Summer brings the weather that tells the story of the vintage. The rain that we had on the 23rd and 24th of June is the kind of event that people will talk about if molds and mildews become an issue on the grapes and in the wine. It is too early to tell at this point and too early to worry, unless you worry all the time. If you are a worrier maybe grape growing is not a good career choice.
In the cellar however, our hands are full preparing wine to bottle. In a perfect world we would finish bottling and have an empty winery the day before the first grapes of the new vintage arrive, and thus begin filling everything back up.
We are not so lucky.
As of the end of July we have 47,000 cases of Chardonnay and 55,000 cases of Pinot Noir to bottle this summer. To convert to gallons multiply by 2.37753. We make a Reserve, a Sonoma County, and a California version of virtually every variety of wine we make. Each of these different blends gets a different label and each has a different audience.
The Reserve wines we would like to see sold by the bottle in the best restaurants. The Sonoma County wines comprise 90 percent of the wines we make and are the Kenwood wines that people find in grocery stores and wine shops all over the United States. The California appellations are labeled Yulupa and are designed to be poured by the glass in restaurants at a moderate price. Each of these products is referred to in marketing as a “skew.” We currently produce 35 (or so) skews.
In winemaking the art of blending is key. Each of these products is subject to specific laws.
All varietal wines must be composed of at least 75 percent of the grape variety on the label. Sonoma County labeled wines must also be 75 percent from Sonoma County. The wine must also be 85 percent within the vintage on the label. With this in mind, we begin our blending from the top. We keep all wine lots separate through wine fermentation and aging. In other words, a day’s pick from one vineyard is kept separate. It is tasted for its place in a skew after aging.
When all the possible lots are tasted and rated, we blend the reserves first, as they get the first pick. Then the Sonoma wines are blended from what is left, and the Yulupa wines are blended from what is left after that. So we are in various stages of blending and bottling the last 102,000 cases. There will be a period when we are both bottling wine as well as crushing grapes.
It is not a perfect world. But I’m not worried. Honest.
Mark Stupich is Cellar Master & Winemaker, Kenwood Vineyards