Around 6 a.m. last Wednesday, work crews began picking pinot noir grapes along Napa Valley's Silverado Trail, marking the start of the harvest season for the North Coast wine industry. With harvest now underway, Baldacci Family Vineyards is gearing up for the process that this much anticipated season entails.
According to Director of Operations, Michael Baldacci, “judging by the taste of the grapes in our vineyards, it’s going to be a great harvest”. This year the growing season has been pretty consistent with that of previous years. The good weather early on has allowed for an “early bloom”, which has in turn allowed for an “early harvest”. According to the NVG (Napa Valley Grapegrowers), this has been the earliest harvest since 2004 - about 10 years.
So what exactly does harvest mean?
It’s the process when the grapes go from vine to wine.
First, the grapes begin to go through “veraison” or a change in color from green to purple. About 60 days post veraison is when the “harvest” actually occurs. This is when the grapes have a lower acidity and higher sugar content which makes for the most desirable wine flavors.
Our winemaker, Rolando, measures the “brix” or sugar content of the grapes in order to determine when they are sweet enough to pick from the vines. However, Rolando also relies heavily on his own taste buds and what the grapes actually taste like when determining just the right day to pick. The “picks” typically occur between midnight and 8am when the plant is “asleep” and not undergoing it’s daily process of photosynthesis.
Following the “picks”, the fruit is brought our processing area at our Stags Leap Estate Vineyard, where the grapes go through a “destemmer”, a “crusher”, and then into the fermentation tanks where they stay for between 12-16 days. While in the fermentation tanks, the juice is subject to “pumpovers” that occur about three times per day in order to keep a consistent temperature throughout the tank.
Once the juice is fermented, it is drained into another tank and any remaining skins in the prior tank are squeezed in order to get all of the juice out of them. Finally the juice goes into the barrels and into the cave to be stored!
We are very excited for the harvest to begin and we hope you come and celebrate our new release with us in October!
Looking over the vineyard and seeing beautiful new green growth means just like baseball that our season has started! And hopefully it’s approaching time for some of our veteran visitors along with the rookies to make their plans to indulge in everything the Napa Valley has to offer. As I would deem myself (loosely) a pro entering my fifth season at bat in the Valley, here’s what will make your next visit to see us even better.
1. Call Ahead
The most discussed issue in our Tasting Room is how a surprising number of wineries are now asking for appointments regardless of party size.
Although perhaps more prevalent now, this has been a legal requirement for most tasting rooms to stay within their permitted usage (of which Baldacci Family Vineyards must also comply) for a number of years and is more broadly referred to as part of the WDO, or Winery Definition Ordinance.
As a best practice, call ahead or use online reservation services such as VinoVisit or CellarPass to book your tasting appointment so you get to visit all the wineries on your wish list. The benefit of just a little advance planning will not only eliminate surprises but likely will offer different tasting experiences! Here at Baldacci we have our great patio and bar for tastings but also schedule private tastings and tours in our Cellar for those that inquire ahead of time.
PRO-TIP: Throughout the Valley you can discover more experiences beyond just tasting such as cave tours, ATV rides, food pairings, cooking demonstrations and more… it usually requires nothing more than asking for it ahead of time!
The Napa Valley is home to some of the most desired restaurant experiences and celebrated chefs, so hopefully planning for a great meal or two while you’re visiting is on your agenda. Since wine runs through the veins of the Valley it shouldn’t be too surprising that nearly every restaurant offers a great selection of vino, from the hamburger joint down the street to our three-star Michelin rated restaurants.
What may be surprising is that bringing an unopened bottle or two to the restaurant, even bottles you discovered that day, is perfectly acceptable. Each restaurant has their own policy on corkage so best to call ahead of time or check out their website to review. Corkage fees average $20 per bottle but are sometimes waived if you buy a bottle off their list. Attentive staff will see the bottle on the table and usually offer to decant for you. Some common corkage policies are to restrict the number of bottles you may bring in or that you may not bring in a wine they already offer. It’s a great way to ensure you have a bottle at your table you know that you enjoy at a fair price.
PRO-TIP: If you bring in a rockstar bottle, do be sure to leave a pour behind for the service staff especially if they did a great job… and sometimes they’ll waive the corkage fee to show their appreciation.
3. Appellation Education
With regard to grape growing and wine production, the Napa Valley is an American Viticultural Area (or AVA for short).
These geographic distinctions are approved by the federal government and are meant to recognize areas that share nearly identical grape growing conditions. With the immense soil diversity the Napa Valley enjoys along with changes in microclimate and elevation we currently have sixteen recognized AVA’s within the Napa Valley AVA itself totaling seventeen different named grape growing regions.
Baldacci Family Vineyards is privileged to be located within the historic Stags Leap District which is celebrating its 25th Anniversary as a designation this year, along with estate vineyards in the Carneros and Calistoga regions.
PRO-TIP: Schedule an entire day tasting within one AVA. You’ll develop a deeper appreciation and understanding to what makes that area unique and you’ll save on driving time between wineries.
4. Get a Driver
Responsible drinking means not driving drunk. A common misconception is that police in the Napa Valley are somehow lenient towards or permit impaired driving… nothing could be further from the truth.
A full day of tasting numerous wines at numerous wineries can and will takes its toll. There are a wide variety of driving services available, from professional chauffeurs to group tours to individuals hired to drive your vehicle for you. Beyond the immediate benefit of not driving impaired you additionally have a local expert who knows the roads, get help set your agenda, and can recommend new wineries.
A new mobile app service (Uber) just was introduced in the Valley this past month that will complement the late night taxi rush and help get up and down the Valley quicker.
PRO-TIP: Always be responsible.
5. Try Something New
Pretty self-explanatory. If you’re a regular to the Valley it’s easy to get caught up in the favorites and not venture out to experience new tasting rooms, restaurants, art exhibits, hiking trails or hot air balloon rides. Lean on the experience and recommendations of people out here and past visitors… word of mouth is still the number one driver of new guests.
PRO-TIP: Phone a friend.
Dinner meetings paired with good wine have long been a standard of executing the arts of business. History is full of examples! The "Dinner Table Bargain" of 1790 where Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton agreed on the site of the nation's capital over several bottles of Jefferson's finest wine. Not only that, the Ancient Romans and Greeks rarely held a business or government meeting without wine!
Understanding wine during a dinner meeting (without looking like a snob) is a great way to establish a good rapport for yourself and build trust. It may sound silly but it's true! It's a skill that often eludes many people so when properly shown off, can be a huge benefit to your position at the table.
So with that, here are 5 basic - yet still very important - ways to look like a wine pro at your next dinner meeting:
1. Start With Bubbles Then Move from Light to Heavy
Although Sparkling Wine or Champagne (also known as "bubbles") are commonly selected as a celebratory drink after dinner, try choosing it as a starter. The complexity of sparkling wine somewhat "supercharges" your senses and taste receptors making your future wine experience even better.
From there, start light - probably with a white wine (Chardonnay) or light-bodied red (Pinot Noir) - and make your way to the heavier wines. This practice goes well with the progression of your meal as typically you begin with light courses (appetizers, salads and soups) that pairs well with light-bodied wines. From there, move to heavier wines - such as aCabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel or Cabernet Franc. Medium to heavy-bodied wines typically go really well with the main dish. Wrap up dinner with a nice dessert wine, sherry or port.
2. Make Menu Maneuvering Easier By Understanding Wine Appellations and Regions
Wine list maneuvering can be a difficult task - sometimes a very difficult task. There are upwards of 1,300 types of wine in the world so memorizing all of them helps but would obviously require a lot of time. Don't sit there at your meeting, with your glasses on, trying to pronounce the wines from France or asking about the house wine. Try getting a deal signed or a promotion after pronouncing Merlot, Mur-lott. It's happened before, and it isn't pretty.
An easy way to navigate through a list and understand what may fit your meal is to have a basic understanding of wine regions and their most common varietals.
For example, the wine region of Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey is a cool, coastal part of California which has some fantastic Pinot Noirs. Or Rutherford in the Napa Valley is known for having some of the best Cabernet Sauvignons in the world therefore could be great wine to show off to your boss.
See how easy that was? And I only know the basics! By understanding wine regions their most notable varietals, you won't even need to taste the wine because everyone will be so impressed with you.
3. Understand the Basics to Pairing Wine with Food
Picking out the wine for your boss is a great way to show him/her your stuff but if you really want to blow the table away, pair wine with your food. Pairing wine and food can be one of the most magical, delicious experiences of your life - if done properly.
Below is a simple list of wines with some solid food pairings:
[Bubbles] Sparkling Wine: Bread, all starters, any kind of cheese
[Light] Pinot Noir: Fruit salad, chicken, BBQ
[Light] Chardonnay: Seafood, Crab, Lobster
[Medium] Sangiovese: Chicken, pork, roasted vegetables
[Heavy] Cabernet Sauvignon: Steak, asiago or havarti cheese, all red meats
[Heaviest] Port: Dessert, Crème brûlée, pie
4. Learn How To Read a Wine Label
You can find most of the important traits of your wine on the bottle's label. However, understand that some of it is important and some of it is just smoke and mirrors. When the waiter brings out the wine that you ordered and presents the bottle, don't give it a blank, confused look. Know the 5 basics of a wine label:
Producer: Who made the wine
Vintage: Year the grapes were harvested (not bottled or barreled)
Region: Where the grapes grew
Variety: Type of wine (Pinot Noirt, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio, etc.)
ABV: Alcohol By Volume (typically 13-15%)
5. Know What You're Smelling and Tasting Without Looking Too Much Like a Snob
We've all seen them before...those dinner partners that stick their nose 2 centimeters from the surface of their wine glass and inhale to a point where it looks like they're attempting to suck the liquid in through their nostrils. Huge intakes of breath and slurping is in no way a sign that you are a pro with wine and in many ways counterproductive.
When the waiter brings out your bottle of wine to taste, all eyes will undoubtedly be on you. The conversation will stop and people will look at you as if you're the emperor choosing life or death. There is a lot going on with wine so make sure you have a simple checklist of items that you're looking for.
Here is a really brief step-by-step checklist of items to note:
(Eyes) Color: Not only is it red or white of course but check for the intensity of the color. Bright indicates a young wine where browning on the edges indicates it's a little older.
(Nose) Aromas: Is it fruity or does it have any mineral taste (you'll get the hang of it). If it smells like wet cardboard (seriously) then it's corked or bad so send it back with the waiter.
(Tongue) Taste: Is it sweet or acidic? What's the tannin structure like?
(Mouth) Finish: Is the taste lasting or short - meaning does the deliciousness hang around or sneak out the back exit? If it's a long lasting sensation then you don't need me to tell you it's good.
BONUS TIP: Start Drinking More Wine and Keeping a Journal
Wine is in no way, shape or form, easy to grasp. There very knowledge of wine is so elusive that less than 1% of the world can say they are actually "wine experts." However, as noted before, by learning the basics, you will be a few steps ahead of most people. The best way to learn is to experience. Start drinking more wine throughout the week and keeping a journal of what you are seeing, smelling, tasting and experiencing. This is an incredible practice that will certainly help you look like a stud at your next dinner meeting.
2014 Premiere Napa Valley (PNV) just concluded with a record-breaking auction after a week of tastings, events and dinners. Being a member of the Steering Committee as well as the Stags Leaps District board I wanted to share my “insider’s” perspective on this wild and fun – yet important – annual event.
Premiere Napa Valley has been taking place for the last 18 years bringing together the top media, trade and restaurateurs to the Valley for one week full of NAPA! Wineries donate 5, 10, and 20 case lots of wine uniquely made for the culmination of the PNV: the auction. This serves as a barometer for how the vintage (in this years’ case the much anticipated 2012 vintage) will be received in the market and gives an opportunity for bidders to experience and potentially buy truly one-of-a-kind, ultra small production wines.
My PNV week started on Thursday afternoon where we poured our 2009 Allwin Syrah in a tasting that featured “unique wines of Napa Valley.” The lunch hosted at Trefethen was a part of a weeklong boot camp for twenty handpicked sommeliers from across the country. This group of ‘somms’ was picked from many applicants through the Guild of Sommeliers. I was a little nervous showcasing a personal favorite in front of the firing squad of professional tasters and critics but our Syrah showed beautifully and earned some great praise!
Friday of PNV Week is traditionally known for being able to share Premiere wines with the bidders in a more intimate setting. As in years past we participated in the annual Stags Leap District “House of Cab” tasting hosted by Pine Ridge in their caves. The barrel tasting features wines exclusively found in the Stags Leap District and once again showed that this pocket of the Valley (celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year as an American Viticultural Area) is producing the best wines in Napa.
Saturday I awoke with great energy and started blasting “Eye of the Tiger:” it’s Game Day! Out of 225 lots I have to stand out and share my excitement about our lot with hundreds of bidders, media professionals and other vintners to make Baldacci Family Vineyards memorable! Our winemaker Rolando created a 5 case lot that was one of the top tasting wines in the room. 9 o’clock sharp the gates opened at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in St. Helena and were soon filled with eager palettes and empty glasses. Myself, our general manager Debi Cali, and my father Thomas Baldacci took turns pouring and sharing our wines as well as tasting some of the other lots that were in the room. Personal highlights for me included trying Rolando’s wine from his winery Mi Sueno and a newer production called Saunter Wines from our very own vineyard manager Josh Clark and acclaimed winemaker Thomas Brown.
The barrel tasting portion lasted until 12:30 and we enjoyed lunch that had been prepared by the students at the CIA. The Greystone restaurant at the CIA is a hidden gem that can be overlooked amongst the amazing restaurants in this valley but I believe offers a unique experience to try foods be prepared by the next generation of great chefs.
At 1:00pm the first lot kicked off the auction and it was a race to the finish from there with 225 lots taking just over three hours to bid through. The bidding was fast and the generosity from the bidders was amazing. By the time the gavel struck on the last lot the auction had raised an astounding $5.9 million dollars… a new record for PNV!
Yet at the end of all the PNV events, this week serves a great and important purpose in the Napa Valley. All of the proceeds from the PNV Auction go into our collective vision as vintners to grow and showcase the reputation of the Napa Valley as the world’s premiere wine growing region. Amongst all of us Napa Valley vintners we enjoy a truly collaborative and cooperative environment aimed at making Napa Valley wines the best in the world, and every year we get to prove that.
I couldn't argue that beer, brats, chips and pizza have not been the tried and true approach to Super Bowl Sunday since the era of Lombardi. Overindulgence pairs beautifully with the emotional highs and lows of America's favorite sporting event. But I might argue that maybe just once... just forthis Sunday... you can turn your all day eat and drink fest into a five course event with wine pairing that could earn your home its own Michelin star.
So call an audible and raid the wine rack. Omaha! Omaha! Omaha!
First Quarter: Sauvignon Blanc and Spinach Dip
Oft overlooked by even the most ardent vinophiles, starting with a glass of white wine is a great primer for your palate. A great Napa Valley Sauv Blanc (or perhaps a Spanish Verdejo or Burgundy Chablis) can exhibit limited dryness, moderate to high acid content and crispness to help cut thru the creaminess and richness of your spinach dip.
Second Quarter: Pinot Noir and Lamb Kebabs
Old World or New World, Pinot Noir is a wine grape that still favors a higher acid profile thus making it a perfect match-up for lighter cuisine. Nothing like the taste of terroir and lighter red fruit with the dry spices and smokiness of kebabs.
Third Quarter: Syrah and Buffalo Wings
The heat on the glaze coupled with blue cheese and the chicken make a dream pairing for Syrah. While not always possessing the body, dryness and power of a Cabernet, Syrah (and Zins for that matter) have always been a favorite pairing for the grill for how they exhibit supple tannin, rich fruit, and spices like pepper.
Fourth Quarter: Cabernet and Burgers
And now finally you can pop that Cab you've been sitting on... The classic pairing of Cabernet (and Cab-based blends) and red meat. If you followed the gameplan then your palate should have no problem enjoying the tannin, fruit and oak of your bottle against the sweetness of the grilled onions, texture of the lettuce, coolness of the tomato and juiciness of the patty.
Post Game Wrap-Up: Champagne
Your team wins or loses. You win or lose your office squares game. You're still upset your team didn't make it to the Big Game (even though it was obvious the refs should have called intentional grounding, roughing the kicker and a turnover... all in the same game). As Napoleon observed: "In victory, you deserve Champagne, in defeat, you need it."
Baldacci Family Vineyards: Winner of Overall White Wines in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition!
The results are in!
The 2014 SFCWC judging is over with a record number of 5,825 entries from over 1,500 wineries from over 25 states across the country - the largest competition of wines in America! Of the thousands of entries, seven were chosen amongst the best of class, including our very own 2012 Sorelle Chardonnay, taking home the grand prize of Best Overall White Wine!
This is a monumental time for Baldacci Family Vineyards with nothing but a brighter future ahead. If you wish to be the first to hear about our Spring 2014 Release, sign up for our email list in the box at the top.
Check out some of the other medalists from our winery below:
2012 Sorelle Chardonnay - BEST OVERALL WHITE WINE
“The Achievement of Balance”
It is rare to experience a chardonnay that so delicately blends Old vs. New. Respecting the old world origins of the grape to the new world palette. 2014 SF Chronicle sweepstakes winner, earning best Chardonnay in class and best overall white wine, we believe this is a true expression of the pursuit of balance.
