Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Crazy and Local

It's been a little nuts around here.  The balance from harvest time--where we were both vineyard and winery--shifted a few weeks ago.  Since then, we have been winery and sales outlets, a balance that we have a hard time finding.  It's the reason for my lack of posts this month.

I'm not complaining.  In this economic climate, I am very encouraged by our sales.  There's a sentiment in our industry that people like to drink wine in good times, and in bad times they need to drink wine.  Of course, we all know that people are watching their budgets more and more these days.  What our industry is seeing is that people are spending more on wine than they did this time last year.  Instead of buying the $20 bottle of wine, they are buying two $13 dollar bottles. 

Luckily for us, we havea lot of wines that fit that niche.  Although, the reality of it is that most folks who tend to support local wineries do it for the right reasons, with price being a lesser determining factor.  A lot of it comes down to supporting local, family-owned businesses.  (By purchasing local Pennsylvania--and Maryland--wines, you're not sending your dollars to California by way of some New York-based middle-man distributor.) 

There's also the sense of pride that comes with encouraging regionality in your life.  We all have chosen to live in this part of the world for a myriad of different reasons.  It's nice to know that there is something special about our place and time.  Makes us feel good about things. 

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Snow? and Pruning.....

By the time you read this, there's probably already been some white stuff on the ground.  That is, as long as the weather forecasters get it right.  (Don't get me started there.  As someone who obsesses about the weather for a good part of the year, I have noticed some painful inaccuracies lately.  I've got to think that recent climate change is affecting the computer models that are based on decades of older weather data......)

The vines have probably already shut down for the winter.  That's the viticultural version of hibernation.  Basically, we can't go out and start pruning them back into shape for next year until all the sap--for lack of a better word--has been pulled back down out of the canopy and into the roots.  I know of at least a couple vineyards who have taken advantage of this warmer December weather to get out and get a jump on 2010.  We're not one of them.

For the first time, we waited until after harvest to pull some of our reds from barrels.  The 2008s were great wines, and could handle the extra month or two in wood.  It's crazy to be doing red blends when it's cold out, but that's the fact this year.  And I think the wines are better for it.  Luckily, we have the space now--with ou new addition--to be able to do this.

The last tank of Vidal is almost finished fermenting.  Racking that would officially close the formal 2009 Harvest, although we have been in non-harvest mode for a week.  Although, if you ask Ray, he still feels the pressure of being behind.  In my mind, that's just normal for a winery.  But he decided he was going to move into his new house during harvest.  Anyone who knew me back in 2002 knows what a zombie I was when I did that to myself. 

I'll post in a while on the 2009s.  Suffice it to say right now that they are a whole lot better than I could have imagined them being.  They'll be really nice wines.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Wine Just off the Vine

The weekend before Thanksgiving, most of the UnCork York wineries hosted the first "Wine Just off the Vine" event.  This was loosely based on the Beaujolais tradition of Nouveau, basically giving everyone a sneak peek at the next year's wines. 

I am worried about this event, because in the first and only weekend, we received over 800 visitors.  On Saturday alone, 501--or more...we missed a few we think---came by Allegro.  This is downright crazy.  Now, I don't mind that many visitors coming, believe me.  But I want to make sure that everyone who comes gets the same great experience.  And if I have to talk to more than 500 people again, it may kill me.  (Those of you who came on Saturday can attest to the fact that I was telling some people to "drink your turkey and eat the Nouveau.....")

But, on the other hand, this is a great problem to have.  Can you believe that so many came out to a local winery for one weekend?  It's crazy.  I f John and Tim were still with us, I'm not sure what they would be thinking. 

Well, for one thing, the old winery in its past state wouldn't have been capable of holding that many people.  The new addition--for warehousing space-freed up all sorts of possibilities for us.  We managed to find a great way for people tof low through one end of the winery and exit the other end, eliminating most bottlenecks (except the good kind.)  We expanded the parking lot in light of all of this,and this seems to have made a difference as well.

But what about the wines?  We tasted out our 2009 red and white Nouveau.  The red with turkey and cranberry, the white with stuffing balls.  It was a lot of fun--as Nouveau should be--and we sold about 3/4 of the white production and almost half the red.  Crazy.  For a while there I was wondering if I was going to have any left for our family's Thanksgiving.....

Anyway, it was crazy, but it's over.  Thanks to all who came out and to all who helped put this on.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Our friend Melody....

Our hearts are heavy since yesterday. In the middle of bottling Nouveau, I received a call from Lonnie sharing the news with me that his wife--our dear friend--Melody had passed away a few hours earlier.

Those of you who are our customers may not have known her by name, but she had been a fixture at Allegro since the early 1980s. She first started coming here when John and Tim were starting out. I've seen pictures of her labeling, picking, working festivals. She did absolutely everything she could for us from the very beginning.  Most recently, you could find her working at the winery, at Tollgate, or sometimes even in Enola or Mechanicsburg.

The amazing thing about Melody--or, "Mel" as we called her--was that she was always thinking about us and rarely thought about herself. When my wife Kris and I came to Allegro, Mel was always the person we could count on. Without her, we would have never succeeded in having a stand at Central Market in York. She made that work. Whenever I would ask her to cover or pitch in somewhere, she would do it in a heartbeat...sometimes leaving groceries on the kitchen floor in order to rush off to Harrisburg to help out.

Always, whenever I asked for conflicts when it was scheduling time, she wouldn't share hers with me, only saying that I could schedule her anywhere, anytime. I tried not to ask too much of her, but she seemed to thrive on it. I remember once trying to send her home when she wasn't feeling well, and she thought I was crazy.

The memory that will most likely stick with me longest, though, is that she treated me like I was her little boy most of the time. Called me names like my mother called me. I think she felt like a mom to Allegro, and in a lot of ways she was. She took care of us, and in turn Allegro, I hope, brought her joy.


We'll miss you, Mel. Take care.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

It's Here.....

Well, it finally happened. I woke up this morning and noticed a heavy layer of frost outside. The thermometer is reading about 27F, which means all the leaves I worked so long this summer to protect from disease to ensure ripening are toast.

It was bound to happen, and we're fortunate that it happened so late this year. Back in 2001, we were frosted on October 8th. That would have spelled disaster for 2009. We weren't even starting to pick our early reds until after then. And the late ones? They would have ended up as rose wines.

The timing is great, though. My plan was to pick our Cabernet this weekend--Sunday, in fact. The frost hitting the leaves will cause them all to fall off by the end of the day. Tomorrow, when we go to pick the grapes, the work will be a bit easier for us, as we won't have to search for the clusters. With bare canes, the grapes will be the only thing left hanging on the vines.

Next week, we'll get all the nets put away, and leave the bare and clean vineyard for a couple months. I've already been thinking about pruning. I'm strange that way, usually thinking 4-6 months ahead about vineyard operations. The empty vineyard will be a great place to walk through on a snowy day and dream about the future wine we will grow there. And how we will grow it will start with the first pruning cut sometime in January......

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The End is Near.......

And it's not a good thing necessarily.... One of our retail people asked me today--yes, today, she was emailing at 2 AM--if I was going to be happy when harvest was over.

