Winery Blog

 
 
 
The very words “Thanksgiving dinner” can cause the pulse of even the most experienced entertainers to quicken a bit. It’s the official start of most important entertaining events of the year, which involve many decisions from guest list, to wine pairings, to table décor. And then learning that one of your guests has a particular dietary restriction can send some hosts into a near panic.
 
But not to worry – with a little planning, cooking for people with different eating styles doesn’t have to be complicated. To make your holiday dinner planning easier, we reached out to three experts in Paleo, gluten-free and vegan cuisine for guidance and inspiration on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s menus paired with Arrowood wine.
 

Paleo Thanksgiving Dinner

 
What it is: The Paleo diet (short for Paleolithic) cuts out processed foods, along with grains and dairy, and added sugars, which can cause inflammation.
Expert: Tanya Holland, an Oakland chef, restaurateur and author of Brown Sugar Kitchen: New Style Down Home Recipes from Sweet West Oakland (Chronicle Books, 2014),
Menu: Smoked turkey with cranberry apple relish, collard greens, green beans with sesame seed dressing, sweet potato wedges and smoked yams with coconut butter.
 
 
If you haven’t heard of chef Tanya Holland and her lighter-than-air waffles that inspire people to line up outside her restaurant, you will soon. The chef is one of the cheftestants competing in the next season of Top Chef  which debuts December 7.
 
“My cuisine is very elegant, and refined comfort food with great quality ingredients,” says Holland. “It’s very simple and accessible.” The centerpiece of her Thanksgiving menu is organic turkey, brined with salt and then smoked. But it doesn’t have to be a 12-pound bird; Holland loves cooking a turkey leg or breast if she’s cooking an intimate dinner. A no-sugar added cranberry apple relish makes a naturally sweet-tart accompaniment to the turkey.
 
Her go-to Thanksgiving wine pairing is a softer red, such as merlot or a red blend. “I would pick a merlot over cabernet sauvignon because it’s softer and more food friendly,” says Holland. “A merlot-dominant red blend would be nice too.”
For a Paleo feast, Holland would pair her turkey with a cornucopia of vegetable-based side dishes.
 
“Collard greens are really great,” she says.  “And I don’t put any fat in my collard greens except for olive oil.” And as she explains in her book Brown Sugar Kitchen, sautéing red onion, fresh garlic and chili flakes first help give the greens a flavorful foundation. Another go-to side is her roasted green beans with sesame-seed dressing.
 
Baked sweet potato wedges, tossed in olive oil with Kosher salt and Creole spices and then baked makes a family friendly side. Or for a richer dish, she likes smoked yams with coconut butter and a drizzle of maple syrup. The warm spices, and the hint of natural sweetness, make the yams a great match for lush wine like Viognier, which has its own spice notes.
 
Vegan Christmas Dinner
 
What it is: People on a vegan diet eat only plant-based foods, avoiding anything that comes from animals, including butter and honey.
Expert: Toni Okamoto, author of The Super Easy Vegan Slow Cooker Cookbook (Callisto, $12.71) and hostess of Plant Based on a Budget
Menu: Turkey field roast, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing with mushroom and faux sausage, stuffed squash with wild rice and cranberries and chocolate pie.
 
 
Some people see eating a plant-based diet as restrictive, but Toni Okamoto says that becoming vegan opened her up to a whole new world of cuisine.  Growing up, she and her parents ate a typical American diet where the most exotic foods were Mexican, Chinese and Italian cuisine.
 
“Becoming vegan, I discovered a lot more variety,” says Okamoto, who’s based in Sacramento, California. “Learning to cook plant-based opened me up to Ethiopian, Vietnamese and Indian, which are very vegan-friendly cuisines.”
 
But even if you’re not that adventurous it’s OK, since there are so many commercial foods that cater to vegans these days. For a Christmas main course, Okamoto suggests Tofurkey – like it sounds, it’s tofu reminiscent of roasted turkey. Another popular choice is a Field Roast, a grain-based meat substitute in the shape of a roast. The earthy flavors in the wild mushroom or lentil sage roasts make them a fine pairing for the notes of red fruit, anise and roasted coffee in the Arrowood Sonoma Valley Cab.
 
