Thursday, November 7, 2013

2013 Growing Season

We've got this sharp young kid that has been working with us at Piña Vineyard Management for about a year and a half. Justin is a youngster half my age, married with a 2 & ½ year old daughter.  He continually amazes me with how much he knows about grapes and how much he has learned about the vineyards we care for. In addition to that, he's humble and has a great attitude.  Recently, he wrote an in-house summary of the 2013 growing season.  I thought it was very well written.  He included just enough technical information to satisfy those that need it, but not so much to lose the interest of those that don't.

See what you think:

2013 Growing Season
by Justin Leigon

                The winter leading up to the 2013 growing season was a repeat of the previous year. It was exceptionally dry. Of the ~25” of rain that fell from 11/1/12 through 3/31/13, 10.5” fell over five consecutive days: 11/28-12/2. There were a few showers to follow in December, but after the first of the year we only received ~3-5” of rain by the end of March. This led to soils drying out much earlier than normal. In many vineyards, irrigation was started during bud-break in order to ensure healthy early season growth.

                Similar to 2012, bud-break was 5-7 days later than average. Fortunately, the warm weather in April allowed things to catch up. April had an average daily high temp of 77°F. Approximately 10 days of April were above 80°F, and on 4/22 we saw temps in the 90s. There were only a handful of frost days with some areas never needing to run their wind machines. 

                The nice consistent spring weather led to an early bloom. Most locations were ~7-10 days early. In some of the later areas such as Howell Mountain, Calistoga, and Pope Valley there was shatter as a result of very cold mornings during the critical bloom stage. Unusual late season frost damage was even seen in a few locations because of the mornings of 5/22 & 5/23 where temps reached the low 30s.

                The weather continued to be moderately warm throughout the spring with very little rainfall. The early season heat helped with grape skin, tannin, and overall flavor development. Yields appeared to be average to slightly above average with potential for an exceptional vintage. A brief scare occurred during the last week of June when temps broke 100°F for a few days. Some areas saw close to 110°F. Fortunately, veraison had yet to begin so the berries were still hard and protected.

                Most areas were 10-14 days earlier than average for veraison. With the exception of some minor fruit thinning to balance out vines, the rest of the 2013 season was thankfully uneventful. Some areas needed to be dialed back on the irrigation in order to conserve water, but the vines were able to manage throughout the rest of the season.

                Harvest for Piña began on August 8th with Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc. This was 20 days earlier than 2012. Most areas were ~2 weeks early. Yields were similar to last year and slightly bigger in some areas while slightly lower in other areas. The perfect weather allowed winemakers to choose the flavor profile they were wanting. The warm season led to some vineyards having high sugars but needing to wait a little longer for the flavors to catch-up. This was actually a blessing for some winemakers, as the fast & furious harvest left many wineries with no available tank space. A few windy days during the middle of September led to accelerated dehydration and a raisin thinning pass was required in a few areas of the valley. Brief showers occurred around 9/21, but advantageous weather followed and the fruit that was still hanging dried out quickly. For a lot of wineries, harvest wrapped up by the end of September. This was one of the earliest that most winemakers can remember.

                The general consensus is that the 2013 vintage is one for the history books. The season had days full of beautiful weather and cold nights to maintain grape acidity. Thick grape skins with rapid sugar accumulation allowed winemakers to pick based on flavor development. Let’s hope for a repeat in 2014!     

Monday, September 30, 2013

Punching down the cap

Once our red wine grapes are run through crusher/stemmer, the resulting "Must" is pumped into a fermenting vessel. We have several stainless steel tank fermenters for this purpose, but some of the smaller lots are fermented in bins like those in the pictures below. As the must ferments, the berries will rise to the surface and form the "cap". To extract skin color from the berries, the cap must be churned back into the liquid.  This is called punching down the cap and it is done at least twice a day while the wine is actively fermenting. These pictures were taken on Sunday afternoon. Pablo drove from & to Napa to do this 20 minute job. Had I known it needed to be done, I could have saved him the trip.

