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Spring Vineyard Update

Although 2012 through 2016 have been deemed drought vintages, we continue to receive anywhere from 60% to 90% of our normal annual rainfall. But the reality is that rainfall amounts and weather patterns vary widely from year to year locally. While many other vineyards in the Napa Valley are claiming that this is the earliest bud-break that they have ever seen, bud-break on our Cabernet vineyard happened about two weeks earlier in 2015 (March 11) than in either 2014 (March 21) or 2016 (March 27). But the grapes always seem to catch up in the end, as we still have almost five months left of the growing season to determine the results of this vintage!

The consistent light rains that we are continuing to see have encouraged the crimson clover cover-crop in the vineyard to re-bloom after their first weed-eating just three weeks ago. Jim Barbour’s vineyard management crew has successfully added new rows of trellising in order to give more exposure to the vines in the cooler section. The entire vineyard has also been suckered leaving only the strongest shoots, nicely spaced at regular intervals on the arms and trunk.

The first blooms on our Cabernet arrived over Mother’s Day weekend! These tiny flowers will soon self-pollinate to form our 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon berries. We’ve been experiencing cooler, wet weather over the past few weeks which has significantly slowed down the bloom, but it’s still earlier than in years past. Now the question is: is this the new norm? Mother nature is a curious thing.

With the frequent spring showers, the vivid colors throughout Herb Lamb Vineyard pop from every angle! Wild poppies and nasturtiums are a few of our favorites to plant along the property.

And let's not forget our friendly Vineyard watch dog, Camo. This weather has got her in tennis ball mode 24/7...

For frequent vineyard, winery, travel, and tasting updates, please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

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Retrospective Tasting: HL Vineyards 2006-2014

2006-2014... these vintages all have their own story to tell, and, like children in the same family, each has an underlying similarity while still being very different. These wines show the effects of this north-east facing hillside vineyard planted on volcanic ash and rock, which gets more late afternoon shadow than sun during the long growing season forcing us to wait until mid-October (normally) to get fully ripened fruit. There is a hallmark character of red fruits, menthol, and blueberries throughout, yet an elegance and always great structure. According to our winemaker Michael Trujillo, “this fruit rolls with Mother Nature more than any vineyard I have ever worked with.”

From a production standpoint, we are so lucky to have had the same winemaking and viticulture team all of these vintages. It is their ability to know the rows of the vineyard that gives us the best fruit and control the outcome in the winery. 

All set up...

All set up...

When the afternoon of wine tasting wraps, trust us — the first thing you'll want is TOOTHPASTE!

When the afternoon of wine tasting wraps, trust us — the first thing you'll want is TOOTHPASTE!

We all love to get together, more as professional friends than anything, to taste older verticals of our wine. What better place to gather than local staple Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen in downtown St. Helena.

In attendance: HL Owner + Proprietress Jennifer Lamb, HL Winemaker Michael Trujillo, HL General Manager AnnMarie Miller, Winemaker Bruce Regalia, HL Direct to Consumer Manager Peter Alig, HL Brand + Social Director Emma K. Morris, HL videographer Matt Morris, enologist Stacy Hornemann, Winemaker Molly Hill, and a cameo appearance from James Beard recognized chef Cindy Pawlcyn.

Longtime friends: Chef Cindy Pawlcyn with Jennifer Lamb.

Longtime friends: Chef Cindy Pawlcyn with Jennifer Lamb.

2006: This was a cooler vintage from grapes that were picked a little later, giving us wines with a little higher acids. Leathery and cigar box notes with lingering fruit and spice are pushed to the back of the palate, but give way to the brightness and freshness of the fruit.  There is a great structure to this wine. The fruit is briny/savory/very French style but without the Brett. Licorice, soy, herbs and smoked weeds show in the palate. It is plush, sleek and sexy but still has the structure to go several more years. Should be great with a big ribeye with lots of fat – drink now through the next 2 years.

2007: Plusher than 2006 and with a bit more oak and fruit on the nose, the 2007 HL still shines and is perfectly balanced. It shows savory, fruity, soy, luscious cranberry and bright black cherry fruit. 2007 was a warmer season, which gave us fleshier wines with more body and great acid that should pair beautifully with a leg or rack of lamb. Enjoy now through the next few years.

