The Sorting Story

The 2016 harvest is in full swing!

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Our winemaking team has brought in several tons of fruit over the last three weeks after a long, sunny summer. The team toasted to the start of harvest over Chardonnay from Ritchie Vineyard in the Russian River Valley, a new vineyard source for Ram’s Gate wines. True to tradition, Winemaker Jeff Gaffner christened the first fruit with a splash of sparkling wine.

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When fruit arrives on our crushpad, its next step is to be hand-sorted.

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The sorting process is an important step in that it allows our team to guarantee the fruit’s quality. The sorters line up along a conveyor belt and separate the bad from the good. Here’s what they’re looking to remove:

  • MOG, a highly technical term for “Material Other than Grapes” – the primary culprits here are leaves that snuck into the picking bins during the harvest. As Assistant Winemaker Luke Stanko often says, “Leaves do not taste good. We don’t want something that does not taste good in our wine.”
  • Underripe (and overripe) fruit – Choosing when to pick a vineyard is one of the most difficult parts of winemaking – it’s why Winemaker Jeff Gaffner spends so much time in vineyards. Before harvesting a parcel of fruit, our team meticulously samples our portion of the site; the objective is for the harvested grapes to be at the same sugar level of the sample. For this reason, our sorting team will remove underripe clusters – overripe clusters, which look like dried-out raisins, are removed during destemming.
  • Any less-than-perfect grapes – It’s not pretty to discuss (or to pick out from the sorting table), but the occasional bit of not-so-noble rot can sneak into a cluster or two, particularly when the weather leading up to harvest is wet. Fortunately, in 2016, this has not been something we’ve seen at all.
  • Bird-damaged fruit – In the days leading up to harvest, the grapes are delicious, and the birds know it (this is one of the reasons we hire falcons to frighten away the grape-feasting birds during harvest). The few clusters that do succumb to the birds’ determined beaks become all skin and no juice, a ratio that could impact tannin and color in the final wine; these clusters, as a result, are removed prior to fermentation.

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What’s left? The most pristine clusters of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that are then de-stemmed and moved into a vessel for fermentation.

Happy harvest,

Ram’s Gate Winery

In-Betweens

The first few weeks of August were a time of in-betweens at Ram’s Gate Winery. Here’s a peek at the goings-on leading up to the first pick of the year:

Between the Vines…

We had the privilege of hosting Members’ Suppers in the Vineyard at Sangiacomo Vineyard and Bush Crispo Vineyard, hearing from these two families of inspiring growers and dining alongside the vines as grapes ripened practically before our eyes.

{Above: Supper at Sangiacomo Vineyard, Carneros}

{Above: Supper at Bush Crispo Vineyard, Russian River Valley}

Our winemaking team brought the 2015 vintage to a close for the Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, all bottled last week save for the 2015 El Diablo Vineyard Chardonnay, which will spend some additional time in oak barrels.

Between Seasons… 

And finally, the grapes themselves have been busy in the final weeks of ripening on the vine as we draw closer each day to the 2016 Harvest.

Cheers!

Ram’s Gate Winery

Summer Sips

What makes a wine perfect for summer? Words like “light” and “refreshing” are used quite often, but the enology behind those terms offers the real secrets to making a wine ideal for sipping alfresco or poolside. Here are a few of our tips to follow when choosing your summer sips:

1. Keep it cool: Chilling a wine brings it down to a temperature much more suitable for a hot day or light fare. The best tried-and-true practice is to tuck a bottle into an ice bucket – be sure to add a little water as well, to help the ice melt and speed up the chilling process. If an ice bucket isn’t on hand, wet a paper towel and wrap it around the bottle before chilling it in the freezer for 15 minutes. Just be careful not to over-chill: bringing the wine down to too cool temperatures mutes its beautiful array of flavors.

2. All the acid. The notion of a wine being “refreshing” is really more about acidity than anything else. Acid in wine is the component that makes a wine taste tart or even sour – similar to alcohol levels, acidity is all about balance, how acid interplays with a wine’s tannins and bitterness. Grapes with naturally high acidity are Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Noir and the Italian Nebbiolo.

Sauvignon Blanc

3. Seasonal fruit. Certain wines have a palette of flavors that mimic the beautiful array of fruits and flowers at the local market during the summer: the Ram’s Gate Pinot Blanc, for example, has a tropical component reminiscent of summer mangoes and juicy white peach, and the Ram’s Gate Carneros Pinot Noir’s strawberry-lavender aromas bring a taste of summer into the glass.