Using nut milks, vegetable broth and plant-based butters, she says it’s easy to create a range of satisfying sides from mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes and squash stuffed with wild rice and cranberries. And high-quality vegan sausages —often made with pea protein—add flavor and texture to her mushroom stuffing.  The lighter flavors in most vegetable dishes, especially green ones, are well-paired with a refreshing wine like sauvignon blanc.
 
Gluten-Free New Year’s Eve Party
 
What it is: People on a gluten-free diet avoid all wheat products including flour, pasta, and traditional breads.
Expert: Chef Isabel Cruz, owner of The Coffee Cup in La Jolla, California and author of the upcoming book The Latin Table from SkyHorse Publishing
Menu: Taco bar with roasted pork and roasted chicken, mini corn tortillas, avocado tomatillo salsa, red tomato salsa, black beans, rice and crispy plantains with chipotle dip, flourless chocolate ginger cake.
 
 
Growing up in Los Angeles, chef Isabel Cruz explored all kind of exciting flavors, from her family’s Puerto Rican and Peruvian dishes, to the Chinese food her friends ate.  Cruz turned those early food experiences into the novel cuisine that riffs on Latin and Asian flavors at her restaurants.
Hard at work on her new cookbook The Latin Table due in Spring 2018, Cruz says she gets lots of requests for gluten-free dishes at her restaurants. But it’s easy for her to keep these diners happy.
 
“People are surprised when they discover that Latin cuisine makes it easy to be gluten-free,” says Cruz. “We don’t use a lot of flour; we eat more rice and beans and vegetables on the side.”
 
But what makes Cruz’s cuisine special is the way she takes those simple foods like rice, beans, vegetables and proteins, and makes them exciting with different chilies, sauces and salsas.
 
That’s the idea behind her taco bar for New Year’s Eve entertaining. It couldn’t be easier to host a party this way, since guests make their own DIY tacos.
 
Start by choosing taco fillings according to your own tastes. Roasted pork shoulder is rich and satisfying and a perfect match with Malbec, which has a lot of fruit flavors accented by spice and cocoa notes. Her other go-to meat is roasted chicken pulled off the bones, which is ideal with a rich white, like the Arrowood Carneros Chardonnay. She also sautés a big pan of veggies like eggplant, black kale, tomatoes and onions seasoned with olive oil and fresh garlic, as a vegetarian filling option, along with a pot of simmered black beans, that taste delicious with her coconut rice.
 
To liven up her cuisine, Cruz whips up salsas and sauces with different flavor profiles. Her go-to salsa is a basic one with tomato, jalapeño, cilantro, and lime.  For a New Year’s taco bar, she pairs it with her bright, creamy and tangy tomatillo-avocado salsa. Round out the buffet with chopped onions, cilantro, crumbly cotija cheese and bottles of hot sauce and gluten-free corn tortillas, and maybe her flourless chocolate cake, and it’s time to celebrate.
 
So, whether your guests are paleo, vegan, gluten-free, or none of the above - don't be afraid think creatively when it comes to food and wine pairings. Hungry for more? Check out Arrowood's full portfolio of food-friendly wines.
 

Sonoma Valley Mountain Vineyard Site

 

Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon - A Rare Treat

At Arrowood, we love introducing people to Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. And, believe it or not, we get to - a lot. 
 
Why? Because Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma Valley is actually rarer than Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. With just over 1,000 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon planted in Sonoma Valley to 18,200 acres in Napa - Napa Cab outnumbers Sonoma Cab 18:1. That’s a case and a half for every one bottle produced.
 
So, while Napa Cab is heralded the world over, Sonoma Cab keeps an understandably lower profile. But sometimes profiles can be deceiving.
 

Sonoma and Napa Map
 

Comparing Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley

 

Climate

 
Both Napa and Sonoma Valleys enjoy a dry, Mediterranean climate, with long, sunny days and cool nights.
 
Depending on where you stand, are either warmer or cooler according to elevation. If you’re above the fog line, you generally get hotter days (no fog) and cooler nights (high altitude). Ultimately, although it is possibly a dangerous generalization, overall you could say Sonoma Valley is marginally cooler. Both Napa and Sonoma Valleys are close to the cool Pacific, but Sonoma is closer.
 