2008: This was another cooler vintage, and longer hand time gave us higher pH and lower acids which make the 2008 vintage very approachable. We thought the vintage might implode because of the vintage conditions, but the wine has more structure than we all anticipated. It shows a nose of chocolate, cassis, dried cherry and herbs.  The lower acid makes it a little decadent and fatter in the mouth. There is a chalkiness and dried red fruit character from the extended ripeness of the vintage. Decant and enjoy now though 2019.

2009: Still a little closed in the nose, this wine is wound up a bit and sleeping. It has lots of red fruit, dried cherries, cranberries and fresh acidity in the palate. It is slow to open up with a dusty, woody element of pencil lead, mocha and allspice. It should follow in the footsteps of the 2006 and roll out as soon as it ages a bit more. The acid should hold up and it will become a wonderful accompaniment to rich food. This vintage should easily age until 2020.

2010: This wine has an interesting sweet herbal character in the nose, like rosemary and chocolate malt balls. From a cooler, less ripe vintage, it shows stickier tannins and a more muscular base. In the nose are cedar and woodsy notes like chaparral and earthy, pine forest floor. This vintage may never evolve as much as warmer vintages do, or get any sexier, but it is still a great food wine and should go another 4-5 years.

2011: There was a lot more hype about this being a horrible year than the reality of wines that were produced. This wine has a very feminine personality; it is lighter and prettier than complex, with floral and herbal characteristics and very Bordeaux-ish. In the mouth there are violets and bright, black currants, red cherry and spice. It has more Cabernet Franc components and flavors as opposed to rich Cabernet fruit. It is evolving and will be a great food wine with 4-5 more years in the bottle. Winemakers who knew what they were doing in leaner years were very successful in still making great wines that are reflective of the terroir and weather.

Our recently bottled Two Old Dogs 2015 Sauvignon to start...

Our recently bottled Two Old Dogs 2015 Sauvignon to start...

2012: This was the first of a string of lovely, balanced, warm growing seasons, mostly due to earlier ripening and warmer growing seasons brought on by the drought. As with all vintages from this vineyard, there is a typical blueberry, menthol, and dried red fruit character with red fruits like cranberry and red plums in the mouth. Even with all the rich fruit in this wine, 2012 is not as plush as some later vintages but should age beautifully another 6-10 years.

2013: A very warm vintage, the 2013 gave us an old world, rustic character. On the nose there is a woody note of chestnut combined with sweet red fruits. In the mouth, you find cranberry, cherry, dried blueberry and spices of Mexican chocolate. The dense black cherry pie and dusty coca flavors are highlighted by a wealth of caramel, cinnamon and spice flavors, making it very rich in the mouth with an added depth and extraction, not seen in other vintages.

Cindy does Brussels sprouts like no other! The slightly spicy Asian flare paired wonderfully with our Sauvignon Blanc.

Cindy does Brussels sprouts like no other! The slightly spicy Asian flare paired wonderfully with our Sauvignon Blanc.

2014: HL Vineyards Barrel sample. This wine is more floral and youthful with a lot of fresh, primary fruit characteristics. Flavors of blueberry, herbal notes, violets and dried red fruits shine in the palate. This should be an ideal wine for the cellar, focusing on fruit and balance. Will be bottle in the summer of 2016.

2014: HL Reserve Barrel sample. A first for us...2% of the 2015 barrel fermented HL Vineyards wine was added to a selection of our best barrels chosen from the 2014 vintage to create our first ever Reserve wine.  This wine shows a combination of toasty, graham cracker crust, floral, licorice, brioche, violet, red fruit and blueberry flavors. It is complex and has great structure and depth. Will be bottled in the summer of 2016.

Read more about our wines, past and present, on our WINES page.

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2015 Sauvignon Blanc Bottling

The art of bottling takes an expert team to master. It's a fast-moving process that combines a watchful eye and masterful hands to coordinate, so we're thankful to work with one of the best mobile bottling operations at a state of the art facility in the Napa Valley. We're thrilled to say that our 2015 Two Old Dogs Sauvignon Blanc juice from Yountville's Mello Vineyard is in-bottle, and off to rest for a few months before hitting your lips!

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Our controversial Buttercream Bakery doughnut pairing continues with a just-off-the-line bottle!

