Friday, September 6, 2013

Happy New Year!

Two weeks ago was the official start of Harvest 2013 and the production team has since picked and processed the whole of our Sauvignon Blanc from Peju's Persephone vineyard in Pope Valley. This is an extraordinarily early harvest, and one that is shaping up to be smooth and painless, but at this stage we are keenly aware that the party has truly just begun--meaning there is a whole lot of craziness that is still to come. 
On that very first morning, as our entire staff gathered to swoon over the beautiful plump clusters and make a celebratory breakfast toast, winemaker Sara Fowler beamed with excitement, explaining the enormity that this day represents. For a winemaker, or for any member of the production team, this is January 1. It represents a blank slate, the moment when the cycle of winemaking starts all over again; when the focus shifts from fostering, and maintaining, and monitoring a wine in its intermediate stages, back over to the raw materials--the grapes picked straight from the vine. And there is something exhilarating about returning back to square one. So as we continue along, we will keep you posted with the progress and hope you can feel the excitement from wherever you may be! 

Nick, our enologist, grabbing a snack

Sara, all smiles on Day 1 of her mission!

Ariana Peju ready to bless the grapes

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Bottling Season

The downtime between the end of one harvest and the beginning of the next is not exactly that--rather, it's the portion of the year when the cellar is busy caring for wine that was harvested in years past. It is their job to ensure that the wine remains top notch all the way until its release. In other words, the wine does not leave their watchful eye until it is practically in your glass. Barrels are checked and double and triple-checked, temperature is monitored religiously, wines are filtered and fined until they are clear and beautiful, and last but not least, the wines are bottled and labeled and set aside to be cellared.

Bottling is such a crucial piece of the journey from vine to glass, and one that is seldom placed in the spotlight, but when the process is seamless and well organized, the wine loses nothing in transition.

As it looks like harvest is coming a bit early this year, (it's like Christmas!) the cellar crew is chugging along day after day to bottle red wines from 2011.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Showing the Vineyard Some Love

It's been a month since our last post, and the status of the vineyard has progressed a great deal. What had previously been miniscule flowering buds are now finally resembling berries, albeit with firm green skins to protect their precious interior from the elements. As far as vineyard management, we have just completed round one of suckering. Excess shoots and foliage have been removed, allowing that early summer sun to shine on our fruit and focus each plant's energy on the adolescent clusters.

The one most important detail, however, is that all of this growth and maintenance is happening earlier than usual, which is good news for this year's harvest. Early setting fruit frees up more time for ripening, and gives vintners the peace of mind to pick when the time is just right.
When grapes develop and ripen behind schedule, harvest tends to coincide with the first fall rains, the result of which can range from a less than ideal to disastrous harvest.

Needless to say, this early bird growing season has everyone at Peju very hopeful and excited for Harvest 2013 and we will keep you updated as the growing season continues.

With no before photo, it's hard to compare, but it's clear to see just how neat and tidy and ready for fruit-bearing the vines are looking post-suckering in these pictures!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Hype-Worthy Happenings in the Vineyard

The arrival of Spring in the Napa Valley brings with it a quintessential transformation of gray and gloomy to green and full of life. It's the time of year when the atmosphere in the valley is as close to perfection as we ever see--the vines are topped with a lush canopy of leaves and each day rises a few degrees warmer.


2012 being my first harvest in the valley, the thing that strikes me the most in the midst of this lovely season is a feeling that even in these mild spring months, the vineyard is progressing in small ways towards the ultimate end--harvest. I try to stay aware of what's going on in the vineyard, to remain connected to its life cycle even in the less eventful or visually appealing months. But budbreak this year caught me by surprise. It dramatically altered my frame of mind with regard to the passing of time, and pulled me into the vineyard calendar: a year within a year that begins with budbreak and ends with harvest. I am now acutely attuned to the fact that everything happening outside the doors of the winery--the fog, the traffic on the highway, the birds chirping, the wind blowing, plays a role in this year's harvest. That may mean a tiny, even infinitesimal role, but there is still something to the idea that everything is connected.

The changing of the seasons also brought my attention to the purpose of identifying a wine's vintage. When we list this defining detail on the bottle, it serves to distinguish the wine from past and future years, but it also suggests that the wine exists as a product of the entire year of 2013--not just the few months leading up to harvest, which are historically far more celebrated. But the truth is, every day counts. Today for instance, the grapes are in the equivalent childhood of their lives! Following budbreak, we are now seeing flowering, which is when the future grape clusters are fertilized and pollinated. They are ultra-tiny and vulnerable and are being gradually nudged into full-fledged versions of themselves with the warm, but not yet scorching rays of the sun. So I dedicate this post to welcoming the development that is currently happening in the vineyard, to deem it equally as important as the exciting final days of ripening that receive so much hype. Flowering is the new harvest!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Peju Prunes

Pruning Party
 Last week was Employee Pruning Day at Peju! No, that is not a euphemism for layoffs, it's a chance for all of our employees to try their hand at pruning the vines and learn a bit about the science behind the process. And we were all blown away with how much we did learn.

