What a great first harvest at Easy Street! We were blessed with moderate temperatures that allowed us to bring in grapes at a steady pace throughout harvest.
We started with our Viognier from two different vineyards. One vineyard’s fruit, from the Santa Maria area, was picked on the earlier side, providing wonderful acidity; the other, from a Foxen Canyon vineyard, was picked at peak ripeness. The two should blend together beautifully.
Our Syrah was next, all of which came in at premium ripeness. Fruit from near the Happy Canyon area came first. Grapes from this warmer area of Santa Ynez typically ripen earlier, which helped to spread out the order of picking our Syrah for the vintage. This fruit was quite dark, with a very earthy note. Additional Syrah from Ballard Canyon and Los Alamos came in at about the same time. All of our Syrah has been racked and is back into its original oak barrels, to be tucked away for several more months before we bottle.
We had a Grenache come in from Mr. Lee’s vineyard out on Baseline Road. Home to only three acres of vines, this vineyard is beautifully cared for, like a bonsai garden. We brought in one ton of fruit: perfectly ripe at 25 Brix, with a great pH in the low threes. Thank you, Fidencio!
Our fruit for Rosé came in next. This is a wonderful Mourvèdre, from a Foxen Canyon vineyard, that was picked at 19 Brix. The fruit has great acidity and is showing signs of wonderful grapefruit flavors. We decided to go with a natural fermentation, using yeast that occurs in the vineyard.
One of our Grenache Blanc vineyards was ready to pick after we received the Rosé. It comes from a beautiful little 25-acre vineyard in Ballard Canyon that yields great-looking fruit with a very distinctive terroir. This fruit always produces a big, lush wine with notes of apples and apricots.
The Chardonnay, from the cooler Santa Maria area, was our next focus. An ancient riverbed, with fantastic rocks the size of cobblestones, runs throughout this particular vineyard. The vines in the bloc from which we receive our fruit are over 30 years old. As a result, their yield is a little lower, which increases the intensity of flavors in the abiding fruits.
Surprisingly, the last lot of our Grenache Blanc, from a Foxen Canyon vineyard, came in after most of our reds. Watching that vineyard ripen was like waiting for water to boil. It took forever! I was actually a little worried that it might not finish up in time to harvest. It finally ripened, and the grapes came in looking great and at a wonderful pH level, even though the fruit had been hanging on the vine for so long.
The final fruit of the season was a Petite Sirah — another lot that took forever to ripen. It came in on October 28th and was worth the wait. The fruit had unbelievable concentration and ripeness, yet the acid levels were surprisingly low. It is probably the most well-balanced fruit we’ve brought into the winery.
I can go into more detail on the grapes and wine produced as we begin bottling, but that about sums it up for Harvest 2016. It was a wonderful harvest that should result in some very elegant and structured wines.
Rivahil Winery is the culmination of quite a few years of focus on winemaking. I started with Jaffurs Cellars in Santa Barbara in 2009. My experience started with volunteering at Craig Jaffurs' winery for several years of bottling and harvests and then eventually being hired to work a full harvest. Craig and his crew at the winery were very patient with my million questions over the years and they were more than willing to share their techniques in how they prefer to make wine. The wine industry as a whole is very welcoming and everyone I've met is willing to share suggestions and knowledge on winemaking.
Eventually Craig hired me to work a harvest full time. ( I just wore him down over 5 years to actually hire me ). All the time spent at Jaffurs was great experience and gave me the foundation to begin making my own wines. One thing you learn in winemaking is that you need to take your experience and techniques and be able to apply it each year to different harvest situations. It takes years of experiences and learning how to deal with the different conditions that harvest may present a winemaker. Dry years, wet years, sugar levels, ph levels and what you may need to do to produce the style of wine you prefer given the different grapes you receive each year.
I decided on calling it Rivahil Winery because it really has been a family process. The first year I made my own wine I had to send my eldest son (then 20) out to a vineyard to pick up a bin of grapes. He had no idea where he was going or what the process would involve, but sure enough he had the grapes back at the garage to be processed. Everyone in our family has been involved either with the hand bottling, labeling, foot stomping, punchdowns and pressing. You name it and they've helped with it.
After several years of home winemaking in the garage, it was time to move up to a legitimate wine business level of operation.
90 Easy Street in Buelton is the new location that is the beginning of Rivahil Winery commercial wine making. It took several months to move equipment from my garage in Carpinteria to our new location. There is also a lot of new equipment that needed to be acquired to be able to process 14 tons of fruit for the 2016 harvest; including 6 half ton macro bins and 6 one ton macro bins for processing the grapes and fermenting them. We also ordered 14 seventy gallon stainless barrels from the Paul Mueller Company and 16 sixty gallon french oak barrels from Tonnellerie Sirugue in Burgundy.
I met with Cecil Sirugue in January when she was on her tour of the West Coast. It was a pleasure meeting her and I'm looking forward to following up on her invitation to visit their cooperage. I love the quality of her barrels and the price is right! Definitely something to order early in the year since the barrels travel by container ship from Amsterdam to Oakland in May and then it took two weeks to get them shipped to us in Buelton. It was pretty exciting to fill up our winery space with 16 brand new french oak barrels on May 23rd. The smell of new oak barrels is pretty awesome and the excitement for our first harvest here is building with the arrival of all the new equipment.
Now comes organizing for additional equipment to process all the fruit and juice that will arrive with harvest. One thing that is critical for white wine making is cold stabilization. This process helps remove tartaric acid crystals from white wine and it's typically done before you bottle your white wineAlso, I'm going to need to chill down the juice for 48 hours before filling tanks and barrels to start the fermenting process. These processes require chilling equipment and jacketed tanks that can cool a large volume of wine or juice quickly. We'll be receiving a glycol chiller from G&D Chillers in Oregon. Ordering and lead time is probably 6-8 weeks and since it was ordered.