Winemaking officially begins

Winemaking begins at Press Restaurant.

Winemaking begins at Press Restaurant.

On June 11, 2016, Alan & I had the pleasure of a wine tasting with our world class vineyard manager, David Abreu, and his talented, self-taught winemaker, Brad Grimes.  We met at Press Restaurant in St. Helena (considered the quintessential sommelier’s dream for all wines from Napa Valley) to taste Cabernet blends and Chardonnays.

Because our vineyard has a distinct bowl shape, we are able to capture multiple microclimates within the 9+ acres.  There are vines that face all directions which allow us to have a highly customizable wine with even a few rows of one varietal, if we want.  Too many choices! We are planning on planting out the bowl area with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Merlot in order to give our winemaker the choice of how to blend each vintage to its own strengths. The question is what percentage of each do we want to plant?  Some of our favorite characteristics of the wines we tried on this night would help David determine what percentages to plant out the acres–to finalize the vineyard layout for grafting vines in August 2016.

We also have a distinctly steep, east-facing terrace which is being eyed for Chardonnay production. While we aren’t sure how much that area will produce, we are exploring the option because producing a white wine is a bonus we hadn’t planned on. Why not have a little Chardonnay before your Cab?! It’s shady, it’s different soil from the rest of the ‘bowl’ shape of the vineyard, it’s distinctly east facing, but we can see that David and Brad are up for the challenge of creating something new from this soil.

The purpose of the tasting was to identify what characteristics Alan & I like so that we can reflect those flavors in what will make up our red wine.  In Napa Valley, you must have 75% grapes from Cabernet Sauvignon in your blend in order to label it “Cabernet Sauvignon.”  Otherwise it is a “red table wine,” “red wine blend,” “bordeaux blend” or other varying labels.  As David said to us, do we want to make Cabernet, or do we want to make the best possible red wine our property will reveal?

The reds were a journey into heavy wines that definitely benefitted from the steak tartare, liver pate, flatiron, ribeye and bone-in filets served table side to assist in tasting with the foods. For the reds, we tasted:

  • Colgin Tychson Hill 2009 (around the corner from us)
  • Araujo, Eisele Vineyard 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon (a crowd favorite on this night)
  • Abreu  “Madrona” Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
  • Abreu  “Thorevilos” 2009
  • Dalla Valle “Maya” 2005
  • Harlan Estates 2009

The outcome was that there were no wrong moves with these classic Napa wines.  The night revealed that we want to label our wine as a red wine blend, because our favorites tend to have a lot of Cabernet Franc in them (who knew?).  The Cab Franc allows the wine to be more approachable (at least for Alan & me) and doesn’t necessarily mean food needs to come with the wine.

And for the whites, this is a newer passion project for Brad, winemaker at Abreu Vineyards.  He brought a worldwide representation of Chardonnays, unbeknownst to us. Our blind tastings meant we had no idea some weren’t from Napa Valley or Sonoma. It was fun to try different flavors and comment on them not knowing there were Italian, French, and California Chardonnays in the mix.  We definitely found the “chablis” like flinty flavors of the Italian chardonnays didn’t appeal to us.  We loved the deep, more complex French style Chardonnay worked best, especially as it warmed up and was accompanied by an incredible seafood platter of oysters, shrimp, lobster and a fresh farm display of veggies on ice with various dipping sauces.  Whites we tasted were Boulot Bourgogne Blanc from France, Mxxx from Italy, HdV from Carneros region in Napa, and Ferren from Sonoma County. Brad also had a tasting of his own blend from the barrel that is yet to be released but is made using the artisanal basket press method.  Fascinating.

So here we go! Wine style and characteristics have started to take shape.  We won’t be drinking ours till 2021, so I recommend any of the reds on that list above to tide you over 🙂

the big boys. the reds. more glasses.

the big boys.  reds.  lots of glasses.


whites.  more glasses.

reds left over-best doggie bag ever!

reds left over-best doggie bag ever!


International white labels-always fun. Brad’s doesn’t have a label yet-came straight from the barrel.

Beekeeping and making honey

In March 2016 we started our two colonies of bees for making honey  Approximately 10,000 bees will make around 5 gallons of honey a year.  What is involved? Good news-not much on my part!  I was official photographer when Degge Hayes installed the hives on site.  Degge helps us with our fruit trees on site and provides oversight for our culinary garden.  I even got my own bee mask and gloves.  Bees won’t mistake you for a bear if you’re wearing light colored clothes, so I was bummed to hear I didn’t need to don the full jumpsuit!

I had previously helped Danielle LoRusso, our culinary gardener, select the plants that would make up our bee insectary around a year ago.  Now we are a full fledged honey making operation! Not that it is a lot of work…you check the hives once a month to monitor whether they are building enough honeycomb.  If not, you can cheat with some sugar water at the bottom of the hive so the lazy bees don’t have to fly too far to make more honeycomb.

We will see some production this August but likely a small amount.  I think we are shooting for five gallons by August 2017 and then every year thereafter.  Nothing better than a Model Bakery english muffin (if you’ve stayed here, you’ve had one!) smothered with some fresh honey.  Can’t wait!

reds left over-best doggie bag ever!

What were we thinking?

So many times I’ve been asked what were we thinking when we bought a vineyard.  Did we know how much work it was?  Do you know how to make a small fortune in winemaking? (Answer: start with a large one) Do you know how to DO this? The answers to all of these will reveal themselves over time as we dig in.  We know the house needs updating, the vineyard needs replanting, the infrastructure (electrical, irrigation, septic, well water) needs updating.  We are up for the challenges ahead and have no idea what they mean.  We just know we love this special place.

these faces explain why we bought this vineyard and home

these faces on our boys says it all

peeking into our future

peeking into our future

grapes we will harvest for Cakebread Cellars

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a man surveying his land