Monday, March 9th, 2015
The vines on our estate are beginning to bud out this week. In another week or two they will be at the stage when I find them most beautiful. Each vine row will be a clearly visible line of pale green against the dark earth. There’s something about the vines coming out of dormancy each spring that makes me both excited and hopeful. After a few months of little or no hands on work in the vineyard I once again get to start thinking about what the best approach will be to this year’s vintage.
There’s plenty to do in the cellar as well. We have put the ’14 Sauvignon Blanc and the Rose of Pinot Noir in bottle already and the Pinot Gris and Viognier are scheduled to bottle in another two weeks. It’s great to get these early wines bottled. I’m particularly happy with the white wines this year. I believe they will be some of the nicest we have done.
My task for the next few months in the cellar is blending, blending and more blending. The Pinot Noirs are first on the list. I have completed the barrel by barrel tasting to rate the quality of each, and now begins the 4-6 week process of putting together trial blends and tasting them with our in-house panel until we are satisfied that each blend is both delicious and unique. Once that is complete the No Oak and Pure Chardonnay blends need to be decided upon. This gets pushed out as late as possible, because Chardonnay tends to be shy about revealing itself early. The Syrah and Rhone blends come next and last but not least all of the barrel fermented Chardonnays need to be graded and then blended. Over the years I’ve come to consider this 4-5 month interval of blending the true art of winemaking. Each year the puzzle has to be solved anew.
Monday, January 19th, 2015
January is a surprisingly busy month. After December, which is the quietest time of the winemaking year, it’s always a bit of a shock how quickly you have to come back up to speed the following month.
In the vineyard pruning begins. This task must be done on a vine by vine basis. It is the field operation that takes the most skill. In some ways each vine is a puzzle that must be solved individually by the pruner. It is also one of the more pleasurable and satisfying of the jobs in the cycle of the winegrowing year. I meet in each block over the course of the first weeks in January with Carlos Guzman, our viticulturist and talk about the vines while we prune a few of them. Pruning establishes what the strategy will be for the 2015 season.
January is also the month when a number of bottlings must be stabilized and prepped for early February. This year we will bottle the 2013 barrel fermented Chardonnays, the 2014 Rose of Pinot Noir and the 2014 Sauvignon Blanc. Besides the Estate, “1772” and “block 569” Chardonnays we are adding a single clone Chardonnay called “Dijon 76”. This wine was selected from barrels with a high degree of minerality. You might think of it as a bit more European in style than Californian. The 2014 Sauvignon Blanc is one of the nicest we have ever done. I’m very excited to start drinking this when it releases later in the spring. The Rose is as usual a lighthearted and easy to love wine, that is for me the perfect picnic wine.
Last but not least I’ll begin surveying the 2014 Pinot Noirs first on a lot by lot basis and then on a barrel by barrel basis to begin the long process towards the blends. This literally takes months.
—Larry Brooks, Winemaker
Monday, November 17th, 2014
Harvest is a funny thing sometimes. In the midst of picking and fermenting the wine it feels like it will never end, but then one day all the fruit is off, and a few weeks later the last fermenters are drained and barreled. I find myself with so much less to do that I am often at a loss about what exactly to do with myself in the first weeks postpartum as it were. Harvest demands countless decisions that must be made every day. The balance of the winemaking year the decisions are much more considered.
I’m happy with this year’s wines. While it’s very early, too early in fact, to make definitive pronouncements about what the wines will become, you can see in these infants the shape of the wines that they will grow into. The Pinot Noir is solid. Colors and flavors cover a wide range from delicate to brawny and there will be much to choose from when it comes time to make the blends. I think the Syrahs will be the stars of the vintage. The unusually early year allowed the Rhone varieties to come to complete ripeness. The white wines across the board look wonderful. Chardonnay more than any variety responds positively to low crop levels, and this year’s crop was very low. The Sauvignon Blanc, which is always temperamental, is quite nice with lots of character. The Viognier, much more reliable year in and year out, is tasty and perfumed. We made a Rose of Pinot Noir once again, and I’m pleased with both the flavors and the color. It’s harder than you think to get the color correct on this wine. We also produced tiny quantities of Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir Blanc. Both are delicious and intriguing at this point.
I’m looking forward to how these wines will develop in the cellar. This year was the earliest harvest of my career, and I expect that the wines will have some unique characteristics as a result.
Thursday, August 21st, 2014
2014 “Lily Gil” block 596
The first fruit of the season was harvested a week ago, but that block, 593, is an outlier. It is very early every year because of the soil structure. The real harvest began early this week with the picking of block 596 (grapes pictured) on our Mountainside Vineyard. This is our largest block of quality Pinot Noir. Tolosa takes 16 of the 25 acres in this block. Both of these blocks are the Pommard selection, named after the famous commune in Burgundy. This selection’s tendency to make wines well-structured in tannin may be the reason it was named in honor of Pommard, which also is rich in tannin. So far the crop looks moderate in size, neither big nor small. The individual berries are a bit on the large size due to ideal bloom conditions and the subsequent high seed count. The weather conditions of the last few weeks leading up to harvest have been quite favorable. The dense morning fog seems more June-like than an August-like pattern, but I would much rather have the fruit’s final ripening happen under cool rather than hot conditions. The cool weather allows the slow accumulation of sugars while still preserving the freshness that I feel is essential in young wines. The cooler conditions have also allowed the seeds time to ripen which should make for a more supple tannin in the wine.
The earliness that has typified this harvest has if anything, intensified. Normally we harvest Pinot Noir between 110 and 12o days after full bloom. This year we are seeing that number being pushed down into the 100 to 110 day range for some of the Pinot Noir blocks. Not only did this growing season begin early, it now looks like it is shifting even earlier. It will be fascinating to see what sort of wines result. The only fermenter that is dry and tastable from block 593, had a normal length ripening of 113 days from bloom to harvest. Thus it may not express the vintage character as strongly as some of the blocks we are picking this week, which will result in a more compressed ripening. In 10 days or so, I’ll have a much better idea of what the 2013 Pinot Noir vintage will taste like.
—Larry Brooks, Tolosa Winemaker
Monday, July 7th, 2014
We are right at the beginning of the ripening period for the vines. The red grapes show the start of this phase very obviously by turning from green to red. The French term for this is veraison. There’s no equivalent English word. In white grapes the change is more subtle. The berries soften a bit and the color shifts from bright green to a sort of yellowish green. This ripening period from now to harvest takes 4-6 weeks and it is the most crucial period in the vine’s cycle in terms of the quality and character of the vintage. The start of this phase has been dominated by lots of fog and moderate temperature, which are typical of this time of year. My fingers are crossed that this pattern holds as long as possible, because this allows the grapes to mature while maintaining maximum freshness and acidity. This vintage has been early at every phase. This is the earliest season I have ever seen in my long career. There’s an old adage, “early years get earlier, and late years get later”. It makes sense when you think about it. We are almost a full month ahead of average so the amount of daylight hours is much longer than it would typically be for this ripening phase. The vines are active more hours of the day and therefore will ripen the fruit more quickly. Late July and early August are when winemakers and viticulturists typically take vacation as it’s not a busy time. Carlos, our viticulturist, and I were talking yesterday. We were both laughing about having to change our normal vacation times.
Larry Brooks, Winemaker