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Jason Joyce
September 10, 2012 | Jason Joyce

Classing It Up A Bit

   One of the classy grapes arrived today, Pinot Noir, so I felt it was time to step up the beer quality for at least one round.  Things could not have looked better coming in from the vineyard.  Not only did we answer last year's record low harvest yeild with a record high yeild, the quality of amazing.  The free run juice was coming off at 24.5 brix with a 3.21 pH.  You could not ask for beter pinot numbers from Paso Robles.  When you combine ripe flavors and classic complex earth tannins in the skins, this is the most excited I've ever been about Pinot from our Carver Vineyard.  So a proper day to toast with what is still hands down my favorite beer:

   I'm sure it has something to do with my love of San Francisco that this is my favorite.  But most of all, it stradles that boundry between full flavor and refreshing feel better than other beer for me.  So even today, after a long hot day of bringing in the pinot and getting it safely to tank (This year's trial is doing 60%, 30%, and 0% whole cluster ferments.  Should be interesting to determine what the mix of stem and intact berries brings to the table.), I can still enjoy and feel revived with my post work beverage.

Today's Musical Treat


Time Posted: Sep 10, 2012 at 8:13 AM Permalink to Classing It Up A Bit Permalink Comments for Classing It Up A Bit Comments (6)
Jason Joyce
September 6, 2012 | Jason Joyce

It Takes A Lot Of Beer

An old but true adage.  So much so that the good people up in Santa Rosa even produced a beer in it's honor.  Well, actually they claim it takes "great beer" to make great wine.  I hope that's not true, because Rory and Nacho brought in a twelver of these today:

   This is the old standby of harvest.  Mainly because you can buy it the same time you are filling propane tanks, getting tractor diesel, or grabbing some tri-tip sandwhiches down at Cregor's.  I'm not a fan of this, actually I'm quite anti- this beer.  Although I'll tip my hat to the Budweiser Don Draper types who thought up the "Superior Drinkability" tag line, I'd put "Marketing You Can Taste" myself.  It did at least remind me of a wonderful aspect of harvest though, the time of year. The NFL logo tells you that harvest coincides with high school, college, and pro football kicking into gear.  But best of all, the pennant races and playoffs (Are we in store for another epic harvest like 2010?) of America's pastime.  This all helps create the context of the harvest.  And so be it if I have to drink a few nasty BL's to realize fall is on the way. 

Time Posted: Sep 6, 2012 at 10:22 AM Permalink to It Takes A Lot Of Beer Permalink
Jason Joyce
September 5, 2012 | Jason Joyce

Toasting 2012


    The first pick of the vintage is always a time of celebration.  Most years we pick our Estate Chardonnay first, and 2012 was no exception.  The usual practice is to get all the employees from the vineyard, cellar, tasting room and office, along with families and hand harvest the fruit.  Combining a big crew with just one acre of Chardonnay adds up to finishing early and a big communal breakfast.  The fresh pressings are blended in with some bubbly for a very special mimosa. 

    You can't drink Champagne all harvest long though.  The long hot days leading into working nights leads the winemaker to beer.  Having a lower proof drink avoids the embarrassment of waking up on the cellar floor or crush pad the next morning.  For this harvest I'm going to document all the beers that pass through the cellar fridge.  From top to bottom, good and bad. The obvious choice for starting off the vintage in celebratory mood was of course The Champagne of Beers!

     Miller High Life, while no critical darling, is a wonderful easy drinking beer. The key here is extremely light flavors and nothing obviously off putting.  A beer that you can't really say anything bad about, but then again, you can't say anything really good about it either.  After cleaning the press and racking the chard must to a settling tank, the refreshment was palpable.  Overall, this was not a horrible way to start the beers of 2012 harvest.

Time Posted: Sep 5, 2012 at 8:11 AM Permalink to Toasting 2012 Permalink
Jason Joyce
August 9, 2012 | Jason Joyce


Il vino è la luce del sole tenuta insieme dall'acqua - Galileo Galilei

The light.  It always comes back to the light with me.  When I think of California, be it in the Sierras, in Joshua Tree, Big Sur, Stockton....., the color of our light is the giveaway.  It may be the filtering effects of ionized air coming from the vast Pacific.  Perhaps that band of latitude from 32° 30' N to 42° N sits at a perfect angle to the sun.  Whatever it may be, it is impossible to go outside and not feel that there is a rich softness to the light in this state.  Beyond any viticultural or enological decision, this is what makes our wine taste the way it does.


