...or in this case bottle of wine!
Have you ever felt a bit reluctant to go wine tasting with your pals? There's always that one guy or gal who appears to know considerably more than the rest of the group and is delighted to lord it over you. Or perhaps you've been in a tasting room or two in which a pretentious employee looks down his nose at you making you feel like you just crawled out from under a stone and only recently learned how to wield your caveman club.
Wine is one of the oldest pleasures of the earth, and should be enjoyed and shared as the gift that it is...not as a conveyance for a pompous blowhard to establish his oenological superiority.
So here are a few tips on how to taste wine that will give you the confidence you need to hang with the best of them:
Before you do anything else, take a look at what’s in your glass from the top down, and preferably against a white background. Observe the color of the wine at the rim by tipping it sideways. It will offer clues as to the wine's age and the grape varieties used to craft it. For young red wines, the color is typically richer - ranging from purple-blues to crimson, garnet, and ruby. As they age, they tend to lighten, with brick red and amber hues replacing the more vivid hues. Varietal characteristics lend clues as well. For example, Cabernet Sauvignon tends to be darker in color than one of its parents, Cabernet Franc. White wines are of course not really ‘white’, but vary from almost transparent to straw to golden yellow. Aged white wines will tend to ‘brown’ or deepen in color due to the interaction of oxygen with phenolic compounds present in the wine.
Smell the wine. Think for a moment about what aromatic qualities strike you. Now swirl the wine in your glass. Pretend you're a kid again, only this time you won't get in trouble for playing with your food. Really give it a strong, circular swirl up the sides of your glass. This will give the wine plenty of contact with oxygen after being bottled up after all those months or years. You've now released the aromas of the wine, or as wine author Jancis Robinson writes, you've, "...persuade(d) as many flavour compounds as possible to vaporize..."
Push your nose well inside the glass. Don't be shy...really stick it in there. Inhale the aromas and consider what you're smelling. Is it appealing? Is it fruity? Does it smell earthy? Were you transported to a tropical island or a forest floor? ...Or to something that's been sitting in a gym's locker for too long?...
Finally. Now you get to taste the wine. Take a sip and hold it in your mouth. Let it fall over your tongue. Do you like it? What flavors do you perceive? Black currants and berries or pepper and tobacco? Butter and oak, or citrus fruits and lemon grass? Either spit it into the spit bucket or swallow it.
Now be a kid again – the one with the crummy manners. Slurp your next sip, allowing more oxygen to aerate the wine as it enters your mouth. Let it roll around in your mouth while gently inhaling a bit more air. Any new revelations in flavor? How does the wine feel in your mouth? Thin and watery or thick and viscous? Younger wines will typically feel thinner, whilst aged wines will typically feel thicker. Do you sense sweetness toward the front of your tongue? Is there bitterness toward the back of your tongue? Is there a dry sensation that makes your mouth pucker? Those are the tannins at work. Tannins have a similar astringency to well-steeped black tea in your mouth. Younger wines tend to be more tannic, whilst older, well-aged wines will feel smoother. Is there a sensation of heat or burning? That’s the alcohol at work. Does it feel balanced on your palate? The fruits, acids, and alcohol should feel balanced in a quality wine.
Swallow the wine. Do the flavors/aromas/sensations linger on your palate? A wine with aging potential will have a nice long finish to it…and again, is an indicator of a quality wine.
What really matters is whether or not you like the wine. Really. There are three reasons to taste wine: 1) To determine if YOU like it; 2) To spend time with friends and family; and 3) To begin to create your own mental database of what you like and don’t like. Remember, even professional wine tasters/critics can have a wide variation in tasting the same wines repetitively - this is not a perfect science (see the background for this assertion by checking out our previous post on wine judging here).
Over time you will may find that you find prefer red wine to white wine, Syrahs to Cabernet Sauvignons, New World wines to Old World wines, California wines to Australian wines, etc. The more you taste, the better informed your palate will become. But most importantly, don’t fall into an ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ situation. We are big fans of our winemaker Andrew Murray's adage, “Drink what you like.”
YOU are your own best arbiter of good taste!