Our intern "Pablo" punching down the cap
The Punch down tool
Mixing up the must

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Winery Dog Yogi, Part 5 – Long Live Yogi!

I love this picture:
Yogi making dust at the Wolff Vineyard
It's been over 2 years since I've written about Yogi. Since our visitors to the winery enjoy seeing him more than me, I thought it was time to give his fans an update.
I was in Wyoming last week. Yogi had a dog-sitter for 6 days. It's the longest we've been apart in almost 2 years.  To say that Yogi is with me 24/7 is only a slight exaggeration.  No, he doesn't get to sleep in my bed. But he does come to work with me every day and he has a bed in the corner of my small office at the vineyard management company. He considers me the "Big Dog" and prefers it that way. When I'm not around, he seems to get anxious and has a hard time relaxing with the responsibility of protecting those in his presence. It's not a job he takes lightly.
So for those 6 days, he was the Big Dog. In addition to the added responsibility, he didn't get as much exercise as when he is with me.  When I got back, I knew he needed to run and let off some steam. So I took him to the Wolff Vineyard. The Wolff Vineyard is at the end of State Lane East of Yountville. The vineyard blocks are on both sides of a hill that is fairly steep in some spots. And Yogi seems to prefer running up the steep spots, even when he's been exercising regularly. He started running as soon as his feet hit the ground. He stopped at the first gate to wait impatiently for me to open it. But as he was waiting, he spotted wild turkeys on the hillside. Even though Yogi has Lab blood in him, he's not that interested in birds. But wild turkeys are a different story. They spend most of their time on the ground and will only fly when forced to fly.  The chase was on and was over as soon as they lifted off and flew over the vineyard. Yogi barked as if to say “and stay away!”, but they had gotten his adrenaline flowing. So he continued to run and found more wild turkeys on the other side of the hill. It was after he made this second flock fly, that he spun around and headed down through the vineyard again. It was then that I snapped the picture above. He was kicking up lots of dust but not chasing anything. He was running for the pure pleasure of running.
As I mentioned in a previous post, rabbits are his specialty. When we walk the vineyards, he is obsessed with finding and chasing rabbits. He has never caught one, and I don't think he would know what to do if he did. In his younger years, if a rabbit was within sight, he would be chasing it. But Yogi turned six this last May. He has learned that if a rabbit has a big head start, he might as well try to find one that’s a bit closer. At least that’s what I prefer to believe – not that he’s getting too old, he’s just maturing and getting wiser. So he certainly doesn’t comply with one of my favorite quotes:
Age does not always bring wisdom. Sometimes age comes alone.
Garrison Keillor  

Friday, August 23, 2013

Pablo Sanz - Our 2013 Winery Intern

I apologize.  Lots of water under the bridge since my last post, but I'm hoping to have more time to dedicate to this blog in the future. Now, on to other topics.

As has become the tradition, every year about this time we introduce our harvest intern. I ask them to provide me with an auto-biography that I can include in a post to share with anyone that is interested. This year, I suggested that Pablo read the posts introducing Rachel Simpson (2010), Daniel Brennan (2011) and Sierra Reed (2012), and use them as a guide for his auto-biography. Pablo sent me a very brief bio with 4 pictures and the following message

     " I try to do my best, but I don't know, I don't feel like reaching the same level as the other biographies you have there...   Here's mine, feel free to change something if you see any mistake and to give better format, or whatever."

I encouraged him to share a family picture with us, and he did so promptly.  He had even added a bit to his bio, which as you can see, is still very short.  I'll bet he doesn't do Facebook either.

I hope to create another post, or two about Pablo in the future, but it may be a challenge getting him to talk. 

Pablo is from Spain, the origin of my Dad's folks.   And he arrives this Monday...

I was born in Madrid (Spain), where I grew up and studied.