    The term "New World Style" is often derisively thrown around to describe the full bodied wines produced in California.  Our wines are criticized as unsophisticated or disingenuous due to the flavors that are emphasized.  I have always contended though that there is little choice in the m atter.  The wine tastes of its place.  I love the color and feel of this land and I taste those same parameters in the wine produced here.  As a winemaker, my conscious decisions about style are vastly secondary to the impact of the land.


       Driving on a trip up to Napa last week I decided to take the long route, California 25.  This is one of those magical roads that show the side of California no one outside of here knows exists.  Gently rolling hills of oak and golden tanned grasses.  And as always, framed by the gorgeous blue sky.

         When I think California, those are the colors that come to mind, blue and gold.  There is a reason the colleges here embrace the colors they do.  Be it the southern softness of UCLA's True Blue and Gold or the richer cool hues of Berkeley's Yale Blue and California Gold, these colors surround us here.  What is color but the specific spectral bands of the light that bathes us.  A light of such abundance and beauty, the wine produced here has no choice but to mirror.


Time Posted: Aug 9, 2012 at 10:53 AM Permalink to California Permalink
Jason Joyce
July 25, 2012 | Jason Joyce

Dreams Of Turkey After Harvest

   As presents became more grown-up, Christmas lost its place atop the pantheon of Holidays.  When my insatiable appetite for M&M's and Snicker Bars eventually was filled and I no longer attended college costume parties, Halloween fell down a bit.  In a few years, once my children grow old enough to truly grasp the magic of those days, they will return to the top.  For now though, Thanksgiving is the King of Holidays for me.  A day dedicated to the simplistic perfection of meal and family.  Brining the wine that I produce to the table, celebrating the harvest that my life is so intertwined with now adds even more to the special feeling.  Sadly, cool years in 2010 and 2011 have made Thanksgiving Day a working day each of the past few years.  Imagine my joy today when I got confirmation that this year would be different.


     It was August 12th last year when I posted a similar photo.  Veraison is the changing of color of the grape skin.  It is the beginning of the ripening process.  A very loose rule of thumb is that six weeks from now, we will pick this Pinot Noir.  Harvest, which did not begin in earnest until late September last year, is looking to come much earlier this year.  The timetable jumped on us and now the preparations must begin.  All the trappings of the harvest start to take shape.  The new barrels start to arrive.  The destemmer, sorting table, and press all get cleaned and greased up.  Discussions begin on new trial ideas. 

     I've wanted to try some really short macerations to emphasize fruit in a couple wines.  Our assistant winemaker told me excitedly he wants to try some really long ferments, probably in a barrel.  You won't really know until you try.  We messed around with a new technique for our Chardonnay last year.  It's going to bottle in a few weeks, and I'd have to say our new little trick had a positive outcome. A couple more idea will probably come, especially as sleep deprivation induced creativity sets in. 

    I love harvest.  It is probably my favorite aspect to the whole wine making lifestyle.  Once a year, one chance, all or nothing, the special mix of creativity under pressure makes for such a uniquely thrilling work experience. You can't really ask for much more. Well, maybe except for vintages like this one, when you do get more.  You get it all wrapped up in time to completely enjoy that November meal with the family.


Time Posted: Jul 25, 2012 at 3:41 PM Permalink to Dreams Of Turkey After Harvest Permalink
Jason Joyce
June 27, 2012 | Jason Joyce

Feathers Of Friends

         It has been talked about for a couple of years, usually during harvest breakfasts.  "We should get some chickens out here in the vineyard.  It'd make this meal way better."   Then the return to working the grapes would make sure that was as far as the chicken talk ever got, just talk. 

     Well, it finally happened this spring.  The new born chicks at the vineyard supply shop were just too cute to pass up.  So we brought home a baker's dozen and turned a harvest bin into a nursery.  After a month or so of living in the cellar, the ladies were released into the wild.  Well, not the real wild.  Out here in the western hills of Paso Robles live coyotes, foxes, mountain lions, hawks and eagles.  Not the type of place to just let them enjoy free range living.  We built a huge coop for them and fenced in to huge area in an oak grove on top of the property.  And now that they are old enough, they are allowed to roam about during the day, just make sure everyone is back inside come sun down.  Nobody could be happier, and we are all anxiously waiting that first fresh egg breakfast come fall.