We are delighted to share some recent reviews with you:
By Josh Raynolds
Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar, Nov/Dec 13
Bright straw. Lively lemon/lime and white pepper scents give way to deeper pear and honey with air. Dry and racy, offering refreshingly bitter citrus pith and quinine flavors and a hint of white pepper. Clean, nervy and focused on the finish, which emphatically repeats the lime and quinine qualities. Extremely easy to drink and utterly fat free, showing a surprisingly light touch for a New-World rendition of the variety. 89 points
By Josh Raynolds
Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar, Nov/Dec 13
Ruby-red. Jammy dark berries and singed plum on the nose. Fleshy and subtly sweet, offering plump blackberry and cherry flavors that show good breadth and a touch of warmth. Soft tannins sneak in on the finish and add gentle grip to sweet black and blue fruit flavors. This fruit-driven wine is composed of 52% cabernet sauvignon, 26% cabernet franc, 9% syrah, 6% malbec, 4% merlot and 3% petit verdot. 88 points
By Josh Raynolds
Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar, Nov/Dec 13
Bright ruby. Smoke-tinged dark berries and dried cherry on the nose and palate. Taut and focused on entry, then fleshier in the mid-palate, offering bitter cherry and rose pastille flavors and a touch of cracked pepper. Finishes with dusty tannins that add grip and a touch of smoky herbs. 88 points
By Bella McDowell
...Aromas of anise and rich, dark fruit. The palate is full-bodied but not overwhelming. Tastes of anise, tobacco, and ripe, dark fruit are coupled with smooth tannins and hints of earthiness. The finish is spicy and long. I think this is a great showing from Cimarone that really delivers for under $20! Read the full review here.
Only a short 40 minute drive from downtown Santa Barbara, aka America's Riviera, the Santa Ynez Valley boasts award-winning wines crafted in the style of Bordeaux, Burgundy, and the Rhone Valley. While there is a wide variety of wineries and tasting rooms to visit, we are often asked about other activities here in our little slice of paradise. After all, one can't wine taste ALL day AND night!
If you love the active life, you'll find an athletic Mecca that is well worth the pilgrimage. There's a reason the likes of Lance Armstrong, Tejay van Garderen, and Taylor Phinney have trained in the Santa Ynez Valley over the years. Grueling climbs on quiet roads with infinite blue skies overhead beckon cyclists like the Sirens of Greek mythology. The Figueroa Mountain loop is not for the novice rider, but like a clever mariner, a skilled cyclist can successfully navigate around its challenges. The Amgen Tour of California frequently incorporates the Santa Ynez Valley into its route. Former Olympic cyclist Chris Carmichael has established a training camp here, and Trek Travel runs multiple bike tours in the area. Several local companies offer day packages as well; check out Wine Country Cycling Tours for starters, and Dr. J's Bicycle Shop for daily rentals.
If mountain biking is your mode of exercise, check out The Dirt Club located on Zaca Station Road. With glorious views and miles of trails, there’s something for every level of rider.
Hiking opportunities range from a modest walk to the Nojoqui Falls, to more challenging hikes up Grass Mountain (shown below from the summit), Knapp’s Castle, or Gaviota Peak. A fit hiker can start early, and be up and back in time for afternoon wine tasting. Click here for a link to some local hikes. It's wise to carry plenty of water and be wary of rattlesnakes and mountain lions.
Fine wine tends to pique the interest of renowned chefs, and we are fortunate to be attracting more and more culinary artists. Featured in Food and Wine and Wine Spectator, do not miss Chef Budi Kazali of The Ballard Inn’s lamb or fish dishes. His Hamachi sashimi appetizer is a local favorite. Brother’s Jeff and Matt Nichols, formerly of Spago’s and other Los Angeles and Paris restaurants, have converted the historic Sides Hardware and Shoes building into a relaxed restaurant with a farm-to-table philosophy that translates to delicious food. On a given day you’ll see local winemakers, captains of industry, or maybe even rocker David Crosby settling in for signature breakfast beignets, lunchtime fish tacos, or a supper of Scottish salmon. The newest kids on the block are the Santa Ynez Kitchen in Santa Ynez (from veteran Toscana restaurateurs Mike and Kathie Gordon), which has already drawn glowing reviews from locals, and the Inn at Mattei’s Tavern featuring Nashville Chef Robbie Wilson. Jeff and Matt Nichols have also opened their second restaurant, Brothers Restaurant at the Red Barn.