I obtained a Bachelor in Biology and started my specialization, making a Master in Forensic and Physic Anthropology. After finishing it I decided to study more seriously one of the family hobbies, the wine. My parents were always attracted to the world of wine, even more having relatives living in the center of one of the strongest Spanish appellations. And their interest meant to me and my brother plenty of chances to get to know how a winery works and the pride the winemakers had showing people where they work.


I made a Master in Viticulture and Winemaking, where, since the first week of lessons I realized that I was really interested in the oenology, finding it a lot more challenging than I could have ever expected, and captivating me instantly.


I decided to make Winemaking practices during the Master and I could arrange them at Bodegas Lleiroso, a small winery (130 tons) placed in the well know Spanish appellation, Ribera del Duero, where I could be trained almost in every step of the winemaking process, and where I could work with the strong variety Tempranillo.


Just after finishing my Master in Winemaking, I decided to keep going and at the same time travel. I was hired by Matua, in New Zealand. I worked there as cellar hand, learning another totally different way of working, taking into account that this winery was completely different (28.000 tons), working with Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir among other varieties.

I could also meet people from all around the world, some of them sharing my love for the wine.


This experience encouraged and trained me to take the next step and keep travelling making wine.

My next stop California, looking forward to it!

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Continuing Adventures of Sierra Reed

I apologize for this delayed post.  At my urging, Sierra wrote the following on Wednesday, Sept 12th:

A few months ago I was in Australia fresh out of harvest and a 2 month trip through south east Asia where wine was unfortunately nowhere to be found or drinkable for that matter. I started to get the bug again for making wine and I began to think of home and my father. Here I was, a year of traveling around the world from one vintage to the next and where did I want to go?  I wanted to go to the one iconic wine region of my country....Napa. Now I wouldn't say my father was the reason I decided to become a winemaker but growing up drinking some of the best Cabernets from Napa certainly did have its influences. I can recall a recent thanksgiving a few years back where my whole family was locked up in Arizona on a cold winter day having a beautiful meal and celebrating the merriment of the holidays. My grandpa was rich with humor from all the margaritas and Texas Hold Um he had been participating in all afternoon with my father. My sister however and grandmother were butting heads that day and as the last dish was placed on the table everything came to a head. Now before I tell you the punch line I must tell you my father prides himself in his rare Cabernet that he so willingly loves to share with us on holidays. So when people don't appreciate him parting with his babies due to being preoccupied with arguing you can only imagine what would come next. My father is a soft spoken great listener who feels he only really should raise his voice if he is truly passionate about a situation and this was on of those few times that the voice came out. So my sister starts up with my grandma and I even think I somehow got dragged in there as my grandpa began throwing one liners on the side line, which although very funny, did not help the situation. Then a loud voice from the end of the table bellows out and says,"If we all cant get along then you don't deserve to be drinking my good wine." He grabbed the bottles from the table and held them hostage as everyone went silent and  instantly everyone made up because we knew we were not going to miss out on those bottles. Moral of the story being..If Cabernet made my father passionate enough to speak up, I would have to be passionate about learning how to make it!
        So there I was Ipad in hand flicking off emails and resumes to Napa from Australia with the taste of Cabernet in my mouth. A taste that always brings me back to the great moments I have shared with my family as a young girl and I wanted to now discover it. So after a week of many opportunistic offers in Napa, I came across this Email from Anna Monticelli, the winemaker at Pina Cellars and her response to my resume was like nothing I had ever experienced. She wrote me two pages about her past and her journey to becoming a winemaker and her time at Pina. This obviously moved me very much and after reading about the wines at Pina, we planned a date to speak from two opposite ends of the world to see if I was a good fit. It only took about five minutes before I realized that Pina was my destiny for the upcoming summer and I packed my bags and was headed for Napa.
         I landed and the next I was off to work and met Macario Montoya, the assistant winemaker at Pina. I was brought up to speed in a few weeks walking all the vineyards with Macario and picking Anna's brain about what was to come. They both gave me the freedom to learn and think independently and do things in the industry that I never had the chance to participate in. I never could have imagined that, here we are just two weeks out till harvest and not one grape crushed. But I have already learned more here in one month about wine making, than in the year prior. I am inspired by Macario and his insistent ways of making me become a better winemaker everyday without sweating the small stuff and believing in myself. If that's not a great mentor then I don't know who is. Anna's knowledge and belief in me thus far has opened my eyes to the strong females in this industry and made me realize that as a winemaker you have to have many dimensions to fight with the best and she does.
            It's Wednesday morning and all I have done is managed to clean a few portable tanks and the inside of the press and I'm already sore. So on that note I am going to kick this butt in Harvest gear and make my team proud because this vintage I'm making Napa Cab! 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Sierra Reed - Our 2012 Winery Intern

