Personal Stories – Wine

Nov 052014
 
Read Part 6 of  Starting J. Cage Cellars –  A Family Winery Series

Back at the end of September, we finished barreling our wines so they can mature and rest comfortably. Donna and I then headed back to Denver. A Halloween party invitation and the wonderful Pinot on the River event in Healdsburg were enough excuse to bolt from Denver for a long weekend back in Sonoma to taste our three J. Cage Cellars wines.

J. Cage Cellars

Conch getting J. Cage Cellars Pinot Samples

I recall watching Conch and Whitney when they were young kids participating in sporting events and wondering if they might develop into world-class athletes. Of course nearly every parent does when their child kicks that first soccer goal or in our case glided down the ski racing slopes of Breckenridge. I was sure Conch was destined for the PGA when he got a hole-in-one at age 13…. But alas… it didn’t happen. A parent can dream…and probably should.

The wines that we struggled so hard to get right are, like those soccer kids, growing up and it was a pleasure to taste them after a month of maturity. Conch samples barrels almost weekly and keeps me apprised. The whites are nice and crisp and should be ready for the summer patio season. But it’s the five barrels of Pinot Noir that I’m emotionally focused upon.

Early on in the weekend, Conch pulled samples of all the wines. Each barrel was tasted separately for its own unique characteristics and to make sure all was right. A lot can still go wrong. While we were pleased, we made some adjustments to the white wines to lower the acidity, still keeping them crisp, refreshing and food friendly. All five barrels of Pinot Noir were rockin’ along just fine.

On our last day, Conch and I returned to the winery to blend samples from all five Pinot barrels. We have gently used French oak barrels from three different coopers. Though not enough time has passed for the oak to fully impact the wines, each barrel already had its own personality. We blended the barrels into two sample bottles and headed home. They sat in the fridge for a couple of hours to allow the flavors to meld a bit.

It was a beautiful Sonoma fall night and the house filled with a few guests. As the evening rolled along I poured the bottles into a decanter then into a glass. Alone, out to the backyard I strolled to taste and contemplate. As I sat around the fire pit, I took a deep sniff and was pleasantly surprised at the complexity of the nose, lots of dark cherry, raspberry and spice aromas. Then for the taste…It was young, bright and delicious. The blend was better than any of the single barrels. Like a child with promise, the wine will grow up and the French oak still needs to add the background notes to the concerto.

Gustavo Brambila in Bottle Shock

Gustavo Brambila in Bottle Shock

At that moment a flood of thoughts came forth. First was the scene in the movie Bottle Shock when Gustavo Brambilia proudly shared his wine with Mr. Garcia on the front porch of the small home while classical music played from the ’60’s era turntable. The second was of times Conch and Whitney excelled in their sports of choice and I wondered if they were future athletes.

Enjoying our 2014 J. Cage Cellars, Nunes Vineyard Pinot Noir, was like watching a child make that first goal…such promise…such excitement…but still a long way to go. When we contracted for our Pinot grapes with Fred and Wendy Nunes, Fred said, “Roger, I’ll deliver your perfect hand selected grapes…Your job is not to screw them up.”’ Actually Fred was a bit more colorful in his verb choice. Fred did his job and it looks like we are doing ours. I can’t wait to show off the kids. But we will both have to wait. Patience Grasshopper.

Please read my other posts in this J. Cage Cellars – Starting a Family Winery Series

The Last Days of Winemaker Summer Camp
Learning to be a Winemaker – My Head is Spinning!
Fatherhood – The First Grapes Arrive
Awaiting Our First Harvest – When Will Her Water Break?
Starting A Family Winery – Living the Wine Stained Dream
Oct 082014
 
Read Part 5 of our Starting J. Cage Cellars – A Family Winery Series

 

IMG_2276It was the last few days of our harvest and crush for J. Cage Cellars. The Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier that Donna and I had watched over so closely during the last weeks of ripening were fully fermented and safely tucked into their barrels, resting until they are ready to share. Our Pinot Noir from Nunes Vineyard in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County was nearly finished and ready for press. I, for the first time during this experience, was feeling down and a bit sad. But it took a winemaker friend to describe the emotion accurately.

The last two weeks had been filled with work in the winery. Both Donna and I found we were missing our time in the vineyard. Early morning, in the solitude of vines, grapes and sunshine, sometimes hidden by a thin layer of coastal fog was a time we learned to cherish. We would walk amongst the rows taking grape samples, checking for quality, sugar levels and overall ripeness. Different areas of the vineyard and different clones of the same grape variety mature at different rates, making choices challenging. We strived to get our first picks as close to perfect as possible, in order to create the hand-crafted wines we had been imagining for our own, J. Cage Cellars. Continue reading »

Sep 212014
 
Read Part 4 of our Starting J. Cage Cellars –  A Family Winery Series

Much to my naive surprise, learning to be a winemaker and seeking winemaking advice has turned out to be much like my first days of fatherhood and  seeking child rearing advice. Even the most artful winemakers hold deeply seeded conflicting opinions. As my friend Kurt Beitler of Bohème Wines told me, “Roger…What do you get when two winemakers are in a room together?…Four opinions.”

