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Category Archives: Vineyard

Montelena’s Happy Vineyard Crew

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We have a new face on the blog! Lynn Pedone will be working in the vineyard, with Dave Vella and his crew, as she pursues her studies in Viticulture at Santa Rosa Junior College. A little background on Lynn: she’s a recent East Coast transplant, has lived all over the world growing up in a military family and has previously worked in the world of business and finance. She’s now hoping to settle into her “last career stop until retirement” in the wine industry and is looking forward to the opportunity to learn more about vineyard maintenance with Dave.  Lynn will be writing a weekly blog post about her experiences working in the Chateau Montelena vineyards.  Read her latest post below:

My co-workers – the people who make up the great, hard-working vineyard crew at Chateau Montelena – really help to make my time in the vineyard enjoyable. They are also good, patient teachers, and a lot of the fun for me has been practicing my Spanish. We carry on conversations as we work, and somehow I know about their lives and they know something about mine. Last week I was partnered with Jose for the morning and he showed me a very efficient way to do leafing in the fruit zone.  Clusters are getting big now, and it’s important to allow appropriate sun exposure and adequate ventilation around the berries.  Jose demonstrated how to lift the canopy with one hand, kind of like looking under the hood of a car, and using the other hand to “comb” through and pull off leaves, working fast but taking care not to accidentally pull off a cluster of grapes.  With experience it is possible to work quickly and avoid the fruit, but the key of course is to end up allowing enough sun exposure on the clusters but not so much you risk sunburn.  I told Jose he was “muy rapido” but that I was “lento(a)” – slow.  Somehow he made me feel that I was still doing a good job.  Today, I was part of a small team tasked with dropping fruit from some young vines.  Even knowing why this has to be done (keeping vine yields low to produce grapes with more flavor and intensity) still doesn’t make it any easier to snip off a perfectly beautiful cluster and throw it in a pile where it will shrivel and die in a matter of hours!  Depending on the size of the shoot, I was told to leave two, one, or no cluster.  The heat was back with us today, and the work was hard.  But I continue to be impressed and amazed that my coworkers are always smiling, singing, and happy.  Amidst their laughter and chatter, I can sometimes pick out a word or two or a phrase I understand.  Most of all, listening to them passes the time and makes me smile, and I am grateful for this experience.

My Favorite Vineyard Day

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We have a new face on the blog! Lynn Pedone will be working in the vineyard, with Dave Vella and his crew, as she pursues her studies in Viticulture at Santa Rosa Junior College. A little background on Lynn: she’s a recent East Coast transplant, has lived all over the world growing up in a military family and has previously worked in the world of business and finance. She’s now hoping to settle into her “last career stop until retirement” in the wine industry and is looking forward to the opportunity to learn more about vineyard maintenance with Dave.  Lynn will be writing a weekly blog post about her experiences working in the Chateau Montelena vineyards.  Read her latest post below:

