Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Fourth and Final Harvest Update

The winemaking team has been furiously busy since I last wrote on Tuesday, October 11th. As you may or may not remember, that was the day after the final rains of this growing season. That Monday was supposed to be dry, and if the weather models had played out as predicted, the pace of this harvest would have been more leisurely. When this vintage is looked back upon in two or three years, as its wines are being released, many people will refer to October 10th as the fulcrum point that tipped the vintage towards its close.

Harvesting started in a panic as many winemakers, this one included, realized the scope of the challenge that the mold pressure presented; a block with trace amounts of botrytis could become completely enveloped in twenty four hours. The thin skin, tight cluster varieties were the first to succumb to the fungus. Petit Sirah and Petit Verdot were particularly hard hit and were triage priority when making pick calls. The Round Pond Estate however, has the fortunate ability to harvest any block any day that’s needed or desired—a resource that proved particularly crucial this year. Throwing courtesy and convention aside, I called many picks the same day I walked out into the fields and realized that another block absolutely must come in. For that I would like to extend many thanks to the vineyard team for their flexibility, and my cellar crew for their tenacity.

Following the rains, we had a string of warm, windless days that were perfect for fungus growth. On the valley floor, the sun heated the saturated soil, which raised the relative humidity in the fields. Those vines trellised in curtain forming fashion trapped the evaporating water and created a sauna-like environment, which further exasperated the tendency for mold to spread. When temperatures fell at night, the surface of the grapes cooled and the trapped moisture below the canopy condensed on the fruit so that by daybreak, the clusters were dripping with dew. Vines trellised in a vertical fashion did not suffer the “sauna effect” and fared better against the mold. Also of note, the more gravely sections of vineyard blocks dried out more quickly, and were subsequently less susceptible to mold pressure.

Winemaking, like any science, is an exercise in observation. Walking the vineyards, it was critical to understand why some blocks were more affected by botrytis than others in order to make decisions on optimizing fruit quality and harvesting efficiency. Having learned from our early picks, it was apparent that the benefit of a few extra days of ripening was negated by the sensory influence the mold had on the wines. As such, I tended to pick at the first signs of mold development, which I believe preserved the fruit character in the grapes and has given us the foundation for producing wonderfully elegant and seductively aromatic wines.

November 1st marked the last day of harvest on the Estate and in that twenty-two day period, the production crew broke records three consecutive times for number of tons processed in a day, and the amount of fruit received at the winery in a week’s span. These statistics do not come as a surprise to me; all vintages at the Estate are fast and furious but late ones, like this year, especially so. Harvest at Round Pond is most certainly a sprint and not a marathon.

Thanks to all of the staff in other departments who came to lend a hand on the sorting line, delivered food and libations, or simply gave a kind word of encouragement. Those sentiments never go unnoticed and are certainly appreciated. I look forward to sharing our collective efforts with everyone in the years to come, and feel the climatic challenges of this vintage will prove to be a historic bellwether for the exceptional consistency of quality achievable on this Estate.


Brian Brown
Round Pond Estate

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Round Pond Harvest Update #3


As I sit at my desk patiently waiting for a high pressure system to brush aside the upper level trough that has brought us this less than welcome wet weather, our Estate and Reserve Sauvignon Blancs are quietly and coolly fermenting in tank, drum and barrel. The white wines of 2011 are looking marvelous as they progress through primary fermentation. Being an optimist to the core I am hoping that the quality of the Sauvignon Blancs are tea leaves for the rest of fruit that has yet to come in.
The phrase “when will we start bringing in the Reds,” has recently been replaced with “will we ever bring in the Reds?” To that, my coy response has been, “We’ve already harvested some red fruit.” And indeed we have, albeit not for red wine production. We have picked part of the Sangiovese and Nebbiolo crops to produce Rose. While the Sangiovese was predetermined to be a Rosato, the Nebb’s fate was a bit more ad hoc.

Because the weather has been so inclement, rot has started to form in tight cluster varieties such as Nebbiolo. Faced with the prospect of losing the fruit to mold and being forced to cull it onto the ground, where it would then release more spores into surrounding vineyards, I thought it best to bring the fruit into the winery and press it in the same fashion I did the Sangio. This has the dual benefit of preventing cross contamination in the vineyard and allows us to experiment with the Rosato di Nebbiolo. I am excited about the prospects of producing another refreshing wine to serve on the terrace, and as they say, when life gives you lemons you should make Rose…

Back to the Reds, yes, we will bring them all in. At this point we are watching the forecast fastidiously and walking our vineyard blocks compulsively. From a management stand point we have applied all the protective sprays applicable at this phase in the season; we have leafed out the fruiting zone to promote airflow; we have even gone to the point of using leaf blowers like large hairdryers to dry out more susceptible varieties like Petit Sirah.

