Renewal

First of all, thank you for being patient! It has been awhile since I last blogged as last year was full of interesting twists and turns with a whole new set of challenges. The catastrophic fires in Sonoma County turned lives upside down, and then the fires in SoCal coupled with the terrible mud slides in Montecito just added to a feeling of helplessness about things you have no control over. Too many friends lost their homes and in the blink of an eye, their lives changed forever. We were lucky…our house is intact, but it was a most surreal experience to be packing your cars with what you thought to be most important in case you had to evacuate. With the smoke thick in the air, smarting our eyes, Kirsten and I went through every room to determine what we needed to take with us. If nothing else, that experience made us aware of what we were lacking for emergencies like this and so we have made those changes and updates – generator, check…chainsaw, check!

After much reflection, I do find myself with a child-like optimism ready to move forward! It’s a new growing season and as of this writing, we are half way through the pruning process. We are pruning a little earlier than last year partly due to the unseasonably warm weather we have been experiencing which moves the vines into fruit production. There are also other considerations, such as the availability of labor, which had some effect on us, and also vine health issues. A little bit about pruning…First of all, good fruit is only produced on shoots from new canes which is why this is an annual event. Also, the pruning of grape vines must happen while they are dormant, but can be done anytime between leaf drop in the fall and bud break in the spring, weather permitting.  Every farmer has his or her time frame preference in mind, but sometimes external influences serve to make the decision for you!

Every vineyard is different, with its own micro climate, soils and individual characteristics which will help determine the rate at which the vines will progress. The pruning of a grape vine takes a real skill set with a good eye for perfection. It is remarkable to see the speed with which these seasoned vineyard workers go through row after row, pruning deftly and to perfection.  For me, pruning signals renewal of life in the vineyard and a preparation for the growing season ahead.

Although the rain has been lacking so far in the new year, the ground is still damp and we are hoping for more rain in the very near future. We are just taking it a day at a time and trying to enjoy the spring-like weather with less stress!

Cheers,

Sustainability

I am so thrilled to now be working as a Creative Consultant to the Sonoma County Winegrowers! It is exciting for me to be involved with so many iconic wine growing families in the county who have for generations passed on their farming traditions.  This new consultancy also puts me in the middle of conversations about shifts in wine growing  practices which I have observed evolving through the years.

Sustainability is the most recent term that has been appearing consistently in the consumer marketplace. The Sonoma County Winegrowers (SCW), announced back in January of 2014 that they were committed to becoming the nation’s first 100% sustainable wine region.  This was a big undertaking considering the number of winegrowers in Sonoma county!

http://www.sonomawinegrape.org/sustainability

Let’s examine briefly the difference between the practices of  sustainability versus organic and biodynamic farming.  Sustainability practices act as an ‘umbrella concept’ that can include both organic and biodynamic principles but are not required to be either.  A sustainable vineyard encompasses energy efficiency, environmental protection and enhanced relations with employees and the community.  Organic farming focuses on more restrictive uses of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, and fungicides throughout the growing process.  Biodynamic farming takes organics a step further by focusing on farming in accordance with the earth’s seasons and rhythms.

At the core of sustainable farming there are three ‘pillars’ that really spell out the mission statement…’Planet, Profit & People’.  Planet addresses all of the environmental issues to ensure sound practices and good stewardship of the land.  Profit examines the practice of  being economically feasible.  People is the one that really sets sustainable practices apart by putting farmers focus on the needs and well being of their employees and the community at large.

Undertaking sustainable farming practices means a commitment by farmers to analyze their business with a finer lens and to constantly be monitoring a path for improvement. It is a newer ‘mind set’  that will help ensure good stewardship of the land and environment and help the community to embrace the ideals of this practice. Sonoma County has an unparalleled wine history and heritage of farm families who are striving to preserve their land for future generations. Striving for sustainability is the kind of good practice that trickles down from the vineyard to the winery, from the bottle to the consumer!

Cheers!