Rams Gate Pinot Blanc

4. Beyond Whites. A wine doesn’t need to be from white grapes to be a lovely summer selection: lighter, high-acidity red wines and, of course, rosé wines, can be beautiful. We do recommend chilling a red wine down slightly more for a summer lunch or late afternoon aperitif than you would for a fireside evening, though – see #1.

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5. Watch the Alcohol. The way ripeness and, as a result, alcohol levels translate to wine flavor depends largely on balance: all components – alcohol, tannin, acidity and ripeness – should harmonize in a way that none is too detectable. When it comes to warmer weather, this is even more important than any other time of year. “Winemaking is all about balance,” says Winemaker Jeff Gaffner, “all throughout the year.”

Ram’s Gate wines for summer:

2014 Sauvignon Blanc, Carneros
This refreshing wine features juicy citrus notes along with tropical passionfruit and pineapple flavors on the nose and palate. Slight vanilla and white floral aromas contrast crisp green apple flavors, carrying through the light-bodied mouthfeel accented by vibrant acidity and a mouthwatering finish.

2014 Pinot Blanc, Ram’s Gate Estate, Carneros
Pinot Blanc has a naturally lower acidity than its “sauvignon” counterpart, but grown in the cool Carneros AVA on the gentle slopes of the Ram’s Gate Estate, this Pinot Blanc has enough “zip” to delight on a hot day. Green apple flavors harmonize with juicy white peach and aromatic florals, leading through a long mineral finish. (Available by email request only: contact us at member@ramsgatewinery.com to request a summer allocation).

Happy sipping,
Ram’s Gate Winery

 

Cover Crop and Signs of Spring

In the vineyard, 2016 has been a fascinating year to date:  January began with a number of rain showers, leaving the vineyard greener by far than 2015 and 2014.

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February, by contrast, was one of the warmest and driest. As a result, the estate mustard bloomed early in much of the vineyard, and we’re anticipating signs of budbreak in the next few weeks.

There are numerous types of cover crop growing between vine rows across wine country, but one of the most visually stunning and iconic is the mustard plant.

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Mustard cover crop serves three purposes in the vineyard: first, the plantings prevent erosion – a precaution especially necessary with the rain we have experienced.

Second, mustard contains a compound that suppresses the population of nematodes – a microscopic worm that can damage vines.

“Researchers have observed that brassicas (e.g., rapeseed, mustard) have a nematode-supressive effect that benefits the following crop in a rotation. This “mustard effect” is attributed to glucosinolate compounds contained in brassica residues. Toxicity is attributed to enzymatically induced breakdown products of glucosinolates, a large class of compounds known as isothiocyanates and nitriles that suppress nematodes by interfering with their reproductive cycle.”

-ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture (“Nematodes: Alternative Controls”)

And thirdly, mustard adds nutrients to the vines; specifically, the plants capture nitrogen from the air and convert it into proteins, which are then worked into the soil when the mustard is mowed or disced.

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We are so grateful for this natural way of promoting vine health – and it’s an added bonus that the mustard plants are so beautiful, a lovely sign of late winter and spring to come.

Cheers,

Ram’s Gate Winery

Hyde & Hudson Chardonnay Tasting

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One of the most fascinating benefits to working with some of the best vineyards in Sonoma and Carneros is having the opportunity to taste a number of wines from the same vineyard and same vintage, but made by a different winemaking team. Even with similar winemaking styles, uniqueness abounds – whether due to slight differences in barrel aging, clone selections, or even differing micro-terroirs within one vineyard.

On Wednesday, January 13th, we had the privilege of hosting a Chardonnay Tasting for members of the Guild of Sommeliers, featuring wines from two of the finest vineyards in California: Hyde Vineyards and Hudson Vineyards. All wines were from 2013; all from either Hyde or Hudson vineyards, yet we experienced seven entirely different interpretations of Hyde Vineyard and five entirely different interpretations of Hudson Vineyard. As Stephen Eliot of Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine summarized in a recapping blog post, “Suffice it to say that the wines were remarkable, but they were decidedly different despite being from the same vintage and site.”

