We are starting a series we call Donelanpedia: wine terms defined.
To get things started, how about Donelanpedia!
Donelanpedia: a cheeky attempt to define wine terms in 140 characters or less. Send terms our way, we’ll become your winopedia.
Here we go again. The seasonality of producing wine is one of its most attractive elements. As a former Donelan intern once said “it’s a grape’s world and we’re just living in it.” Buds have broken, shoots and leaves are extending (at great speed with this heat!), and another vintage is on its way. Here we go.
At bud break vines use stored energy in the roots and trunks to support new leaf and shoot growth. One interesting note about vine buds is that the buds bursting this spring were actually formed last year. And in those buds there exists already 5-7 leaves and – generally speaking – two cluster primoridia, the structure that will become flowers, fruit, and then the whole cluster. This is why pruning is so critical, it sets the stage for the coming year’s yield since the buds already contain leaves and clusters.
There is much to learn from bud break. It sets the stage for the timing the whole season. It is also a time to learn about temperature nuances in our vineyards. Cold air in the spring drains to low points and we often see a difference in the emergence of leaves and shoots across our hilly vineyards. The different timing can impact the evenness of ripening at the end of the season. As a result we will create segments in the vineyards based on the variation in bud break. Another way to capture variance and make sure that each vineyard section is ripened to a point of ultimate quality.
As this season begins it sets the industry into its season long fret about quality. The north coast of California has received trace amounts of rain from January through April. All this means that soils are relatively dry and that water stress is likely to be higher earlier this year than it has been since 2007. Earlier water stress tends to improve overall wine quality.
The warm temperatures this Spring have led to a slightly earlier than average bud break and I expect (if things continue as they have) an earlier flowering. This will mean harvests coming starting in early September (instead of mid-Sept) if not late August (!) and all of harvest wrapping up (all fruit off the vine) before mid Oct. Of course we’ll have to wait for flowering to occur to say definitively. This favorable weather tends to support good fruit set and cluster number appears to be average to high. All this means we could be looking at average to above average yields with high quality growing conditions.
Now, if it were to get cold and rain in early May all bets are off. Thus far though, knowing our vineyards and knowing vines, we are stepping out with our best foot forward toward another high quality vintage.
Come say hello, meet proprietors Joe and Cushing Donelan along with winemaker Tyler Thomas this Saturday in Los Angeles at Wally’s Wine. As part of Wally’s weekly Saturday tastings you’ll be able to taste our wonderful portfolio of Chardonnay, Roussanne, Pinot Noir, Grenache and Syrah wines. Enjoy multiple wines, get questions answered, and experience the passion of the Donelan family: “the best wines that you’ve never heard of”.
Lately we have spent much of the mid-winter checking in on wines we made several years ago. At times we are impatient to see how our Pinot Noir or Syrah or whatever develop because that information can inform what we do in the upcoming vintage (which is why we often taste verticals as harvest approaches). It was with great pleasure though, and patient savoring that we recently cracked a 2009 Nancie Sonoma County Chardonnay, our inaugural vintage (we recently uncorked our 2009 Pinot Noir too).
When first bottled, this wine was reticent if at once richly textured and crisply structured. Those mouth feel characteristics have been happily retained but the aromatics have begun to complexly open and develop in a way that expresses classic Chardonnay. The nose seems Californian with its riper tropical fruit but mixes in hints of wet stone and other “mineral” notes along with citrus and white peach. The palate continues to be where the wine shines and orients itself toward its cousins across the Atlantic. If you have any of 2009 Nancie Chardonnay left, check in on it with some fish or scallops, it won’t disappoint. It should also continue to nicely develop over the next several years.
Once our Syrah, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, or whatever wine reach the aging cellar, our hope is to do nothing to them except employ patience and blending. At times however, a good racking is in order if only to Marry various components together sooner rather than later. Racking is a process of removing wine from barrel (off any settled protienaceous material that has settled) into a tank, rinsing the barrels, then returning the wine to barrel.
Obsidian Vineyard Syrah is a very unique Syrah. Nestled in Knight’s Valley and growing in rocks, the vines produce wine of rustic – and classic – Syrah character. Rarely does one find Syrah vines planted on such rocky perches that dot Sonoma County (watch video describing vineyard). Recently we racked the 2011 Obsidian to make the final blend destined to be bottled in Fall of 2013. Before doing so we always taste every barrel just to double check.
Wow, this wine is incredible! Savory Syrah if there ever was one. Loaded with cherry tobacco, earth, and a certain something-something that is at once compelling and comforting. The palate is fresh but austere too, creating a bigness that doesn’t exhaust the palate. Still in need of much time, we just had to share this update of one of our more iconic – if not California’s more iconic – Syrah wines. It is fantastic as usual.
Our winemaker, Tyler Thomas, posts again as a guest on the notable wine blog Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews. Tyler describes the personal winemaking philosophy developed over time, as a result of many wine experiences culminating in our approach at Donelan Wines.