Other local favorites: Grappolo, Root 246, Dos Carlito's, Los Olivos Wine Merchant and Cafe, Petro's, Paula's Pancakes (breakfast), Longhorn (breakfast)
You’ll find miniature horses and miniature donkeys lining the Alamo Pintado corridor, the ostrich farm that was featured in Sideways, gorgeous fields of lavender on Roblar Road, just-picked apples at Apple Lane Farm, olive oil tasting at Global Gardens in Los Alamos, eclectic jewelry at Waxing Poetic, and not-to-be-missed Danish bakeries such as The Solvang Bakery in Solvang. Grab some pastries or a to-go lunch at Panino's and enjoy a weekend picnic on the historic Ballard School grounds. And finally, when you’ve sated your wine tasting palate, check out the newly opened Barrel Works at the Firestone-Walker Taproom in Buellton, and sample some award-winning local brews (along with great food).
While we hope you come in and taste our luscious Bordeaux-style wines in our Los Olivos tasting room, we also encourage you to take advantage of all the valley has to offer. Above all, we hope you enjoy visiting our glorious Santa Ynez Valley!
Spring is a gorgeous season in the Santa Ynez Valley. Winter’s dull brown hills are verdant green and spindly gnarled grape vines are exploding with the chartreuse of new life. We begin to see young foals cautiously testing wobbly stilts of legs, and baby rabbits race across open spaces hoping to evade the watchful eye of red tailed hawks above.
In this season of renewal and rebirth, we’ve been thinking about our approach to Cimarone Wines. And though we enjoy several wonderful relationships with distributors, our wines are still not as readily available to our faithful customers as we would like.
So we’ve decided to break down the barriers, and lose the proverbial leash. We’re giving birth to a new era – one in which the high cost of shipping wine will no longer prevent you from savoring our approachably priced handcrafted wines.
From here on out, ground shipping will be included for online purchases of three or more bottles...that's right, free shipping on 3+ bottles of delicious handcrafted wine! If you’re buying just one to two bottles, you’ll pay just $5. For our faithful Cellar Club members, you’ll still reap the rewards of your generous discounts, but your club shipments will no longer be charged for ground shipping.
So if you’re not seeing our wines at your local wine shop and it’s time to stock-up, go ahead and order some now from our online store… the shipping’s on us!
Oh, and there's a new member on our winery staff - Charlie Brown, a rat terrier who is terrorizing Mac and the cats!
Roger and Cilla
Although it's balmy here compared to the low temperatures on the East Coast and in the Midwest, it's still chilly at night. This week we’re looking at nightly temperatures in the mid 40's, but we've had our share of icy mornings. Whilst the vines sleep, the vineyard is still bustling with the activities of winter.
The pruning of heartier varieties: Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Syrah, takes place at this time of year. They get first dibs with the pruning shears because they are less sensitive to fluctuations in the weather at time of flowering here in Happy Canyon. These varieties tend to deliver a balanced crop more consistently. In contrast to these reliable grapes, our capricious French beauty, Merlot, and our impetuous Italian, Sangiovese, are more likely to either produce big crops or barely deliver. Pruning is delayed for these and other Bordeaux varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon to avoid exposure to inclement weather during flowering. Pruning may occur as late as March for these more vulnerable globes.
Different varieties are subject to different pruning techniques, some of which have existed for millennia. For example, the Sauvignon Blanc blocks are cane-pruned, followed by cane tying...all by hand. To observe the vineyard crew tying canes, click here or on the video below. Some left-over canes can be used as starts for self-rooting grapes. Select canes are properly cared for, then shipped off to other vineyards for storage and planting.
Alternatively, some varieties, such as Cabernet Franc, are spur-pruned and cordon trained. Size of grape clusters, position in the vineyard, irrigation and nutrition of the vines, target yield, and wind vulnerability are some of the contributing factors to the selection of pruning technique.
It may be winter, and the vines might be dormant, but vineyard workers are awake and bustling with winter activities in preparation for the 2014 vintage.