Reserve a shipment of this wine - Join our Reunion Wine Club!
2010 Black Label - GOLD MEDAL
“The Iron Fist in a Velvet Glove”
The 11th release of our Cabernet showcases our vineyard and production practices being single estate married to the distinctiveness of the Stags Leap District.
Reserve a shipment of this wine - Join our Reunion Wine Club!
2011 Elizabeth Pinot Noir - SILVER MEDAL
“Sophisticated and graceful… yet willful”
A grape born in the tradition of full body napa valley wines but attended finishing school in Burgundy, this wine is a Cab lovers Pinot, and will stand its ground against even the wildest of game.
2010 Fraternity - SILVER MEDAL
“Multiple personalities blended into one”
South, central and north meet in this one bottle. Carneros Merlot and Syrah, Stags Leap Cab, meet Malbec from Pope Valley and create a complex red wine.
Reserve a shipment of this wine - Join our Reunion Wine Club!
2012 Gewürztraminer - BRONZE MEDAL
“Rediscover Germany in Napa”
Versatile and food friendly, a bouquet of lemon rind and green apple this wine is a tremendous experience of what a true dry Gewürztraminer should be. Experience a uniquely German varietal here in the Napa Valley, right from our estate in Carneros.
Reserve a shipment of this wine - Join our Reunion Wine Club!
Visit winejudging.com to buy tickets and visit our table or check out the rest of the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition winners!
Check out James "the Wine Guy" Melendez as he reviews our 2009 Syrah and grades it a 94 out of 100!
Some of the notes:
- Beautiful full body
- Scents of jasmine, juniper
- Notes of blueberry, blackberry, violet, caramel, nutmeg,
- Rich and beautifully balanced
We love wine: We drank more last year for the 19th year in a row -- up 2 percent to 360 million 12-bottle cases, according to wine consultants Gomberg, Fredrikson & Associates.
Wine consumption in the United States has been on a steady rise for the 14th consecutive year in 2007. Each wine drinker in America consumes around 2.77 gallons of wine per year according to data collected by the Wine Market Council, a wine analyst group from California.
Late in 2013, a report from Morgan Stanley analysts in Australia made a bold claim: the world is running short on wine. Although wine industry experts and insiders around the world disputed the claim, the meme gathered steam in the media, and, for a few weeks at least, lots of people who wouldn't normally talk about wine were discussing the shortage and picking up bottles. That may have played a part in pushing wine sales higher in the U.S., the world’s largest wine market. If figures show that wine sales increased in 2013, it would be the twentieth consecutive year of increasing per-capita consumption. Indeed, interest in wine remains high, and growing – even economic downturns haven’t derailed the wine train in America. But threats loom, foremost among them craft beer and cocktails. The rising quality of craft beer, often at a lower price than wine, and the rising interest in mixology and flavored vodkas (cinnabon flavor, anyone?) could peel off marginal wine drinkers. Younger drinkers, though, are ecumenical and often like to sample a variety of drinks.
Meet the Super-Somms!
A decade ago, critics bestrode the wine world, swirling wines, spitting out points, and moving markets. Today, a placement on a top wine list can be a bigger boost for sales. Sommeliers, particularly in America, are the new influencers.
The Rise of Social Media
Wineries have, on the whole, been reluctant and late adoptors of social media. But 2013 has demonstrated that Twitter sells. Take, for example, Richard Betts’ "scratch and sniff" wine book, which skyrocketed to number 10 on the New York Times bestseller list thanks to promotion on Twitter. Or Beyoncé’s surprise year-end album. The album's launch was announced via social media on the day it was released and shot to the top of the charts within hours.
Many producers have been all thumbs when it comes to social media but will start putting their digits to better use on their smartphones. Some of that will involve better tracking and engagement on social media; others could implement geolocation such as “geofencing” from VinTank, which helps wineries track the locations of mailing list customers visiting wineries nearby (with their consent).
Thanks for visiting the Baldacci Vineyards web site and blog! We're glad you're here. With our new, updated web site comes a new oppotunity to share our thoughts about wine and winemaking with our friends and customers. Come back to the Blog to get insights from Michael, Kevin, and Thomas Baldacci, as well as Matt Mills. We have a lot to say, so we hope you'll visit here often—though just as always, we'll be glad to see you when you come by the tasting room in person and chat!
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