Alejandro teaching

And showing us how it's REALLY done
Manuel and Alejandro were our gracious and patient guides. They explained which parts of the vine should go, which should stay, and why. Much of the process consists of getting rid of older shoots, which left untended could begin to take over the vine and drain nutrients and energy from the rest of the plant. Ideally, you leave a smaller shoot that is just hefty and strong enough to support an adequate number of clusters. Next year, that same shoot will be removed to make room for smaller growth beside it.

We also had to be mindful about training the shoots up towards the sky, which meant pruning anything growing sideways or downward. And on top of that, we learned to be liberal and decisive with the shears in order to avoid overcrowding and superfluous growth. After all, it's quality over quantity so we did not need to facilitate as many clusters as possible from one vine. Instead, we learned that the focus of pruning is to maintain a healthy vine with streamlined, consistent, and balanced growth.

With all of that information bouncing around in my head, I grabbed my shears and got to work on the vine, which I completed in just a minute or two. And I was extremely proud of it. I then watched Manuel do the same thing in about 5 seconds and realized my stark incompetence. There is so much to consider so I was amazed at how they these guys are able to break it down into a formula and execute so quickly. Practice makes perfect I guess, but most of us were nowhere near perfection!

A great experience and thank you so much to our winemaking and vineyard team!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Mustard! And everything that comes with it.

It's mustard season! Time to frolick through the yellow flowers, take hundreds of pictures, and soak in the beautiful sights before it all disappears into the ground. There is really nothing like it, so enjoy.

But pictures of mustard alone does not a blog post make. Beyond the bright and happy feeling these millions of yellow flowers bring to the valley, the mustard plays a serious and important role that touches the core of what viticulture and winemaking is all about.

To explain, the vineyard is a major part of the valley's ecosystem and the microcosm of Rutherford. As we look closer, we see that the vineyard is a living, breathing network of organisms on its own. A network that somehow produces beautiful wine, provides dozens of jobs, and offers entertainment and leisure for thousands of visitors each year. No small feat. But let's add to that. Because we practice organic agriculture, the vineyard is not just a gigantic, interconnected system that facilitates so many amazing things (wine, quintessential pastoral beauty). It is also a gigantic, interconnected system that will sustain itself for years to come, and operates on nothing but sun, earth, rain, insects, and in the words of Kung Fu Panda, "universe juice".
And one significant cog in that wheel of sustainability is the use of cover crops. Namely, mustard, beans, oats, and wildflowers that have a symbiotic relationship with the vines. As these plants grow they fulfill many, many tasks that include fortifying the soil with beneficial nitrogen, soaking up water from heavy rains that might otherwise go undrained (bad), and attracting beneficial insects that ultimately predate smaller pests. So as you marvel at the fluorescent blossoms, don't forget how important they are to the big picture, and each picture you take will mean that much more!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Renewed Love for Napa in 2013

“Why are American wines so expensive?”, asks a polite, but skeptical middle-aged couple from Germany. “At home, we never buy wine at such a price”. They both gesture to the twenty-two dollar bottle of Sauvignon Blanc on the counter between us. Immediately I feel my face start to flush. How do I explain, without a shred of pretention, why you, my adorable, inquisitive tourists, should be shelling out wads of cash for wine, when you live in a legendary, ancient wine-growing region?

Before a moment has passed, I realize there are plenty of reasons why our wines are priced at this level. As an East Coast transplant to the area, it is apparent to me that Napa is special, and the wines made here are quite rare. Driving through vineyard after vineyard, the farming spirit is in the air and the interconnectedness of it all is palpable. From sunshine, to leaves, to grapes, to press, to barrel, to bottle, the valley is a place where the line between wine and culture is quite blurry. The same is true for the sleepy river villages of the Mosel valley in Germany, for example.
But one difference is clear—that of age. While we are respectably established as one of the world’s great wine regions, when compared to France, Italy, Spain, and Germany, we are still viewed the young guns on the scene. The beauty of my argument, however, is that I consider it a good thing.  

I go on to explain that in Napa, you do not have to be born into the business, inheriting your share of a centuries old chateau in order to be successful. In Napa, the spirit of the American Dream still whispers through the vines. It is a place that has been developed and transformed over the last 40 years by adventurers and audacious entrepreneurs, (Tony and Herta Peju included) and continues to reinvent itself and give way to possibility year after year (Enter Ariana and Lisa).
And while the title of vintner/proprietor is a noble one, it is not always a smooth road or an easy life. Prices reflect the monetary investment as well as the emotional one!

When this heartfelt monologue garnered only a few nods, a smile, and a shrug, I pushed sentiment aside and turned to the stats: Napa is small. It spans a mere 30 miles from north to south, and at some points is only 1 mile across. And although a vast portion of this land is vineyards, the Napa Valley accounts for only 4% of California’s wine. In a word, it is unique, and its wines are precious gems. That, in my mind, accounts for every penny and more.

As for my new German friends, they were won over by the facts and figures. They bought the bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, went out to the terrace and soaked up the *January* California sunshine with a glass of wine in hand.