I mentioned in earlier updates that the Winegrowing team learned much from the previous two cool vintages. One of those lessons was “don’t put your eggs in one basket.” As such, we have diversified the blocks from where we pull fruit. Should one block ripen quicker than another, we can capitalize on this phenomenon. This is indeed what we are seeing and as we enter into the final phase of the growing season we will segregate each pick according to its potential to produce Reserve, Estate, and Napa Valley styled wines.

I suspect that we will be bringing in fruit towards the end of the week and certainly the week after. I will update you again in the near future with developments as they occur.

Si Se Puede,

Brian Brown

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Harvest Update 2.0

After patiently waiting nearly all of September, the commencement of harvest finally arrived on Wednesday of last week. Sauvignon Blanc picking and pressing is in full swing and I am thrilled to report that the quality looks very good this year. As most of you know, shatter was a big factor in the size of the crop this vintage and Sauvignon Blanc was particularly hard hit. Early estimates pegged the damage at fifty percent reduction, but after harvesting the first two blocks it looks like the crop load was affected to a slightly lesser degree.

One of the challenges that we have encountered this year has been to bring the canopy and crop load into balance. Sauvignon Blanc has a naturally vigorous vegetative growth habit and when combined with the deep heavy soils where the vines are planted, the crop size can be prolific. Because of the shatter the natural balance between leaf surface area and crop load was thrown askew. Too many leaves and not enough fruit causes sugars to accumulate quicker than flavors. To mitigate this we hedged the vines early and often to remove actively growing shoot tips and control the overall number of leaves.
The cool growing season delayed the commencement of harvest by twenty six days. However, this late season heat spell kicked the pace of ripening up a few notches and Sauvignon Blanc throughout the valley is being picked at a furious pace to keep sugars and flavors in an appropriate range. Round Pond’s trellis set-up has allowed us to weather this heat with minimal detrimental impact to the fruit. The fruiting zone is well protected by the canopy so that sunburn does not occur. The flavor intensity in the fruit is exceptional and the multiple picks should allow for a very expressive and complex wine. I am hoping to wrap things up early this week for the Estate Sauvignon Blanc; the Reserve fruit should come in shortly there after.

Until the next installment...

Brian Brown
Round Pond Estate

Monday, September 19, 2011

Pre-Harvest Report from the Winemaker

This is a letter we received from our winemaker this morning to help us all to understand "where we are" with harvest:

Dear Team Round Pond,

On what is the last week before we get this party started, I think it’s appropriate to give a recap on where we are and how we got here.

This year’s catch phrase: "Cooler than normal temperatures"

In the spring, if we experience cool weather, the vines will remain dormant and bud break will be delayed. This is in itself is challenging, because like a thoroughbred getting out of the gates a furlong or two behind, it can be difficult to make up lost ground. Thus the 2011 vintage began...

Cooler temperature will also draw rain clouds in from the ocean. If, at this time, the vines are in cap drop, the effect from both the cool weather and the rain will interfere with the ability of the vine to pollinate. This is commonly referred to as shatter. On the Estate we experienced shatter in interesting patterns. Old vines were affected more than young. Some varieties were affected more than others. Some clones were affected more than others. Soil variability had little effect and rootstock was seen as being neutral. This was obviously a scion reaction to an atmospheric condition.

The cooler than normal weather persisted the entire growing season, which did not help us catch up in the ripening department. An interesting phenomenon of note is that we have not experienced a single heat spike the entire growing season. An occurrence that is unprecedented according to the old timers. Marching into September, we are tracking about three weeks behind schedule and it appears that my prediction of a record-breaking heat index for this month will not come to pass…

Now that everyone is sufficiently depressed I’d like to state that not all is doom and gloom. Not even close.

As cool and late as this vintage may be, this is the third year in a row Mother Nature has dealt us this same hand. The winegrowing team learned much in 2009 and gained on that knowledge in 2010. We have reacted quickly and sufficiently to guarantee the growth of the most exceptional crop this Estate can produce. I look forward to what this vintage still holds in store and will update you at the major milestones. You won’t have to wait long… Sauvignon Blanc is coming in next week.