We look forward to sharing the 2015 fruit-forward and summer-essential wine with you in the coming months. For now, we invite you to enjoy our 2014 Two Old Dogs Sauvignon Blanc while it lasts — click here to log in and shop our current releases!

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Spicy Dipping Oil

We recently picked the last of the hot peppers from the Herb Lamb garden, then hung them out to dry for a few weeks. These gems were destined to make the perfect spicy dipping oil!  

Recipe:

  • 2 cups good olive oil (we like Napa Valley Olive Oil Co.)
  • 3 cloves crushed garlic
  • 2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 2-3 dried red chilis

Add all ingredients into a Mason jar or similar vessel. Let sit for at least one week before using, as to allow the flavors a chance to intensify and meld together. Serve this alongside a nice crusty Italian Paesano or toasted French Bread loaf — pairs great with our HL Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon and Two Old Dogs Cabernet Sauvignon, too!

The oil keeps well, in a dark area, for up to four months. Enjoy!

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Cabernet Sauvignon Harvest

2015 was not only the earliest harvest on record in the Napa Valley, but the hottest as well! The fourth year of drought throughout California, coupled with a warm winter and spring, gave us early bud-break and bloom, but also resulted in less tonnage.

Heat spikes up to 107 degrees withered the vines and vineyard crews alike, but cool nights and fog returned to guarantee the quality of the grapes and send 2015 into the record books along with the previous three years as incredible collector vintages. 

Amazingly, we harvested all three blocks of our vineyard's Cabernet Sauvignon before we normally even start picking for the year! Despite the lighter crop, nicely extracted Cabernets — elegant, fruity, and beautifully structured — were produced in 2015.

We've even started to experiment in the winery with some barrel fermentation for finesse. Stay tuned for the impressive 2015 HL Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon!

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Behind the Scenes: Sauvignon Blanc

After nearly a month of fermentation, our Two Old Dogs Sauvignon Blanc is completely dry (meaning that we have fermented out all of the natural sugar in the sweet ripe grapes picked a month ago, and there is no residual sugar in the wine)! At this point in the process, we thought it would be fun to revisit how we got here with our Sauvignon Blanc this year. Enjoy the behind the scenes process!

Gorgeous, juicy berries — all ready to become WINE!

Gorgeous, juicy berries — all ready to become WINE!

Raking the fruit into the sorting machine.

Raking the fruit into the sorting machine.

Winemaker Mike Trujillo, monitoring the new Pellenc sorting machine.

Winemaker Mike Trujillo, monitoring the new Pellenc sorting machine.

After every last grape has been plucked off! The stems now go into a grinder to become compost for future vintages.

After every last grape has been plucked off! The stems now go into a grinder to become compost for future vintages.

Jennifer Lamb with winemaker Mike Trujillo, discussing their next moves for this year's fruit.

Jennifer Lamb with winemaker Mike Trujillo, discussing their next moves for this year's fruit.

The Pellanc sorting all the green (immature) berries from the stemmer/crusher so that none of them end up in the fermenter! Mechanically is much more precise than manually attempting to sort the tiny berries!

The Pellanc sorting all the green (immature) berries from the stemmer/crusher so that none of them end up in the fermenter! Mechanically is much more precise than manually attempting to sort the tiny berries!

Feels like Chem lab, eh? The purpose of the dry ice addition is to delay the alcoholic fermentation by lowering the temperature where yeast cannot ferment. This allows certain chemical compounds to be extracted from the grape skins before alcohol is present. The release of carbon dioxide from the dry ice also keeps the juice from oxidizing and protects it from bacteria.

Feels like Chem lab, eh? The purpose of the dry ice addition is to delay the alcoholic fermentation by lowering the temperature where yeast cannot ferment. This allows certain chemical compounds to be extracted from the grape skins before alcohol is present. The release of carbon dioxide from the dry ice also keeps the juice from oxidizing and protects it from bacteria.

A stream of free-run Sauvignon Blanc juice, just pressed, flowing into dry ice.

A stream of free-run Sauvignon Blanc juice, just pressed, flowing into dry ice.

Almost there!

Almost there!

This year, we'll be using a few neutral french oak barrels for further aging. Be sure to follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook for year-round updates and more behind-the-scenes fun!
 