While obtaining a B.S. and M.S. in Botany and Plant Molecular Biology, I was fascinated with plant physiology: how a static organism could adapt/interact so well to its environment. Winemaking is a wonderful professional avenue to enjoy the fruits of such interaction in a way that brings pleasure to so many people. In this industry my focus has almost exclusively been with producers who sought to maximize wine quality (and hence, your pleasure) by maximizing our understanding of any particular place and bringing forth that expression with deft work in the cellar. My desire is to produce wines of great and special character consistently and efficiently each vintage. Read more at Wakawaka Wine Reviews…
This week our winemaker, Tyler Thomas, will be posting two pieces as a guest on the notable blog Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews. The first reflects on the humanness of winemaking:
One of the elements of winemaking I enjoy is how its production employs our humanness. This topic is difficult and very broad so I’ll try to remain on task. We could start by discussing wine’s transcendence. Wine transcends its original material. It points to – no – engages the imbiber into an experience of enjoying flavors other than what would be expected from tasting its original components. Cherry wine tastes like cherries, but grape wine doesn’t taste of grapes. And while I think, just as NYU President John Sexton argues, that baseball implies a larger transcendence and the same could be said of wine, here we’ll leave that windy path for someone else to travel. But there are plenty of other reasons beside wine’s transcendental nature that invoke our human experience, not the least of which is the way it draws our pleasure and gladness of heart. Continue reading at Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews
This was original published for Wines and Vines (July 2010, copyright Wines and Vines).
I (Tyler) have always wanted to be an artist. I greatly admire talent that can morph a concept into visual allegory, or capture a natural detail and evoke emotion and wonder for days on end. I don’t have a favorite medium (OK, maybe sculpture, photography, and literature), but I thoroughly enjoy pieces that seem to delve the depths of human nature. However early in adulthood I realized this talent evaded me. It’s OK, you can’t be everything and besides I’ve found winemaking.
Winemaking is about as close to artistry I think I will get without actually producing art. Now, several colleagues and probably more wine admirers would dispute the suggestion that wine making does NOT produce art, but I assert that wine cannot merit this association.
Conversely, wine is not merely a science. I have heard it time again couched that one must be either the winemaker scientist, or the winemaker artist. You are either romantic and mystical or analytical and technical. I wonder if these poles are constructs from our modern culture which seems to have trouble with nature and mystique coexisting. Why is it that one cannot be both mystical and analytical or creative and technical? In my time as a coerced scientist (read graduate student twice over) I found the individuals I worked with to be incredibly creative and imaginative. It recalls Ralph Waldo Emerson’s perspective that “science does not know its debt to imagination.” I would argue that culture does not know science’s debt to imagination. I think this is true in the wine industry as well.
What can grappling with creativity and the structure of scientific knowledge do for the winemaker, and does creative process alone make wine art? Churchill once said that “without tradition, art is a sheep without shepherd, without innovation it is a corpse.” It has also been noted – I don’t remember where – that tradition is an experiment that worked. You see it takes creativity to experiment, but good analytical thinking to provide constraints to the experiment so that in the end the knowledge gained is useful. Scientific endeavor ought to inform our brush strokes, not define what we create, but aid in how to achieve the painting. Winemaking involves many decisions that require creativity, and many decisions that are aided by analytical interpretation of known scientific entities about our craft. Blended together one may wade through the variables of winemaking to ensure a beverage of distinction, but also rest at night knowing all the possibilities were exhausted and imaginatively applied.
So is this artistry? Perhaps: the artist does learn techniques and parameters that they creatively push to achieve their goals. There are similarities to the process of creating art and wine. But where winemaking falls short of being a piece of art is not in the technique as much as in the end goal. Wine is for pleasure, maybe health, but I can think of little else. Its purpose is limited to evoking one emotive response: gladness. And while this can be euphoric and remarkable in how it uses 4 of 5 senses at once, the limit to wine’s end goal would seem to eliminate it from contending with, say the high art of Rodin’s Hand of God. As art is able to do, winemaking is a beautiful craft that can be transcendent, but it falls short of an art form.
High art has the potential to evoke so much more than pleasure and gladness. Art can connect with individuals in a range of feelings and concepts. It is a prism that can diversely project the ideas, emotions, and humanity of the artist shining into it. Wine has artistic qualities, but does it produce art? Think of a furniture maker who hand crafts furniture. You can choose to go to IKEA, or a craftsman. Both will produce a table on which you will eat. One is engineered on a mass scale, the other is crafted with extra elements of imagination, beauty, and care; but both are still tables. No matter, I am happy to forego the distinction of artist and simply be Tyler the Winemaker.
Risotto is a great vehicle for leftovers. Once you get a solid base recipe down pat, it really becomes quite easy. In addition to Syrah, Grenache, and Pinot Noir, we always have arborio rice, parmesan, chicken stock and butter on hand. All that is left to do is find something to stir in at the end. We’ve already shared our basic recipe with shrimp, and yes I love a lighter styled Grenache like Cuvee Moriah with risotto. So this year the day after Thanksgiving we opened the fridge and tried adding our leftovers to our base recipe.
Reference the risotto recipe here and simply eliminate the shrimp. Instead, we took some leftover fresh thyme and rosemary, finely chopped a couple of sprigs worth, roughly chopped some leftover turkey, and stirred it all in at the end along with juice and zest of 1/2 a lemon, the parmesan and butter. Voila, turkey risotto with Lemon, Thyme and Rosemary. Delicious, easy, and Donelan Wine friendly! We enjoyed it with our last glass of 2008 Cuvee Moriah that was remaining from the evening before.
If you still have some turkey in the fridge and are tired of sandwiches, give this a try and let us know how it turns out!
We are nearing harvest for the Richards Vineyard Syrah. This vineyard produces one of the more unique Syrah in California. A limited wine that Steve Heimoff of the Wine Enthusiast called “easily the greatest Syrah ever produced from Sonoma Valley (97 points).” Enjoy this description: