Harvest Interview with the Winemaker

Harvest 2017 Q&A with our Winemaker Coby Parker- Garcia

Pinot Noir Clusters at Twin Creeks Vineyard

In general how does this year’s crop look?

2017 Vintage is looking average for most varietals. The only varietal where we see lower yields is with Pinot Noir.  Rain and cool weather contributed to poor flowering within our Pinot Noir Vineyards.

Which varietal will Claiborne & Churchill be harvesting first?

Pinot Noir from Greengate Ranch & Vineyard will be picked first starting this Thursday!  We will be picking two select clones of Pinot Noir,  Pommard and 2A. This makes up about 8-10% of the total amount of Pinot Noir for C&C. The soils at Greengate are not as heavy as the soils in the Twin Creeks Vineyard which allows the fruit to ripen sooner.

As weather changes during the harvest season, how do you adapt?

As harvest progresses, things get crazier and more compacted with less free time. We closely monitor and watch the weather making sure we are still on track to pick at the best time for each varietal.

How do you decide when is the optimal time to pick a vineyard?

It all depends on the varietal. We typically pick Aromatic White Wines earlier at lower sugar levels. This allows us to make white wines with lower alcohol and higher acidity. For Chardonnay and Pinot Noir we pick a little ripper allowing the flavors to fully develop.  Syrah and Grenache are picked last and at the highest sugar levels. Another factor in harvesting our fruit is tracking weather patterns. If the weather starts heating up, some grapes may be picked earlier before they get too ripe. If there is a cooling trend there is no need to panic and the grapes could stay longer on the vine.

Pinot Noir, Pommard: Greengate Ranch & Vineyard

Pinot Noir, Pommard Clone: Greengate Ranch & Vineyard

Pinot Noir, Clone 2A: Greengate Ranch & Vineyard

Pinot Noir, Clone 2A: Greengate Ranch & Vineyard

Are most grapes harvested around the same sugar levels?

No. Each varietal is treated differently. We look at the sugar levels but we also look at the pH and acid levels. It also depends on the vintage; certain vintages allow for grapes to be picked earlier where flavor profiles develop earlier and need less time to ripen. Sometimes the grapes taste better at lower sugar levels and are more balanced between the sugars and acid.

Do you typically go in and harvest from each vineyard all at once or do you do multiple picks from each vineyard?

We typically pick multiple times through a vineyard. If we are only getting a small amount of fruit then we pick it all at once. For our Estate Twin Creeks Vineyard we pick multiple times to get grapes at different ripeness levels.  Harvesting a vineyard at different times allows us to get different flavor profiles that add to the complexity of the wine.

What is one of your biggest challenges during harvest and how do you manage this?

Time is a big challenge. From the actual harvest and making sure we pick at the right time, to making sure each person on our production crew is doing their part to processing the fruit into wine.

Multi-tasking is another challenge with the different grapes coming in to make the variety wines we produce. I’m constantly traveling back and forth from vineyard to vineyard and then back to the winery.

During harvest we put in long hard hours day after day. As a winemaker this is what I look forward to each year, it’s my time to shine and make the best wine possible.

Harvest has wrapped up early in the last couple of years, what are you expecting for this year?

Last year was one of the earliest harvests on record. It looks like we are two weeks behind last year which puts us closer to our average cycle. I’d say we should wrap up harvest with Grenache sometime in late October or early November.

What are you most excited for this harvest?

It is always interesting to see what the “ theme” of the vintage will be (high acid year, good color, bold flavors). After spending so much time in the vineyards, it is exciting to get my hands on the grapes and make wine. I always look forward to the smells of fermentation; this is something that never gets old, even after my 15th vintage at C&C!

Meet Brook Our Cellar Club Manager

What brought you to Claiborne and Churchill?

I have been working for C &C since June 2008 shortly after graduating from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. I was looking for a local, full time job after graduation and was in the process of interviewing for different positions. One of my favorite Agriculture business professors from Cal Poly was looking for someone to pass along to Claiborne and Churchill. She had a great relationship with Coby, our Winemaker, and recommended me for the Cellar Club Manager position. I went in for a couple of interviews and got the job!