All photos by Emma K. Morris

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Sauvignon Blanc Harvest

This year's early-morning harvest at Mello Vineyard in Yountville started around 4:15 a.m. Tractor lights and headlamps lit the way on our journey to create our 2015 Two Old Dogs Sauvignon Blanc!

Beautiful bright green clusters shimmer in the tractor's lights.

Beautiful bright green clusters shimmer in the tractor's lights.

All hands on deck for these early AM picks!

All hands on deck for these early AM picks!

It was the earliest harvest on record for us for Sauvignon Blanc grapes from this vineyard, but only by a few days. This is primarily because of this season's smaller berries and lower bunch weight. Basically, the quality this year was phenomenal — we just wish there had been more!

Proprietress and owner, Jennifer Lamb.

Proprietress and owner, Jennifer Lamb.

Filler'up!

Filler'up!

It all points back to the warm winter, early bud break, and odd weather patterns during bloom, which caused some shatter throughout much of the valley. The smaller berries resulted in smaller tonnage across all grape varieties. Less tonnage to ripen results in earlier ripening and harvest.

Trying them out. Perfectly balanced.

Trying them out. Perfectly balanced.

Despite having less tonnage than last year, the growing season has been ideal with continued cool evenings and warm days. We are excited by the exceptional quality and great flavors, color, and extraction!

4.5 tons — just weighed!

4.5 tons — just weighed!

Vineyard manager, Mike Neal's dog Frisco begs for a snack! After all, he worked hard on this pick...

Vineyard manager, Mike Neal's dog Frisco begs for a snack! After all, he worked hard on this pick...

Next up: the "science" behind the wine...photos from bin to tank! Stay tuned.

All photos by Emma K. Morris

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Bottling: 2013 Two Old Dogs Cabernet Sauvignon

Another year with very little rainfall but text-book growing conditions, 2013 gave us exceptionally bold wines. In the vineyard, we had early bud break, early flower set, early veraison, and an ideal balanced summer leading to an early harvest. We harvested about the same bountiful yields as the year prior, with excellent ripeness and great acid balance to boot! The typical Herb Lamb Vineyard characteristics of tobacco, mocha, menthol, cedar, and red and blue fruits are present in the 2013 Two Old Dogs Cabernet Sauvignon, and we think this structured wine is even more worthy of age than the previous vintage. We cannot wait to share this beautiful wine with you! 

Hope you enjoy the footage and photos from last week's bottling.

First bottle off the line — paired with Napa's own Buttercream Bakery doughnuts! Hey, don't judge us...it's was 8 a.m., we promise.

What a team we have. With Jennifer Lamb below: Thomas Jordan of Peregrine Mobile Bottling and Herb Lamb Winemaker Michael Trujillo.


2013 Two Old Dogs Cabernet Sauvignon...coming spring of 2016: mark your calendars!

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Late Spring in the Vineyards

With the sporadic rainfall (the warm "Pineapple Express" that came in from the Pacific and dumped inches at a time on us) coupled with the unusually warm winter and spring, the vines budded out about three weeks earlier than usual this year. Below (left) is a cluster that has yet to bloom in a shadier block of the vineyard, and below (right) is an example of an area that's already started to bloom.

In April, we had days of unexpected heat up into the '80s, followed by weeks of cool, foggy mornings that hardly cleared by mid-afternoon. The bushy growth on the vines came on fast and furious during the last week of April. We sent the crew in to thin the Cabernet Sauvignon by removing canes and suckers that were not in ideal growing position or didn’t have fruiting bunches present. There seems to still be enough moisture in the soil to keep the cover crop growing, so we'll soon send in the crew once again to manually walk each row to weed-eat the knee-high weeds and clover. It really has been an ideal growing season, albeit very early!

The vines are big and healthy, and soon we'll be going in to sample the petioles (aka the stalk attaching the leaf blade to the stem), to see what soil amendments or micro-nutrients we may be lacking. It looks to be a prosperous crop, but we are still a long way out. Predicting a growing year is comparable to looking at a kindergartener and saying he's so smart and tall, and can already read...but then checking back when he graduates from high-school!