Sonoma Valley opens to the Bay at the bottom and to the Santa Rosa plain at the top, so cool air and fog come in both top and bottom, ocean and bay. Napa Valley opens up to the Bay at its south end, as Sonoma Valley does, but it has no outlet in the north; and where the palisade walls come together, trapped air heats up. Only the Vaca mountain range along its eastern flank protects Napa from California’s notoriously hot Central Valley
 

Elevation

 
In Sonoma Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon is planted mostly on the slopes of Sonoma Mountain on the west, above the fog line, where grapes ripen more fully in the extended sunlight. The days are warm, but altitude makes for chilly nights. Sonoma Mountain soils are volcanic-based and exceptionally well-draining.
 
Vintners have also established Cabernet on the eastern side of the valley in another sub-AVA, Moon Mountain, perched on the Western slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains, very close to the Napa County line. Almost constant bay breezes blow across this entire area, located above the summer fog. The red, rocky soils of Moon Mountain consist largely of fractured basalt and iron-rich volcanic ash.
 

Visibility

 
So now the question: why do Napa Valley Cabernets get all the love? Why do people hold them in such high regard? Several things:
 
First, obviously, there is the matter of scale. Napa Valley is twice the size of Sonoma Valley and planted to over three times as many vines. More people, making a lot more wine, make a lot more noise.
 
Sonoma Valley has always been a community of growers and small producers, whereas Napa Valley has its growers, but savvy marketers as well. People who established famous brands built broad markets and submitted their wines to international tastings for recognition. The Cabernet Sauvignon that won fame at the Judgment of Paris in 1976 was a Napa Valley wine.
 
And then there’s Robert Mondavi. And the Napa Valley Wine Auction. Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon has become a brand in itself.
 

Overall

 
But, If you cut through the noise and actually look at the climate, location, and soils of Napa compared, say, to the locations where Sonoma valley grows its best Cabernet, Sonoma Valley’s mountain regions show every bit as well. Their long, warm days high above the fog lines and cool nights bathed in cool marine air and bay fog create a wide diurnal shift – a dramatic difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures – which typically gives Cabernet Sauvignon its rich, ripe fruit while maintaining a balance of plush tannins and firm, fresh acidity. Sonoma Valley’s Cabernet character tends to be more red fruit than Napa’s black – more cherry than blackcurrant – but the depth and concentration and fundamental pleasure of this wine show from the first sip.
 

Arrowood’s Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Arrowood's Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
 
We sat down with Kristina Shideler, Arrowood Winemaker to get to get her take on Sonoma Valley Cabernet in general and one of her absolute favorite wines, our Arrowood Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
 
Kristina wanted to start with a conversation on sourcing, “In Sonoma Valley, we’re sourcing from Sonoma Mountain and Moon Mountain, Absolutely, everything we’re sourcing from Sonoma Valley it coming from high-elevation sites.”
 
Then she moved to the palette, “Most people think of high-elevation fruit as having these big, burly, angular mountain fruit tannins, but in Sonoma Valley, the mountains give you surprising delicate, round notes. This wine is plush, for sure. Great color. Great concentration.”
 
When asked what flavor she’d describe as quintessential Sonoma Valley, her answer was almost immediate, “Cherry! Sonoma Valley Cabernet always presents these wonderful cherry notes.”
 
For Kristina, it’s not so much Napa v Sonoma; more Napa & Sonoma. “I love Cabernet Sauvignon. When you make wine on four continents, you learn to appreciate so many different expressions of the same grape.”
 
While we have likely not heard the last of the Napa v Sonoma debate - we can all agree that both regions produce excellent Cabernet Sauvignons, that, if you haven’t tried, you should.

Discover Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

 
When you dare to travel off the beaten path, like the bravest of us sometimes do, you can be rewarded for your bravery. In fact, should you spend enough time off on your own, you may find that your once-divergent path is now the path.
 
Kristina Shideler Walking Knights Valley Vineyards
 
At Arrowood, we like to say we’re appellation agonistic--winemaking without borders if you will. We call Sonoma County home, and within it, distinctive Cabernet Sauvignon is our North Star. So we followed that North Star up winding dirt roads, through fog, over mountain tops. We followed it north and a little east. We followed it to Knights Valley. 
 