Of course not! Harvest is what harvest is. And that to me is the best time of year. It's when the grapes come in--well, we bring them in--and we get a chance to pull back the veil on what we've been working on all year. Sometimes we have good feelings about it, sometimes not.

Think of it as Christmas when you were a kid. You knew going into it that there were gifts you knew you weren't going to want. Like the matching socks and sweaters from your grandmother. But for one fleeting moment before you tear off the wrapping, there's a chance that what lay underneath was excitement. And sometimes it was. But it was the feeling of anticipation and the process of gift-opening that made your adrenaline rush and carried you through the rest of the day as the grownups sat around exhausted..... That's what I'm talking about.

It's also why I haven't been posting. This could be a yearly phenomenon, so deal with it. I'm out here running around in my pajamas opening up presents of Hot Wheels cars, sweaters, and Legos, all the while I can't wait to take the best of them and play with them the rest of the day.

I will admit it makes me tired some. OK, a lot. I'm 39, and this is my 12th harvest. Not a lot, yet. But I can tell a difference. I still wake up early, too excited to sleep, but I can't go go go like I used to. Ray--my assistant winemaker--is starting to show it, too. When he first showed up here in his late 20s, he used to help with harvest then head to the bars. Now, four years later, it's been a few weeks since he's done that. We all get older, but the feelings for this only get stronger.

I'll do this till I die.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Busy-ness

We pulled in our Chardonnay and Riesling yesterday. Harvest is starting to feel like harvest. Time is of the essence. We still will see this week: Viognier, Merlot, and more Merlot, and more Chardonnay. It's time to stop making sense and make wine.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

This Bizarre Harvest

I realize that I haven't been making wine for as many years as some of my colleagues. Yet, this is definitely the strangest harvest I have seen.

Back in 2003, we just knew it was going to be tough from the get-go. In 2007, we were pretty sure we were on auto-pilot the whole way through. But this year can't seem to make up its mind.

May was the coldest I'd ever seen, and June was one of the wettest. July was schizophrenic, and August saw us finally get some heat. September has us bouncing between monsoons and beautiful fall weather. It's enough to drive me even more insane.

All of this variability has put stress on our vines. We've kept them clean through August, but little spots of downy mildew are creeping in. It's starting to look like a battlefield out there, and the good guys are barely hanging on. Only a few more weeks to go, and I think we'll make it.

Keeping a positive attitude in life is one of the most important things on my priority list. But even now, I still find myself forcing a smile or having thoughts of throwing in the towel. Then, I get little surprises.

We picked some Chardonnay last week, and you know, it's pretty nice stuff. Not great in the numbers department. But the aromatics are very pretty and the juice was sqeaky clean. It'll make a nice Steel Chard.

So, I am still holding out hope that I'll be surprised again. And, hopefully, again and again and again.....

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Life with Giant

Most of you know by now that we have stores-in-stores with Giant. (This is all part of what the PLCB calls an "extension of premises" of our license.) The first one opened in Enola back in November of last year, and the second opened in Mechanicsburg in February of 2009.

I think this model may ultimately be the model for Pennsylvania wineries to promote their products to local communities in the future. Giant grocery stores is a rather large corporate structure, and one that took me a little while to understand when I started working with them. See, I ran away from all things corporate and found refuge in the wine industry. I like flat organizations, and by that I mean small. Corporations, almost by definition, aren't small.

The interesting aspect of Giant is that it thinks very locally as a business. Of course, there's all the standard mass-market items you'd expect to find, but more than that you find locally grown produce and other products. Giant likes to partner with local businesses, and Allegro was just an extension of that idea.

Now, keep in mind that in no way was it a simple extension. Whenever the PLCB becomes involved, the bureaucracy ratchets up. Bottom-line, though, is that everything we did was within the letter of the law, and our license did not come about through any new legisalture. It was mostly brought about by the willingness of the folks at Giant to see things in a new way.

Back in 2005 (I think) we sold wine at a local grocery store in York using a "festival permit." It was a creative way to gain access to grocery store sales, and it worked really well until the PLCB started to deny similar applications in 2006. I approached the local grocery store-to-remain-nameless and told them that all they would need to do is to make an outside entrance in their building for me and I could be their permanently. The manager thought it was a great idea--as all his customers loved it--but the corporate folks at the unnamed store shot it down.

Fast forward a couple of years--and with a forward-looking partner in Giant--and we're selling wine in a grocery store again. Two, in fact, and things are going really well.

It really does come down to who you end up working with. Finding people who are on the same page as you. Giant--the grocery store chain--is an immense corporate structure. That said, it's also filled with people from central PA. These folks understand what central PA is all about. And they've been great to work with.

Thanks for everything, Cheryl, Tracy, Nick, Chantal, and especially Kerry. You all get it.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

It's started...again....

What's strange is that every year before harvest, I worry that I won't be able to make wine this year. That this will be the year that the yeast and grapes don't get along, and I fail miserably. I worry that the wines will taste awful, it'll all be my fault, and I'll have to go back to the real world and a real job.

This happens to me every year. Yes, every year.

So, on Wednesday we started harvesting our grapes. The early varieties (Cayuga and Traminette) were the majority that came in. The Cayuga is destined for our Brogue Blush, and some of the Traminette will end up in a white Nouveau (I think...you heard it hear first, but I might change my mind.) We also brought in our Pinot and Chelois for our regular Nouveau, as well as some Chambourcin for a Rose. (I know what you're thinking, "Rose?" Yes, Rose, damn it. I love the darn stuff. Just like Riesling. And I make what I like, but that's for another post....)

So, after a couple of days of processing fruit and juice, we now have the first wines of the 2009 vintage percolating away in our tanks. And the familiar smell/sensation of CO2 permeates the winery. Aahhh, harvest. As a kid, I used to love the summer, for obvious reasons (no school, sunshine, no school) and didn't like fall (school started) or winter (cold, school still going on) or spring (school). But now summer is just a prelude to fall. Man, I love it.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Harvest is coming......Harvest is coming...

And here it is. Strange, though, because Ray and I looked at each other two weeks ago and told each other, "Sure feels like harvest." By that, we didn't mean the weather. We meant how tired we felt. Not a good sign.

Harvest is what I live for, outside of my family. It's why I am a winemaker. It's when the excitement happens. It's when we make all the decisions that we're going to have to live with intimately for the next 12 months or so, but really for the rest of our lives in one way or another. And what usually happens is that the decisions that really matter come sometime in late October when we're dead tired.

It doesn't seem fair, but it's also the allure that harvest has for me. I use to race hurdles years ago. Sprinters are all about psychology, and like most athletes, they have to believe that they can do things better than others. I's pure competition. It's about raising your self up to a challenge. And what better challenge than to make great wine.

This vintage, 2009, could be a tough one. It's starting out later than normal. But most vintages end at the same point (at the end of October.) What is means is that the same amount of work we get less time to do it in. Not fun. On top of that, this has been a tough year to begin with, and there is a chance that it may finish with the same adversities. Oh, what fun....

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Best Dinner Ever

OK, this one is only in my dreams. But I was thinking the other day as we were bottling our next Bridge that the 2007 vintage was just phenomenal on so many levels. It got me thinking--yes, it was around lunchtime--that a dinner using on 2007 wines is just begging to be created.