The vineyards aren't the only thing in bloom! The Lamb garden is overflowing with goodies. This year we've bird-proofed the berries with netting to ensure they're all ours (and yours, if you come visit)! And we've got snow peas and snap peas coming out of our ears, too.

Stay tuned for an early summer update soon! It really amazes us how quickly everything grows this time of year.

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Exclusive Winemaker Dinner at Campton Place

We're thrilled to announce a very special winemaker dinner at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 19 at Taj Campton Place in San FranciscoJennifer Lamb, owner of Herb Lamb Vineyards, will host this extraordinary wine and food journey!

Chef Srijith Gopinathan of coveted Michelin-starred Campton Place Restaurant will prepare a delectable feast to match our wine offerings...

Menu

Spring Chaat with Young Peas, Mint, and Spiced Yogurt Broth
paired with Two Old Dogs Sauvignon Blanc, 2013

Slow Cooked Poussin with Morel Mushrooms, Fava Bean, and Coconut Chutney
paired with Two Old Dogs Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011

Roasted Angus Beef with Smoked Onion Soubise, Pickled Rhubarb, and Baby Tat-soi
paired with HL Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007

Artisanal Cheese Selection with Seasonal Accoutrements
paired with HL Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008

Café Filtre 

Mignardises

Additional wines will include:
Pre-Release Sneak Peek: Two Old Dogs Sauvignon Blanc, 2014
Barrel Sample: HL Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013
Two Old Dogs Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012
HL Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012

The winemaker dinner costs just $155 per person, exclusive of tax and gratuity. There are a limited number of seats available — to reserve your spot, please email Richard Dean, Master Sommelier, or call 415.955.5574.

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Small Town Spelling Bee

With a population of just 5,500, ours could be a small town anywhere . . . with orange-vested monitors in the school crosswalk knowing almost every child who sets off for school, with the gas-station attendant coming out to talk about the weather or the Turkey Shoot coming up next week as he clean your windshield, with the bartender at your favorite watering hole asking about your grand kids or the friend who is back from surgery and doing just fine (but can’t drink anymore . . .) Of course, with an industry such as ours we have our share of “shop-talk”, meeting other vineyard managers or winemakers and talking about the vintage or bottling line woes at the Post Office (we have one, open 9-5 Monday through Friday with two windows open) or bank (we have 6 – for reasons unknown to us all!). But somehow we all meet up in our daily circle of life, waving to locals amidst a sea of tourists as we drive through the three blocks of Main Street doing our daily errands.

St. Helena Elementary SchoolSo it was with great honor that I strolled into the St. Helena Elementary School auditorium, with rows of 1940’s wooden seats low to the ground and an elevated stage with massive velvet curtains, to take my place as a Judge for the St. Helena Junior Women’s Club 39th Annual Vintage Spelling Bee. In the audience were friends from all walks of life, their children or grandchildren seated nervously on the stage. Sitting next to me on the judging panel was the St. Helena High School Librarian and a local dentist (who also moonlights as the High School baseball coach), while the St. Helena Women’s’ Club President (and our winery's Wine Compliance officer) led the proceedings and introduced the announcer, the Children’s Librarian, (a good friend and neighbor who knew each child in the auditorium from birth) from the St. Helena Public Library – just chosen as one of the top small libraries in the nation!

The students were cautioned to look directly at the announcer (who was behind the podium off to the side) and not out into the audience filled with moms and dads and baby brothers and sisters, and the judges were warned not to mouth the spelling of the word along with the student or cringe or shake our heads and give away the answers (which we had graciously been given on a 5 page hand-out, in large type!) like the local veterinarian had done in a past Spelling Bee!

Fourteen 5th grade students sat nervously on stage, some in that day’s school clothes others dressed in their Sunday best, moving to the empty chairs at the back of the stage one by one as they miss-spelled a word - some out of nervousness, others because of the difficulty of the word. “Pierce” and “Stubble” got a couple, then “Prairie” got a few more, but “Lobbyist” caused them to drop like flies, even though one creative finalist searched deep into her Latin language skills and spelled it “Lawbiouyest”.