Less famous than Napa? Yes. Less visible than Sonoma Valley? Sure. But if you’re looking to think outside the glass, here’s a guide to the Cabernet Sauvignon region that should be next on your list.  
 

Where is Knights Valley?

Knights Valley AVA Map
 
Often mistaken for part of Napa County, Knights Valley is the easternmost AVA in Sonoma County just up the hill from Calistoga. Like other spectacular Sonoma AVAs - Sonoma Valley and Carneros -  Knights Valley straddles the gap between two wine-growing giants drawing influences from both sides. Cabernet Sauvignon from Knights Valley marries that quintessential Napa Valley structure with Sonoma County’s elegant acidity.
 
Kristina Shideler
 
When Kristina Shideler took over as Arrowood winemaker in 2015, she brought a wealth of knowledge about Sonoma’s mountain-grown Bordeaux varietals from her time as an intern at Vérité and an enologist at Stonestreet winery. In her own words: “When the opportunity at Arrowood came up in December of 2014, I jumped at it. I knew all about the Monte Rosso and Smothers-Remick Ridge vineyards and knew about Arrowood’s classic Cabernet heritage.”
 

Knights Valley or Knight’s Valley?

Good question. The answer is yes to both. Thomas B. Knight purchased ~9,000 acres in Sonoma County from Santos Berryessa in 1853, making it Knight’s valley. In 1875, however, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors formed Knights Valley Township in honor of the Knight family, and Knight’s valley officially became Knights Valley.
 

Knights Valley Winegrowing History

Thomas B. Knight, recognizing the value of Mount Saint Helena’s fertile soil planted the first vineyards on the land back in the late 1850s. By the 1880s, other settlers had gravitated to the area and also began planting wine grapes. By 1912, wine grapes were Knights Valley’s most planted crop.
 
In 1960, UC Davis published Promising New Areas for Premium Quality Wine Grapes to Replace Acreage Lost to Urbanization (back when really dry 14-word titles were totally in vogue). This paper notes that the soil and climate in Knights Valley made it ripe to challenge the other burgeoning wine regions in California: “Knights Valley has a few thriving small vineyards. Although the soils of Knights Valley have not been mapped, the growing vineyards demonstrate the suitability of the deep soils which will support vines without irrigation.” 
 
After decades of informal recognition by winemakers and vineyard managers for its unique growing conditions, the Knights Valley AVA was officially formed in 1983.
 
Fast forward to today and Knights Valley is home to some of California’s most storied producers: Chateau Montelena, Peter Michael, Anakota and Vérité.
 

Knights Valley’s Winegrowing Soil

Knights Valley Winegrowing Soil
 
“I’d characterize the soil in Knights as incredibly fine,” says Kristina. “It is really rich, well-drained soil, which allows the berries to be smaller and more concentrated. The winemakers in the area fondly refer to Knights Valley soil as ‘moon dust.' You have to be very careful driving near these vineyards because the soil texture is just that fine.”
 

Arrowood Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

 
Kristina describes Arrowood's Knights Valley Cabernet as the exclamation point at the end of our Cabernet portfolio: “I like to pour it last because it’s the most structured of our three AVA Cabernets. It has these big, broad, beautiful tannins that take hold the second it hits your palate. This is your steak wine, for sure.” 
 
When making Knights Valley Cabernet, Kristina always starts with mountain-side fruit, “The closer you get to Mount Saint Helena, the more structure you get from that fruit. So, that first 20-25% of mountain side fruit really makes up the base of this wine. As you start moving away from Mount Saint Helena there’s this little plateau, with amazing soils, that I like to call the sweet spot - that’s where I source the rest of the Cabernet along with some Merlot and Malbec to round out  this Cabernet.”
 
When asked about the signatures of her Knight’s Valley Cabernet, Kristina says, “outside of its unmistakable structure; the other defining characteristic is the finish: cocoa powder. It’s the flavor, but also the texture; you get just a hint of this chocolatey-sweet dust that stays with you - it’s a pretty special Cabernet.”
 

Discover Knights Valley for Yourself

Not all journeys have a single destination. In the case of Cabernet, there are so many soil-types, elevations, rootstocks, clones, barrel regimens, and aging techniques that can transform neighboring clusters, let alone neighboring blocks. But, while it may not be the only destination, Knights Valley is certainly an AVA worth seeking out when that spirit of adventure strikes.