“The Sky Is Falling”

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There is an old folk tale “Henny Penny” which you might remember as “Chicken Little”. This is the tale of a chicken who proclaims that ‘the sky is falling’ and thus the world must be coming to an end. This is due to the fact that a plunging acorn hit him on the head. The Chicken tries to inform the world of the impending disaster and the tale, through many adaptations, has garnered various endings…the moral of the story changes depending on the version you might be reading and I will leave you determine for yourself whether it is a happy or dubious ending. As of this writing, many people may be feeling that the ‘sky is falling’ as so many ideals have been on a collision course for so long. So much has happened this year, so many events both good and disconcerting that have contributed to shaping our every day existence.

img_1063I just got back from a trip to the U.K. where we paid our final respects to a beloved member of our family. It was an all too sudden trip which gave us no warning and shocked our world. As a family we gathered, we laughed, we cried, we took long walks, one in a snow flurry. This was a meditative time which really caused me to think about things that are important to me, to appreciate what I have…it forced me to slow down and to turn off the clatter.

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I couldn’t be more grateful that the Thanksgiving Holiday is upon us…this is the sanctuary I need right now. Sometimes it is very hard to stop the noise, to take a step back and reflect, to really be in the moment. Now I can do it…I can be with family and friends and just be together. It will not matter to me which side of the political velvet rope you stand. It will not matter to me your skin color, religious beliefs, gender identification, or way in which you choose to cook your turkey! Let’s just be kind to one another, even if only for one day. Maybe this simple act will go ‘viral’ in a world of instant access…wouldn’t that be great!!

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Earth, Wind, & Fire

img_1205My prior post touched upon how no two days in the life of a vineyard are the same and how one really has no control of Mother Nature. Now this harvest season has finally ended for us and I must say that it was quite the roller coaster ride! We were heading into the season with expectations of a smoother and more bountiful harvest than last year. The tonnage looked to be up and the fruit was tasting very good. I was discussing the status on a regular basis with the vineyard manager and at last the day was set to begin. As luck would have it, the day scheduled was my birthday, September 20th…what a nice gift! So on that day, before the break of dawn, we could hear the tractors starting up, trailers being hitched and the muffled sound of vineyard workers’ chatter. Up and at’em with a sip  of coffee and cameras ready, we stepped outside and shuffled between the rows getting some really great shots! This is truly an exciting experience to watch the hustle and precision of the vineyard workers fast paced hand picking, first into small bins and then into the large two ton bin on the back of the tractor trailer. As the day progressed I was informed that only half the vineyard would be harvested and that there were two blocks that just needed a little more time to mature…well, you can’t rush Mother Nature. It looked to me like somewhere between 22 and 24 tons had been harvested…now for the wait.

img_2247We were informed that harvesting would resume on the 27th and probably finish on that day. Well, that was perfect as we had plans pick up a new puppy on the morning of the 25th which would give us a little time to ease her in to the family! We drove nearly 2 1/2 hours to get the new pup (near Sacramento) and on the way back coming out of Napa via the windy 128, Kirsten noticed a very large plume of smoke rising out of the hills ahead…”That looks like it’s very close to us on Pine Mountain!”. Talk about an agonizing ride home…the dog had already lost her lunch all over the back seat and we were in panic mode! Driving through Geyserville on the 101 it was so smokey that you could hardly see the road ahead, but shortly thereafter it cleared up. The reports were telling us that the fire was blazing 10 miles due east from our hillside and that the winds were blowing in the opposite direction, at leas for the moment.  As we approached Pine Mountain Road, some people at the bottom were telling us that they were told to evacuate….this was not the perfect scenario introduction for our new puppy and our established 10 year old dog Charlie!

img_2259Needless to say, when we got home our anxiety level was read by the dogs and they reacted to each other accordingly. We did prepare to evacuate, which created a very eerie atmosphere for all of us, but it never happened. The Sawmill fire, as it was named,  consumed more than 1500 acres and took 500 firefighters to finally get control. As the winds were flowing east, we saw very little ash and practically no smoke, which would not have been good for the grapes! As it turned out, our road remained open and harvest was able to finish. As of this writing, our new pup Kadie and Charlie are getting along great (except around feeding time!) harvest tonnage and quality were up, and as a bonus we are pressing 100lbs of Cabernet grapes to make a little wine for our house with the help of our good neighbors, and we picked an additional 20lbs of  grapes to make jelly! I have to say there was not a dull moment in this harvest season…can hardly wait for the next!!!