I was thinking we could start with our 2007 Fanfare (the Gewurztraminer based wine with a good dose of Reserve Chardonnay in it.) This could go with some harvest style appetizers, and then maybe follow it with the 2007 Bridge and a hearty squash or goulash-style soup course.

Then we could serve Maryland crabcakes with our Reserve Chardonnay, followed by our Riesling and a nice salad with cranberries and goat cheese and walnuts. The main entree would have to be filet mignon covered with a nice reduction sauce with the 2007 Cadenza. Lastly, our 2007 Aria--still in barrels, but we could pull a sample--to go with a key lime creme brulee for dessert.

OK, again, this is only a dream, but a mighty tasty one at that. Anybody know any restaurants our there who are game?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Cadenza, Bridge, and Trio: Three Wines

For the first time ever, Allegro has three reserve reds on the wine list. Here’s a short description of the wines. I have had numerous people ask me about the differences between the wines, so I thought I would write up a short piece trying to start to explain them.....

2005 Cadenza
This is our flagship wine. It was aged two years in French oak barrels and bottled unfiltered. This is meant to be the best wine we can make. When we make Cadenza, it’s not just the best from that vintage, it is a quality level that never changes. The 2005 is only the ninth time in Allegro history that we made a Cadenza. 2007 will be the tenth.
This is a traditional Bordeaux-style red, emulating the best of the St. Emilion or Pomerol regions in the Medoc. It is structured with nice acid and supple tannins. The wine exhibits aromas of dried cherries and leather and spice, and these carry through to the palate. This is a wine that begs to be served with nice beef. It should age gracefully until 2012-2015.

2006 Bridge
Bridge was originally conceived in 2001 as a bridge wine between John’s Cadenza tradition and my own. Now I think of it more as a really good wine, just not quite Cadenza level. Hence the lower price.
It was also aged two years in French oak barrels and bottled unfiltered. This wine has more primary fruit characteristics and a fuller mid-palate. The tannins are still firm, and this wine should peak around 2012-2014, and perhaps live on until 2020.

2007 Trio
This is the collaborative wine that I made with my good friends Brad Knapp (from Pinnacle Ridge) and Joanne Levengood (from Manatawny Creek). If you ever get a chance, please go up and try their wines. They are fantastic winemakers.
This wine came about because I had what I called a “dumb marketing idea.” We always taste each other’s wines each spring, and in 2008, we all realized that we were each sitting on too much great wine. I suggested this collaboration, and it worked out really well.
After getting together a couple times to work on the blend, we settled on a distinctive trio of grapes: Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. Each winery kicked in four barrels. I donated 2 Merlot and 2 Cab Franc barrels to the cause; Joanne added 2 Syrah and 2 Cab Franc; and Brad threw in 2 Syrah and 2 Merlot. We blended the wine up at Joanne’s winery and bottled it there as well.
This wine had a good core of dark fruit with light yet firm tannins. It was aged 18 months in French, Pennsylvania, and Hungarian oak barrels—another “three.” It should age nicely through 2012-2014.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Looking at this Year

We're heading into the middle of August, the grapes are going through veraison--the coloring-- and I've been trying to figure out this growing season in order to be ready far harvest.

I think we've been a little drier than our friends to the east, enough to lower the downy pressure and increase the powdery pressure. I was getting a bit depressed a month or so ago about this season. After the last four years, I know we're due for a bad one, but I kept hoping we would be spared. I started looking at historical weather data from weatherunderground.com for York. (It's not quite Brogue, but close enough.) They even give GDD above 50F.

Here's what I gleaned from doing it. May was our second wettest ever since 1998. June was our coldest. July was drier, but not very warm. But then I noticed we were only 80GDD behind 2005 and 2007 at the end of July. 2004 had more than 250 more GDD than 2007/2005/2009 at this point. I am starting to think that our best years really come down to two things: warm and dry Septembers and dry Octobers. That's really the only pattern I could see.

So, my strategy this year has been to stay clean, open the canopy early, pull out all secondaries early, and hope for a good fall. At least I'm not as depressed as I was. Spraying every 5-6 days is a pain in the butt, though.

The wines should be at least nice, and if Mother nature cooperates at all with us this fall, look out, we could have some beauties.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Brush With The Big Boys

(For those of you that haven't heard it yet, here's the story that first put Allegro on the national map.)

John and Tim Crouch began their respective careers as classically trained musicians. When they entered the wine industry, they brought their interest in music to their winery through its name (Allegro) and the naming of some of the wines. When John created a Seyval Blanc and peach wine blend, he christened it “Opus 1.” Yes, “Opus 1,” just like any composer might.

Now, in the early 1980s, Robert Mondavi and Baron Mouton-Rothschild decided to enter into a partnership as a new winery in Napa, California. Millions were spent on the development of the winery and the vineyards. This “Napamedoc” wine needed a name. They chose “Opus One.” Wouldn’t you know it....

After the big announcement at a press conference, a voice from the back of the country was heard to say, “Ahem. We already are using that name.” (Actually, Jim Laube from Wine Spectator broke the news, and John wrote him a letter explaining the coincidence.) Therewith, a fleet of lawyers was sent to Pennsylvania. A deal was struck. Allegro was not allowed to use the name “Opus One” for any of its wines in exchange for a monetary settlement. Thus came to be the honorary “Opus One Bridge” and “Opus One Corker.” Both are still in operation.

Additionally, it was noted that there was a gentleman's agreement that Mondavi was to come to this small hamlet and taste the wines.

He never showed....

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Some Thoughts on Wine Competitions

When Kris and I came to Allegro, we found a winery that had enormous potential without very much recognition. Kris set herself to the task of making the general public more aware of what Allegro wines were about and basically increasing sales. We both thought that wine competitions were one of the key elements in a good marketing strategy.

Wine competitions exist throughout the world. This is where a select number of people of varying skills sit down and taste and spit innumerable wines in one sitting. At the end, a few wines are deemed unworthy of medals, but usually at least half receive some sort of hardware. The bar is usually not set very high.

I believe the last competition we entered was in 2004. We had had success in many competitions as evidenced by our medals, but I had noticed certain discrepancies. I would enter a wine in one competition and receive a bronze medal. The same wine in a second competition would receive a gold, and then in a third might receive nothing at all (case in point, our 2002 Reserve Chardonnay.) This did not make any sense to me, until I started to learn about how competitions operate (as explained above).

I truly believe that the judges are doing the best they possibly can in their task of judging wines. As a winemaker, I judge wines constantly, and I feel that I am only barely consistent as well. Lately there have been studies proving the inconsistency of wine judging.

Informally, I have noticed that most competitions are not friendly to East coast wines. The big fruit of California wines makes our wines seem small, where instead they are actually more complex and balanced. The wine competitions that are less biased against us seem to favor sweeter wines for the most part.

Medals are a great tool to market wines with. They make it easy to sell wines. Unfortunately I view competitions as one small step removed from gambling. Wineries send the organizers a few bottles of each wine (along with an accompanying $50+ per wine fee) and cross their fingers that they might get lucky. If they don’t, they send it off to another one. Eventually, most wines get medals and keep competitions in business.

From 2004 and moving forward, Allegro does not play this game. Coincidentally, John and Tim before me decided the same thing back in 1990 or so. I should have listened to them better than I did.