 

As a winemaker, the blending process is where I get to earn my stripes, composing a distinct expression of the vintage and capturing a snapshot in time. Monitoring the individual grape varieties through the growing process in the vineyard and following their progress into barrel lends to a keen understanding of how each grape is performing in the vintage.  This is essential knowledge when determining the components that are going to make up the blend in a specific vintage.

Building blends from sample bottles containing individual varieties from specific vineyard sights
So many options…

We are now making eight or more red wines each year, expressing Sonoma County Bordeaux varieties in various ways.  Our Reserve is our flagship wine, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and barrel selected from our top vineyard sites.  The vineyard designate wines showcase the unique terroir of a single vineyard.  These vineyards are primarily distinguished by their altitude and soil type, and give such a distinct expression of terroir that their quality and intrigue merit their own individual bottling.  Our appellation wines bring together several vineyard blocks to highlight the characteristics of the region.  Working with fruit from the three best AVAs (American Vinicultural Areas) in Sonoma County for growing Cabernet, I can make distinctly different wines from Knights Valley, Sonoma Valley and Alexander Valley.  One of the newest offerings at Arrowood is the Proprietary Red wine, which is a blend that expresses the vintage using any or all of the five Bordeaux varieties.  But before I tell you more, let’s review these varieties and talk about their individual qualities.

Kristina carefully measures each grape variety to ensure an accurate blend composition.
Carefully measuring out each grape variety

In California, Cabernet Sauvignon is king.  Known for its bold fruit character and heavy weight and texture, Cabernet is most commonly bottled as a single variety.  Cabernet Franc is its close relative, with some similarities in aromatics, but tends to give more savory and sometimes herbal character.  (Fun fact:  Cabernet Sauvignon is actually a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.)  Merlot often has a lot of blue fruit aromas, offering a soft and round texture.  When used as a blending component, it can increase the depth and length of the mouthfeel.  Malbec is aromatically very distinct, often exotic with violet and spice, along with velvety tannins.  Those of you who have had our Sonoma Valley Malbec know exactly what I’m talking about!  Lastly, Petit Verdot is known for its dark color and intense tannins.  Both Malbec and Petit Verdot can be very impactful in a blend, where a little goes a long way.

The current release of the 2013 Proprietary Red blend has the following blend composition:  63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet franc, 14% Merlot and 8% Malbec.  In this particular year, Petit Verdot didn’t make it into the blend.  After trying to use as little as 1%, I decided that it did not make a better wine.  Each year, this blend will be completely different depending on the performance of each variety and how each variety interacts with one another.

Jakey the winery dog stands by, as Kristina utilizes her senses to judge the aromatics and flavor profiles of her contending blends.
Jakey the winery dog stands by, ready to help calculate percentages

With so many different growing conditions in Sonoma County, each of these five varieties can be farmed to their full potential, giving me a diverse range of options for blending the Proprietary Red.  I love that there aren’t any rules when blending this wine.  I can use any of these five varieties to make the most intriguing and texturally complete wine possible.  However, this also makes it the most challenging wine to blend, often requiring more than ten different iterations of the blend before coming up with “the one.”  The 2015 Proprietary Red actually took me seventeen tries before I was happy with the final blend!

The new release of the 2013 Proprietary Red blend is one I am very excited about having followed this wine from barrel to bottle, and the vintage couldn’t have been a much better growing season.  Come by and see one of the friendly familiar faces at the Arrowood tasting room and give this wine a taste. I’m looking forward to hearing what you think!

After days of deliberation, Kristina finds “the one” out 16 finalists!
Kristina finds “the one”!

The final product - a glass of Arrowood proprietary red blend next to the bottle on an outdoor table

Arrowood Winemaker, Kristina Werner has worked at wineries across New Zealand, Portugal and Argentina until landing in Sonoma County. Today, she and her dedicated winegrowing team, craft artisan Cabernet Sauvignons that convey the best sites and appellations throughout Sonoma County.

