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Monday, April 23, 2012

Marking Time

Amazing-  in only 3 weeks
The Third Week since Bud Break

It is only three weeks since bud break at Kitchak Cellars and the vines are really growing rapidly. You can almost watch the vines grow.  It has been in the 80s the last week and we have seen tremendous growth.  Exactly what is expected.  Plenty of water still in the soil, lots of sun and nice warm temperatures.  It should be a great year. The vines are doing well and the frost season is about over. There is only one day in the next 2 weeks (this Thursday) where the temperature is forecast to be under 40 degrees and then only a low of 38 degrees that night.

European Grape Vine Moth - Under Control. We hope.  We received a report today that the European Grape Vine Moth seems under control in the Napa Valley.  Not a single one has been found so far this year in the hundreds of traps that the Commissioner of Agriculture has placed around the valley.  This is very good news about this very serious pest.

The Mallards also like the lake
Lake Cynthia (the small lake of about 15 surface acres on our property) remains full to the brim and we are expecting a bit more rain this week. It is an amazing wildlife sanctuary that serves the added benefit of improving our grapes. Since it is the low point on our property, it helps prevent grape vines and buds from freezing in the spring.  The cold air flows downhill to the lake and the lake warms up the cold air.  The part of any vineyard that is the most dangerous from a frost point of view is the lowest point; and our lowest point is essentially a heat sink.

We have even seen the large mouth bass in the lake building their nests and getting ready to spawn in the shallow water along the edges.

Lake Cynthia is formed by a small dam near the westerly edge of our property and it supports a great array of wild flowers at this time of the year. The photo of California Poppies was taken yesterday, Sunday April 22,

California Poppies
Stirring the Lees. Today is a day to "stir the lees" in our 2011 Vivace' Ermitage Blanc which will be a blend of about 46% Marsanne, 46% Roussanne and 8% Chardonnay. The lees are composed of no longer active yeast and the sediment from the bits of grape pulp that are left when the wine is put in the barrel. Instead of racking the white wine to clarify it (the way we rack red wines), we leave the sediment in the barrel and occasionally stir it up. In doing so, we enhance both the flavors and the mouthfeel of the wine.  Ultimately before bottling we will filter the wine to clarify it.  We always filter both the white wine and the rose style wines before bottling.  But we do not filter the reds. The Marsanne and Roussanne are already blended, 50/50 but we will wait a number of months before we will do the trial blends and decide the exact amount of Chardonnay to use with this blend.  Most likely it will be between 5% and 10% of the final blend.  But that is a way off.  In the meantime, the wine is aging gently in 2 "neutral barrels", barrels that have been used many times, and two new French Oak Barrels.

Back to work in the winery.  Until next time...

Monday, April 16, 2012

Sex in the Vineyard

Kitchak Cellars is Fighting a significant problem.

We are doing everything we can to interrupt sexual activity in our vineyard.

Yes, that's right.  We have a problem and we are working to interrupt the sexual activity... of the European Grape Vine Moth.

Mating Disruption Twist Tie for European Grape Vine Moth
Placing Twist Ties.   200 per acre. This last week we have been placing special twist ties in the vineyard. They are simple plastic ties like those you would find tied around a cord in the box of your newly purchased IPhone.  Except these ties are red and impregnated with a chemical that smells identical to the pheromones of the female European Grape Vine Moth (EGVM).

This is Farming. Grape growing is a much more complicated process that I would have ever believed when I was collecting wine and before starting Kitchak Cellars.  This is farming.  A lot of weather problems, a lot of pests and many, many things that can go wrong.  The European Grape Vine Moth (EGVM) is just one a good example.

Background on EGVM. Five years ago, the EGVM didn't exist in the Napa Valley.  At least if it did, it did so in very small numbers and no one knew that it was there.  The moth is only about 1/4 of an inch long.  So small it is hard to see. And, all of a sudden it appeared by the hundreds of thousands.  It feeds on grape vines and lays its eggs on the leaves and in the fruit.  When it does, the skin of the fruit breaks, the juice runs out and the clusters get moldy. I produces three generations per year!