On a more philosophical note, I would just like to say that I am not interested in making wines that win competitions. I want to make good bottles of wine. I want to make wine that someone can drink a glass of and be captivated by. So captivated that a second glass is required to satisfy, and even that doesn't do it. One that makes you want to pour some for your friend and fix them a good meal to go with it.

I am not trying to make a sip of wine that tastes good while it’s spit into a dump bucket.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Blog about Comments

Hey, if you're reading this thing because the crap I write actually interests you, then thanks! If you're doing it to kill time, then I can think of a whole lot of better uses than this. Heck, I don't even get a sympathy read out of my own mother for this thing....

But if this stuff does spark some thought in your gray matter, why not make a comment on it? I sometimes feel like I am sending thoughts into the inter-nether-world, until someone prods me with a thought. I know that there are a lot of folks out there who think that the goings on in a winery and vineyard are fascinating. In fact, I'm one of them. It's why I write the blog. (Also as part journal, because my memory's awful.)

And most of the time I don't know what I'm talking about. Of course, that's in the big picture. Most of my colleagues don't know what they're talking about either. I just happen to admit it. The idea of growing grapes and making wine for a living is still kind of crazy. I mean, most of us know how to keep grapes clean and how to run a fermentation. But when it really comes down to making wine, as in directing it to a specific, high-quality end, there's really not much we can do. We're just along for the ride.

I mean, we can force the wine to go down a certain path, but it usually ends up barely resembling wine. Winemakers, in the words of my friend John Crouch, should actually be winesitters. And it's a whole lot easier to sit on something and not do anything than to be proactive. Especially when you're not sure of exactly what you want.

So, there you have it. We make good wine here at Allegro. Some day we'll make great wine. But that'll take years of my connecting the dots between the vintages and figuring out how to finesse the last final details. I'll probably figure it out right as one of my boys tries to kick me out of the driver's seat here.

But I digress. I'd appreciate your off-the-wall comments if you had any.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Thoughts on the 2005 and 2006 reserve red wines we made……

We have been fortunate that since 2005 we have been on a string of nice to great vintages here in Pennsylvania. (I think it may be one reason that I haven’t lost Ray greener pastures—he hasn’t had to experience a 2003 vintage where the wines were tough and the winemaking tougher.) I’ve always thought of Pennsylvania having perhaps 3 tough vintages per decade, maybe four average to good ones, and three great ones.

Here’s how I see the first decade of the millennium stacking up:

2000 – Tough vintage, cool summer, light wines.
2001 – Good hot summer, but early frost (October 8). Good whites, late reds were nice.
2002 – Great summer, rains in late Sept/early Oct. Great whites and early reds, Nice late reds.
2003 – Hardest vintage in 30 years.
2004 – Average vintage, average wines
2005 – Amazing year, amazing wines.
2006 – Very nice year, warm summer, rains. Nice wines.
2007 – Phenomenal vintage, legendary wines across the board.
2008 – Very good year with rains in late Sept/early Oct. Very nice wines.

So far, we have had 3 great vintages, 4 average to good years, and 2 tough ones. If my scale is accurate, we’re in for a rough one in 2009. (As a side note, in the past 15 years, every time we had a bad vintage a Crouch passed away. In 1996 it was Marguerite. In 2000 Tim died, and John died in 2003. Another way to look at it is that perhaps since we’re out of Crouches, the cycle is broken….)

John’s Cadenzas were almost always Cabernet-based. The first Cadenza was Cabernet Franc-based in 1994. His philosophy about Cadenza was that it was the best wine we could make. According to him, it didn’t even matter that the wine wasn’t grown at Allegro, as long as it was great wine. (In fact, I probably should have called the 2002 Reserve Merlot a Cadenza in retrospect.) I have followed John’s thinking by holding Cadenza to a very high standard.

The 2005 Cadenza is about 59% Merlot with less than a third Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest Franc. This is a classically styled Right Bank Bordeaux-inspired wine, heavy on the Merlot and a backbone of Cabernet Sauvignon. The tannins are pretty well integrated and smoothed out at this point. What excites me about this wine are the layers of flavors and depth of the wine. This one speaks to the quality of the vintage by how complex and intriguing it is. You can lose yourself in a glass of this all night.

The 2006 was from a pretty good vintage. The color is great, and the fruit is right up front. The tannins are firm (another sign of a less-than-perfect year.) This wine is about 50% Merlot, with around 35% Cabernet and about 15% Franc. This is a “fruit-forward” wine, and it is extremely hedonistic and charming. What it lacks is complexity and elegance and depth. It’s more one-dimensional.

Both wines have good ageability. The 2005 because of its strength, and the 2006 because of its tannic structure. The 2005 should age gracefully, while hopefully the 2006 still has some fruit when the tannins finally resolve. I firmly believe that great wines age well, and that it’s not necessarily dependent on the grapes involved. Some of the most age-worthy wines in the world are not Cabernet-based. Think of the German Rieslings, the Australian Shirazes. Or Petrus from Pomerol which is 95% Merlot. Or the ’61 Chateau Cheval Blanc (from the movie Sideways) which is 2/3 Cabernet Franc and 1/3 Merlot.

Talking the other day with Ray, we thought about the idea of using the term Bridge like we did in 2001 for the 2006 wine. There’s no doubt in my mind that the 2006 is a very good wine. But it’s more like the 2001 Bridge (which was 2/3 Cabernet and 1/3 Franc) in terms of its quality level. We came up with the name Bridge as a way to talking about a wine (that John and I made collaboratively) as a bridge between his Cadenzas and mine. I am now thinking of Bridge as being a signifier of wines that are very good but not quite Cadenza.

We’ll release the 2006 Bridge at $27 (as opposed to the 2001 Bridge which was $25). We will also have a Cadenza from 2007 (and perhaps a Bridge as well, depending on how the blends work out.) 2008 will have at least a Bridge wine, if not Cadenza.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Winebuilder or Winefarmer

The damnedest things get into my head when I am out spraying the vineyard, and this morning was no different. Some days I get a phrase stuck in my head. Other days I struggle to stay awake (since I usually get up around 4 AM). Once in a while I can't keep John Denver's "Country Roads" from driving me insane.

Today I was thinking about the name for the person who grows grapes. The grape grower. My neighbor calls me the grape farmer. And that's more of what I consider myself. Farmer, in the truest, most honorable usage of the word.

There are some of my colleagues that refer to themselves as winegrowers. I don't have a problem with that, as it does link the idea of what we're doing with the end product. That's really what it's all about.

In France and Germany, they don't really have a word for "winemaker." Their thought is that the wine pretty much makes itself after you've grown it correctly. The person doing the vinification had just better not screw it up. In France, the term is vigneron (as in vignoble for vineyard), and for the Germans it's Weinbauer. The German Wein is, of course, wine.

Bauer has a couple of meanings. The verb bauen means to build. But a Bauer is a farmer. (And the jack in a card deck is also referred to as a Bauer.) So, for the Germans, the person who grows grapes and makes wine is called a winefarmer or winebuilder. I like it.