The finalist was awarded his plaque, which was immediately taken away so that they could engrave his name on the front with the 38 other winners, and we all agreed that as judges we were lucky not to have had to challenge any spelling errors or be the cause of any more nervousness or tears. A good night had been had by all, and our small town had once more come together for a successful evening of supporting our children. I was proud to have been a part of this moment in our community’s life . . . and thankful that we never got to the last page and “Mayonnaise”, which I know I would have missed! (two n’s – really?)

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Where is Winter in the Napa Valley?

Last weekend, we participated in another family-style wine pairing and cooking class at one of our favorite restaurants, Rosso, in Santa Rosa. The theme was appropriate to the winter season; “Soups, Stocks and Stews”, imagining us all coming out on a wet and chilly Saturday morning into the kitchen to eat hearty winter fare. The home-made chicken noodle soup, warm beet soup and veal stock beef stew hit the mark with the selection of local Pinot Noir and Burgundies offered, and we all headed home ready to recreate the basics and warm our innards throughout the rest of the winter. The only problem is that we haven’t had a winter! Sure, we have had below freezing cold spells, forcing us to cover our citrus and other delicate landscaping, temperatures in the teens and twenties which dropped all the leaves from the vines and convinced them to go dormant, but we have yet to receive over ½” of rain since October. The Napa Valley normal annual rainfall is somewhere around 36-40” (usually only occurring October through May), but last year we received only 5 inches making it the driest vintage on record. We appreciated the lack of rain last fall during harvest, allowing the 2013 vintage to ripen perfectly without the normal threat of showers and cool weather, but this has gone on far too long.

winter stream 2010The brittle, brown leaves from the vines and deciduous trees still line the roads and stream beds, waiting to be swept away by winter rains. (note the difference between the photos of our little stream bed last year and this!) Where there should be a stark clash of lush green clovers and yellow mustard between the vine rows against the dry, skeletal outline of the dormant vines, there is nothing but parched, gray soil . The cover crop seed, which was planted between the vine rows last fall to hold the soil during winter rains and rejuvenate the soil next spring, has sprouted and died off due to lack of rain. Irrigation ponds are all but dry, bringing fear to vineyard mangers who rely on full ponds for their irrigation during frost season in the spring, to protect the newly budding vines.

winter 2014We have even had warnings from the Forestry Department who put the Napa Valley on a high-fire alert – in January! Wells are drying up, unable to replenish their water supply without winter rains. The Sierra snow pack is less than 12% of normal; bring fears for municipal water supplies throughout the state that count on snow melt for their water needs each year. Lawns and landscaping are brown, as water rationing starts to go into effect.

No one is complaining about the high pressure system over the west coast, bringing us chilly mornings and lovely warm days into the high 60’s and low 70’s, especially in the wake of those negative temperatures and blizzards across the mid-west and east coast! We are able to BBQ and entertain out of doors and go about our days in shirt sleeves or a light jacket, as though it was almost spring. We dust off our shoes after walking the vineyards, instead of leaving our muddy boots out on the back porch. Even the chickens have started laying again, giving us half a dozen eggs a day.

But what we really need is rain, for all the farmers who depend on Mother Nature’s generosity to stock up this precious resource for the 2014 vintage and growing season. So, if anyone knows the steps to a traditional Rain Dance, please send them our way!

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Fall in the Napa Valley

Yountville fallEvery year after harvest, we are blessed by an amazing show of fall colors in the valley. If we have received measurable early fall rains, there is a carpet of fine new grassy growth between the vines,  highlighting the dramatic difference between the bright new growth in the vine rows and the declining yellow leaves on the vines; one aspect just starting its cycle, the other ending theirs. If an early frost should set in, instead of the natural progression of leaves turning deep green to light green to yellow to brown, the leaves wither crisp and brown overnight, looking as though they have been hit with a dreaded disease. DSC_0458The colors and contrasts of the vineyards are subtle yet brilliant at the same time, highlighting the barren, brown hills from the vibrant row designations, and each varietal and row direction changing color at its own pace.

But in years like this one, where the Indian summer has graced us with warm days and cool evenings and no rain or frost for over a month, there is a miraculous array of colors around every bend. Everything is in dazzling hues, as though enhanced by Photoshop and color corrected by Mother Nature.

DSC_0423The shades of green to yellow and orange to red are so subtle that some leaves seem to be tinted with all four colors at once. And the deep purple hue of the second crop Cabernet Sauvignon is a striking contrast to the yellowing leaves of late fall. It paints the kind of image for the eye that, if you put it on canvas, critics would say “But it is too dazzling – it doesn’t look natural”.