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Moderated by Master Sommelier Matt Stamp, the tasting was led by a dynamic team of winemaker and grower panelists, including Larry Hyde and Lee Hudson:

Larry Hyde, Hyde Vineyards
Lee Hudson, Hudson Ranch & Vineyards
Jason Kesner, Kistler Vineyards
Andy Smith, DuMOL Wines
David Ramey, Ramey Wine Cellars
Stéphane Vivier, Hyde de Villaine
Christopher Vandendriessche, Hudson Vineyards
Jeff Gaffner, Ram’s Gate Winery
James Hall, Patz & Hall
Tor Kenward, Tor Kenward Family Wines

“These are two of the best in the business sitting in the middle of the table today,” said Jason Kesner of Kistler Vineyards, “and none of us would have been there if not for growers like Larry and Lee.”

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Flight #1 featured seven wines from Hyde Vineyard:

DuMOL Hyde Vineyard, “Clare” 2013
Hyde de Villaine, Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay 2013
Kistler, Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay 2013
Patz & Hall, Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay 2013
Ramey, Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay 2013
Ram’s Gate, Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay 2013
Tor Kenward, Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay 2013

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Throughout the first flight, talk of budwood and clone selection were key themes, along with how each winemaker utilizes different techniques, from types of yeast to malolactic fermentation timing and cooperage.

Across the board, one concept was clear: every winemaker’s vision is to best express the site. “When you have grapes that have such a powerful natural personality, in the winery we can have a fairly gentle hand,” said Andy Smith of DuMOL Wines, “and it’s a case of nudging in the right direction.” Stéphane Vivier of Hyde de Villaine added, “Our idea for the wine is to put in your glass a picture of the vineyards, to show the best of what Hyde Vineyards can represent… We try to be as ghostly as possible at the winery.”

“Not only is Hyde Vineyard famous, but this vineyard has been instrumental in developing so many of our techniques as winemakers. It’s really fun to come here and acknowledge one of my heroes in the business, Larry Hyde, so thank you.”

– James Hall, Patz & Hall


 

Flight #2 featured five wines from Hudson Vineyard:

Hudson, Hudson Vineyard Chardonnay, 2013
Kistler, Hudson Vineyard Chardonnay 2013
Patz & Hall, Hudson Vineyard Chardonnay 2013
Ram’s Gate, Hudson Vineyard Chardonnay 2013
Tor Kenward, Hudson Vineyard Chardonnay 2013

Lee Hudson

“It’s remarkable, the level of viticulture [at Hudson Vineyards]. It’s about as high as you’re going to get in California. The attention to detail is remarkable, and the time and thought that Lee puts into it is unparalleled except for his neighbor, Larry, so this is a great opportunity for you guys to listen to more what they have to say than what we have to say for sure.”

– Jason Kesner, Kistler Vineyards

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“This question of terroir…  every winemaker in California knows that they’re supposed to say, ‘The wines are all made in the vineyard. I just try not to screw it up.’ No, I disagree: it’s half the grapes and half what you do with them.”

– David Ramey, Ramey Wines

Hudson Flight

“We both really care about wine. We’re both wine-growers, not grape-growers, and we manage our vineyards in our own style, but the style is all driven by our love, our interest, our fascination with wine.”

– Lee Hudson

Reception

It was a memorable day filled with great wines and a panel of some of the best in the business, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to host. Tim Fish of Wine Spectator summarized in his recent blog post, “Indeed, many of the Chardonnays tasted that day captured the best of what California is doing now. These were talented, experienced winemakers working with impeccably farmed vines.”

Cheers to Lee, Larry and the talented winemakers who, like our team at Ram’s Gate Winery, have the honor of crafting wine from this beautiful fruit.

And the 2015 Winery of the Year is…

We are beyond thrilled to share with you that Ram’s Gate Winery has been named ‘Winery of the Year’ by Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine!

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We are so proud of our winemaking team and incredibly grateful for the continual support from our loyal members and guests. On behalf of our entire team, our sincerest thanks.

“Since first opening its doors in 2011, Ram’s Gate Winery in Carneros has impressed us with its very deep and generous wines. This year, however, it performed at an especially high level and garnered recommendations for each and every wine it produced…”

– Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine, January 2016

In addition, our 2013 Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay was named White Wine of the Year along with Ramey’s 2012 Chardonnay from the same vineyard:

White Wines Of The Year

RAMEY Chardonnay Hyde Vineyard Carneros 2012 and
RAM’S GATE Chardonnay Hyde Vineyard Carneros 2013

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“Larry Hyde’s meticulously farmed vineyard in Carneros was the source of both of our two white-wine picks of the bunch for 2015. They are extraordinarily well-crafted Chardonnays from perennially high-scoring producers, and they remind just how significant a great site can be.”

– Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine, January 2016

Here’s to a wonderful year ahead!