Time Posted: Jun 27, 2012 at 12:24 PM Permalink to Feathers Of Friends Permalink
Jason Joyce
May 28, 2012 | Jason Joyce

Sights And Sounds of Summer

     Like much of modern life, the ubiquitious smartphone is being used in all sorts of ways in winemaking. One of my favorite new abilities is to be able to see something interesting/worrying in the vineyard and instantly discuss it with my vineyard consultant using visuals. A bi-product of all these close up photos of the vine is the occasional shot worth sharing with people not thinking about nutrients and pest management.  This is especially true during this time of year.  The combination of new shoot growth and the spring flowering produces uniquely beautiful visuals.

 Here is a close up the completion of flowering, the very earliest step of a grapes' life.  Each of these tiny green balls will develop into Malbec grapes.

      The delicate new shoots reaching up towards the sun produces beautiful lines that seem almost brush stokes on canvas.

   Close inspection of the new growth unveils that the new leaves do not yet contain chlorophyl, which gives them an amazing white color.  The contrast with the deep green of the mature leaves below can only be experienced this time of year.

Time Posted: May 28, 2012 at 2:48 PM Permalink to Sights And Sounds of Summer Permalink
Jason Joyce
May 18, 2012 | Jason Joyce

Nothing So Graceful As The Tarriance of Spring

     The year’s rain has come and gone with the heat of summer now waiting to take the vines the rest of the way. The worry has subsided and now been replaced by anxious expectation. Walking the vineyards these past couple of weeks, watching as the inflorescences flower and begin their transfiguration into fruit, the heart has been buoyed. The months of March and April could not have been more perfect. Gentle rains matched by mild temperatures provided everything a vine needs to awake from winter’s slumber and start life anew. Nothing more could be asked of the vineyard for the time being. The relief and pleasure of a perfect spring can never be overstated.
      Fruit set is looking perfect, just slightly heavy so excess fruit can be dropped and yeilds from the vine can be optimized to our liking. Now that we are in mid-May, things are still looking wonderful. While the winter was warm and dry, summer has not reared it’s aggressive head yet. Temperatures have maintained in the high 80’s, preventing any early stress that can accompany the annual 100 degree days of Wine Fest. The flowering also looks to be well spaced. Our Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah flower first, taking their place as the initiators of harvest. The mix of Grenache, Malbec, Cab Franc, Merlot and the White Rhones seem to always jumble for attention mid-harvest. The last vines to set their fruit are the Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvedre and Zinfandel, the grapes that have you sweating late fall rainstorms hoping for just one more day to ripen.

Time Posted: May 18, 2012 at 12:13 PM Permalink to Nothing So Graceful As The Tarriance of Spring Permalink
Jason Joyce
April 11, 2012 | Jason Joyce

To The Better Crasftmen

Breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.                                  -T.S. Eliot

   These are indeed the anxious times. After the scars of last year the poetry I grasped at during my life ignorant youth started to speak to me more plainly.

"Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?"

    Most people would assume that fall and the time of harvest is when wine making is at its most tense. I have discovered this year that for myself, that is not so. During harvest you can create for yourself a veneer of control. The increasing flavor complexity and daily measuring of the fruit tricks you into thinking you can decide what will happen. You can imagine that your bank of knowledge and experience will guide you and the wine down some certain path. At least this is what you tell yourself to keep the task within some reasonable scale.

    In the Spring, we are truly thrown to the mercy of Nature. What will be, what will come, the future that starts rolling towards you is all set in these early stages of growth. All one can do is look to the sky, feel the air, feel the ground, watch...hope.

  The burgeoning growth and young buds, in all their vulnerability, are the basis of what the 2012 vintage will be. Last year, a terrible cold decended upon us during this precious time and much of the crop was lost forever, a vintage not to be. That fear is what makes one focus solely on the low when reading forecasts. There exists no cellar magic that repairs what is lost on the vine. This pushing forth of the first hints of green indicates that everything is being set in motion, and the winemaker is now purely a spectator, witnessing the miracle of the vines bringing life anew.  How will 2012 be remembered? The most important first steps are toddling up and down our steep vineyard hills as I write this.

  It surprised me how in the facing of this great unknown, I suddenly found understanding in poetry buried deep behind my minds layers of chemistry and enology. I tried in vain so often to understand these verses in college, but without life experience, they fell on intellectual deafness. My professor must have felt like a young parent, attempting to teach a lesson to a child that only time can truly deliver. For what did this line mean to me before I was tasked with producing wine from the alkaline soils?