One day last week I spent my morning at Chateau Montelena working on some Petite Syrah vines.  The Montelena Estate vineyards are exclusively Cabernet Sauvignon and old Zinfandel; the Petite Syrah vines are experimental (maybe the winemakers will try them in some new blend?).   Arriving at the vineyard at 5:50 a.m., I learned that the rest of the crew was working offsite.  I wondered what I would be doing, since that meant I would be working alone.  Did they actually trust me to work on my own in the estate vineyard with no supervision?  Beto asked if I would like to work on the four rows of young Petite Syrah vines that needed a little “tidying up” – vines creeping out into the row middles needed to be tucked into the catch wires and trimmed above the top wire.  Sure!  I said, happy to have any opportunity to use my pruning shears.  I love pruning and cutting and trimming and snipping – as someone who has never really worked in a garden of any kind before, I had no idea how empowering it is to “discipline” a vine….maybe it’s because I can’t seem to establish the same control over my two obstinate Pugs.  At this stage, when the vineyard seems to be growing like crazy, the vines are like unruly children.  Fortunately, and unlike my dogs, they respond well to just about anything you do to them!   It was a glorious day in Calistoga – very warm, but not too hot – with a soft breeze and a postcard-blue sky.  As I was talking to the vines in the peaceful silence and listening to the birds chirping, Mr. Barrett rode by on his little motor scooter, and it made me happy to see him out and about.  After a bit Dave Vella, the Vineyard Manager, stopped by to ask how things were going for me.  In addition to what I was already doing, Dave suggested I start “dropping” berry clusters – in effect, pruning to leave just one cluster per shoot.  When vines are young, this allows them to put their energy and resources into producing berries with more concentrated flavors.  Montelena purposely keeps their vine yields low because smaller crop yields produce wines with more intensity and complexity.  I was excited about this new task, until I started trying to decide which clusters would live and which would die. The problem, I discovered, was that by and large, all of them were beautiful and soon I realized I was spending far too much time trying to pick and choose and that it probably was not an effective use of my time.  Where there were clear and obvious choices, I snipped off the “lesser” bunches, but I have to say that I did not enjoy murdering those little clusters that will never grow up to become fine Chateau Montelena wine!  All in all, though, a perfect day.  Next week I plan to focus on my co-workers – the people who make up the great, hard-working vineyard crew at Montelena.  See you then.


Summer Vineyard Activities

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We have a new face on the blog! Lynn Pedone will be working in the vineyard, with Dave Vella and his crew, as she pursues her studies in Viticulture at Santa Rosa Junior College. A little background on Lynn: she’s a recent East Coast transplant, has lived all over the world growing up in a military family and has previously worked in the world of business and finance. She’s now hoping to settle into her “last career stop until retirement” in the wine industry and is looking forward to the opportunity to learn more about vineyard maintenance with Dave.  Lynn will be writing a weekly blog post about her experiences working in the Chateau Montelena vineyards.  Read her latest post below:

Hope everyone had a good 4th of July.  At Chateau Montelena, the vineyard has really been flourishing – the warm, sunny weather has given the vines everything they need to grow, and grow rapidly!  It is very exciting to see the berry clusters taking shape and increasing in size; “peppercorn” diameter now (about 4 mm), they are actually beginning to look like bunches of grapes.  “Berry set” occurred in June and this month wineries can begin cluster counts to determine their crop projection for the year.  Because everything is growing like crazy at this time, it’s also necessary to keep up a busy pace of tucking vines up into the catch wires as well as continue with suckering – removing unwanted shoots we don’t want and the vines don’t need.  Extra shoots “rob” the vines of the vigor and productivity that has to go into growing, ripening and maturing the fruit, so this is a very important task.  We have also started some shoot “thinning” to eliminate crowding and allow the leaves – i.e. the little solar panels of the vines – full sun exposure and again, to give the vines the opportunity to focus their energy into fruit production instead of green (vegetative) growth.  We did have a day of real rain last week; happy for the cooler temperatures, we started work as usual at 6 a.m. under a light drizzle but within an hour the skies opened up to a full blown deluge.  I had my rain gear on and wanted to continue but Placido, the crew supervisor, wisely summoned us out of the vineyard and told us to go home – no sense jeopardizing anyone’s health or safety.  The sun and high temperatures have returned, and we are back at it – yesterday was spent doing more vine tucking and suckering.  These things grow like weeds!

Our New Pavilions

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If you have ever visited Jade Lake to enjoy its tranquility – and especially if you are a CellarMaster Wine Club member who has reserved one of its two islands for personal use – you are familiar with our pavilions.  These structures were originally built by Yort and Jeanie Frank, whose family owned and lived in the Chateau in the mid-20th Century.  It was in fact Yort who excavated the lake, created its enchanting gardens, and named it all after his wife, whose nickname was Jade.  After decades of exposure to the elements, even with our careful upkeep, it finally became necessary to replace the pavilions.  This work was recently completed, faithfully replicating the original design, and even incorporating beautiful roof tiles sourced directly from China.  Here is a picture of the left island pavilion, taken just before guests arrived for our annual Movable Feast event in late May.  Next time you visit, we hope you take in the view.  Better yet, after your visit maybe you would have a picture or two to share with us (hint…hint)?

