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Snow in the Vineyards: The Effects of Cold Weather on Viticulture

Posted on February 07, 2019 by Mark Stevens

There are obvious risks and concerns for vineyards when the weather dips below thirty degrees and it starts to snow. Vine cells can’t function at below 10°C, and vines can die from getting too cold if the temperature continues to fall too far below zero for too long.

Winter frosts are often a risk in cool climate regions, like Chablis, the northernmost wine district of Burgundy, France – and steps are taken to prevent the risk of frost, including using sprinklers, heaters and wind machines in the vineyards. In the Ningxia region in China, vines are buried deep into the soil to protect them from the very cold temperatures that can reach minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit.

However, snow can bring advantages to the vines as well. It is believed that a bit of winter cold can bring a better spring germination which leads to a better vintage. And that nitrogen from the cold air seeps into the soil, nourishing the plant. And it is also thought that cold weather can help ward off unwanted disease and pests for a more robust spring growing season.

Winemaking has been a part of human history for about the last 7000 years and has been practiced in many places throughout the world. The most ideal places for the best wines are indisputably in areas that have a “Mediterranean” climate—think Italy, Spain, Greece, Southern France, and of course, our very own beloved California Wine Country. But it’s also well known that cooler climates produce great wines as well, albeit of a very different nature—think of the Mosel region in Germany, famous for its Rieslings. And let’s not forget ice wines, which must freeze on the vine prior to harvest to produce its famous ultra-sweet and flavorful desert-quality wine. The majority of ice wines today are produced in Germany and Canada, with China recently making inroads into this somewhat rare varietal.

What is abundantly clear is that people will endeavor to grow grapes and make wine just about anywhere on earth where it’s possible to grow vines. Which means wine lovers have lots of choices when it comes to enjoying the subtle nuances and flavors of wine…..and that’s a good thing!

History of the Sonoma Valley AVA: Making Wine For 150 Years

Posted on November 07, 2018 by Mark Stevens

The fledgling town of Glen Ellen has a post office, hotel and cooper shop. The area is home to “some of the most experienced vine-growers in the county . . . a radius of six miles, with Glen Ellen at its center, would, in the opinion of many, include the finest grape-growing section in the State of California.”
—Thompson’s Historical Atlas of Sonoma County, 1877

The Sonoma Valley AVA is the first winemaking region in Sonoma County. Home to one of the original commercial wineries in California (established in 1857), Sonoma Valley produces unparalleled, world class wines that bring in tourists from all around the globe.

*There are 18 AVAs in Sonoma County, encompassing 60,000± acres of planted vineyards & 425± wineries. The Sonoma Valley AVA is in the Southern portion of the county on the border of Napa County.

Sonoma Valley earned AVA status in 1981. It consists of 55 wineries and 14,000± vineyard acres along a 17± mile stretch of the Valley of Sonoma (also known as the Valley of the Moon). This unique and beautiful region is bordered by the Mayacama Mountains to the east and the Sonoma Mountains to the west. Significant towns of the region include Glen Ellen, Sonoma and the hamlet of Kenwood.

The vineyards are planted among groves of ancient Valley oaks. Established aquifers and seasonal creeks provide water year-round. Once home to Native American tribes, pioneers during the California Gold Rush era, grizzlies, Steelhead trout, salmon, migrating birds, tule elk, and pronghorn, the valley is rich in human and ecological history.

Known for its unique terroir, the vineyards of Sonoma Valley have long benefited from the cool air that flows through the valley from the Pacific Ocean and San Pablo bay. The valley has ideal growing conditions for the world-class Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes of the region. Sonoma Valley winemakers have, for decades, transformed these grapes into fine wines that are unparalleled in body and flavor.

Discover a Few of Our Favorite Historical Wineries in the Sonoma Valley AVA

Established in 1857, Gundlach Bundschu is the oldest continuously operating family winery in California. The walls of the tasting room showcase the deep history of the winery. Surrounding grounds offer some of the best picnicking in the area. The tasting room is open daily 11 am – 4:30 pm.

Buena Vista Winery opened just three months prior to Gundlach Bundschu. Now owned by the Boisset Family, you can travel back in time with a tour in the retrofitted original building and caves. Stop by the tasting room any day between 10 am – 5 pm.

In operation since 1904, Kunde Winery is currently run by 4th and 5th generations of the Kunde family. The original winery was located a few miles from the winery you see today. Still, the place is steeped in a deep knowledge and unique history. Tasting room open daily, 10:30 am – 4:30 pm.

Annadel Estate Winery was first established in 1880 by the Bolle family. The Bolle family home still stands. And the old stone walls of the original winery still grace the property. Purchased in 2007 and renovated over the past decade, this estate vineyard is a stunning example of Sonoma Valley history. Tasting is by appointment only.

