Since we first started visiting wine country, I have always loved harvest. It’s an exciting time of year. There’s a palpable energy in the air with tractors rolling down the roads pulling containers loaded with grapes, empty harvest bins rumbling like thunder across the valley and the aromas of fermenting grapes wafting on the breeze. Add warm, sunny days with bright blue skies and crisp nights with a sky full of stars - what’s not to love?
In 2008 we made our first sparkling wine at Amista Vineyards, a Sparkling Rosé of Syrah, from two barrels that we turned from still wine to sparkling wine using the classic Methode Champenoise. In 2009, we harvested some of our Syrah grapes early to purposely make a sparkling wine. That’s the year harvest went from exciting to sparkling for me.
Grapes for sparkling wines are harvested early to ensure a lower alcohol level because of the secondary fermentation that sparkling wine undergoes in the bottle. If the alcohol is too high the yeast does not ferment in the bottle - the alcohol kills it. And it’s that reaction of the sugar and the yeast that creates the bubbles in a sparkling wine. Harvest was already my favorite time of year and starting harvest early for sparkling wines made it even better!
During the last several years, harvest has been more challenging in Dry Creek Valley, although we don’t like to talk about it because wine people are an optimistic bunch. In 2017 we had the Tubbs fire that destroyed hundreds of homes, filled the skies with smoke, and shut down our tasting room for power outages and evacuations. Over the next two years we had more fires and evacuations. In 2020 we had the dual impacts of COVID and wildfires in the hills just west of us that brought days of shutdowns, smoke, and evacuations.
Fortunately, the 2020 fire started after the grapes for all our sparkling wines and Chardonnay had been picked. But the red grapes had yet to be harvested and we were worried about the possibility of smoke taint because grapes for red wines spend time fermenting on the skins. The skin contact increases the possibility of taint. How could we make wine from red grapes without any skin contact? The answer was a Rosé because the juice is pressed off immediately and doesn’t stay on the skins.
As the smoke rose over the hills behind us, we stood in the vineyards with winemaker Ashley Herzberg and made the decision to pick Grenache for our first Rosé of Grenache. It turned out to be a sensational wine! As has been the case so many times during our wine journey, adversity made us more nimble, more flexible, and more creative.
Despite the challenges of the last several years, our club members and customers supported us every step of the way – reaching out to see if we were all OK and remaining in our club and buying wine over the internet when they couldn’t visit us in person. And our team stuck with us, supporting each other, working in new ways, and gathering for a virtual weekly wine tasting during the shutdown so we could stay connected. It was heartwarming. The challenges have also made us more grateful.
One thing that endures is the excitement we feel with every harvest. There’s something deeply gratifying about partnering with, and sometimes overcoming, Mother Nature to bring in another crop. And we’re always doing something new that is invigorating. This year we foot treaded the grapes that go into our Sparkling Tres, a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre.
We also stomped Grenache for our Rosé of Grenache - in the vineyard! Everyone pitched in - our winemaker, Ashley Herzberg and her kids, our team, and our club members! And most exciting of all, we are fermenting some of our estate Chardonnay in a brand-new concrete egg – an Oeuf de Beaune – so we can add another style to our Chardonnay offerings. We tasted a sample today and we can’t wait to release this wine!
As with any endeavor, there are glorious moments and difficult moments. For me, each of them brings new discoveries and learning, which is why I call them “sparkling moments”. Harvest will always be a sparkling moment!
Keep up to date on the latest wine releases, events, and promotions.