Arrowood bottles against soil
Soil samples from left to right: Sonoma Valley AVA, Alexander Valley AVA, Knights Valley AVA

While there are a multitude of natural elements that influence Cabernet Sauvignon’s character, from sun exposure to climate to vineyard elevation, dirt is the most tangible of these ingredients. As you can see above, each of the three AVA’s we source from (Sonoma, Alexander, Knights) has its own unique, distinguishable soil composition. These different soil types—from the red volcanic soils of Sonoma Mountain to the fine-grained and almost dusty terrain of the Knights Valley—not only dictate the way we farm but, in concert with other natural forces, lend the Cabernet from each region its own distinct structure and flavor profile.

Sonoma Valley AVA

The “Valley” in the appellation title is a slight misnomer for Arrowood as we source our fruit exclusively from mountain vineyards—primarily Sonoma Mountain and Moon Mountain, which is also home to the historic Monte Rosso vineyard. These mountains are known for their red, iron-rich volcanic soils that produce wines with pronounced acidity. The well-drained, ashy soil here forces the vines' roots to dig deep in search of water. As the roots tunnel further underground, they soak up minerals, nutrients and microbes buried in the rocky layers beneath the top soil. The depth of these root systems translates into the concentrated and complex flavors of our Sonoma Valley Cabernet and makes our vines hearty enough that we can dry farm specific sites.
 
Digging the soil
Digging up red dirt in a dry farmed block of Monte Rosso vineyard
 

Alexander Valley AVA

The one word to describe the soil of the Alexander Valley is diverse. As our neighbors at Stonestreet Vineyards note on their website, the geology of Alexander Valley’s Black Mountain, where we source a portion of our fruit, contains more soil types than all of France! The varied, sparse and rocky soils of this appellation, along with cool morning fog and intense mid-day sunlight, contribute to the wines’ blue fruit flavors, elegance and savory aromas of black tea and dried herbs.
 

View from Black Mountain hillside overlooking the Alexander Valley
 

Knights Valley AVA

Our vineyard team likens the fine-grained, brown and yellow soil of the Knights Valley to "moon dust" that lingers on our boots hours after leaving the vineyards in this remote and sparsely populated region. The alluvial soils in the benchlands and the Rhylotic (volcanic) deposits on the mountainside tell the story of land that's been carved out by prehistoric rivers and built up by volcanic activity. Arrowood's Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon displays many of this region's hallmarks including distinctive notes of cocoa powder and a gravel-tinged minerality.
 
Dusty boots
Kicking around in the Knight’s Valley “Moon Dust”

Each vintage has its own personality and is remembered for different things.  From heavy rains to heat, and wildfires to earthquakes, responding to each year’s challenges often defines what goes into the bottle. The 2016 vintage, however, can be characterized by some of the most consistent weather we’ve had in California for years.

Carneros Chardonnay and Macrobins

Left: taken while walking the steep slopes of the Carneros Chardonnay block, tasting berries and deciding on when to pick.
Right: Smothers fruit lined up in macrobins at the crush pad, ready to be sorted, destemmed and then gravity fed into tank

Yields came in right around average, and grape chemistry and flavors were in extraordinary balance.  This was primarily due to the pleasant and moderate climate throughout July, August and September.  In California, we regularly experience heat spikes during the harvest months, where daytime temperatures reach into the high 90s/low 100s for several days at a time.  Depending on the vineyard and stage of ripeness, heat spikes can be detrimental to quality.  We had only one mild heat spike this harvest, which actually had positive impact on the fruit that was still on the vine, pushing some of the slower ripening vineyards along.  The harvest was brought to completion just before the three days of rain on the second week of October, replenishing the soils and phasing us into autumn.

Pink Ladies of the basket press

The pink ladies of the basket press!  Making a press cut on Kellog vineyard/Knights Valley Cabernet.  All of us happened to wear pink that day.

With just over half of the wine pressed off skins, I’m already seeing that the balance in the fruit is being reflected in the wine.  The consistent weather allowed a very precise level of ripeness to be achieved, getting the most out of each vineyard’s terroir.  The wines exude stellar concentration and elegant structure, along with a freshness that is highlighted by the beautiful aromatics.  Following their evolution from barrel to bottle over the next couple years should really be a treat.