Every year before harvest, we bring on a winery intern to help us through the crush. They tend to be young, smart & energetic. Sierra Reed is no exception. And, as I do every year, I ask our intern to provide us with a biography to share on this blog. Sierra suggested I use the cover letter she sent us as her bio. When you read it, you'll see that she is not just another pretty face.

Introducing Sierra Reed

As a sixteen year old girl I traveled the world modeling and found myself at the doorstep of beautiful New Zealand at twenty three after my stint on survivor. Soon after I was blessed with the dream job of hosting my own wine and food show called "Harvest" for two years. By the twentieth interview I was consumed with bug of wine and left it all behind with the hopes of one day being a winemaker. It really was as simple as that when I made the decision but the journey to get there was challenging and much was sacrificed. Yet the sacrifice was to me was the only one in my life that truly made sense and with all that life experience I know as I venture on my third career at twenty six the hill will be just as hard to climb and I'm ready. I wear my heart on my sleeve and my foot in my mouth and when I reach for the stars it’s not easy but I always manage to lasso one down. Working in TV and modeling was never really as glamorous as it sounds and every new open door or opportunity always had an end no matter how good your work was, it is what it is in the entertainment industry. Wine for me wasn't my escape from this disposable mentality that I had cashed every sparkling paycheck with knowing fully that a part of me was working towards a means to an end. Wine was the answer for me and not just because over fifty percent of my paychecks were spent on wine as a young Italian American but because its something that truly cant leave me. Even if I age my time in the vineyard doesn't run out as it does with vanity driven businesses. Wine becomes the product of its creator and continues to move others and live on long past all of us and that is a magical thing. That is why all the passion and life lessons that have brought me to this moment I hope will one day lead me to become a female winemaker. My time in New Zealand has helped mold the person that I have become today and if there is one thing that I took from my time there it was to be a great observer. Because you never know what magical moment will pass you by that may change the way you live forever and from my time in the winery I feel that rule applies always. I remember my first few days of "Crush" and I think I had imagined that we would be romantic about everything we did and I know now there is no time for that let alone a bathroom break. The romance for me is a mindset that lives in every winemaker or student who hopes to one day earn their strips to becoming winemaker. That romance lives in my heart and even the task of cleaning the press was treated by me as though that one task if done prefect was going to make better wine. I hope to travel the world once again yet this time learning from all the great teachers and appellations that have helped define the drops in our glass that we all know as wine.

Kind regards, Sierra Reed

Attached is a link to my show "Harvest"

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Announcing Alina Ceja Montoya

On Saturday, April 7th, Our Assistant Winemaker, Macario Montoya, had this to report: Alina Ceja Montoya was born at 9:31am today. She weighs 7 pounds 11 ounces and is 19.75 inches tall. Mommy and baby are doing amazing.
Congratulations Macario & Griselda!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Announcing the arrival of Sergio Mario Monticelli

Sergio Mario Monticelli
Born 3/1 @ 2:11 am
8 lbs 10 oz

We're doing great!


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Daniel Brennan - Our 2011 Winery Intern... ???