Cheers!

Anticipation

IMG_0084Every growing season has its ups and downs. Each season leaves its mark and no two are ever the same. Every single day in the vineyard adds to the DNA that will help define the characteristics of the wine in the bottle. It is never a perfect process…as a matter of fact it is perfectly imperfect! I’ll give you some examples; three years ago our harvest took place in the middle of a freezing cold rain storm and took two days to complete, last year was a big challenge as the four year long drought was finally taking its toll, the addition of wild fires and last minute rain storms made for a challenging growing season. All of these events have an impact on the end result . We were luckier than most last season, going down from 76 tons two years ago to just 38,  but some grape yields were down as much as 60 percent or more due to the drought.

Bien Nacido VineyardsNow with harvest just two weeks away, more or less, everything is looking very good and the fruit production will definitely be up from last year, guesstimate at +-50 tons. The anticipation is somewhat agonizing…what could happen next? You can feel the excitement and anxiety in the conversations I have been having with growers and winemakers alike.

This past week, we awakened to heavy fog on the mountain with cool temperatures hanging around till noon time, thus slowing down the maturation process…last year, no fog at all.  As I am writing this, it is very humid as clouds are blocking the sunlight…could there possibly be a shower coming on? That would not be a well timed thing right now! Although technology in wine making and grape growing has come a long way, there are certain things you have no control over. Ill timed rain, too much sun/heat, the wrong bugs, wild fires, wind, hail storms, wild boar, wild turkeys, wild deer, make for a very wild ride! This is the time of year when you hold your breath a little with the hope that there will be no new surprises! So, if you are a ‘control freak’, this is not a business you would like!

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I’ll let you know how it goes…

Re-Directing

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It has been awhile since my last blog…we have had a few things on our plate! Kirsten and I have been discussing the possibility of relocating to our home on the vineyard up in the Alexander Valley for quite some time, but clearly that kind of move involves many considerations. Every time we came to the vineyard it became harder and harder to leave and so finally this year we decided to take the leap. I have been in the entertainment business for a solid 38 years and Kirsten has been working in fundraising….what would we do next after such fulfilling careers and how would we plan the exit? First and foremost was our family and how they would adjust. Our son and daughter are settled nicely in jobs they love and enjoying their lives in Culver City and Brentwood, while my mom has a wonderful supportive community of friends in Santa Ana. They gave us their blessing and after taking a deep breath, we put the Los Angeles house up for sale in the late spring and to our amazement, we had 15 offers in four days! Yikes! That kind of made it ‘official’ and so we proceeded to inform our workplaces of our intentions and were greeted with overwhelming support. The move date was set, escrow closed and off we went to pursue new dreams! The moving part is never easy or fun and it took awhile to pack and unpack all of the boxes. It is hard to believe that we now live on this magnificent hillside surrounded by vines with a view of the valley floor and calling it home! We have long standing friendships on the hill and have now started to meet a lot of new folks as we learn more about all that is going on in bustling Cloverdale. I have turned my attention to the wine ‘biz’ but am also keeping a hand in entertainment producing a few film and TV projects. In these first few weeks I have journeyed up and down the valley floor meeting with the great folks at Kendall Jackson Winery, Coppola Winery, Imagery Estate Winery, Glen Lyon Vineyards and Winery and more.  I will be working closely with the new Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA on Marketing strategies, and Kirsten will be working with her sister Melissa at TAG Film making great movies for wineries and local businesses. I will be blogging on a more regular basis about everything going on in this vibrant and beautiful region. We love the small town life, it was such a great feeling to watch the 4th of July bike parade downtown, then head to the park for an afternoon BBQ and music then come back up the hill for a great view of the fireworks down at the High School. We look forward to sharing our hillside with friends old and new. More to come!

Cheers!