Like I said, I get the damnedest things in my head when I'm spraying.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Growth with age


OK, maybe not the kind of growth you were expecting. The growth I'm talking about it the growth of micro-flora on the top of the cork that you sometimes find on wine bottles. This usually occurs after some period of aging in a dank, dark cellar. This, by the way, is the recommended storage condition for wine. It creates havoc on the labels, but remember, you're not drinking the label.

This has been a wet year for us so far, and the Allegro cellar is showing it. Our roof is leaking in a couple spots--we're putting a new roof on this year--and the fact that we're underground has added to the humidity level in the cellar. If relative humidity could go past 100%, we'd be there.

There are positive side effects to all the moisture. First and foremost is the fact that our barrels don't evaporate off as much wine and hence don't need to be topped as much. (In some wineries, topping of barrels occurs every couple weeks. So far this year, I think we've topped three times.) The wetness also adds to the typical "cellar aromas" you get when you walk into our place. The place smells like a winery. And that character comes out in our wines at some level. I like it.

But the downside of all this is the aesthetics. We sometimes get mold growth on the tops of our corks. It doesn't happen uniformly across all bottles. Some wines never show it. But some do, and this is disconcerting to some customers in this age of blatant sterility. Keep in mind that you're not drinking the cork, you're drinking the wine. If the wine tastes good, then it is good. Simple as that.

Back in 2002, John wanted to open a 1983 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon for me. He pulled the bottle out, and as he started to remove the cork, we noticed what terrible shape it was in. Moldy and black and wet. And it smelled. Bad. He was about to go dump it out, when I asked that we at least put a little in a glass to get a sense of the wine. Heck, it was almost 20 years old and deserved at least that.

Turned out the wine was a beauty. Totally surprised us both. One of my more remarkable wine-drinking experiences. It just goes to show, you can't just a wine by its label. Or its cork, for that matter.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Wine and Hot Weather

OK, so here's the converse of what most people ask me about wine. ("What do people usually ask you about wine, Carl?" "Well, they usually ask me if it'll age and when they should drink it." "And what are you going to tell us that's different?" "Something different, I think.")

So, we all kind of know that for wine to age, it should be stored on its side--if it's a natural cork--and in a cool and stable place. I just wanted to put out a quick post about the heat we have in the summer. In case anyone was in doubt, heat is bad.

What we see happening from time to time in the summer is that someone will bring a bottle of wine back to us and claim it doesn't taste very good. We'll taste it and agree. It's usually very sharp-tasting. We agree to replace the bottle, and then after a little conversation we realize that the person left the bottle in their car in the middle of the day in the summertime.

What's happened is that the wine has oxidized due to the high heat it experienced. The hotter wine gets, the faster it ages. And it's an exponential factor. A couple hours at 100F kills any wine. A few minutes at lesser temperatures damages them beyond recognition. It's the whole reason we tell people to age their wine at a constant temperature in a cool dark place. That way we can avoid all this.

Sometimes there are tell-tale signs. Like the cork is pushed out. Or the wine has leaked past the cork. Or the bottle is so hot you can't touch it. Most times, you find the bottle after it has cooled down. You chill it in your fridge, pop the cork, and think, man, this isn't what I was expecting. At that moment, try to think back on the history of that bottle. Just don't tell me about it. It's too sad to bear.....

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Post-Bloom

This is the time of year when I start to see fruit in the vineyard and get greedy. I start to think about all the barrels of wine we have sitting out there, and I can't wait to get them in to the winery. Of course, it's not that easy.

The berries have set, and most are between BB-size and pea-size. Here's an idea of what they look like. A few more weeks from now and we'll be past the critical stage of fruit development as far as disease concerns go. This spring has produced some of the most intense disease pressure I have seen. The only thing in our favor has been the fact that all the moisture was coupled with cooler temperatures which kept the vine growth a little in check. This meant that the vines weren't outgrowing the fungicide sprays we were putting on them.

Bottom-line for this climate is that we can't grow grapes organically. Perhaps more accurately, we can't grow them organically on a successful, commercial scale. I really wish we could. Nobody I have ever met has ever said that they would prefer conventional farming to organic. Fungicide sprays are expensive, time-consuming, not always environmentally-friendly (although we all do our best), and not completely reliable.

If you look closely at the picture, you can see some spray residue on the leaves and the grapes themselves. This is mostly sulfur (an organic fungicide) that I use to fight off powdery mildew in our vineyard. The grapes are Chardonnay, and in 2006 I lost two-thirds of my crop to this fungus. I am religious now about keeping vigilant against these mildews. I have become the nozzle-head with tractor-butt, but my grapes are clean. So far.

Naturally, anything can go wrong. Best laid plans of mice and men, etc. What happened for me in 2006 was that I could go back and look at the history and say, yes, I did work really hard at disease-prevention, but I didn't work hard enough at it. These days, I take no prisoners. It's always the things you can't see that tend to bite you in the ass, and it's hard to see microscopic bad guys. I'm out there every 6-7 days for until we're past the critical time for the fruit.

It's the dream of barrels of Allegro wine sitting in our cellar next fall that gets me out of bed before 4 AM to put on the sprays that let me sleep till 6 AM the other days. And as I try to stay awake on the tractor in my Tychem suit, I also dream about the future when none of this is necessary. When we've mapped the grape genome and have been able to breed mildew resistance into our European grape varieties. That'll be the day....

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Weather Data

The other night as we were finishing off some wines, I started thinking about the unbelievable weather we had been having. I started checking my favorite weather site for historical data (Weather Underground). 2009 so far has been pretty wet, and I wanted to see how we were faring against a couple of other wet years.

In the past decade or so, we have had a couple years that really standout insofar as making grapegrowing difficult. 2004 was really tough, and 2003 was even harder. I learned more about winemaking in both of those years than I thought I could. Some things I wish I never have to learn again. Like how to slog through bottling wine that doesn't excite me. That's still one I haven't learned.

So, I took a look at the months of May and June for 2009 and 2003 and 2004. In very rough, broad strokes, we're not doing well. We are just as wet as 2003 and 2004, and even colder (as measured by maximum temperatures and mean temperatures.) This does not bode well. But I will say, I learned a lot about disease control, and so far we are very clean in our three vineyards, as opposed to 2003 when I had downy mildew outbreaks everywhere.

Now, 2003 and 2004 ended pretty poorly as well. We had a total combined days over 90F of 3 (yes, three.) It was cool and rainy and overcast throughout. We still have a chance in 2009, as we still don't know what July and August and harvest hold for us yet. If we do the right rain dances, perhaps we can pull out a good year yet. I'll just try not to get too depressed just right now.....

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Cult of the Winemaker

I just noticed something crazy. It's Saturday morning, and I thought I'd get a few computer things done before going down to the winery to rack a wine from wine tank to another. I checked our Facebook page (that I think we started about two months ago.) I try to put some little one sentence blurb on it every day or two, just to let folks know we're alive and that we do stuff here even when you're not drinking any of our wine.

So, I noticed we just clicked over a hundred fans..... In two months. Without even trying. I knew how viral this social networking one, but for crying out loud, we're not even trying. What amazes me is that folks find some of the stuff interesting. Ok, admittedly, I am really not sure what folks on Facebook want from a fan page. I do know this: they probably don't want boring, long-winded descriptions of petiole analyses and the benefits of leaf-pulling and its subsequent impact on fruit-bud initiation for the following season.