Chateau Montelena Winery, Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

Summer Arrives at Chateau Montelena

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We have a new face on the blog! Lynn Pedone will be working in the vineyard, with Dave Vella and his crew, as she pursues her studies in Viticulture at Santa Rosa Junior College. A little background on Lynn: she’s a recent East Coast transplant, has lived all over the world growing up in a military family and has previously worked in the world of business and finance. She’s now hoping to settle into her “last career stop until retirement” in the wine industry and is looking forward to the opportunity to learn more about vineyard maintenance with Dave.  Lynn will be writing a weekly blog post about her experiences working in the Chateau Montelena vineyards.  Read her latest post below:

Tuesday was officially the first day of Summer, and in the vineyard here it was appropriately HOT…97 degrees.  It seemed fitting that we spent the morning tending to the irrigation needs of the vines.  Irrigation involves more than simply keeping the plants alive.  In viticulture, the strategies for watering depend on the desired style of wine that will ultimately be achieved – there are different effects of irrigation on berries from budbreak to bloom and fruit set and all the way through to maturity. One of my favorite lessons from vineyard management class is that vines are like cats – they don’t like wet feet!  At Chateau Montelena, they practice deficit irrigation, providing just enough water to keep the vines from becoming overly stressed.  Heriberto, (Beto, as he is called by the staff here) who I spent the day shadowing, explained that when the vines are young they are irrigated more to grow a strong healthy vine and as they get older and start to produce fruit, the water is greatly reduced.  I always think of what Jim Barrett, i.e. Bill Pullman, said in the movie Bottle Shock – making the vines “struggle” intensifies the flavor.  Who would know better?  And this is where I put in a shameless plug for the movie…if you have never seen, go get yourself a copy and share it with friends.  You don’t have to be a wine lover to appreciate this wonderfully entertaining, feel-good movie.  If you are lucky enough to live in the area, you can pick up a copy (autographed by Bo Barrett) in the Montelena tasting room if you take the “Bottle Shock Chardonnay Experience” tour.  As with the movie, once is not enough!

Returning to the day’s events, I accompanied Beto as he turned on valves for several irrigation pump stations throughout the vineyard blocks.  Just when I thought to myself, oh, this will be an easy task….there is actually much more to irrigation and fertilization (fertigation when both are applied simultaneously) than I imagined.  As I said to Beto, learning about something in a classroom is never the same as doing it.  Beto has been with Montelena for more than 20 years, and it’s easy to see that he loves what he does.  We began in a hillside block, walking the rows to inspect the drip lines and replacing any failing, or plugged, emitters (the small, round cap-like spouts through which the water flows).  Next, travel to the various pump stations where, in some cases, valves need to be turned on.  At other stations, filters need to be removed and cleaned out.  Valves are shut off at the end of the work day, then the whole process repeats again the next day.  I also observed as organic fish fertilizer was applied through the irrigation system to one of the blocks of baby vines (this is done once or twice a year on young vines).  The huge 300-gallon tank has to be transported to the application site with a forklift, and then a myriad of hoses connects the tank to the irrigation system with a portable pump.  Quite a remarkable way to apply fertilizer, considering how painstaking it must have been in the days before all this wonderful machinery was developed!

 

My First Day In The Vineyard

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We have a new face on the blog! Lynn Pedone will be working in the vineyard, with Dave Vella and his crew, as she pursues her studies in Viticulture at Santa Rosa Junior College. A little background on Lynn: she’s a recent East Coast transplant, has lived all over the world growing up in a military family and has previously worked in the world of business and finance. She’s now hoping to settle into her “last career stop until retirement” in the wine industry and is looking forward to the opportunity to learn more about vineyard maintenance with Dave.  Lynn will be writing a weekly blog post about her experiences working in the Chateau Montelena vineyards.  Read her latest post below:

I can’t move….