The work has shifted now from the vineyards to the wineries, and the vineyard crews are applying the last soil amendments and fertilizers before the rains set it. Tractors and harvesting equipment have been stored away in the barns and shops. There is an odd quiet in the vineyards now, which only a month ago were the source bustling activity.

DSC_0424So remember to put a visit to Wine Country in November on your calendar for next year so you can sample the new wines from the barrel as you watch an old vintage transpire.

New England fall colors, eat your heart out!

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Rain, Rain Go Away

Friends and clients called with worried anticipation at the brief, but notable, rain storm that we experienced in the Napa Valley a couple of weeks ago. We received almost and inch of rain, much of it coming in a sudden downpour, and then the clouds cleared and the sun came out with temperatures in the 70’s and 80’s for the rest of the week. If anything, it slowed the pace of harvest, first by slowing the maturation on the vine and foremost by dampening the ground to the point that tractors couldn’t get in to harvest for a day or two. Again, a week later, the tail end of a little storm clouded the skies and lightly misted the vines for 2 days, with clearing and a return to warm weather forecast for the next several weeks. It was not hurricane or blizzard worthy, but enough to scare wine lovers who know how precious wine grapes can be. DSC_0020The 2013 vintage has been one of the best we've seen in years, producing perfectly mature grapes with wonderfully balanced flavors. All of the thin-skinned, tightly bunched varieties throughout the valley have already been picked. Our Sauvignon Blanc came in almost a month ago, (picked early in the morning under bright light bars) and the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are by now all picked and fermenting in the tanks and barrels. Cabernet Sauvignon have lose bunches and thicker skins that can withstand some moisture and ward off any rot, and ripen much later in the season.

We have been keeping a close watch on the ripeness of our Cabernet, as the evenly warm and outstanding growing season of 2013 has brought sugar levels to near-perfect conditions several weeks earlier than average. Talking amongst our peers and driving up and down the valley, there is either the “Yeah, get it off. It’s ready!” theory (as seen in ½ of the Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards already picked), or the “They taste good and sugars are high, but they just don’t feel totally balanced – tannins still too high and still tasting a little immature.”

IMG_1233Our north-facing Herb Lamb Vineyards’ grapes are in the latter camp, and we started picking just the ripest rows last week, waiting a week or (weather permitting) more for much of the rest of the fruit to fully ripen. As soon as we get all our fruit picked and into the winery next week, only then will we do a little rain dance to celebrate – it’s OK, Mother Nature, soon you can let er’ rip!

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Spring Bounty

DSC_0023If 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.

DSC_0064It'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 sea salt 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.

 

 

 

 

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Pruning Chronicles

Winter vineyards 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.

March Pruning

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

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More Wine and Less Clutter

smE2_SauvWithCab1January 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! Bottling SB 2010 037But 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!

HL Vertical-DSC_0009Jennifer 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!

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Winter Storms and Tropical Memories

We awake at what should be the crack of dawn and a sunny fall morning, but instead we are engulfed by darkness and heavy fog on the third day of a non-stop winter storm - constant buckets of rain and occasional mighty gust of wind that shakes the house, some up to 60 miles an hour. There are trees down and flood warnings for the Napa River. Power and phones are out for thousands in the North Bay, and streets are closed and traffic has been re-routed as storm drains fill and are unable to handle the constant deluge and rising tidewaters.

The weather report states that we’ve had over 7 “ from this series of storms, with more rain on the way, but locals’ accounts vary from 8.5 to 11" in rain gauges throughout the valley. Our little stream at the bottom of the vineyard, which was dry last week, has become a rushing torrent and can be heard easily from our deck. The vines are quickly losing their fall-colored leaves and will be soon only be naked, dormant skeletons of the previous vintage.

However, this storm is really not that unusual for the Napa Valley, nor is it disastrous as it sounds, but has only become annoying to us because of our recent memories - this time last week we awoke to the sounds of the warm breeze in the palms and the gentle lapping of the Sea of Cortez on the beach at Los Barriles, a small “ex-patriot” village on the East Cape of Baja California, Mexico.  From our vacation home on the beach, we watched as the sun rose over the sea, showing brilliant colors that only a tropical paradise could offer. The waters were calm and warm, and the amazing variety and colors of fish seen snorkeling just offshore became a validation of Jacques Cousteau’s claim that the Sea of Cortez is “the earth’s aquarium”.