They are probably wine drinkers. And, more than that, they seem to be predominantly female. Female probably younger than me (which is strange, because I'm not 40 yet.) This is where I run into a problem that I wish people would explain to me. What do people want from Facebook?

These days I am realizing more and more something that I remember figuring out years ago. I remember back when I was about 24 years old, I went to my first winery tasting room. (It happened to be Kolln Vineyards up outside of State College, PA.) I remember talking to Jack Kolln, hoping he would show me around the tank room I could see over his shoulder. Nothing doing. But I still remember my fascination with they guy who made this beverage.

Years later, at Mount Nittany, I would realize that--even though I was pretty clueless about winemaking at the time--people would listen to everything I said. And not only that, I knew that my small amount of knowledge was already much more than they had. The folks that came to tasting roooms wanted to know more about the specific bottle of wine they were tasting. And they really wanted to hear it from the person who had made the wine.

Having been in the industry for as long as I have, this day-to-dayness is all very mundane. But every once in a while, I meet someone who really has this fascination with winemaking and who we are. Years ago, I started referring to it as the "Cult of the Winemaker". It really doesn't have much to do with who I am, what my personality is or where I'm from. It has solely to do with the fact that I create this symbiotic relationship between people and grapes and alcohol. Every winemaker carries this sign that says, "I make wine." And people associate their good feelings from and about wine with this person. It sounds a little crazy, but every time I meet someone new I try not to let people know what I do. If they find out, that's all they can talk to me about. It's crazy behavior.

Maybe I should run for political office with all this......

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Overwhelming.....

I knew it would happen. I got caught up in the details of the every day and let numerous days slide by without a post. Of course, it wasn't just any old detail, but Split Rock.

I've been pouring wine there since 1999 back when I was with Mount Nittany. Just the name "Split Rock" makes me tired. Don't get me wrong, it's hard to beat any weekend anywhere for the sales we make there. It's mind-boggling how much wine we sell in twelve hours. It takes a couple days to gear up for it every day (load-up and load-in), and a couple days to put everything away. But for six days of effort, we move huge amounts of wine and win innumerable new converts to Allegro.

Granted, we sell mostly sweet wines to lots of sweeties. But let's not lose sight of what wineries are around for. It's not for making wine. Wineries only exist to sell wine. Winemakers make wine, and wineries sell wine. The two do meet from time to time. I have ongoing arguments in my head almost daily when the two don't see eye to eye. Luckily for me, the winemaker wins on the dry wines, and the winery wins on the sweets. And it's the sweets that keep our lights on and pay for the French barrels and low yields in the vineyard.

So, we survived another Split Rock Wine Festival. As the years go by, either I am getting numb to it, or the festival is getting tamer. I remember years ago that there were way too many people falling over and sirens in the distance. This year, we only had to flag one group. It's hardly Split Rock anymore. Maybe Pennsylvania wine drinkers are growing up. One thing's for sure, they're buying more wine than ever. Even in this economy, we sold almost as much as last year. Imagine that. I'd like to think it has something to do with the wine quality we put into each and every bottle of Allegro wine, from the dry wines to the sweets.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Opening in the Rain

I think every vineyard in this part of the world was getting sprayed this weekend.  After what seemed like a week of wet weather, the skies cleared on Saturday, and for those of us who struggle with Mother Nature (the good and the bad), we go on it in a big way.  I sleep a whole lot better knowing there's a dose of protection out in the vineyard keeping our future glasses of wine healthy.

It's been a real juggling act this spring in our vineyards.  I decided to run a third vineyard near Stewartstown.  This is the source of some of the best Cabernet Franc we've had since 2001.  The Franc has ended up in our 2001 Bridge, 2002 Proprietor's Red, 2005 Cadenza, 2006 Bridge, and 2007's Cadenza and Bridge.  Driving up to it, it's obviously not the most ideal site for a vineyard.  It sits rather low near surrounding hills, and it stays shaded through some of the earliest mornings sunrises.  But it does create nice wines for us.  

Trying to balance that vineyard with James (that we are now managing for the third or fourth year) and our own home vineyard has been akin to mental gymnastics.  It's been tough staying in touch with all three places, and making sure tasks are done properly in timely manners.  Luckily I have had four guys (Matt, Steve, Eric, and Levi) who have kept up with all my instructions.  We're almost halfway through the major work for the summer, and things look pretty good out there.

Our reds (across the board) have set too many clusters.  After leaf-pulling in a couple weeks, we'll go through and drop the extra clusters.  The Merlot, Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon have all put on too many third clusters on their canes.  These will never ripen and will cause the other clusters to not ripen sufficiently.  It's never easy to go through a vineyard and drop fruit, but it has to happen to make the wines we want to make.  Every cluster is a couple glasses of wine, and we probably are carrying hundreds of extra ones this year. 

But, if this year keeps up the way it started, we need to lighten our load.  We need some sunshine.  And lots of heat.  Start doing your No Rain Dances.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

My Philosophy of the Art of Winemaking....Part One......Section B

There are some in the wine world that wax poetic about the artistic side of winemaking. These are usually the enologists who are hired to make "masterful blends" for wineries around the world. A lot of times, they are the owners who come and sit in on blending sessions prior to bottling. I'll give them that those take skill and that there's a sense of art to them. But for me it goes a little bit in a different direction.

At one point, while reading a wine magazine, I read some importer describing the wines in his book as being made by winemakers who drive tractors not Jaguars. That's what I am. I drive a tractor and dump lugs. As do the people I surround myself with. And this is key to what I think winemaking is about.

There is definitely art in the glass. A sense of quality that happens in the interaction between the wine and the winedrinker (and perhaps the winedrinker's surroundings.) It takes a winedrinker in the act of drinking wine to sense that there is quality in the glass (or a lack of quality.) It's my opinion that art leads to this quality.

The word "art" comes from the Greek, I believe. "Arete" is a sense of goodness reached by "techne" (loosely translated as skill.) Through a technical ability, something good is created. This is art. And, for the Greeks, there was the addition of the divine. An inspiration that occurred, that could usurp techne and lead to even greater goodness.

After reading way too much Plato, I realized that Quality (with a capital "Q") that can be found in art is probably just as much a result of the process as it is the end product. Sure we like to drink the glass of wine. But sometimes knowing where the glass of wine came from and how we struggled to make it sometimes makes it taste better still.

Our winemaking here at Allegro is driven by my need to make better wine. In order to get there, we change our process constantly. And hopefully it shows in the glass.

My Philosophy of the Art of Winemaking....Part One......Section A

This is a sizeable topic, and I expect it'll take many years for me to finish it out. But for now, having been making wines for over a decade, I am starting to understand why I am a winemaker.

I come from a family of artists. Most of them disgruntled for one reason or another. One left his home country of Sweden. One became an engineer. My brother is a story unto himself. Each one of us seems to have been firstly hindered by a commitment to a certain medium. Pen-and-ink, oil, watercolor, ceramics, motorcycles, woodworking.