Cheers,

Kristina

It’s close to a month before we expect to see the first grapes, and I’m still trying to answer the question, “How is this year’s harvest looking?”  The growing season got started with the long anticipated El Niño rains, which certainly helped replenish the reservoirs and ground water after four consecutive dry years.  The extra moisture also helped jumpstart bud break and shoot growth, promoting a nice lush canopy, and the moderately warm spring weather led to a nice fruit set in just about every vineyard.  However, due to the carryover effect of last year’s drought-affected poor set, the crop load is still likely to be lighter than average.  

 
So everything is going pretty well, right?  Absolutely.  I’d say low yields and a healthy canopy is certainly a great place to be, but the truth is that the next few weeks are just as critical in determining how this harvest will unfold.
 
We are now at the point in the season where the vines have stopped putting energy into the canopy (the green parts of the plant – leaves, shoots, etc.), and have started to devote all their energy into ripening the fruit.  This stage is marked by veraison, which in white grapes is the softening of the berries and in red grape varieties is the change in coloring from green to purple.  This is also when the flavor aromas are developed as well as the tannin and structural components of the grape skins.
 
Veraison on Merlot at Arrowood Estate Vineyard.
Veraison on Merlot at Arrowood Estate Vineyard.
 
In the coming weeks, the vines will get one last manicure to remove any secondary shoots or leaves that cause excess shading.  At this point in the game, it is a balancing act to make sure that every grape cluster gets enough sunlight, but not too much that we run the risk of sunburn or shrivel.  This is also the last chance to remove any excess crop (“green drop”) to make sure that all the fruit on the vine will fully ripen.
 
The 2016 vintage has started off checking all the right boxes, but in witnessing over a decade of harvests, I know it is always wise to temper your expectations against Mother Nature.  We will continue to carefully monitor our work in the vineyard and the cellar and I could not be more excited to witness the evolution of this vintage from vine to bottle. 
 
Thanks for tuning in, and check back in a couple months when we wrap up the season with the 2016 End of Harvest Report.
 
Cheers,
Kristina
 

Kristina Werner, Winemaker

I’ve been asked more than once, “After harvest is over and the wine is in barrel, what do you do for the rest of the year?” As much as I would like to say that I spend the eight months outside harvest lying on sandy beaches with a cocktail in hand, there is actually quite a bit of action during the “off-season.”
 
The months of March and April at Arrowood are all about blending our reds.  This is one of the final and most important stages of the winemaking process.  It is the creative part where, as a winemaker, I have to rely exclusively on my senses to guide decisions.  Imagine that you are a painter and have a color palate with the six primary colors.  The number of colors you can create by mixing these colors is infinite.  On top of that, how the paint is layered and the brush stroke that is used can create many different types of textures.  Keep this image in mind as you think about how wine gets blended.
 
The 2014 vintage has been aging in barrel for a little over a year, which is just enough time to see how the wine has evolved and the oak barrels have integrated.  Although the Reserve and vineyard designate Cabernets will stay in barrel for an additional sixteen months (32 months total), I like to make blending decisions earlier so that the wine has time to marry in barrel before bottling.
 
Each vineyard block is barreled down into a barrel group, and kept separate during the aging process until blending decisions are made.  To avoid any biases, I taste each barrel group blind so that I cannot see which vineyard each wine is coming from.  I have to consider overall quality, but also what type of characteristics each wine can bring to a blend.  For example, the Monte Rosso vineyard tends to give a lot of concentration and minerality while the Smothers-Remick Ridge Cabernet offers intense red fruit aromatics and bright acidity.  Sellitto vineyard is defined by its fleshy fruit aromas and velvety palate while Knights Cross Cabernet is more masculine and densely structured.  Understanding each of these components allows me to use each building block to create the most complete and expressive wine possible.
 
Winemakers create “trial blends” to play around with different percentages of each component to formulate the blend.  Subtle changes of even 1% can change the blend entirely, and sometimes it takes many attempts before the final blend decision is reached.  Like the artist’s pallet, these combinations are key to achieving the work of art that you have envisioned.  
 
Once a blend is finalized, the next phase for Arrowood wines is the barrel selection process.  Within the barrel group, each barrel is tracked on an individual basis and is tasted like it is its own wine.  This is because each barrel influences the wine differently depending on its age (new v. seasoned), origin (French v. American forest), toasting level, barrel maker (cooper), among other factors.  The Reserve Speciale barrels are the first to be selected, consisting of the best barrels of the highest quality vineyard blocks of the vintage.  Eventually, every barrel is tasted and selected for a particular program.  To avoid palate fatigue (and to keep the enamel on my teeth!), this process can take up to two months.
 
