2014 has been a whirlwind. Budbreak occurred in February, and was followed by a moderate, dry spring. Fruit set was low, and we experienced only moderate heat events throughout June and July, with cool weather through the middle of August that allowed full maturation of the grapes.
Our harvest started in earnest five days after the earthquake, on August 29, with Sauvignon Blanc from Handley Vineyard, just north of the town of St. Helena. We destemmed one-half ton of fruit and fermented it on its skins with naturally occurring yeasts. The balance we whole-cluster pressed to neutral French oak barrels for fermentation. The wines are now aging sur lies and receive weekly battonage. They are wonderfully nuanced, full, and ripe, and unlike anything we have produced before.
In a twist of fate our Cabernet Sauvignon was harvested next. It was exciting to find thisbeautiful vineyard perched high above Lake Hennessey. And, a fellow McBride, no relation, owns the property, named Loveland Lee Vineyard. The site has an unusual aspect, occupying a steep hillside that wraps around the northern facing slope of Pritchard Hill, with vines facing northeast by north by northwest. The light arrives slowly across the shadow of the hill. The soil is composed of light brown clay, and is unusually thin. We picked this vineyard by hand with friends the morning of Wednesday, September 17. The berries were small and rich. This fruit was de-stemmed at Wine Foundry and then taken to Punk Dog Cellars to ferment in six closed-top barrels, with daily spinning by hand, for 42 days. We pressed off the Cabernet by hand over the last week of fermentation, and once our new location in South Napa is ready, later this year, the barrels will move to our first permanent facility for maturation. This Loveland Lee Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is likely to be the most concentrated, rich, and luxurious wine we have ever produced, with yields totaling just 116 gallons/ton.
For the second year in a row, we harvested Pinot Noir from Carneros. This fruit came in September 24 from Cuvaison Vineyard. We performed an aggressive saignée on the fruit to concentrate flavors and colors, and fermented in two new Leroi barrels and three bins. We pressed this wine gently off the skins and seeds over a seven-day period entirely by hand, culminating in an incredibly soft and silky structure. Pinot Noir is a tricky grape, but a rewarding challenge. Still young, it’s showing delectable cherry cola and sweet blackberry flavors already.
We harvested Chardonnay on October 4, also from Napa’s Carneros district. We performed a very slow, whole-cluster press on this fruit, then racked the clarified juice to a selection of four, three, and one-year old French and American oak barrels. The wine is still fermenting at a very cold temperature, with bi-weekly battonage, on naturally occurring yeasts, and as in past years, will probably complete primary and malolactic fermentation by June 2015 at the earliest.
And then we come to the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley, our home and our flagship, from which we have produced a succulent and age-worthy Merlot for the past five years. We believe in this place and this vineyard, and we are thrilled to continue our relationship here. The quality of the fruit this year was superb: very ripe, but very balanced, with very ripe seed tannins. After a three-day cold soak, we fermented the juice in two, one-ton lots for 26 days.
People often ask us what it means to make “handmade” wines. After just completing harvest 2014 we can tell you that honestly, our hands couldn’t be more involved every step of the way, so if we had a mission statement, it would read something like this …
- We only make small lots of wine: nothing more than what we can produce ourselves, with help from friends and family.
- We get our hands dirty: we are the people picking the grapes, re-coopering the barrels, performing the punch-downs, and pressing the wines gently by hand.
- We pay attention to detail: there’s no guidebook; there’s no formula; there’s no recipe. We make the wines differently every year. Often they are very different wines, from each other, and from everything else available. They are unique.
A Special Thanksgiving Postscript: This year (and last), we have so many people to thank for the incredible assistance they brought to our harvest and winemaking, we wanted to take a moment to call them out by name: Eric Arvai, Nathaniel “El Tapatio” Foster and Ben Kopman with whom we harvested 2013 Pinot Noir from “the pig farm” and 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon from Loveland Lee Vineyard on sunny Pritchard Hill. A special note of thanks to Ben — whose eagerness for winery assistance is unmatched! — who assisted Sean with the arduous task of re-coopering all the barrel fermentations for 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon. Thank you as well to Alex Pitts, Karina Turtzo, and Dani Rozman for their invaluable assistance picking the main lot of old vine Cabernet from Loveland Lee Vineyard September 17. This harvest would not have been possible without Eric Gordon at Punk Dog Wine Cellars in Napa’s burgeoning Wine Ghetto, the invaluable assistance of the crush pad at the Wine Foundry, and the magical crew at White Rock Vineyards. Thank you also to Katie Griffin and Heidi Williams for their dexterous finger work on the sorting table and all their support this year and last.