Humbly Yours,

Brian Brown
Round Pond Estate

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

We're ready... are you??

There is a familiar buzz here at Round Pond. It's like you can feel it in the air... Harvest is just around the corner, and boy are we ready for it! This season, we have an entirely new cellar crew that is working with winemaker Brian Brown. Our 4 new "crushers" come from all different backgrounds in wine, from locally born and raised in wine, a Masters degree in enology, and a few international harvests between them. We feel so fortunate to have such a stellar team in place for this year, and we can't wait to see them in action!

Although we are still a couple weeks out from picking our first grapes, Sauvignon Blanc, we are finding ways to kill some time around the winery. Meticulous checking of all the equipment, extensive cleaning of each tank, and a few BBQ's on the crushpad to soak in the late Summer sun. For Labor Day weekend, we have invited our wine club members to come celebrate with us in our Winery Sensory Garden that is bursting at the seams. Our chef Eric Maczko will be grilling his famous lamb kabobs and creating special garden treats using the bounty from our garden that we have been blessed with this season. All the bites will of course highlight our Estate wines and use our olive oils for a smooth finish. We love any chance we get to share with others. The winery will also be hosting a "Day in the Life" on October 15th if you are looking for a way to get hands-on with harvest. Check out a little video we put together to give you a glimpse at this one of a kind opportunity. Happy Harvest to all and we hope you will come say hi to our crew this season. Cheers!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Harvest Update from Winemaker- "Rollin' with the Puncheons"

Good Afternoon All,
It has been almost three weeks since I was able to take the time to sit down and give everyone an update on how things are going this harvest. My apologies for being incommunicado but my lack of correspondence is a reflection of how busy the wine production staff has been the last 20 days. Since my last update we processed 108 tons of red fruit here at Round Pond Winery and 40 tons at our custom crush facility. On October 19th we broke the RP record for tons processed in a day by crushing 18.7 tons. We smashed that record the next day by processing 30.2 tons. I am sure that you are all aware that the rains that we had during this period played a large roll in necessitating this frantic schedule.

This year was somewhat of a déjà vu experience from last year in that we encountered two large rain events back to back. The vineyard and winery team learned a few lessons from last year on how the fruit would respond to two such rains so we picked out blocks according to fruit ripeness and the ability of some of the Cab grape clusters to hang through the rains. I think that we played the hand that we were dealt perfectly and achieved the best possible quality out of the vineyard that was attainable this year.
2010 will be the first year that we have made Malbec and Petit Sirah at the winery. I will use these as blenders but early tastings show these wines to be very interesting independently and we may do some small varietal bottlings of these. The Petit Verdot, which always impresses me, has done so again this year. I imagine that I will use a healthy dose in both our Estate Cab as well as the Reserve Bovet Cab. Currently the Sauvignon Blancs are finishing fermentation and they also taste great.


Brian Brown

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Harvest Update from the Winemaker

Happy Wednesday,

We are at the tail end of what has been our second heat event this growing season. The weather has bumped sugars up a bit and quickened the ripening process. Many of the skins still have a chalky grittiness to them but I’ve noticed that the green flavors have disappeared from all of the different blocks that we bring in for Round Pond wine. Now is the time of year when I am in the vineyard everyday checking to make sure all of the fruit remains sound as well as tasting for flavor development which will trigger my decision to pick.

Today we harvested our first lots of Nebbiolo and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Nebbiolo got hit pretty hard by the first heat event earlier in the season and as such we lost a significant portion of the crop. The fruit that made it to the winery this morning does look good and although we will have a smaller volume of wine I think that what we do make will be pretty tasty.

The crew is performing a selective pick in the Cabernet block this morning. I’m having the guys harvest only part of the fruit off of each vine. Their instructions are to pick any clusters with dimpling berries or any signs of sunburn. What they are leaving behind are visually perfect clusters. I am doing this because the clusters that are starting to dimple are finished ripening and will only dehydrate from this point forward so they are as good as they will ever get. If I let them dry on the vine any longer then we will have “pruney” flavored wine which I find unappealing. The fruit that I left on the vine will have longer to ripen and the vine now has fewer clusters, so more of the vine’s energy will be focused on those clusters that are still hanging. I’m hoping that the longer hang time will translate into some Reserve quality wine.


Brian Brown