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Drone on

Every time I see a drone it makes me think of the sinister U-2 single jet engine spy plane era during the cold war, those sleek long winged planes with cameras mounted on the under belly so as to take photos over restricted areas. We’ve come a long way since then, and nowadays  unmanned drones are doing everything from war zone surveillance to front door package delivery. It can be a little unnerving! While many times they can be seen as an annoyance, there are in fact some favorable applications for drones; from aiding authorities to assess damage after a major fire or earthquake, to helping farmers, winemakers and vineyard managers better maintain their crops. Drones can be easily controlled from the ground and equipped with visual and multi-spectral sensors to monitor pretty much anything they fly over. Sometimes it’s just hard to get the big picture from the ground. In a vineyard, the color of vines and signs of stress patterns are easier to see from above and aerial surveying with drones, especially on steep slopes is tremendously helpful! Can the use of drones actually help to make better wine? First of all, seeing a crop from the air can bring to light everything from irrigation problems to soil variations and even pest and fungal infestations. Second, the drones cameras can collect multi-spectral images providing data from infra-red as well as the visual spectrum  which can be joined to create a view of the vineyard that highlights differences between healthy and distressed vines in a way that can’t be seen with the naked eye. Additionally, drones can help to determine a vineyard’s overall density from sensors installed on the ground. These sensors measure temperature and humidity, and communicate or “talk” through a transceiver. Based on that data, soil moisture monitors can measure water volume at different soil depths. Using specialized software, vineyard managers can then synthesize the crop data and make decisions on how to adjust their practices to improve the health of their vines. While federal rules dictating drone use apply equally to rural areas as densely inhabited urban ones, some restrictions on flight operations, like always keeping the drone in sight and daytime-only flying, are expected to be relaxed or modified for agricultural and rural use. I think that drones can offer winemakers and vineyard managers a new perspective and be part of effective technology to help make better wine and who wouldn’t be for that!

Cheers!

Dare….if you will

Leave it to one of the best story tellers of our time, Francis Ford Coppola to bring an intriguing new experience to Sonoma County with his Virginia Dare winery. When I first saw the name go up on the winery building I was perplexed, who would want to name their winery “Virginia Dare” in Sonoma County!?! So we paid a visit with some friends on a rainy day to check it out. The whole experience was very inviting and once we go to know more about  the legend behind the wines, we were intrigued! Why Virgina Dare you might ask? Apparently there had been a winery with this name in the late 1930’s and their ads included  a ‘jingle’ that had an impact. In an interview Francis did with the “Today” show on NBC back in October 2015, he described how the ‘jingle’ stuck with him after he heard it at 5 years old. This ultimately led him to discover the story of Virginia Dare, the first child of English parents born in the New World.

It’s amazing to think of the subtle impact of something like this, but then I started to think back to when I was maybe 8 or 9 years old and hearing ‘jingles’ on the radio and how they still stick in my mind to this day…”Hamm’s the beer refreshing”,” Campbell’s soups are mmmm mmmm good!” Even now, the power of a jingle to stay with you is apparent, think about “Nationwide is on your side!” The Virginia Dare song made such an impact on Francis that he turned it into a  marketable venture.
As a filmmaker through the years, Coppola has had the ability to really engage an audience and bring them into his movies. We all felt as though we ‘belonged’ to Corleone family in the Godfather series, we were with the troops in Vietnam for “Apocalpyse Now”  and we experienced jazz in Harlem from the front row in “The Cotton Club.”  Now he has take this story telling skill to bring us the legends surrounding ‘Virginia Dare,’ and instead of a film, he and his winemaker Corey Beck have chosen to create four wines, each representing a unique aspect of the story. ‘The White Doe’, ‘Manteo’, ‘Two Arrowheads’ and ‘The Lost Colony’ tell four tales of Virginia Dare through the choice of varietals used and  in their presentation.

If I were to try and tie this all up together I would say it is about a passion… a passion for telling stories, a passion for film or wine and how that can be translated into something that consumers would want to experience. In this age of instant everything, it is refreshing to find a new story and to explore a new passion, I urge you to expand your own horizons and have fun exploring new wines!