Learning to be a Winemaker I recall from my early days as a father asking different parents I respected about child rearing philosophies and techniques. As I found with winemaking, there was an inconsistency of heartfelt answers. Let the child bond by sleeping in bed with you. The child should learn independence by sleeping in another room. Let the child set their own schedule. If your child sets their own schedule, you’ll have an undisciplined child and you’ll get no rest…It’s all enough to leave your head spinning like the child, Regan, in the 1973 film The Exorcist.

Even though I had spent quite a bit of time reading about the art of winemaking, when the time came for decision making, I relied on a core group of respected winemaker friends who were happy to offer solid advice. I had assumed incorrectly, that since they produced wines in a similar style, their techniques would be nearly the same and I would have a simple plan to follow. I could not have been more wrong. Not only are many of their opinions deeply held, I was told that if I followed another’s advice…it could end badly. Like Regan…my head was and is still, though to a much lesser extent, spinning. Continue reading »

Sep 012014
 
Read Part 3 of our Starting J. Cage Cellars – A Family Winery Series
“I don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ babies.” (Prissy from Gone With the Wind)

And that’s how it felt when we arrived at 5:15 AM to bring in our first grapes for our new family winery J. Cage Cellars. All that I had learned in preparation for that moment seemed to evaporate in the excitement. Much like how all the hours spent in birthing classes twenty-five years earlier were reduced in the heat of the moment to “Breathe, Honey…You can do this.”

The early morning of August 27th was crisp and clear. The sun had not yet risen and the fog was yet to flow from the coast when we arrived. Dry Creek Valley was very dark. Above the vineyard, the star-filled sky twinkled in anticipation. On the hillside across the road, crews were hand-picking grapes though all I could see was their tiny headlamps sparking amongst the trees like fireflies on a summer’s eve. A tractor droned in a distant part of the vineyard bringing in fruit for another winery who was picking ahead of us. Donna and I waited patiently until I received a text from Janice, the vineyard owner that read, “walk towards the tractor sounds” and so we did.

The First Grapes ArriveAmongst the vines we found Janice and Brian Schmidt of Tzabaco Rancho Vineyards along with Kay, Brian’s sister. Brian was perched on the blue tractor pulling a trailer with three ½ ton bins for the handpicked grapes. On the trailer’s running boards stood Janice and Kay, pulling out leaves and bad clusters, tossing them to the side. The crew of Mexican vineyard workers moved quietly and efficiently slicing clusters of Sauvignon Blanc grapes off the vines, placing them in smaller bins called lugs until the bin weighed about 40 lbs. Then they would scurry to the trailer; dump the lug and run back to pick more. Each worker is paid by the lug, so they move very quickly.

The First Grapes ArriveThe crew picked our 2300 pounds of grapes in just 30 minutes. The rows that I had been babysitting and checking religiously were soon bare. While my days are now busy in the winery, I miss the vineyard. We had selected two rows for our Sauvignon Blanc and will make about 50 cases of wine. I chose this vineyard for a couple of reasons. First, I know and respect the Schmidts as both growers and people. The family has owned and farmed the property since 1856. Check out their wonderful red wines at Estate 1856. Second, I could take a mix of the common Clone 1 and the less common Musque clone that will give the finished wine a more plush mouth-feel. Continue reading »

Aug 202014
 
Read Part 2 of our J. Cage Cellars – Starting a Family Winery Series

It has been a very long time since I was an expectant father…23 years to be exact. But I feel like one again as I wait for our first grapes for J. Cage Cellars to hit the level of ripeness we are waiting patiently to see. The weather in Sonoma this week has been almost fall-like with even a bit of rain this morning. Cool days and cooler nights may be good for slow ripening grapes; but to me it feels more like Donna’s Braxton-Hicks contractions during her last few weeks of pregnancy…is he/she coming?!…is he/she coming?!…No honey, not yet.

Awaiting Our First Harvest

Checking Pinot Noir Sugars

Winemakers often say, their most nerve racking decision is the time to pick, especially the first time they have the responsibility for that decision. An emotion I now fully grasp. Once the crews have moved through the vineyard with their lightning fast shears, the vintage is set and the wine will be what it will be. Should I have picked sooner…or later?…too late now, to second guess. Our premise of hand-made, terroir-driven wines will mean minimal manipulation allowing the vineyard and vintage to speak for themselves. Every decision, for good or bad, will make it into the bottle. We hope you will enjoy and appreciate the bottled art we will create. The last week has been a busy one as we prepare for our first harvest and much like a first-time father I am, no doubt, overly zealous. During the week, I have visited all three of our vineyards, looking at grape clusters and testing sugars with my new refractometer. Looking through the eyepiece is something akin to looking into the future. For those who may read this and are experienced in the vineyard, I know it sounds silly..aah it’s all new to me. I spoke to a few winemaker friends, getting more advice. We discussed picking sugars, seed ripeness, grape acidity, fermentation temperatures, yeast strains and more. Once again, I have to comment on how open and helpful everyone has been. The most common response I’ve gotten from winemakers when I ask my first question is a laugh, followed by “I wondered when the winemaking bug would bite you.” Continue reading »