Shhh…the vines are asleep now. After their crimson and burnt umber leaves fall to the ground, grape vines hunker down for a long winter’s rest just like bears and groundhogs. Rather than calling it hibernation, we refer to it as dormancy and they quite literally go to sleep. Tests have been conducted to confirm that the vines experience very low metabolic activity during this time.
As they drop into blissful slumber, they're tucked in with cover crops. Legumes are used in the majority of the vineyard, and in a few select areas, straight barley is substituted. Cover crops are planted for a number of reasons, but the two most important are to enrich the soil and to build water-holding capacity. An ancillary benefit of the improved water-holding capacity is that it decreases the amount of water needed in the vineyard on the whole. This saves money and more importantly here in California wine country, it conserves an extremely valuable natural resource - water.
While they’re sleeping, they’ll be treated to a haircut. Although some vineyards are pruned shortly after harvest in late autumn, in Happy Canyon, we opt to prune in the January/February/March time frame. This is driven by vineyard management philosophy, as well as the variety of each block. Each block is pruned at the optimal time for that particular variety and position in the vineyard. But pruning will be the subject of another post…until then, sleep tight!
Are you cringing at the thought of that one relative or friend showing up on your doorstep for Christmas dinner? You know the one. As he presents you with his bottle of wine, you swear that for one lightning moment he morphed into Gollum? As he reluctantly eases Precious into your hands, you are suddenly seized with anxiety about how to properly dispense of such a coveted gift. Not wanting to reveal any ignorance on the lore of Precious nor what to do with him, you thank Gollum profusely and carry Precious into the kitchen.
Now what? Mordor lies just ahead on your dining room table. If you don't deliver Precious to its proper place, all will be lost, and Gollum will haunt your dreams at least until next Christmas.
What is decanting? Dictionary.com defines it as
1) To pour (wine or other liquid) gently so as not to disturb the sediment.
2) To pour (a liquid) from one container to another.
But why do it? After all, Precious seems perfectly content inside its well-formed bottle. The primary reason to decant wine is to remove sediment . Rather than pour a beautiful glass of wine accompanied with unsavory sediment into your glass, sommeliers may decant the bottle for you. By pouring slowly, particularly with older, fragile wines (and often times with a candle underneath the bottle to illuminate the sediment as it approaches the neck), the sediment will become trapped prior to reaching the neck of the bottle, signaling that it's time to stop pouring. In addition, the exposure to oxygen has the added benefit of taming tannins in younger bold red wines, and allowing them to 'open up.' And finally, the color of wine is a rich, sensual addition to any dining table.
So is decanting really necessary if the wine isn't 20-25 years old? It's really a matter of personal choice and palate. There are those who argue that when you decant, you actually lose some of the aromatics of the wine...that if you choose to decant you should do it just prior to serving. This can be impractical, however, for the hostess who is also trying to serve her lovely filet and the rest of her meal nice and hot. And, as previously noted, there are those who feel strongly that a splashing pour into a decanter (for maximum contact with oxygen) is tres importante for mellowing tannins in bold young reds. In our experience here in the Santa Ynez Valley, we often have the pleasure of casually dining with winemakers and long-time industry folks...and it is infrequent that they bother to decant their own wines or special bottles that they bring to share.
So experiment with your own palate, and feel confident about which path to Orodruin you choose. The enjoyment of one of Earth's oldest gifts is a journey. And although you'll be tempted to give Gollum a little poke with Sting as he lurks about the kitchen, gently ask him if he would like you to decant Precious and when he would like you to do so. He'll appreciate it, and now you're armed with enough knowledge to win the decanting riddle game.
If you're like us, you have a few friends and family members who are particularly challenging to shop for come holiday time.
You know they'll actually use it!
Have some additions as to why you think wine might just be the perfect gift? Bring 'em! Comment below...
Our (2) Bottle Gift Box makes a tasteful gift for the wine lover during the holidays. The 2010 Cimarone Le Clos Secret is our premium Bordeaux-style blend crafted exclusively from Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara fruit. We've been so pleased with the quality of the Cabernet coming out of Three Creek Vineyard, that we decided to make a Cabernet Sauvignon varietal wine, our 2011 Cimarone Cabernet Sauvignon, which will be nestled right beside the Le Clos Secret in an elegant maroon gift box.
