In the Vineyard and At Home with Winemaker David Milner
A Word from Our Winemaker
It’s true that fall is a much busier time for wineries what with harvest going on, but spring is certainly not idle. Proof of this is that it’s just as hard to catch Winemaker David Milner in March as it is in August. He’s always moving and when he is at his desk at Donelan, it’s to complete paperwork or update tech data in an allotted amount of time. Then he’s up again, working on blends in the winery and driving all around Sonoma County to check progress at our vineyards. Northern California has had some wildly cold and wet weather so far in 2023; snow, floods, and sleet occurred well into March with a few random days of sunshine and 70-degree weather. David took some time to write his thoughts on the growing season so far and how we handle winters that cut into spring. He also chatted about out-of-office spring pastimes at the Milner household.
In the Vineyard
The 2023 Vintage Thus Far
The Vernal Equinox came and went but it still feels like winter here in northern California. It’s been a very cold, rainy season which has been a good thing for the land after the last two drought vintages. Our last heavy rain vintage was 2019. It’s not un-Californian to go through periods of 3-4 dry years, however, it does put a strain on resources. We’re now looking to clock some warm, dry weather.
We live in a zero-sum world so there are positives and negatives to everything in this life. The positive to all this water is our aquifers and reservoirs are now fully recharged. The soil during long droughts can accumulate salts and heavy metals, which the rain has now leached away. The downside is that a wet vintage must be managed correctly, or else the wine will lack concentration and definition.
We farm for the vintage here at Donelan, meaning we adjust to whatever Mother Nature throws at us. Right now we have full bud break at one site, several sites are close to it, and others are still trying to come out of winter dormancy. This year is one of the latest starts of the growing season since I’ve been at Donelan, but we always change our approach to accommodate a very wet year instead of the usual dry year. This year we’ll monitor plant stress and probably have sites that see zero irrigation. We rely on grasses and cover crops to grow healthy and burn off excess water and vegetative energy. We read the vine and give it what it wants. Instead of hedging and tipping early, we’ll let the canopy grow so long that shoots will be above the last trellising wire and out in the middle of the vine row.
At the winery, we’re starting to take a serious look at the 2022 vintage for blending. We just covered some ground with our 2022 Nancie and Venus blends which will be bottled in early August.
Around the House
David’s Current Springtime Hobbies
I know it’s springtime when I have to get out my hedgers and prune our two Japanese maple trees out front and two fruitless mulberry trees in the back. I also start prepping my summer garden.
Around this time, I do what’s called straw bale gardening. I buy a bale of straw from a feed store and basically, you fertilize it over two weeks with appropriate amounts of Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium, tarp it, and an exothermic reaction happens that breaks down the bale into a perfect medium to plant your garden in. The Sonoma County Library has a cool seed bank where I like to find awesome heirloom tomatoes, melons, and some quirky stuff to attempt to grow.
Our twins Josephine and Graham are speaking in sentences now and running around everywhere. They love school, music, and arts and crafts. They enjoy helping in the garden too with their little tools and gloves.
Spring is such a transitory food time. This time of year is sort of an extension of winter. We’re enjoying a lot of soups right now. I just made a batch of Albondigas (Mexican meatball) soup from scratch and drank it with our 2019 Nancie Chardonnay. Nancie is a Donelan staple. The 2019 is a young wine that’s already out to prove itself with great structure and minerality, and peach pit and quince on the palate. Drink it chilled, but not cold. You don’t want to suppress those awesome aromas.