Discovery and the Fight. In 2008 the crop in entire vineyards were lost while the Napa Valley Grape Growers and the Napa County Agricultural Commissioner were trying to figure out what the pest was and what to do about it. By 2009, with help from people in vineyards around the world, the moth had been identified and a protocol developed to fight the very invasive pest. Test traps gathered huge numbers in 2009 when the treatment started.  In 2010 the numbers had dropped substantially and by 2011 a very small number were caught in Ag Commission traps placed throughout the county.

A Key Element in the Battle. One of the key elements in the fight has been the twist ties.  Because they contain the synthetic pheromones of the females EGVM, the males are confused and cannot find a partner.  The entire reproductive cycle is broken and the moth now seems under control.  But, we continue to place the ties to insure that the problem does not come back.

Other activities this past week. We have now finished all of the pruning.  Also, every year we lose a few vines to gophers, and we are replanting those vines this next week. We have had some great guests in our tasting room and we continue to get more spring rain.  Our reservoirs and now full and we are ready for the rain to stop, but more is forecast for next week. WE won't expect more than a drop or two from May 1 until October 15. I also attended a seminar this week on stabilizing wine against both heat and cold and we will talk about that next week.
Bud Break + 2 weeks . Vines are growing fast
 Cheers, and remember.  Life is too short to drink bad wine.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Bud Break in Napa

Bud Break + 1 day.
Bud Break - April 2

Bud Break is always an important event in the Napa Valley, but this year it is particularly important since it is the time that I committed to re-start this blog and keep it up to date during the entire wine-making season.

Do you want to know about growing grapes and making wine?  And what is happening in the vineyard and the winery? Follow us throughout the year and we will keep you up to date on the events, the successes and the non-successes and the issues that we face during the season.  We will also comment from time to time on what is going on in the Napa Valley and our thoughts about it.   

Bud break on April 2 was right on schedule.  While much of the country has been enjoying (or worrying about) substantially above average temperatures and a very early spring, the Napa Valley weather has been very typical.  February was a warm month and everyone was worried, but March was very typical.  As we conduct tours at our winery we tell people that bud-break will happen about April 1, plus or minus only a few days.  And with an "official" bud break in our own vineyard on April 2 we were not disappointed.

Generally the Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay grapes bud first, then Cabernet Franc and Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot are generally last.  And once the buds burst open they grow rapidly.

Five Days after bud-break and growing fast.
Frost is now the big danger.  For the few weeks after bud break frost is our biggest concern.  If the buds freeze, the shoot dies and we will get a smaller crop. We will not be "out of the woods until something close to May 1.

This past week, we had three days in which the temperature got below freezing.  Fortunately it never got below 31 and it only got there for a couple of early morning hours. 28 degrees is the real danger point.

Frost Fans. Many of the vineyard is the valley have frost fans -large propellers, mounted atop large steel poles to circulate the air mix warm upper air with the colder air near the ground. The are propellers like you would see on a large old airplane, powered by and old V-8 car engine running on propane from tanks located in the middle of vineyards.

So on a number of nights this past week we were awakened around 4AM with frost fans all over the valley sounding like an entire squadron of large helicopters circling the valley. Just part of the risk of farming and the Napa Valley life style.

Lake Cynthia a heat-sink. We don't have any frost fans on our property because Lake Cynthia, which sits in the middle of our vineyard has about 15 surface acres.  It warms up during the day and at night as the surrounding cold air sinks to the lake surface it is warmed and circulated substantially reducing our risk of frost damage.  It seems like we made it through the last week just fine and we will keep our fingers crossed for the next couple of weeks.

Dry Winter followed by a wet cool March. We did have a very dry winter and a warm February that had everyone worried, but March was cool and wet.  We received about 8 inches of rain during the month and another inch and a half are scheduled this week. This is the ideal time of the year to get the rain so everything seems to be on track and we are smiling.

Concerto Release Completed.  This last week we also completed the release of our 2008 Concerto Napa Valley To Kalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. A spectacular wine that we will talk more about later. It is only available direct from the winery so if you are not a wine club member and didn't get any, contact the winery.

Visits, Tours and Tastings are by appointment only.  Schedule an appointment by calling 707-225-2276 or by e-mail at You can visit our winery website here.  And you can take a virtual tour of our vineyards and winery here.