Our (3) Bottle Gift Box is ideal for highly regarded clients, colleagues, and customers as well. It's the same as the (2) Bottle Gift Box above, but we've included our 2009 Cabernet Franc varietal wine as well. All three of these pedigreed wines will pair beautifully with a lovely holiday roasted tenderloin...
Gift Cards: Purchase our online Gift Card and let the lucky recipient select his or her favorite wines. Our Gift Cards are delivered digitally only. The recipient will be sent a Gift Card code via our Gift Card email, which he or she will use at checkout on our website when they redeem the Gift Card. Please be sure to enter the recipient's email address in the "Shipping Information" section when you checkout.
One Year Cellar Club Memberships: Save approximately 15% off our normal generous club discounts when you pre-pay for a one year membership in one of our Cellar Clubs. Select from our three bottle/shipment club (Cimarone 3) or our six bottle/shipment club (Cimarone 6); you may also select a REDS-only club. Check out our Cellar Clubs by clicking here.
SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
From TO AUTUMN, by John Keats
Harvest is an exciting time to be in Santa Ynez wine country. Eerie lights pierce the dark morning hours, following pickers as they move amongst the vines. Morning school routes are slowed by tractors and trucks carrying pallets of grapes as they transfer the cold fruit to eager winemakers.
Harvest is also a time of great anxiety. An entire year's worth of farming comes down to a handful of weeks. Will the fruit hit its magic numbers before rain or frost sets in? White wine varieties, such as our Sauvignon Blanc, are harvested earlier than the reds (typically in August), so they are less susceptible to the weather changes of autumn. But our lusty reds need more hang time on the vines to reach their optimal ripeness.
Many factors go into the 'when to pick' decision, so we'll just point out a few of the primary players. Perhaps the most important is degrees Brix. No, it's not a clever way of spelling those things that line your patio. Brix is named after Adolf Brix, one of the scientists who helped develop the Brix scale. Put in simple terms, Brix is a scale of measuring total dissolved compounds in grape juice, and therefore its approximate concentration of grape sugars*. Why do we care? The sugars translate to alcohol content and sweetness in the wine.
But...the sugar-acid ratio needs to be just right as well. Acidity contributes to the freshness and fruitiness of the wine, as well as to its color. High acidity can result in an overtly tart wine, while excessively low acidity can cause the wine to be boring and flat. The goal is a balanced wine. Acids are typically measured in pH and TA (titratable acid). As the grapes ripen, sugar levels increase, and acid levels fall. Picking at night and in the wee morning hours keeps the fruit nice and cold which stabilizes the sugar levels, and optimizes the acid levels. This practice helps to ensure a more predictable outcome in the fermentation process.
And finally, we have the time-tested contributor to the assessment process: a seasoned winemaker. The winemaker, in our case, the fabulous Andrew Murray, will do a physiological assessment for ripeness. He will feel the grapes in his hand, observe their color, and chew several of them. Chew? Yes, chew. Wine grapes have seeds. Andrew will crunch the seeds as well; they impart tannins into the wine. If you’re trying to understand the role tannins play in the taste of wine, think about a strong cup of black tea – it’s that similar bitterness. Balancing tannins is a tricky business, and it is almost entirely a matter of winemaking experience, not science. Andrew will also be considering the fruit’s flavor. Have the grapes developed adequate flavor to create a beautiful bottle of wine?
So we take all of the above information into consideration, and day-by-day plot the harvest. But we’ve left out perhaps the most important element…the elements themselves. Good old Mother Nature sometimes has a wicked sense of humor. Just when the harvest looks perfect, she’ll throw in an early fall frost or heavy rain. In 2013, we’ve had very low rain fall, and a hot summer, yielding an early harvest. It’s looking like rain this week (= potential mildew, and grapes absorbing moisture which can throw off the sugar-acid ratios), so more grapes will be harvested in advance of the impending rain…game on…And that’s life in the country.
* - From Jancis Robinson's, The Oxford Companion to Wine, 2006, Oxford University Press, Oxford