This may all sound very tedious, but it is the detail and decision around blending that gives a wine that final fingerprint. As a winemaker, it helps me to develop a deeper understanding of the vineyards that I work with and how as wines, they evolve and interact.  Blending is an art of the senses, and finding the harmony amongst the vineyards is what passionate winemaking is all about.
 
-Kristina
 

Kristina Werner, Winemaker

The hills are green and the vineyards are striped with yellow mustard here in Sonoma County, thanks to the early (and welcomed) El Niño rains.  Although there’s still a long road ahead to complete drought relief, we are starting off the 2016 growing season with flowing streams and replenished soils.

Sonoma County typically receives the majority of its rainfall between the months of October and March.  The rest of the year remains dry, reducing the risk of rot and fungal disease in the vineyard during the most critical times of the growing season.  During these dry months, we are able to control the amount of water that the vines get through drip irrigation.  In the past few years, the wine industry has made a huge effort in water conservation and more technology has become available to determine how much water a vine needs at a given time.  At Arrowood, we use several of these technologies to help make our irrigation decisions.  In fact, a few of our vineyards are even “dry farmed,” meaning that they do not receive any water from irrigation.  What determines if a vineyard can be dry farmed or not?  Well, it’s very site-dependent: soil, climate, vine age, crop load and grape variety all impact the amount of water a particular vineyard needs.

Discussing pruning on a rainy day on Sonoma Mountain.

For Cabernet Sauvignon, the amount and timing for irrigation is especially important because of its impact on berry size.  Smaller berries produce more skin than watery pulp, which means more flavors coming from the skin and more concentration.  So when you hear that wine is made in the vineyard, there is quite a bit of truth to that.  From rainy winter walks in the vineyard to tasting the berries ripen in the fall, I’m always thinking about how to get the characteristics in the fruit that I ultimately want in the wine. 

And as for what Mother Nature has planned next for the rest of 2016, we’ll have to wait and see! 

--Kristina 

Kristina Werner, Winemaker

One of the things I love most about winemaking is following nature through its seasons.  Now that the grapes are harvested, leaves are turning to show the beautiful fall colors and the vines are preparing themselves to start the cycle all over again.  This period of time in the vine’s cycle is called senescence, which much like harvest, came early this year.  We had a record breaking start date for harvest this year at Arrowood, with Sauvignon blanc being picked on the 14th of August.  Chardonnay closely followed, and then red varieties started trickling in.  It’s no secret that this year brought a very light crop load. 

Due to a cold spring season, the young clusters failed to pollenate and set every grape berry, therefore producing looser and lighter clusters.  However, these lower yields along with the nice warm weather during the summer and early fall produced extremely high quality fruit.  Fewer tons allowed for great attention to detail in the winery, where no matter how small, every vineyard block was kept separate.  This picture below demonstrates small lot winemaking at its finest!  Even with our top notch destemmer machine, shorter stems can remain attached to the berries.  For our top vineyards, we sort each berry after destemming in macrobins to ensure that nothing but perfect berries end up in the fermenter.

Small lot winemaking

The quality of Cabernet from all three AVAs (Knights Valley, Alexander Valley, and Sonoma Valley) was especially stunning.  As my first year working with Sonoma Valley fruit, I spent a considerable amount of early mornings in the vineyards.  I absolutely fell in love with the Smothers and Monte Rosso vineyards, working closely with the vineyard team to harvest each section of the vineyard at its peak.  The vineyard managers are so key to a successful harvest, working around the clock to ensure that the grapes seamlessly get from the thousands of vines out in the elements and into the winery.  Below is a photo of the sunrise at Smothers vineyard after crews had picked by hand on the steep terraces.

Sunrise at Smothers Vineyard

As the harvest season comes to a close, it’s also time for us at Arrowood to enjoy the fruits of our labor.  While the 2015 vintage is sleeping in barrel, I look forward to sharing the holidays with friends, family, and of course with a few bottles of Arrowood Cabernet.  Cheers to another great vintage – I look forward to sharing these wines with you in the coming years!

--Kristina