Yesterday was my first day of work in the Chateau Montelena vineyard – my “dream job” – ? Wow, this old body isn’t used to physical labor – especially not for 8 hours! The last time I worked this hard was back in the day (emphasis on “back”) when I was a gym rat, body building and power lifting, and learned “muscle has memory” – in this case, it had better be a long one!

We started off suckering the vines – pulling unwanted green shoots off of the trunks below the drip lines. No problem. Then someone handed me a shovel – !? Oh yes, using a shovel to break up/dig out weeds in the berms. If you have ever pounded a metal shovel into hard, dry dirt, you know it’s not a lot of fun! But I persevered. I couldn’t keep up with the men (incredibly hard workers), but at least I had their respect that I wanted to pull my weight and do my share. The heat did not help matters – yesterday was the hottest day of the year so far, 90. Fortunately there was a breeze and I took my share of shade breaks. The good news is that I probably sweated off at least a pound – at this rate I’ll be back into most of my wardrobe by September! Also, the foreman told me there wouldn’t be any more shoveling – they were pretty much done with this for a while. So now we will be doing other typical summer vineyard activities – tucking the vines up into the wires, pulling leaves in the fruit zone, etc. Anyway, it was a good day – the workers are all very kind, seemingly tolerant to have me in their midst, and willing to take the time to explain how and why we do certain things in the vineyard… Placido, Paulino, Heriberto and Beto – those are the names I learned yesterday.

So, How Is 2011 Shaping Up?

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Vineyard Manager, Dave Vella, has over 25 years of experience working with the soils, vines and weather here at the winery.  With that kind of experience working with one particular vineyard, he has seen it all over the years.  I recently caught up with him to get an update on how things are shaping up in the vineyard for the 2011 vintage.

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Vineyard Tours Starting Soon

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Most of you know wines from what you buy at the store, read in reviews, hear from friends and enjoy at dinner parties.  For those who venture to the regions where it’s actually made, their learning curve goes up exponentially.  They get the stories first hand (sometimes, subjective); but even then, that’s a good thing. What makes our wine different than someone else’s may seem better to some, not to others.  That’s the beauty of enjoying wine. If it were that easy, it wouldn’t be fun.

Well, we’re taking your learning curve a bit farther if you visit us in Calistoga.  Starting soon, on Mondays and Wednesday mornings at 10:30am, we’re offering vineyard tours.  Our little 8 passenger electric cart will whisk you around (in an environmentally-friendly way) our 100 acres of vineyards, giving you a fun and educational, Disney-like drive through our Estate vineyards.  You’ll get an up-close and personal experience learning how our wines begin.   Should start up next week; but check our website for details soon!

 

Here Comes The Sun

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In the famous words of one of the greatest bands of our time, thank God it’s here!  I won’t talk much about the weather, as that’s been beaten down in blogs and articles everywhere; so if you’re wondering what it means to vintage 2011, ask us in the Fall. It’s still too early.

What I can say, however, is my tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash may have a chance after all.  Without warmth and sun, they were showing signs of doom.

I can put away the jackets I had already stashed in April, just to dust them off for May and June.

Vacation in Montana looks promising.

A day at the beach may be a reality now.

Farmer’s markets can start showing off some real Summer fruit.

After all man has done in modern technology, we’re all still at the mercy of Mother Nature in so many ways.  I love California!

Looking Forward to Summer

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Well, after a week of February weather capped off with a couple of inches of rain over the weekend, the sun is finally coming out!  Maybe, just maybe, summer is on its way?  We can only hope….

5 Day Forecast

Here come the sun...finally!

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About Our Authors

George Blanckensee

An expert event planner and an avid basketball and sports fan, George can tell you about all the best off-the-beaten path eateries.

Kali Clark

A Napa Valley native, Kali returned to the area after a stint on the East Coast and can be found documenting the latest happenings at the Chateau. When not behind the camera, she likes to experiment in the kitchen, travel, and enjoy the outdoors