The Three Stagiaires!


As is the case every harvest, Stephan has received three interns- or stagiares-  for the harvest, from La Belle France. These guys rock! From manning the sorting tables, to working in the lab, to cleaning the winery and every piece of equipment therein at the end of every day of picking (no mean feat!), these three young men are at the heart of our harvest effort. While Stephan calls the tunes, and Dave and Guillaume share first fiddle, these guys have got the grunt! They are;

Aldo Antoniel; Aldo has finished his schooling, and works on his family’s estate, Chateaux Croix des Gentils in Entre Deux Mers, Bordeaux. There, they produce good value red and white wines, the red a blend of 80% Merlot 20% Cabernet, the white 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Semillon. Aldo has come to California to improve his English language skills, advance his wine making knowledge, and do a little traveling before his December 15 return date.

Aurelien Crouzet; Son of Franck Crouzet, the Director of Marketing for the third largest negociant house in Bordeaux, Group Castel Freres, Aurelien is an entrepreneur at heart. An MBA student at INSEEC- Institut Des Hautes Etudes Economiques et Commerciales- Aurelien is interested also in improving his English, as well as in studying a small American business model. He wants to develop a small, family -style business, in wine, or in another product or service category, eventually.

Victor Leculle; Victor comes from the Champagne producing family of Champagne Moutard, his mother a Moutard and his father Leculle. Both names brand the wines produced at their winery in Buxeuil, Champagne, France. Victor works in the family business, and has come to L’Aventure to -surprise!; work on his English!- as well as to observe and take part in wine making here. He will go on to South Africa, and eventually South America in the same spirit.

Every year we are fortunate to receive the creme de la creme of young French students and professionals to help us through harvest. This year is no exception, and we wish each of them well as they move on, taking a little piece of L’Aventure with them.




Cab is King!

Cabernet Sauvignon has been coming in over the last couple of days, and examining it on the sorting table reminds one that the old adage might be true indeed; that “Cab is King!”

In the 1990 s, Professor Carole Meredith of UC Davis (now retired, and co owner of Lagier -Meredith Winery in Napa with her partner Steve, and my- and a million other people’s- go to for this kind of info!) established the genetic identity of Cabernet Sauvignon as being that of a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. She estimates that the chance crossover took place in the mid 17th century, in the Bordeaux area. Needless to say, Cabernet has been on one heck of a roll ever since!

Most famous as the anchor for the great Left Bank Bordeaux blends, Cabernet has made it’s way into every major wine growing area of the world over these last couple -a- hundred years. The hardy nature of the grape makes it resistant to many diseases, frost, and rot, making it a vigneron’s favorite. Late bud break is a key characteristic of this variety, so Paso Robles’ classic Mediterranean growing season (hot days/ cold nights) is ideal for it’s excellence. The Cabernet cluster is a tight one, with small berries of thick skin, giving it the potential for dark, rich musts when fully mature and well macerated. This high “pip to pulp” ratio endows Cab with the ability to age in oak for long periods without losing its fruit character, when managed properly. Cabernet’s characteristic cassis, blacberry, cherry fruit and tobacco and cedar box aromas and flavors seem to win over most lovers of fine wine. There it is, then!

Here at L’Aventure, our Cabernet blocks (over a dozen separate ones) have produced stunningly beautiful fruit in 2013. That is, most of them. Stephan reports that roughly 10% of the fruit was tossed at the sorting table because it was dessicated. Guillaume added that most of this was “top of the hill” fruit, and that it looked great yesterday. In his own words, Stephan says ; “I’m pissed! So much good fruit gone, and more work at the sorting table”.  The pace of harvesting so much fruit simultaneously simply caught up with us, and cost us roughly 2 bins of the 17 harvested today, or roughly 12% of the days pick. That’s 1,400 pounds of fruit gone by the wayside. That’s what sorting tables are for. And keep in mind, this selection was made following the rigorous selection made in the vineyards as shoots were thinned and clusters were dropped. All in all, we are looking at roughly 60% to 70% of the 2013 Cabernet not having made it into the destemmer!

