May 16, 2013
If spring in Wine Country isn’t the best time of the year, I don’t know what is!!! The new buds and leaves on the vines are bursting with energy, maturing from soft pink to bright, neon green – flush with energy. The tiny bunches elongate and each berry bursts with energy in the sun, finally to flower and self-pollinate within a matter of days.
This is the the time to reap the harvest of our winter garden and replant the beds with summer veggies. Green garlic, spring onions, the first of the snow peas, the last of the chard, lettuce, spinach, and kale reward our table before the hot weather comes and they wilt in the sun. In California, especially, we have the added bonus of the Three A’s – artichokes, avocados and asparagus, which keeps us happy and healthy all spring long. Friends always generously drop off a crate of asparagus from their fields nearby in the Delta, which we gladly eat and share and then pickle for those inevitable Sunday morning Bloody Marys – it doesn’t get much better! While we plant our summer garden and await all the excitement that future plantings might reward, we relish the abundance of the spring vegetables planted months ago.
It’s also time for the first of a new blossoms and the last of the winter citrus. With our Mediterranean climate, we are able to grow a plethora of different varieties of citrus; dwarfs in pots (mostly Meyer lemons), commercial sized oranges and Mexican limes on the edge of the vineyards and others placed throughout the garden and hillside. We have over 24 citrus trees of 7 different varieties, and the juice and fruit keeps us happily in citrus for months at a time!
One of our most favorite recipes featuring citrus this time of year comes from our good friend, local chef and restauranteur Cindy Pawlcyn. With three fine restaurants in the Napa Valley; Mustard’s Grill, Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen and Cindy Pawlcyn’s Wood Grill and Wine Bar (where you will find our Two Old Dogs Sauvignon Blanc by the glass), as well as her new Cafe and Cindy’s Waterfront Restaurant at The Monterey Bay Aquarium , she has all the credentials and experience as one of the finest fresh and sustainable food chefs in northern California. Enjoy this lovely Citrus Celebration Salad with the 2012 Two Old Dogs Sauvignon Blanc.
Citrus Celebration Salad
Citrus season brings us blood oranges, mandarins, tangerines and more! So many wonderful citrus fruits to play with, I thought you’d like this simple salad. In Brazil a version of this is served with fejoada, the national dish. Try to use at least three different kinds of citrus; a sharp knife or serrated blade will help you make nice even circles.It’s a bright refreshing side to a roasted chicken dinner, great as a contrast to legumes like ham hocks and beans or lentil stew, black beans and rice, or with roasted pork. Enjoy! - Cindy Pawlcyn
6 to 8 servings
6 of a selection of the above oranges peeled just beneath the membrane and sliced in 1/3″ thick slices (circles).
6 thin slices of red onion cut in rings and separated
6-8 lengthwise slices of avocado (optional)
6 or so mint leaves finely shredded
fresh ground pepper
juice of one lime or Meyer lemon
drizzle of extra virgin olive oil (optional)
Arrange the orange slices (alternate variety) on an attractive platter as you would for a carpaccio, sprinkle with the mint, salt, pepper and olive oil. Place the avocado spears and the red onion rings on top, sprinkle with lime or lemon juice, and serve chilled.
March 31, 2013
Winters are pretty much quiet in the vineyards, very much like the dormant vines waiting for spring. As it’s impossible to get into the fields with a tractor because of the wet soil, only minimal activity, mostly involving manual labor, is done until the weather warms.
But when the truck with the port-a-potty arrives, we know there is a crew following close by and there will be work to do!
The first big job of the season, the one that really requires skilled laborers and knowledgeable managers, is the pruning. This is the first step to assure a balanced crop of just the right proportion for the vintage. Our crews pre-prune in February or early March, making sure the cordon (or arm) length is equal on both sides of the trunk and spaced correctly with the adjoining vine. They tie the cordons several times to the trellising wires and make sure the stakes and end posts are solid and can support the row of vines.
Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the last varieties to bloom, set and ripen at harvest, so we have the luxury of waiting until just before bud-break to prune, usually mid-March, while the earlier ripening varieties may already have been pruned a month earlier and may even be budding out. The crew will cut off the 5-7 foot canes from last years’ growth right down to the main cordon, leaving only 2 buds on each spur or the knuckle-like growth from last year’s cane on the cordon. Here we try to equally balance the vine with corresponding buds and spurs (and growth) on either side of the main trunk to support the vine.
Like a massive hair-cut, the vines go from sprawling, leafless masses to neatly trimmed, skeletal structures overnight! The piles of canes are stacked at the ends of the rows, to be dealt with at a later date.
Shortly after the vines are pruned, the sap begins to flow and the vines finally come to life after having slumbered all winter. Within weeks, as the weather warms and the daylight lengthens, tiny buds develop on each spur – sometimes called Q-Tips or popcorn in vineyard jargon – the beginnings of a new vintage.
Piles of Prunings
Each vineyard creates an awful lot of excess canes at pruning, which the industry used to just pile up and burn. To see the valley shrouded in smoke that hangs over us like a fog at pruning season is never a pretty site, so we were thrilled when our vineyard manager initiated a shredding program several years ago, and the huge pile of shredded canes that is created is used all year to mulch the vines, our landscaping and garden.
Spring has just arrived – the vines are neatly pruned and now budding out, the fruit trees have flowered and the soil is almost warm enough to plant our summer garden. Another season, another crop, and all we can try to do is farm the best we possibly can and hope that Mother Nature is on our side.
Let the vintage begin!
Vintage 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon
January 7, 2013
January 2013. While watching the 800th college Bowl game and NFL football play-offs for the last two weekends, we have simultaneously been cleaning out the “wine info” shelves in the basement – throwing out years of labels, release notes, pre-printed envelopes and promotional material into the re-cycle bin. We had methodically saved all the extra labels from each vintage, both the expensive, lovingly hand-made labels created from hand-made paper on a letter press for the HL bottles, as well as the rolls of the commercial, pressure-sensitive front and back labels for the E II (prior to the 2007 vintages of both Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon) and recent Two Old Dogs labels. You never know when a bottle would break and leak, or in California an earthquake may occur, and entire pallets of stained bottles would need to be re-labeled!
But while taking end of year/first of year inventory in our tiny Home/Library cellar of older vintages, we had to laugh at the idea that we would ever need more than a few dozen labels of each vintage, as that’s all the wine we ever have left! 4 bottles of the 2001 E II Cabernet Sauvignon (our first release of another wine besides the HL from our vineyard), 6 bottles of the 2001, etc.; 11 bottles of the 2005 E II Sauvignon Blanc (our first white wine release), 8 bottles of the 2006, etc.; 12 bottles of the 1997 HL Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon (our first release and only 50 cases produced!), 14 of the next vintage, 18 of the next! Not enough to even collect dust!
Jennifer once worked, in the late 1970’s, for a tiny local winery whose owner was ecstatic when the last bottle of each vintage was finally sold, thrilled to be rid of the wine and have it sold out! My how times have changed. We have since learned, after our production finally grew to over 200 cases, to save 20 to 30 cases of each vintage (if we can catch it in time), so that we could have enough to re-release and create three or six bottle mini-verticals, years later, to offer to our best clients. It’s also fun to gather with other winemakers, as we did last summer, and taste through the last 8-10 vintages to see the effects of climate changes and the small tweaks made in winemaking which, with the underlying similarities from the same vineyard grape source, make each vintage truly unique.
So now we are happy to collect more wine and less labels, and, instead of paper memories collected in a box on the shelf, remember the vintage in a glass. Here’s to a New Year with less clutter and more wine!