I don't draw. Doesn't mean I can't. But I never spent the effort and put in the time to learn how. But I did know how to drink. As a teenager, you go through all sorts of phases, most of them preoccupied with quantity rather than quality. But somehow early on I was attracted to the taste of really good beer. I started homebrewing when I was 23, with many failed batches of pilsners, IPAs, and meads to learn from. All homebrewers--if you didn't know it already--will drink just about anything. And I was a homebrewer, I had paid good money for that barley and hops, and damn it, it was going to be drunk.

Unfortunately, my palate couldn't handle it after a while.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Next Big Reds

I had the most enjoyable experience last week in the winery.  Ray and realized that we needed to finalize the blends for our 2007 reds.  This is probably one of the few tasks that makes winemaking really worth its while.

It used to be that I described winemaking as 95% janitorial and 5% artistic.  Most days winemaking to me meant sanitizing equipment so I could make a mess with it and then cleaning up afterwards.  It's still all that.  The only thing that's changed is that Ray is the responsible janitor now... I mean, assistant winemaker.  These days, I get stuck managing retail locations, looking at spreadsheets and writing emails more than anything else.

The one thing I won't give up is harvest, though.  There's nothing like getting up in the morning for two months straight and trying to create the best damn wine humanly possible, fighting the elements, Mother Nature, fatigue, and my own stupidity sometimes.  Slightly insane, but if I let you know that I used to run cross-country it probably all makes sense.  (In a similar vein, Ray is a soccer player.....)

So, tasting through the hard work from almost two years ago was immensely satisfying.  Ray said, "You know, we can't go wrong with any of this."  And he's right.  These 2007s are special.  It'll be a while before we see wines like this again.  (I hope not, but that's probably reality.)  We have twelve barrels that we saved out from 2007 to take for a second year in oak.  And from that lot, we developed two blends.  We'll have a Cadenza and a Bridge blend, both of which are going to be impressive in their own respects.  

This will be the third year for Bridge.  What started out in 2001 as a "bridge-wine" between John's tradition of Cadenza and mine had now turned into something akin to a Bordeaux second-label wine.  

The Cadenza we put together is one of the richest wines I think we've ever had here at Allegro.  It's heavy on the Merlot, but with good structure.  It should remind people a bit of the 2002 Reserve Merlot hopefully.

All in all, those kind of days are what making being a winemaker worthwhile.  And luckily we'll get to share the fruits of these labors for the next dozen years or so.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Rain

The past four or five days, the weather forecast has been for rain and thunderstorms. So far, I think we're at about 20% accuracy. It made for a nicer-than-expected Memorial day weekend, but it sure makes it difficult to plan our week.

We were hoping to get some work done in our home vineyard and a spray on Stewart vineyard, but the weather messed up both plans. We'll re-adjust and try again tomorrow.

Lots of wine work being done this week, as Ray preps the Forte, Chardonnay, and Red Lion Red for next week's bottling. We'll also taste through the 2007s and put together final blends to be bottled in the next couple months. This is where the last couple years' wait finally pays off, and we get to taste these wonderful wines and create something memorable. Something definitely to look forward to.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Suckering

We working on our weed control in the vineyard these days. We have had a nice spring with some good rain events. The heat has made the shoots really take off, and with that the weeds are going like gangbusters. Remember what weeds are: they're just plants that aren't growing in the places we want them to.

A couple well-timed, soft herbicide applications will make it so our vines aren't competing for essential nitrogen and nutrients. Our newly planted vines will appreciate the help as well. We try to make as few applications of herbicide as we possibly can. We're running a vineyard here, not a golf course. There needs to be a balance to everything, and monocultures aren't sustainable.

There are some folks who do cover crops right under their vines to control vigor. These are usually some types of grasses, and they're used in vineyards where there is an over-abundance of nutrition for the vines. This is not something we struggle with at Allegro. Sometimes we struggle with getting the vines just to survive.

In order to apply our herbicide, we usually do what's called suckering. It's not a fun task. Back-breaking is more like it. It involves removing all the shoots that are budding out along the trunks of the vines. Some vines will throw over a dozen shoots out, and these need to be removed before we spray. If you've ever done one thousand deep kneebends in a day, then you know what it's like. Any volunteers?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Barrel Work

This time of year is when I start to notice that harvest is coming up. I'll be out in the vineyard thinking vineyard things, admiring the new shoots with baby grape clusters on them, thinking of how to protect them.

Then it hits me that what I am looking at is future wine. Wine that's going to need a home in just three short months. And then I think of our full cellar. That's when I go talk to Ray and say "Let's bottle a lot next week."

The idea for Allegro is that we get all of our tanks emptied by the beginning of June. Now, we've never done that. But that's the idea. I'm full of unattainable goals. That's what keeps me on this earth.

My guess now is that we'll have everything bottled by the first week of June, which is probably the best we've ever done. Starting in June, we can start putting together our dry reds and bottling Aria as well. This is always the most enjoyable time of the year, especially since the past few vintages have been so nice. I've always described winemaking as 98% janitorial and 2% artistic. This is when we get to do the 2%.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Next Steps

Our vineyard year is starting to settle into its very familiar pattern. The vines are almost all shoot-thinned. For some of the vines, this isn't required. But for most vinifera, we like to go through and do the second crop adjustment at this time by eliminating the extra shoots found on some vines.

Our vineyard is trained to the VSP trellis sysem (stands for Vertical Shoot Position). During the dormant period for the vines (winter) we take two canes from the previous year's growth and (removing all other canes) attach these to the fruiting wire in opposite directions. From each node on the canes, a shoot bursts forth the following spring. Sometimes the nodes (buds) are not fruitful (water shoots) and other times they're completely dead. Once in a while they throw out two canes per bud.

We usually make a few passes through the vineyard (especially in the Chardonnay) to make sure we have about one shoot for every three inches. This will makes for more even ripening and also a more open canopy in the summer (leading to less disease pressure.)

Never let anyone tell you that that wine is a natural product. It is something that is shaped from the very beginning. We start in the winter bending the vine to our will, and in the winery we shape the wine to the best of our abilities. Without human involvement, there wouldn't even be vinegar.

That said, we try to respect what Mother Nature gives us every year. We can't make good wine from bad grapes, and you can't make Cabernet Sauvignon from Cabernet Franc. But without us, wine would not happen, and that's not natural.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Strange Weather

It was supposed to be rainy yesterday. Well, it did rain some. But not as much as was predicted. They're calling for more today. We'll see what we actually get, as this little plot of land seems to miss the worst of the storms. I personally think that the forecasts are being thrown off more and more as climate change kicks in and the past computer models don't hold as true as they once did.

We're finally able to settle into a cycle in the vineyard. The planting is over, and Eric put the last of the grow tubes on last night. Most everything is shoot-thinned as well. We're doing a few trellis maintenance things, and then we're waiting for the canes to get longer. Next up is moving catch-wires on our VSP trellis and pulling leaves.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Little Details

Having adjusted to the near-term goal of having new vines in the ground, I realized I had to let my psyche know that we still had more to go. We composted the new vines on Saturday to give them a good start in this tough place called Allegro. (There's some irony in the fact that we have difficulty establishing young vines in a place we describe as "lively" in Italian.) This week we'll be about the business of putting grow tubes on them. The grow tubes act like single greenhouses for the vines, encouraging upward growth. We usually keep the grow tubes on them for the first two years in the vineyard. By year three the vines trunks are usually pretty well established, but we'll still leave the steel pencil rods in place to keep the vine trunk as straight as we can.