Fishing cruisers and local pangas left the harbor every morning, returning with catches of wahoo and tuna, grouper and game fish, and when the afternoon wind picked up, the wind and kite surfers flocked to the shore and rode the air all day. The temperatures ranged from 60 to 85, and bathing suits, beach towels and flip-flops were the dress of the day.

So, as we hear threats about the rising tides of the Napa River and bundle up to go out and do our chores and re-route the overflowing gullies coming off of the vineyard, we keep remembering the words to the song Everybody’s Talking at Me and relive recent memories of “going where the weather suits my clothes”. We could re-pack our carry-on vacation bags at a moment’s notice, if anyone wants to invite us back . . .

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Dozens and Dozens of Eggs

Anyone who has ever had chickens knows the joys, and trials, of raising a flock of hens for eggs. People ask "Do you name them all?" No - they are not pets; they are chickens. "Are they free-range? Do you let them out in the vineyard?"  No - if we did, they would all become Black Lab dinner in a manner of minutes - they are caged for their own protection.

The reality is that we raise vegetables, and fruit in the garden, and animals to eat and for eggs only because we then know the source, and the wonderfully fresh flavors, of what we are eating. It is NOT a time or money saving venture,  but more a matter of pride in having fresh food on the table that we have raised from scratch.

We ordered our last batch of day-old chicks in April, and were counting the days until mid-summer when they actually started to lay. Those first tiny eggs we raised  were probably $60.00/each when you add up the time to build the pen; clean the pen each week; purchase the chicks, automated water and food containers, high protein chick starter, laying crumbles, scratch, oyster-shell for firm shells, shavings for the laying boxes and straw for the pen. We sort scraps in the kitchen and weeds in the garden to give the hens something different and tasty each day, even to the point of saying "Oh, you don't want that French-Fry? Can I take it home to my chickens?" when we're out with friends in a restaurant. It gets obsessive!

The joys, ah the joys, of fresh, tasty, brilliant orange-yolked eggs whenever you want! Make a cake and need 4 eggs - no problem. Want a quick gift to offer friends - take an 18 pack of eggs!

But what to do when the daily dozens of eggs fills your refrigerator and doesn't stop coming? Make an Egg Bake - have a Frittata with friends for brunch - or Roast Eggs in Tomato Sauce. Here are a few of our favorite Dozens of  Eggs recipes.

Eggs Baked in Roasted Tomato Sauce

Food & Wine - Contributed by Marisa May

  • 1 1/2 pounds plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon chopped oregano and other fresh herbs
  • 8 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Preheat the oven to 400°. In a roasting pan, toss the tomatoes and garlic with the oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the tomatoes cut side up and roast for 15 minutes; turn and roast until soft, 20 minutes. Let cool, then scrape the mixture into a blender and puree. Add the oregano and other herbs.

Set 4 shallow ovenproof bowls on a baking sheet. Strain the pureed sauce into the bowls, pressing on the solids. Crack 2 eggs into each bowl and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the cheese over the eggs and bake the eggs for about 15 minutes, until the whites are just set. Serve hot. As a cold-weather luncheon or dinner dish it pairs beautifully with the Two Old Dogs Cabernet Sauvignon.

 

Terry's Egg Bake

Similar to a large frittata, you can add vegetables and herbs to this dish to give it more flavor, but it is delicious as is! Serve with a fresh garden salad and Two Old Dogs Sauvignon Blanc for a great brunch menu.

  • 26 eggs
  • 4 c. half & half
  • 1/2 c. chopped green onion
  • 1  1/2 c. cooked crumbled bacon
  • 1 c. grated Swiss Cheese
  • 1 c. grated Monterey Jack Cheese
  • salt & pepper to taste

Beat eggs well, season with salt & pepper and mix all ingredients together. Bake in a 350 oven in a greased oven-proof dish (or 9" x 12" roasting pan, and cut into squares) until slightly browned and it bounces back to the touch.

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