Joe’s Winemaking Notes: December 2016
Dormancy In The Vineyard
Time for a break! Their work done for 2016 vintage, with nutrients stashed away in the trunk and roots, our vines have now gone dormant. The growing season of 2016 was very productive, with grapes of the highest quality; so, we can’t begrudge the vines a little rest over the next four months. In this dormant state, the vines are resistant to frost, which settles over the vineyard during cloudless, wintery nights. This past November, we had three nights with low temps nearing 30°F. This knocked off any remaining leaves from the vines.
As the vine structure is now laid bare, I’ve been walking the vineyard with our vineyard manager Alvaro Zamora. It’s a great time to evaluate vine strength; by looking at the canes and determining the ideal vine “architecture” for next year. By adjusting the number of canes (or in some vineyard blocks, stubby two-bud “spurs”) left for next year, we make early adjustments to next year’s yield. Obtaining the right balance in the vineyard is an all-season, multi-year consideration.
One cool factor about Vitis vinifera grape vines: each spring, grape clusters will form on green shoots that have sprouted from buds found on last year’s shoots. These are now woody and called “canes.” Because we get grapes from second year wood, these buds are affected by environmental conditions over a long period of time. In fact, the fruitfulness of next year’s buds is largely determined by the conditions of this past spring. It’s zany to consider the impact that weather can have on our grape crop a full 18 months before we pick the grapes, but this is our reality.
In early November, we bottled our final 2015 vintage wines. Although we had just completed the 2016 harvest and fermentation, several of our Green Valley of Russian River Valley wines from the previous year had been patiently watching the action from their barrels. Two Pinot Noirs (including our Estate selection), and the Cool Climate Syrah, were finally ready for bottling. These wines weren’t fully developed during our last bottling window in August. They needed a bit more time to mellow and allow the fruit flavors and aromas to integrate with the oak. It’s always rewarding to shepherd these wines into bottle, after spending so much time with them over the past year and a half. I have great confidence in these wines’ ability to inspire great experiences, when they finally hit your glass. However, you’ll have to be patient, as two years of bottle aging remains before release!
Pinot Noir; The Ultimate Holiday Wine!
Sonoma County has a well-earned reputation as a destination for the world’s best food and wine experiences. This is often captured in print by the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, our local newspaper. We were excited to have our 2014 River Road Family Vineyards and Winery Stephanie’s Cuvée Pinot Noir selected by their tasting panel, as “Wine of the Week” for Thanksgiving! In addition to being recognized as a great food friendly Pinot Noir, national cookbook author and chef Michele Anna Jordan contributed a wonderful recipe to pair with the wine. Although shellfish may not strike many of you as a Thanksgiving recipe, it does reflect a local tradition in Sonoma County. This recipe is considered by many locals to be even more important than turkey, because it also marks the start of our Dungeness Crab season along the Sonoma coastline!
The following recipe first appeared in the Press Democrat, in Michele Anna Jordan’s weekly pairing column. For more information and recipes, visit www.micheleannajordan.com
Pairings: Pinot Noir With Shellfish
Our Wine of the Week, River Road Family Vineyards & Winery 2014 Stephanie’s Cuvée Pinot Noir, has a quality that fans of this varietal consider essential, delicacy. The wine splashes lightly across the palate and lingers like mist after a gentle rain.
The wine is sophisticated and beautifully balanced, so that no single flavor stands out from the rest. If you want to search for specific tastes, you’ll find hints of cedar, new leather, plum, fresh tobacco, dried ginger, Queen Anne cherries and orange zest, especially if you have a vivid imagination. Your cranky uncle who likes high alcohol fruit bombs might grouse about the wine, but everyone else should love it. Its delicacy, lightness and brightness make it extremely food friendly.
Because we finally have fresh Dungeness crab, consider this wine to serve alongside Crab Louis, as it will engage perfectly with the voluptuous dressing. It is excellent with risotto, especially with mushrooms, beets, carrots or winter squash. Fall’s wild mushrooms are fabulous matches. It is a good companion to turkey, especially the dark meat, and the traditional accompaniments.
Duck, lamb, bacon, caramelized onions, tomato-based soups and stews such as cioppino, lentils with cotechino and roasted eggplant are good matches, too. If you want to make Thanksgiving dinner soar, serve a puree of celery root and potatoes, or celery root, parsnips and potatoes instead of plain mashed potatoes, with the wine alongside. Most of us have had our Thanksgiving menus planned for some time now, so today’s recipe is for something different, a seafood stew that takes advantage of the very last of the year’s tomato crop.
Portuguese Shellfish Stew
Serves 6 to 8
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound linguica diced
2 yellow onions sliced
8 garlic cloves
6 ounces prosciutto diced
1 cup tomato concassé (see Note below)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup minced Italian parsley
1 cup white wine
2 pounds PEI mussels, scrubbed
3 pounds manila or cherrystone clams, scrubbed
Picked meat from 1 Dungeness crab
1 lemon, cut in wedges
Sourdough hearth bread, hot
Put the olive oil in a large heavy skillet set over medium heat, add the linguica and sauté, stirring frequently, until the sausage gives up most of its fat. Drain off all but a little of the fat, add the onion, reduce the heat to low and sweat the onions until they are very soft and fragrant, about 20 to 25 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté 2 minutes more. Season with salt.
Add the prosciutto, tomato concassé , red pepper flakes and Italian parsley and simmer for 5 minutes. Increase the heat to medium, add the wine, arrange the mussels and clams in the pan hinge side down, cover the pan and cook until the shellfish just open, about 5 to 7 minutes. Uncover, scatter the crab on top, cover and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, just to heat the crab through.
Remove from the heat, let rest 5 minutes, and serve with lemon wedges and hot bread alongside
Note: Tomato concassé is fresh tomato pulp. To make it, peel 1 or 2 large heavy tomatoes, cut them in half through their equators and squeeze out the juice and gel. Chop the tomato flesh as finely as possible, scoop it into a strainer set over a bowl, stir in a teaspoon of salt, and let drain for about 15 minutes. What remains in the strainer is the concassé.
Since this is my last newsletter for 2016, for all of us at The Rubin Family of Wines, I want to wish you Happy Holidays and a Healthy New Year.