Our 2011 winery intern (???) is Daniel Brennan.  Considering his background and life experiences, you may see why I hesitate to refer to him as an intern.  He traveled more before getting out of high school , than I have traveled in my entire life, not to mention his work experience.  I think you will find it very interesting reading - Ranndy
Daniel Brennan, in his words:
I was born in Syracuse, New York, the second son of James & Joyce Brennan.  My older brother is James Joseph IV and he is my best friend to this day.  My mother was 18 and my father was 19 years old when ‘Jamie’ was born.  I was born 3 years later in October while my father was amidst football season at Syracuse University.  We all lived together in married housing on the campus of the university.  When my father graduated we moved to Delran, NJ to live with my mother’s parents, Michael and Stella Rodolico.   Most of the Rodolico family lived in South Philadelphia and shared a modest summer house in Wildwood, New Jersey.  My father’s family is from both the Fairmont section of Philadelphia and West Philadelphia.
When I was in my second year of life my sister, Bethann was born.  My sister Theresa was born two years later.   10 years and one week after Jamie was born, my sister Kathleen arrived.  I talk, email, text and visit with my sisters, their husbands and their growing families frequently.
I spent my youth in a big family with most of my relatives and extended family nearby.  Though we have a very close family, there has always been someone from the family in Europe.  When I was young, my Uncle Michael, my mother’s brother, was a yacht captain and spent most of the year in the Mediterranean and some of the year in the Caribbean.  Every so often he would dock in Philadelphia and we as kids would get to explore ‘his’ boat.  My grandfather Michael Rodolico is the greatest person I have ever known.  When my oldest cousin was 12, my grandfather took him to Corfu, Greece to visit my Uncle Michael. As I grew older Michael came home and my cousin Robert moved to Rome and still lives there to this day.  Some think Robert never really came back from that first trip to Corfu.  So an eye was always on the old world and my sense of adventure quietly kept me intrigued in the travelers of the family.
My parents had all their children at a young age.  They had many close friends from their childhood still around as when I was young.  Our house was action packed.  There was always something happening.  We all played sports, usually on multiple teams at once.  And without actually realizing it, we had a great childhood.  I had adventure in the woods, summers in Wildwood, NJ and a rich culture of food from the Sicilian side of the family and hearty laughs from the Irish side of the family.  When I was in 8th grade, my cousin Jeff  was hit by a car while riding his bicycle home one afternoon.  We lost Jeff that day at the age of nine. It crushed our family, especially my Uncle Timmy, but we all battled through.  Uncle Tim is my Godfather, one of the funniest people I have ever met and we remain close to this day.
I went to St. Peter’s Parochial School in Riverside, NJ.  However, in 5th grade I grew fed up with the education I was receiving.  The atmosphere was miserable and I wasn’t feeling challenged.  I rebelled and asked to be switched to a new class.  The old Catholic school was reluctant to say the least.  But in the end I was granted the opportunity to switch teachers.  I knew then that this ‘special right’ was granted to me partially because I had excellent grades but mostly because my father stood shoulder to shoulder with me in a firm but fair opposition to the regime.  Still, I was very unhappy and bored and left the school the following year. During those years of 5th and 6th grade my father took on a new employee at his small trucking company.  Tom Connors Senior had moved up from South Carolina with his son, Tommy, ahead of his wife and 4 daughters.  Tommy Connors was almost exactly 1.5 years older than me and 1.5 younger than my brother.  Tommy spent most nights at our house with me and my brother.  He taught me how to play guitar.  We started a sort of duo-band and played together at our school’s talent show.  We opened and closed the show.  I’m fairly certain that was my musical peak at age 13.
Later that year I transferred to Chester Avenue Middle School for 7th grade.  The school ranged from 6th to 8th grade, a good range of early adolescence.  I had a great deal of fun at this school and it opened my world up.  It was a big deal for me to switch to the ‘public’ school as the first of my entire family of Sicilian Catholics on my Mother’s side and Irish Catholics on my Father’s side.  This included my older brother and three sisters.  I felt the need to do well and prove to them that it was the best move.  Classes were more challenging and diverse.  I received very good grades and in 8th grade, I ran for class president and won.   I’m very certain that was my political peak at age 15.