We are thrilled to announce a new listing for Majestic Oaks Estate Winery in the Sonoma Valley AVA! View the listing: CLICK HERE

California’s Shenandoah Valley: Here Lies a Burgeoning Wine Scene

Posted on October 25, 2018 by Mark Stevens

A hundred miles east of both San Francisco and Napa Valley and 40 miles east of Sacramento grow some of the country’s oldest grape vines—one dating to 1869. Welcome to Amador County, home of California’s Shenandoah Valley AVA, famous for its “old growth” zinfandel vines. Its Barbera and Rhone varietals are renowned as well. Here, vineyards stretch from 1,200 to 2,400 feet above sea level. The rolling hills feature sandy clay-loam soils derived from decomposed granite (volcanic Sierra Series soils). These soils retain Amador’s 36-38 inches of annual rainfall, enabling most growers to dry-farm the vineyards. The soil composition is also low nitrogen and phosphorous and results in sparse vine canopies which allow high sunlight exposure. All of this combined creates vineyards that are naturally resistant to pxlloxera and ideal candidates for organic farming practices. (Amador boasts one of the highest percentages of organically farmed vineyards of any wine region in California.)

The majority of Amador’s vines are head-trained, spur-pruned and on low vigor rootstocks (like St. George) which produce intensely flavored red wines and the heady zinfandels for which Amador is renowned. Here lies a burgeoning wine scene.

The region was first settled during the California Gold Rush in the nineteenth century, and settlers in the region began planting the first grapevines and producing the first wine soon thereafter. In 1983 the region became a designated American Viticulture Area and was the launching ground for the Sutter Home brand and it’s popular zinfandel iterations.

As the least elevated and warmest region within the Sierra Foothills, Shenandoah Valley in known for high temperatures (what the French call “luminosity”) and low humidity resulting in very ripe fruit and full-bodied, high alcohol wines. While Amador heats up earlier in the day than appellations in Napa, it rarely exceeds 100 degrees during the growing season. Equally significant, temperatures typically drop 30-35 degrees in the evening as breezes cascade down the Sierras. This rapid cooling helps the grapes retain the acidity essential to balanced wines.

On paper in Amador, Zinfandel is king, with 60 percent of the county’s plantings dedicated to the grape and wineries vying for the recognition of whose Old Vine Zin is truly the “Esteemed Elder.” But under the layer of Zin’s dominance, it’s clear Amador’s niche is a land of seemingly infinite varietals, most considered “old world.”  The county’s climate and terroir most resemble that found in southern Europe — think Italy, Spain, Portugal and southern France’s Rhone Valley. So what you’ll find is a huge selection of bold-flavored, food-friendly wines associated with those cultures: Barbera, Sangiovese, Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache, Mourvedre, Tempranillo — and those are just some of the more common names.

In addition to a trending wine scene, Amador County is a pretty place to be–a patchwork of the rugged and serene. During the rainy months, the verdant rolling hills are pocked with vernal pools, mountain streams and more than a few herds of cattle. In the dry heat of summer, the grass is a long blonde shag scarred with rocky crags and dry culverts braced by live oaks. In most places, you can hear little but the rustling of the wind. Dilapidated stacked-stone fences and foundations of old adobe houses built by the placer miners line the winding roads. In wetter years, you can ski in the morning and make it back for lunch until June.

These days there’s a new surge of interest in the area. The overcrowding of Napa has tasting groups in Plymouth — spread languidly across the bar at the Plymouth Hotel, which serves Vino Noceto on tap  — lamenting. “You can’t even get in on a Monday in winter,” says one patron. There is a flurry of new wineries with different attitudes (and altitudes) focusing on different wines — from California heritage zinfandels to Iberian, Rhone and Italian varietals — being championed by roguish and talented winemakers and growers teeming with personality and expertise. The small town of Plymouth calls itself the Gateway to the Shenandoah Valley, fitting given its position at the fork in the road between the valley to the north and the idyllic Highway 49 towns of Amador City and Sutter Creek to the south. There are now 47 wineries in the surrounding hills, the number growing every year.

Sangioveses and barbera are among the most drinkable reds and few wineries sell anything above $30. The surprising Iberian newcomer, tempranillo, flows like water in the Spanish Rioja region of its origin. In Amador it’s bottled by at least seven wineries. As a region, this is a place that values its diverse microclimates as much as its diverse winemaking philosophies. With its very accessible wineries for the Sacramento-Metropolitan area and the discovery of Shenandoah (lately)by Reno-Tahoe folks, this is a place that promises more to come…..much, much more.

Take a look at our latest offering in Shenandoah AVA: Two State-of-the-Art Shenandoah Wineries

Sources for this article include: San Francisco Chronicle, SF Gate, Wikipedia