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.

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”.

Roussanne 2013….The Bonsai Roussanne!

Watching the Roussanne move across the sorting table, one get’s a sense of why this variety is as earthy, rich, and stone fruity in aroma and flavor as it is. Clusters display both green and reddish berries in varying degrees, as evidenced in this photo by Marissa Winchester. Stephan comments that popularly, Roussanne derives from roux, meaning “russet”, or “reddish” in French. Rich, honeyed, pear and stone fruit with an almost spicy finish are detected when tasting the fresh fruit.

A variety prone to highly irregular yields, this year’s Roussanne crop was particularly small. So are clusters, which are also very tight, berries being smaller than normal. The resulting wine will be very rich, with greater intensity and specificity than in many years. 0.8 ton per acre yields this year were due to the warm weather we experienced in part, but also to a man made “trap”, if you will, that caught us up in the end! Let me explain.

At plantation in 2000, Stephan opted to encircle the root systems of the new Roussanne plantings with a wire cage, designed specifically to foil the gophers in the vineyard from devouring the tender young vines. Gophers are among the most notorious of pests in the vineyards, and this seemed a sound way to combat them….no poison, no drownings, clean and humane. The cages did their jobs as concerns keeping out the gophers, but created an unforseen complication. It turns out that the root system of the vines began to grow into a tight circle inside the cage, instead of growing right through the openings in the mesh. The result was a Roussanne block that has always produced very low yields, and vines that are displaying signs of stunted growth at 13 years. Following this harvest, the plan is to replant the block, sans cages! Join me in saying “Au Revoir, Bonsai Roussanne!”



Early Start to 2013 Harvest at L’Aventure as Grenache Blanc comes in!

This morning at 7:30 AM the crew brought in the 2013 Grenache Blanc- all 2 tons of it! Stephan, Dave, and Guillaume, with the help of the sure handed Michael Dutchsorted through the clusters on the first of our two sorting tables, assuring that only those of uniform maturity made it into the destemmer. From there, stagiaires Victor and Aurelien, here from France to help out with harvest,  managed the second table, vigilant that the individual berries passing along it were all of a dimension indicative of fully mature, sound fruit. This selection process is a continuation of that practiced in the vineyard, where cluster dropping and shoot thinning result in net yields of scarcely a bottle to two  per vine, depending on the vintage and variety. This Grenache Blanc will constitute 50% of the blend for Stephan’s 2013 Estate Cuvee Blanc, a ton each of Viognier and Roussanne to round it out. That’s a whopping 240 cases all in!

Stephan describes this as “a small crop, maybe a bonsai crop” adding a snicker, in that many of the individual clusters were manicured around the verasion period. Clipping the shoulders and tips of this large clustered, somewhat gangly variety  has resulted in the fruit being more uniformly developed. This year’s earlier harvest has resulted in great, firm clusters of excellent acidity, characterized by a racy minerality, floral perfume, and flavors of lychee  nut and stone fruit.

Dave DeBusk, our Vineyard Manager, adds that “the fruit was absolutely disease free, and remarkably even, from top of the hill to bottom”. He attributes some of the exemplar quality of the block to the double guyot trellising configuration as well.

Roussane is just coming in. Let’s go have a look at it.