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A Donelan Harvest

If you know Donelan Family Wines, then you know that making great wine starts in the vineyard. Over the past year we have been experimenting, rebuilding, discovering, and pushing the limits of our winemaking philosophies to make the most elegant, terroir-driven, and award-winning wines possible. We invite you to take a step into the shoes of our winemaker, David Milner, as we update you on the 2019 Donelan harvest!

The Donelan Winemaking Philosophy

Extraordinary vineyards produce extraordinary wine — a recipe for winemaking that may seem simple enough but requires patience, passion, and a whole lot of dedication. This harvest has been cooler and slower than previous years, and David’s winemaking philosophy of “trust but verify. There is no substitute for being in the vineyards.” We visit our vineyards every three to four days to track the maturity of the fruit. Watching trends in the weather and comparing that to the historical data we have on our vineyards helps with forecasting. The climate this harvest has been a roller coaster, to say the least. Outside of a few heat spikes, the overall trend for vintage 2019 is a cool one, allowing for a longer than normal hang time. Because of the longer hang time, David is more than satisfied with the “fully mature flavors and vibrancy of the grapes, at a lower degree of ripeness.” Due to the uncontrollable weather patterns this year, we had to be vigilant and even more active in the process. This led to refreshing white varietals and whole-bodied Pinot Noirs with spice. Although we’ve sought out new blocks within a few vineyard sites, we’ve doubled down on Joe Donelan’s winemaking approach of securing the best vineyards out there, being patient with nature, and being completely satisfied with the grapes before picking. This is all part of Joe’s way of staying true to the Donelan brand. 

The First and Last Pick and Challenges that Came with It

The first pick of the season was Pinot Noir on September 4th at Bucher Vineyard, located on West Side Road in the warmer region of the Russian River Valley. This fruit is slated to become a component in our Two Brothers Pinot Noir and, after being in the tank for 15 days, was just recently pressed. Next, we picked the Chardonnay from our estate Obsidian Vineyard on September 7th from one of the blocks that survived from the 2017 October wildfires. 

The biggest challenge for David this year has been “pulling the fruit at the right time and not trying to rush things or get too eager.” There were a handful of picks that we called off because the grapes weren’t quite ready — picking too early can be just as detrimental as picking too late. David anticipates the last pick of the season to be “mid to late October it will be one of our latest debuts, the Judge Vineyard Syrah.”

The harvest season typically runs 10 weeks strong here at Donelan Family Wines, which is longer than most. At the end of the day, patience pays off and you can truly taste it in each and every one of our wines

What’s to Come

If there are any varieties we are excited about for this vintage, it’s our Pinot Noir. Since we picked from some new vineyard blocks this year, David will be able to “experiment with new sourcing which has the potential to make a dramatic qualitative impact on the Donelan portfolio in the coming years.” 

As far as our Obsidian Vineyard, we have some exciting updates for you about our estate vineyard site. “The progress has been incredible,” says David. “It’s been a year now since we’ve replanted the vineyard to rootstock. We decided to plant rootstock without scion material in order to allow the vines to better establish themselves in such a rocky, extreme environment. Earlier this summer we budded over the lower and upper blocks. These two blocks showed the most vigor. We will bud over the rest of the vineyard in early spring of 2020. We’re taking the rebuilding and health of Obsidian just as seriously as we take our other vineyard sites. We are unhurried and deliberate in developing this vineyard. We’re staying true to Joe Donelan’s commitment to doing things right the first time. This property is his commitment to his children and their children, and that’s not something that can be rushed.” 

We ended up taking cuttings from some of the remaining healthy vines from the 2017 October wildfires and it will be named the Donelan heritage clone Syrah — it will forever be a reminder to us that when it comes to making great wine, even with something so devastating can come something beautiful. 

                  (Obsidian Vineyard 2019)

We invite you to our tasting room in the heart of Sonoma County this fall to taste through our current vintage wines. Thanks for being on this journey with us and cheers to harvest 2019!