Vol. 5

My last Winemaker Journal highlighted examples of challenges which arise, some anticipated, others unexpected. We received a lot of feedback from readers, many of whom seemed very concerned about my well-being. I greatly appreciate that, but I want to assure you that I still very much enjoy life in wine country as we continue to make progress on all fronts at Calluna despite those challenges. As I said before, at the end of the day, one can regain perspective just by looking at the land, as Marla’s camera caught me here.

Savoring the results of our hard work

Some Early Feedback on our 2020 Red Wines

2020 was a year that would scare anyone in this business, both with excessive heat and, more importantly, regional fires. And 2020 was the one year where fires came early, during the growing season, instead of after harvest. For vineyards near the fires, the risk of smoke taint was high. Calluna was fortunate in its position roughly in between the major fires – the Walbridge Fire on the coast stopped many people from harvesting pinot noir, and in Napa, the Glass Fire ruined a lot of cabernet crop. In the middle of all that, we did have some smoke but it was not severe as we get good circulation on our hillside vineyards. We did a good amount of testing on our final blend of Calluna Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, which includes portions of all our grape varietals. That testing, and all the tasting of our wines, tells us that our wines are not tainted by smoke. Many had said early on that, if you did not have smoke taint, then 2020 is a very good year, and I think this is true. I am very happy with our 2020 wines, although I worry that the reputation of the 2020 vintage could cast a shadow on all 2020s. Given that, I was very heartened to see this early comment via Twitter (before it became “X”) from critic John Gilman who writes View from the Cellar:

Early praise for our 2020 vintage red wines from critic John Gilman

Bottling of our 2021 Red Wines

I am happy to report that we recently completed the bottling of our 2021 reds, which will be released to our mailing list and wine club first beginning in spring 2024. Happy to say this on two counts: First is that these are very good wines from a mercifully uneventful year without the issues of fire and excessive heat. Also, as always, I am happy just to get the bottling done. If you ask winemakers what the task is they like least, the majority will say “bottling.” I might say the least fun task is the regulatory compliance required to deal with every state’s different laws relating to shipping wine. But bottling certainly can be complex and stressful because you need to assemble so many supplies from different vendors – bottles, capsules, corks, and labels. Today, most wineries small like Calluna, and even many medium and larger size wineries, are using mobile bottling services for this job. As a simplistic overview, a mobile bottler brings in a truck the size of a large moving van, you plug in wine hoses to your tank, and the bottling begins. Inside the truck, it is very complex, as are all bottling lines. Things break all the time, but the owner of the truck is intimately familiar with its workings and knows how to fix problems. Between the potential for failed delivery of the supplies needed, and the truck having breakdowns, there is a high risk of failure and/or delay.

Historically, we have been fortunate in avoiding most problems, even throughout the pandemic supply chain disruptions, which were severe. There were times we had to adapt: For the 2020 reds, our capsule supplier failed to make timely delivery of our custom capsules, so we had to use generic black capsules on those bottles. This was frustrating given the lead time I gave on that order, but it was not the end of the world.

This year, we did have one significant problem on bottling day. Towards the end of the day as we were getting ready to bottle the 2021 Colonel’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, which is a prized single vineyard bottling of about 250 cases sold primarily to our wine club. I heard a commotion arise and I ran back to the tank. Wine was all over the floor, leaking fast from the valve. A super competent person in our winery had made an uncharacteristic mistake. It can happen. But it was painful to lose about 15 cases worth of this beautiful wine.

15 cases worth of 2021 Cabernet Sauvignon accidentally spilled down the drain.

Continuing to Grow the New Block 5 Merlot

Our newly planted Merlot vineyard is making progress. Over 3,000 dormant plants in grow boxes have woken up and many are pushing up out of the box. I need to carefully irrigate these young vines about every 5-7 days. When I went out to irrigate recently with some help from a Calluna Partner and close friend staying with us, we found standing water on the side of the vineyard and much water inside the vineyard. Did we have a pipe broken – what in the world could this be? As it turns out, the neighbor to our east has a portion of property at slightly higher elevation than our vineyard, and they had a problem with their water tank that allowed a huge amount of water to escape and flow down through our vineyard. While we needed some water, this was too much and not evenly distributed through our vineyard. Compounding the problem, we had to get this vineyard mowed again. We had mowed once but it was so overgrown again that it was hard to walk through to check the vines and irrigation emitters. However, the flooding of the vineyard now prevented us from getting a tractor through there.

Fortunately, there were several factors that worked in our favor to resolve this. First, this was just water and not something chemically treated, which could have posed a threat to the young vines. Second, all that lush vegetative cover crop and weed growth in the vineyard shown below did a good job of helping pull out the water from the ground. Also, when it is dry and warm in Sonoma County, things do dry up quickly. Finally, young vines can handle excess water for a few days.

New Block 5 Merlot Before Mowing

In the end, the best thing to do was wait it out for a few days, then run a little irrigation water directly on to the vines, wait a few more days, and then finally mow and weed whack around the vines. So we are back in business with this block and can give it the small direct irrigation applications it needs.

An NYC Restaurant Recommendation

I would like to say you heard it here first, but since Via Carota is near impossible to get into, the word has been out for a while now. When we visited our daughter Amy a year ago, she took us to this Greenwich Village Italian restaurant at about 11:30 am and we were lucky enough to get a table. We loved it for all its fresh and creative dishes but the most striking is their iconic green salad, which is large and lush. We had been trying to go back to Via Carota when we traveled back to NY again, but with no luck. On our last trip in April, it was pouring rain horrendously so we figured nobody would be out so we could try for another 11:30 am lunch. Remarkably, the restaurant was packed. They had the outside parklets which were empty, but the sidings were blowing hard in the wind. It looked foolish to try to eat there but we sat down, and it was actually fine with the heaters. We immediately ordered a bottle of wine and the green salad to start, pictured below. The rain pounded and the cloth sides of the parklet swayed, but we had a great time.

If you want to attempt to make this salad, here is the recipe. As Pete Wells of the NYT said in rating the restaurant #4 of 100 in NYC, good luck getting this to taste as good at home, but the recipe is worth it just for the vinaigrette dressing. And do use the Calluna Olive Oil for this!

Via Carota, NYC. Sublime!

Until next time….

Enjoy the rest of your summer!

David Jeffrey
Founder & Winemaker