"What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish?"

   These great lines only grow personal meaning once they can be applied to something true from your own experience. The return of Spring is a call to revisit what you hold as truth. To shine light on your plans with an expanded perspective that comes with each successive vintage. This reminder prevents you from standing still, nature implores you to change with it. All is different from where we left it last fall. The winter retreat of the vines produce new character in these Spring shoots. You can sense it when you walk amongst them. They too are wiser, and will write their verse in some new style. What they capture and how they will explain it to us will be revealed in the poem of the wine they bring forth. That shall be the overiding goal of what we put in the bottle this year.

                          Shantih, Shantih, Shantih

Time Posted: Apr 11, 2012 at 4:28 PM Permalink to To The Better Crasftmen Permalink
Jason Joyce
March 23, 2012 | Jason Joyce

Unrequited Hope?

      Replace "new phonebook" with "active MJO" and this was basically me earlier today. Which leads to the obvious question, "What's the active MJO, and why is some jerk winemaker yelling about it." Well, it is all due to the fact that the most important aspect to wine is weather. Regardless of what tricks we have learned during human agricultural history, nature still has the first and last say.

      I feel it is important to remind ourselves that making wine, at its heart, is simply an agricultural process. We often get away from this perspective due to the strange cultural significance that wine has taken in the modern world. Somehow growing wine grapes, and recently, organic heirloom vegetables, has become "sexy" to the point that it is viewed differently than growing corn or soybeans. For this reason you don't see as many millionaires retiring to start farming cotton for example, in order to return to a simpler or more natural life. Don't fall prey to this thinking. Despite all the flowery language, sales PR, and talk of esoteric viticultural processes, wine making IS grape farming, no more, no less. Wine though does have a unique way of making the relationship between nature and consumption crystal clear. The ultimate goal of wine making is to allow one to taste and interact with the time and place of creation. The idea of the vintage is rooted in this, that the year is as important as the place or varietal in conveying what lies inside the bottle.

      With this in mind, I obsess over the weather endlessly. It dictates to me all the decisions I will make during the annual cycle of the vineyard and winery. Luckily, my obsession with weather pre-dates my time as a winemaker. Living on the Pacific coast, I started checking weather on a daily basis as it determined my plans for surfing. What is special about surfing and weather is that it is dependant upon two forms, the local and the global. The waves that cause one to skip morning class during college are not generated locally, but thousands of miles away. Off the coast of Japan and Russia during Fall and Winter, and way down by New Zealand and the Antarctic Pacific for Spring and Summer. You can't look outside and know that a good swell is coming, you have to do some research to be ready.

     This research is what introduced me to the Madden-Julian Oscillation. All this winter the MJO has been in the "inactive" phase. This has been distressing for California farmers, surfers, and skiers. The heart of winter, January-Feburary, was basically one long sunny spring. Temperatures in the 60's and 70's, and never a cloud. While this made it nice to be outdoors hiking and biking, it was terrible for things like water tables, snow pack, and thirsty roots. Then last week came a rather substantial storm, and something felt different. After data analysis, the hopeful news was delivered by the web's greatest weather site Stormsurf:

      Current wind analysis indicated modest easterly anomalies were all east of the dateline now (a good thing) extending from 140W to the dateline (180W) and continuing to loose ground. The coverage of these winds shifted east and was fading. Westerly anomalies were strong in the Indian Ocean pushing east to 160E and building more directly over the equator rather than displaced south. It looks like the Inactive Phase of the MJO was loosing control of the West Pacific. A week from now (3/29) the pattern is to continue with a weakening area of weak easterly anomalies hovering between 180W and 160E but nowhere else and with solid westerly anomalies building from the Indian Ocean to 160E and making easterly headway. This indicates that the Inactive Phase of the MJO is to be effectively gone by then with the Active Phase starting to take control of the West Pacific.

      If that is not music to your grape growing ears, well, I don't know what to tell you. This is leading to hope that maybe some late season storms will produce water for our thirsty state. The vines are just about to start budding and the roots will start pumping water, making for some possible perfect timing. Spring is well underway though, which usually means a wall of high pressure that keeps California sunny from May to November. But that little bit of weather nerdery I read this morning got me in a solid Lloyd Christmas state of mind

Time Posted: Mar 23, 2012 at 12:44 PM Permalink to Unrequited Hope? Permalink