Some of the established vines are in need of suckering at this point. Most vines (until they're pretty old) tend to send out shoots along the existing trunk. These are removed manually every year to keep the vine from using extra energy in a fruitless direction. We'll start suckering the vines this week as well.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The End of Planting...for now

Thanks to Ray and Levi, the planting of the vines for 2009 was finished yesterday. It took longer--and was a lot harder--than I remembered. I always like having planted, but the actual act of planting--after the inaugural vine--is physically punishing. Many thanks as well to Steve, Janna, Eric, and Anthony who helped with the rest of the replants.

We still have more plant next year. The Merlot needs two more rounds of replants (the next of which will do in 2010), and the Chardonnay and Cabernet still need one more round. We should be getting about a half barrel more Cab and a full barrel more Chard in 2010 from our 2008 replants. 2011 should see us with an additional barrel of Chard and barrel and a half of Cab.

In the meantime, we are going to get these young vines composted today. This week we'll be about getting grow tubes on the vines (held in place by pencil rods.) And, of course, shoot-thinning everything.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Cabernet Down, Merlot to go...

We finished planting the Cabernet Sauvignon yesterday and started filling in the Merlot with new vines. The Merlot is planted up in what we call Block 5. (There used to be five vineyard blocks at Allegro--now there's only three.) The soil up there (at the furthest west and highest point in the vineyard) is much rockier (as Ray can attest to after digging holes for vines.) The Cabernet and Chard blocks had occasional rocks we had to deal with in the vine holes, but the Merlot field seems to be littered with them.

We took part in a vineyard soils workshop put on by Mark Chien (the state extension agent for winegrapes) in the summer of 2007. Paul Anamosa was the main presenter at for the two days of classes. We dug soil pits in two places in the property and were able to see some of the structure beneath our feet. I think we should have dug a third one, because of what we're seeing up in the Merlot holes. Turns out there's good reasons for why I like our grapes so much here at Allegro. We have a schisty/silty soil with lots of clay pockets, large amounts of iron in spots, and amazing drainage. The pits were six feet deep, and we didn't encounter any sort of hardpan or oher impediment to drainage. The expert from Napa thought these were good soils.

John and I talked numerous times about what makes Allegro different from most places. It was usually after a long day of work and involved a pizza and a couple bottles of Cadenza. He would throw out different ideas about the "poor soils" (for normal agriculture, meaning good for grapes), the southern slope, the airflow (or "winds of Broguandy" as he would call them), and the longer growing season (for Pennsylvania). After making wine here for twenty years, he still didn't know why Bacchus had smiled on this little plot of land. But smile he did. And so do we....

Thursday, May 7, 2009

More Planting

Yesterday was a bit easier on us here. I was able to get our first fungicide spray on the vines to start protecting them from the five major diseases we have here in the East. We also got caught up in a couple of our other vineyards as well.

This year we are once again running James Vineyard over in New Bridgeville. It's about a 2.5 acre vineyard planted to hybrids. Mostly Chambourcin and Cayuga, with some Traminette and a little Chelois. We use the Chambourcin for our Forte and dry red, the Cayuga goes into our Brogue Blush, and the Traminette is for our Serenade. The Chelois is usually part of our Nouveau. This is our third year managing this place.

For the first time, we are going to manage part of Stewart Vineyard. This has been the source for the Cabernet Franc that is usually blended into our Reserve wines or Claret depending on the year. The vineyard is about 2.5 acres as well (bringing our total up to about 11 acres) and is comprised of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay. With more Chardonnay at our disposal, we'll probably try another shot at our Steel Chardonnay in 2009. (I know, I said I'd never make it again, but that's what I do...I change my mind...constantly....just ask Ray.)

Today we're going to finish planting our Cabernet Sauvignon I hope. The weather looks like it may cooperate. We'll see.....

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Planting, Take 3

We did get more vines in the ground yesterday, with still a bit to go. The weather held off, which was nice. I was amazed to see how many earthworms we had in each hole. It was a good sign of the life coming back to these soils. We've done two compost additions in the past four years and that must be most of the difference. The vines are starting to show better health as well, although we still have some soil micronutrient issues to address at some point.

Had a wonderful time with Mark Chien (the state viticulturist) and Nelson and George. Worked our way through the barreled wines. It's always a pleasure and a great learning experience to taste wines with such knowledgeable people with such good palates. Having different peope to bounce ideas off of is what makes winemaking and grapegrowing such a collaborative effort and such a great community to be in.

I'm going to try to sneak in my first fungicide spray in today between the raindrops. Then we'll go back to planting tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

More Planting/Less Rain

We're going to try again today. We got some vines in the ground yesterday (just shy of 200) before the rain kicked in too hard. When your gloves fall off due to the weight of the mud on them--it wasn't "soil" or "dirt" any longer--then it's raining too hard. It's supposed to only drizzle once today, so we should be able to get most of the Cabernet replants done.

What we're doing is replanting the empty spots we have in a few vineyard blocks due to to accumulated mortality of the past 30-some years. Replanting is one of the hardest tasks to do in the vineyard. The vine that died probably died for a good reason, and we're trying to put another vine in its place and hope for the best. Odds are good that the same thing that took out the first vine will take out the second. Of course, if it doesn't, then we're ahead. It makes me feel a little like the mythical Sisyphus pushing the stone up the mountain and having it roll back down again.

And, of course, you can't mechanize any part of it. It's just us and a shovel and the dirt and the vines and on our knees. Over and over again. Makes me remember why I didn't want to get older...

Monday, May 4, 2009

Planting

We're going to try to get some vines in the ground today. This old vineyard is comprised of three different blocks, two of them still containing original vines going back to the initial planting in 1973 (the Chardonnay and the Cabernet Sauvignon). We believe these are the oldest commercial plantings of these varieties in Pennsylvania still producing. That said, the block is nowhere near 100% made up of vines that are that old.

Vines have a lifespan of 20-30 some years usually (under normal conditions.) In unusual cases, they can go past 100 years. But Pennsylvania isn't normal (for more reasons than just weather), so individual vines tend to die out from time-to-time. This calls for replanting those spots. This is what we're up to this week.

Our vineyard was originally planted with twelve foot rows and eight feet between vines. Pretty standard California spacing from the 1970s. This comes to about 454 vines per acre. These days, the thinking is that denser is better for wine quality, so I decided last year that we needed to plant vines in between each of the older ones. We started that project then, and we're trying to finish it now.

On Saturday, four of us planted 250 Chardonnay vines. The goal was for even more yesterday, but the rain changed those plans. We're trying again today with the Cabernet Sauvignon. Wish us luck....

Sunday, May 3, 2009

No promises.....

I've always thought a blog would be the best way for me to work out some of my day-to-day issues at Allegro, as well as keeping some of the few folks who are interested in keeping in the loop about what we're doing. We just started a FaceBook page, and I started putting up a few posts there, but that doesn't seem to be the right outlet for most of my ramblings.

I'm pretty good at writing a few sentences periodically about what we're doing. Extended blogs are probably not quite up my alley, but we'll see what happens. So, no promises, but here goes.....