The quality of the fruit that DID make into tank is excellent! At 2.3 tons per acre, the density, color, and must overall looks great.  Dave explained to me that many of the best lots of Cabernet Sauvignon from this 2013 vintage came in from blocks that have been dedicated to the Double Guyot pruning method. This model utilizes new canes annually as a base for the vines shoots instead of relying on the same cordon year after year. Two shoots are extended out from the vine’s trunk, emulating a cordon, but they are fresh, young shoots, and this makes for more efficient nutrition delivery, as the heavier cordons are burdened by dead wood that absorbs a portion of this energy. A Vertical Shoot Positioned canopy then extends up the wires in the form of shoots that eminate from each cane. The canopy tends to be more open and more even, as tends to be the fruit line.  Yields are about the same. In a high density plantation of 2,100 vines such as we have here at L’Aventure, the Double Guyot also decreases competition among vines for nutrients, which is important, given that nutrients are a finite resource in soils.

The verdict will not be in until the wines are finished and tasted, but for now, as Guillaume says, the Cab looks “Beautiful”!



A Vintage for Co- Fermenting!

As of today, September 18, 2013, roughly 80% of our fruit is in. Just a little more Cab, and the Petit Verdot and Mourvedre remain on the vine. In many years, we are just getting started with harvest in mid September! With over 30 days of temperatures hovering around or over 100 Degrees so far this year, the vintage is reminiscent of 2004 and, in terms of degree day heat summation, of last year as well. 2004 was a benchmark vintage for Stephan, producing his first 98 point wine, Estate Cuvee 2004, as well as his luscious Coincidence. These wines were made by co- fermenting the Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Syrah components together, at difference to their being fermented in separate barrels and then blended together later, which is the norm for us here at L’Aventure. This year, the July/ August/ September heat wave has again brought the vintage to a head earlier than normal, and we find these varieties again coming in one on top of the other. Logistically and artistically, this points to a number of lots of co -fermented wines being produced from this 2013 vintage.

Among these wines is Cuvee Chloe, an eponymous homage to Stephan’s daughter,  first produced from the 2010 vintage. For this wine, Stephan culls his best Syrah, typically from the McVey block at the north -western limit of the ranch, and co ferments it with his best Grenache of the vintage. This co -fermentation results in wines of seamless integration. Cuvee Chloe always offers a unique parfum of floral notes,  the haunting essence of garrigue. The attack is always soft, the palate rich and long, textured like silk.

Grenache 2013 Is In

Grenache is a hearty variety, an early budding variety that is also a late ripener. Grenache needs lots of sun and a long growing season to ripen fully, which is important if one desires to make fuller bodied, well structured and well colored wines from the variety. This is why it is found ranging from the Mediterranean littoral (Spain, Southern France, Sardinia), to Australia and California. It is a chief blending grape in Rioja and the southern Rhone, a star in Priorat, a staple in Australia, and a rising star in California. It is the key grape in the excellent vin doux natural wines Banyuls and Maury in Rousillon and Languedoc respectively, as well as a principal ingredient in the table wine blends in these two AOC regions of France. The second most widely planted variety in the world, Grenache plantation world wide exceeds 500,000 acres. Here at L’Aventure, we have 4.3 in the ground!

As our 2013 Grenache was moving along the sorting table, one got a clear idea as to just how da*n hot this 2013 growing season has been. Among the beautiful, perfectly shaped clusters passing by, many others- estimated at 12% to 15% of the pick- showed signs of excessive dehydration, and had to be dropped at sorting. An already small crop (roughly 2.5 tons per acre) just got smaller! Dave remarked that most of these were from our “old vine” blocks. These dehydrated clusters were very tight, and also contained unripe berries, indication that trellising and canopy management might be reviewed for next year. In contrast, the newer plantation vines, planted to different clones, had more open canopies, looser clusters, and ripened more evenly. This being the case within the same vineyard sight. Given the extreme heat of the vintage (some 30 days over 100 degrees so far!), the wines will display terrific color, while being a bit lower in alcohol than is the norm, the heat driving the Grenache to the winery earlier than normal this year. The very best of this year’s crop will be reserved, and co- fermented with Stephan’s top syrah to make Cuvee Chloe 2013. The rest will find it’s way into Cote a Cote and Sibling, as blending is determined March following vintage. Guillaume sees the crop as “Beautiful!”