Virginia Dare Winery

There are also two Showcase wines from this winery that are very well crafted and from the Russian River Valley…Virginia Dare 2014 Pinot Noir and the Virginia Dare 2014 Chardonnay…both worth checking out.

Cheers!

 

Thanksgiving

It is hard to turn off the ‘noise’ in a world that is literally exploding all around us. We live in a time of instant news, twitter, facebook, blogs and news feeds constantly bombarding us with the terrible things going on, and we search for answers and understanding, trying to make some sense of a world where reason seems no longer to exist. I am grateful that the Thanksgiving holiday is just around the corner so I can take some time to shut it down, I mean I feel that I have zero control over what is happening today which is unnerving to say the least. I am looking forward to a bit of peace and quiet and some time to turn my attention to the things I can control. I can absolutely be more present for my family over this holiday and truly enjoy each moment we spend together. I can look forward to the preparation of the house, the shopping, the cooler weather and the isolation on the hill with beautiful views. I can anticipate the arrival of my family with excitement and  know they are really looking forward to the goings on over this holiday. I can look forward to the long walks through the vineyard while we exchange stories and laugh out loud! It will be good for my soul to grill the turkey while I watch the hustle of the kitchen activity inside…no doubt, we will be throwing the football around before the meal to warm up a bit and then we will all join hands giving thanks. I can look forward to the music we will make with the fireplace aglow and  know in that moment I have control over my small corner of the world. And maybe I can help myself to make this feeling last more that just a day or a weekend by giving back a little more…Kirsten and I have been proudly associated with Valley Community Healthcare for many years, supporting their work to provide health care for working and immigrant families who cannot afford care. That feels good. There are food banks and pet shelters, charities that do important health research and care for the neediest among us that would welcome any contribution we can muster, and not just during this time of the year. I think actions like these can help to lessen the constant barrage of incoming ‘noise’ and help us to take control of our own small world .

I want to wish everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Here is a peek at what we will be serving:

To start:

Roederer Estate Anderson ValleySparkling Wine

 

 

 

With the meal:

2014 Selby Russian River Valley Chardonnay

or

2010 Arbios Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon from our very own Wild      Creek Ranch Vineyards

With cigars:  Lagavulin 16 Year Single Malt Scotch

Cheers!

Cause and Effect

Four years of extreme weather conditions have impacted the wine industry. Dry, warm conditions, along with freak rain and hail storms and of course the drought have all taken their toll. Just taking a look at this years ‘ 2015 harvest season, we know that crop yields were dramatically down, anywhere from 25 to 60 per cent across the board. First reports for our cabernet sauvignon harvest were from 35 to 40% lower. We know that the overall warmth and dryness of this last year resulted in an early bud break which was then slowed down in May when an unusual, and fortunately brief cold front hit just as the grape clusters began to set. Then came a dramatic spike in temperatures which brought the grapes to maturity early, followed by a freak hail storm in June and a rain storm that dropped 3 to 4 inches in some areas in July all of which played a role in the reduced harvest yields. What a roller coaster ride! Much of this has been caused by the weather changing  El Niño  conditions we have been in since March.  As long as we are adding El Niño to to the list of conditions we are experiencing, let’s define it a bit…El Niño occurs when temperatures in the Pacific Ocean rise due to a change in the normal wind direction, resulting in extreme weather. Couple that with the four year drought and there is a potential for disaster when the anticipated  heavy rains arrive. Most recently, in southern California, we saw the devastation this kind of situation  could cause when the I-5 Grapevine was shut down due to massive mudslides. Preparation for this upcoming event is very much on the minds of winemakers and growers up and down the state. Vineyards are taking measures to prepare for the predicted heavy rain and making sure that steps have been taken to protect against soil erosion and maintain flood control, especially if you are on a hillside the way we are.S6301668!  On the plus side, in spite of the challenges of the past year, there is an expectation of excellent quality in the wines that will be produced from the 2015 harvest…in this case, less is more and fewer berries also meant tighter  and more flavorful grape clusters. As for the rains, in this parched state of California all I can say is…

Bring it on!!

Navigating the world of wine