The defining factor for my job search was to be in the business marketing for the wine industry, and this was totally the right fit. I liked everyone working here and it clicked.

Claiborne & Churchill Cellar Club Manager Brook ThompsonWhat does your job entail?

The job can be split up into a few things. First and foremost, my job is make sure that wine club members new and old, feel connected with the winery, receive the wines, and enjoy the wines. A large part of that is the communication and correspondence with club members, updating their information, organizing shipments and making sure everything runs smoothly. Another part of my job is the marketing aspect and looking into growth potential for the club as well as sustaining retention with current members. We are always looking at what makes members fully committed and what the key things they enjoy most about our winery and club. It’s important for me to create an environment that really holds true to what Clay and Fredericka started with back in 1983. Welcoming people to our winery and treating them like family is an essential part of our ethos.

Collectively we are able to create some special long lasting bonds with our members. Wine is magical and I truly believe it brings people together. There are wine club members that have been apart of the C&C family since before I was born!

What is the best thing about working at Claiborne and Churchill?

A lot of us have grown up working here for most of our adult lives. That says a lot about how the winery is run and the vision Clay and Fredericka have instilled in all of their employees. They create wines that are unique, captivating, and can be shared with friends and family. It starts with them and is passed down all the way to the tasting room staff. We want everyone on board to continue the wonderful 35 years of winemaking while continuing to grow and meet new people. The right atmosphere mixed with the right wines really makes my job great!

What sets the C&C Cellar Club apart from other wineries?

We produce and release a lot of stylistic and unique varietals. On a local level we produce beautiful Dry Riesling and Dry Gewürztraminers, two of the ten white wines we make each year. People connect with our Pinot Noir and seem to really dig the various small production Pinot Noir bottlings we release each year. It is such a key part of the Edna Valley and is one of our favorite wines to produce. Matching the love for Pinot Noir and desire for white wines puts us in a great spot to attract wine lovers to C&C. We are small production but still able to challenge each person’s palate with different aromas, textures and flavors.

What are the perks of being a Cellar Club Member?

It is free to join! Throughout the year, Cellar Club members can savor our flagship and small production wines, many of which sell out shortly after their release date. I love the fact that club members can pick between a Red Only selection, White Only selection, Dessert Only selection, or our popular Winemaker’s Selection (this is a mix of whites and reds). We also allow our members to customize their shipments! The flexibility to change and try new wines is a great way to engage and have the personal relationships with the members. We understand people spend their hard earned money on wine and we want to make them proud and happy with their purchases.

Cellar Club Manager Brook ThompsonWhat made you so interested in wine?

Unfortunately I don’t have a romantic answer for that.  During my second year at CalPoly I noticed some of my classmates were getting their minor in Wine & Viticulture because many of those courses double counted as required support courses.  This immediately attracted my attention.  The only experience I had with wine before that was when my parents let me try some of their wine at the dinner table. I didn’t realize how remarkable the wine industry was until I got deeper into those courses.  I admired the evolution of wine from grape to bottle and after working my first harvest in Paso Robles in 2007, I knew this would be the job community for me.

What kind of hobbies do you have?

I literally have grown up at Claiborne and Churchill; from a recent college grad to the man I am today. I like to think I have learned to grow through the winery.  Outside of the winery, I spend my time with my family, creating music, and watching Star Wars.

My wife and I are huge Disney nerds and we do our best to turn our 1 year old daughter into one as well. On our days off, we’re finding any excuse to get out of town for Disneyland, concerts, or any worthwhile adventure.  I love the two of them and they make for great co-pilots.

Music has been a part of my life for the past 17 years. Through music, I have played in bands, met people that have become life long friends, toured the country, recorded records and released them. I am not in the band anymore, but this past year I have gotten into writing film scores.

Any last thoughts?

Thank you to everyone who has supported Claiborne and Churchill, from our Cellar Club members to the casual Gewürztraminer fan that buys a bottle here and there. Without any of you folks we wouldn’t be here today. I am so excited to keep meeting people and continue on the journey we have been traveling on for the past 3 decades.