I have many friends I still keep in touch with today from my hometown who I met during my middle school years.  However, the next year I was to go to Holy Cross High School in South Jersey.  This again opened my world up and my circle of friends grew.  I was now attending the only parochial school in the largest county of the heavily populated state of New Jersey.  Some students commuted up to 60 miles each way.  I, however, walked most days as it was actually closer to my house then the public high school in the town.  I played football & golf for the high school, basketball in a CYO league, worked at my father’s warehouse or my uncle’s pallet company in the winter, and as a greens-keeper during the summer at Willowbrook Country Club.  I kept very busy throughout the year.
Jamie and Danny behind the bar at McCrossen's Tavern
When I was a sophomore in high school my father and Uncle Michael (my mother’s brother) partnered up in business.  On frequent trips into the city as a kid we either went to our Aunts homes in South Philadelphia to visit my Grandfather’s four widowed sisters or we went into the Fairmont area to visit with my Father’s side of the family.  My father’s Uncle Neil McCrossen owned and ran a bar that had been in the family since prohibition.  It was not really a place for kids.  It was called McCrossens but was better known as ‘The Dustbowl’.  No sign was out front on the converted brick row home that was built in 1852 on the corner of 20th & Nectarine (just south of Spring Garden St.).  Our Uncle Neil was a consummate gentleman behind the bar.  He could settle any argument with a smile, reason and good old fashion Irish diplomacy.  But Uncle Neal was ready to move on with an ailing wife at home and was growing tired of the business.  My father, mother and Uncle Michael purchased the bar, the license and the row home next door.  The renovation was a family affair and it opened as one of the first gastro pubs in Philadelphia when I was 17.  My brother began to bartend there when I was 18.  A new reality had arrived.  McCrossen’s Tavern had opened blocks from the Philadelphia Art Museum.  I became cosmopolitan overnight. 
When I was a junior in High School I traveled to Italy.  It was a rare and amazing journey that took me from Rome, to Salerno, down to Messina and onto the ferry to Sicily.  I will never forget the ferry ride to Sicily, a truly pacifying moment.  It was the exact moment I realized I would travel the rest of my life.  Seeing Mt. Etna, smoking in the distance over the town from the top of the amphitheater was a high I wanted to experience over and over again.   
The Greek Amphitheater in Taormina, Sicily near Mt. Etna
In 1995 my father and I hustled to work out the financial aid deal of a lifetime for me to attend The Catholic University of America in Washington DC.  I was awarded some grant money and special consideration because I was a student athlete.  But it was by no means a scholarship.  I played in 8 or 9 games as a defensive end for the University football team while experiencing occasional back issues.  The following summer I slipped three discs in my back while working out and my career ended right then.  I had once again reached the peak of another career. However, this in hindsight was one of the more fortunate occurrences of my life.  I suddenly had more free time.  I began bartending illegally at the age of 19 and eventually got a job at one of the best bars in Georgetown.
In 1997 I traveled on an exchange to Leuven, Belgium.  Somewhere along the way in my studies at CUA I went from a business major, to undecided, to a World Politics major with a Philosophy minor.  I consciously decided to study something that both intrigued me and would not choose as a career.  Realizing I would be in financial debt for quite some time, I knew I was not dirty enough for a career in politics and no one has ever made money being a philosopher, especially in their 20s.  I applied for an internship with the European Parliament.  This was before the Euro currency and the expansion of the EU.  It was a very exciting time and I was living in the heart of Europe, just outside Brussels.  I commuted two or three days a week skidding on slick cobblestones on a hard wheeled bicycle wearing a business suit to a train that took me into Brussels.  The other days of the week I studied European Community history, European Art History and European Economics.  I wondered a bit through Europe and even surprised and an old girlfriend in Seville, Spain.  I saw a Flamenco show there and I still remember the entire experience vividly.  It was the best guitar playing I had ever seen or heard.
Throughout college I would visit home and spend many hours either working or hanging out at McCrossen’s Tavern.  It always felt exciting to be at McCrossen’s in those early days.  The new American food movement had begun.  Until then it was virtually unheard of for a Tavern to have excellent food, especially in Philly.  Our combination of a cozy tavern atmosphere and finer and comfort cuisine was a big hit.  We poured strong drinks, served good wine and had some very fun and interesting people working at the establishment.   I quickly knew many people and places throughout the city.