Tradition and Real Time Winemaking

Dave called me in my office. He said “you should come down here and see this”. So I headed out to the sorting table, where he and Beatrice and a Dutch guy were sorting fruit. I knew we were bringing in syrah, but this fruit was green/ gold. “Viognier”, Dave said. “It’s going right into the blend with the Hilltop and Entry block syrah”. Interesting. This classic Cote Rotie blend has long been a tradition in the great Southern France wine field. Historically, the crisp white variety brought perfume to the bouquet and charm to the rich Syrah of the region. Modernly, the practice is not as much a necessity as it was in antiquity, rather, more of a winemaker’s choice.  Higher tech wine making is able to capture the charm, acidity, and higher tone fruit qualities of the syrah without the addition of such a blending agent. For this reason, and as in the sangiovese/ trebbiano tandem in Chianti, we see less need for this blend nowadays. Still, wine making is a highly personal art, as well as a rigorous science, and experimentation is an endless vocation to those that continue to press to be better. So I suppose we could call it an expected surprise as the viognier fruit was added -in to the the syrah in tank, and commenced to soak.

Stephan had often said, in his early days here in Paso Robles, that he saw no real need for this sort of blend to be assembled. After all, Syrah is to Paso Robles what Cabernet is to Bordeaux, and the capture of it’s pure, Paso character was enough. When I reminded him of his former position, he responded easily “Only a stupid man refuses to change”. Bravo! However, things are never so simple as to be summed up so concisely, so I dug a little deeper. As Stephan said, “It is a little complicate”. Experimenting with the classic blend was definitely a factor in taking the decision in 2013. There was, however, a second motive for this, chiefly, that of the “old vine” viognier coming in so much later than the first picking of the newer plantation. Adding this recent pick back into the first was not an option, and the tiny yield that it surrendered (around 2/3 of a ton for the acre) made the formulation of this blend a natural decision.  Case closed? Hardly!

As wine making is a highly personal pursuit, Stephan is a winemaker highly conscious of his mandate to always make the best wine possible from the great fruit from his vineyard. No “program” or “formula” wines are made at L’Aventure. The blends in their final form are only determined after exhaustive tasting March following vintage by a panel of people that know the vineyard well. To this point, this viognier /syrah blend is far from finding it’s place in the 2013 vintage. Will the wine remain as it is? Will mourvedre that is coming in over the next couple of days find it’s way into the cuvee? Will the lot be bottled “as is”, or will it be blended into the syrah selected for Cote a Cote? I think we will not know this until March, 2014!

First Syrah Came in Today

September 4, 2013, 7:30 AM; the first Syrah of the vintage is on the sorting table! We are off to the races! Stephan anticipates that we will be harvesting Syrah over the next 10 days to two weeks, daily, with an eye out on the Cabernet, which will follow. With 10 blocks of Syrah on the property, each of them grown on hillsides that contain multiple micro climates, the task is an arduous one as regards the picking, sorting, and vinification of these small lots of wine. While this remains the standard practice in 2013, this year, as nature permits, Stephan is also taking an exceptional measure in co-fermenting clones #1, #99, and the Tablas Creek clone from the Michael’s House block just north east of the winery. As these clones/blocks end up being blended together every year anyway, the thinking is that the co- fermentation process will simply marry the wines together during fermentation instead of in the form of wine at blending March following vintage. Ideally, this process makes for a more integrated and seamless wine. Such was the case in 2004 when Stephan crafted Coincidence. Cuvee Chloe and Cuvee Antolien are contemporary evidence that this process crafts silky, seamless wines of distinction.

The fruit is very nice, firm, with good density. The yields are lower than expected, clusters are uniform. Dave says “The fruit looks good”.