During my tenure at CUA, I threw two very large parties in my backyard.  It was a true team effort of characters that put these debacles together.  We were not a fraternity, just a group of highly motivated socialites of various talents.  In a small backyard in Northeast Washington DC, for two consecutive springs season parties, we hosted 3 live bands, 50 kegs of beer, and a giant mess to clean up at the end.  With the business minds involved, we actually managed to handsomely pay three bands, a beer distributor, local liquor store, a portable toilet company, two neighborhood barbequers, pay our rent for two months and of course make a decent amount  of profit to split between eleven guys .  When all was said in done, no real damage occurred, and the headlining band asked me to become their manager. 
Seeking Homer shot from backstage at Irving Plaza, New York City,
February 2001.  Photograph by Andrew Kelly.
So after a short stint working on an SAP inventory system and helping manage a warehouse for Nabisco in Northeast Philadelphia, I left in 2000 to manage the band Seeking Homer from the Bronx, NY.  Tommy Connors was the lead guitar player and one of the singers.  He, as it turned out, had not hit his musical peak.   Seeking Homer was an Americana Rock and Jam band with 3-part-harmonies, interesting song writing and a tight sound.  They quickly became known as a great, hard-working touring act throughout the eastern part of the USA.  In 2000 we released a live album from the legendary Wetlands in Tribeca, NYC.  We toured virtually non-stop doing around 250 shows a year at bars, rock clubs, colleges, high schools, pig roasts, and virtually any place in our path that had a stage and at least a small bit of cash.  On their 2nd studio album they recorded a version of the National Anthem with acoustic guitars and dramatic finish that was featured on NBC during the US Open.  For a brief time, we were flung into the national spotlight.
On September 11th 2001, like most people in New York, we all lost many friends.  It was a scary and odd time to be in New York.  I still don’t think a large part of the country truly understands that.  I’ll never forget driving across the George Washington Bridge on September 13th, smelling the burnt air, seeing the rescue efforts light up lower Manhattan and feeling as though at any moment an airplane could crash into the bridge I was crossing.  Everyone around NYC during that time had those feelings for months and months.
As the members of Seeking Homer got older, married and began to have children, I had settled back into a job at McCrossen’s Tavern managing and bartending 6 nights a week.  I had been living in the Art Museum area of the city for some years now and was also helping out some other independent musicians in the blooming music scene of Philadelphia. I also began taking classes at The Wine School of Philadelphia.  My passion for wine increased and my desire for a new career was increasing.  When I asked the owner of the WSP what I had to do to become a part of this industry he said one word: Chemistry.  I began looking for schools throughout the world in early 2007.
During the time I spent working at McCrossen’s I was always intrigued by New Zealand wines.  My parents had went there on their very belated honeymoon and 25th wedding anniversary.  Maybe I was jealous that someone in the family had traveled that far.  In January of 2008 I moved to Hawkes Bay, New Zealand and began studying full time at the Eastern Institute of Technology.  Within a month of my arrival I met my mentor, Jenny Dobson at TeAwa Winery in the Gimbett Gravels where I was working in the restaurant.  Jenny quickly pulled me into the winery where I became obsessed with the process.  It was a strange time at TeAwa though and I will never forget the way the owners treated the employees there.   Shortly after Jenny left I went to work at Vidal Estate, one of New Zealand’s oldest and respected producers.  By the summer time when EIT was finished I began working 5 days a week in the winery, 3 nights a week in the restaurant and weekend days in the tasting room.  It was all I could do to keep my head above water.  In April of 2009 my sister Bethann was married while I was working in the receival area at Vidal Winery amidst a 12 hour shift.
Jenny Dobson, Winemaker
I made my first wine in 2008, an un-oaked Chardonnay.  I thought it was pretty OK and I brought some home on a trip in December and people really enjoyed it.  In 2009 while working at Vidal, Jenny introduced me to Philip Horn at Unison Vineyard, where she had become the consultant winemaker.  They graciously allowed me to make a bit of Malbec in their winery.  I was there so much that they eventually hired me later that year.  I was incredibly happy to be working for Jenny again.  Her ties to the old world, passion for everything wine and her willingness to share it with young winemakers is unmatched.

Ocean Beach, Hawkes Bay, my local beach
I also partnered up with a friend’s father to begin Sauvignon Blanc production.  It was a loose agreement but we sorted it out.  All the while I had been working the emails and phones back to the USA.  In June of 2009 I released my first two wines at McCrossen’s Tavern.  This was a dream come true and one I look to repeat for the rest of my life. 
In 2010 I continued my work with Jenny at Unison Vineyard and also finished my 3 year degree at EIT.  During my last year I did a research project through EIT on foliar seaweed sprays and their effect on harvest parameters and botrytis. 
I spent most of December 2010 and January 2011 on the east coast of the USA setting up my business and establishing the Decibel brand in a few states.  I was able to attend my sister Kathleen’s wedding on New Year’s Eve in Philadelphia. But I experienced entirely too many snow storms and shoveled out many cars and driveways.  Though that wasn’t the only reason why I realized I missed New Zealand very much. 

My Malbec Harvest

Working at Unison Vineyard
I returned on February 1st 2011 to New Zealand and moved into a small house with some other young winemakers on the Bridge Pa vineyard in The Triangle region of Hawkes Bay.  This is home.
I set up my office at my new residence.  Harvest was a wet one in most of New Zealand this past year.   I bought a new record player and we began playing vinyl and sitting on the back deck near the vines.  As harvest began to wind down I began to apply for intern positions throughout California and Cahors, France.  After a fairly short time, I took a position at Piňa Napa Valley where I quickly adjusted to the West Coast of the USA. 

My experience at Piňa Napa Valley has been a very positive one.  I particularly liked the opportunity to work in the various vineyards from which Piňa sources fruit.  I learned a great deal and it has been a joy to work with people who take my input seriously as well.  It was a challenging harvest but I think the wines are going to impress those who have the opportunity to drink them.  I look forward to tasting these wines in a couple of years when they are released.  I also look forward to keeping in touch with Macario, Anna and all four Piňa Brothers.
Enjoying a glass of wine on the back porch at
the house in The Triangle, Bridge Pa, Hawkes Bay

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Pick grapes, Fight fires, Pick grapes...

The rain will arrive today. At Pina Vineyard Management, the troops have been working hard and putting in long hours to get the grapes harvested before the rains come.  It has been a very difficult farming year for Napa Valley grape farmers.  Mother Nature has not been cooperative, but even so, we're wrapping up harvest. Tuesday night, Mother Nature dealt us another blow.  Winds were responsible for causing a fire that burned down a house in the Soda Canyon area of the Silverado Trail.  Efforts to contain the fire involved over 100 firefighters and many of those firefighters are volunteers with jobs in the wine industry.

My brother, Davie, was one of them.  He had worked a long day and was at home when the call came in @ 8:30 PM for the fire. As tired as he was, he got dressed and headed out.  He went to the Rutherford Volunteer Firemen's sub-station (about a half mile North of his house) and drove the Water Tender Firetruck to the fire. The water tender is one of the two firetrucks that was parked at Pina Napa Valley for several years (Hence, our Firehouse vineyard/label). He was released from the fire at 3:45 AM on Wednesday.  Later that day, a KGO film crew caught up to him to record a very brief soundbite.

The interview might have lasted a bit longer if Davie hadn't told them he just didn't have the time. He still had grapes in the field that needed to go to a winery.

Pick grapes, fight fires, pick grapes...