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2015 Harvest Recap with Winemaker Coby Parker-Garcia

Harvest 2015 has officially come to a close, and we are heading into a new season here at the winery. Despite the doomsday reports in the news about the impact of drought on California agriculture, we are really excited about what this vintage has in store. As can often happen, the dry climate this year really stressed the vines, which has led to some incredible fruit quality.Claiborne & Churchill Staff Picking the Estate late harvestRiesling

 

Spider web in Estate Riesling VineyardAs many people have noted, picking also came early this year. One question we often get from visitors is how an early harvest impacts the wine. Does the shorter growing season have a positive or negative impact? There are different views on this, but I tend to see this as a good thing. We are looking for maturation of the fruit and proper ripeness, and whether that happens early or late does not necessarily have much impact on quality. The benefit of an early harvest is that we are able to get the fruit off the vine and process it sooner, which minimizes the risk of something going wrong. The longer the fruit hangs on the vine, the more risk we see of damage due to weather like wind, rain, and frosts, as well as harm from pests like gophers, ground squirrels, and birds. Fruit that ripens quickly is generally safe from these hazards.Winemaker Coby Parker-Garcia

This week, we officially finished up harvest as our staff lent a hand to pick the rest of our Estate late-harvest Riesling, fruit that will be used in our 2015 Nektar. It was a fun way to get our hands dirty out in the vineyard one last time as we celebrated the end of another successful season here at Claiborne & Churchill! Now, for me, things will slow down a bit as we shift from around-the-clock pressing, fermentation, and punchdowns to monitoring the wines, topping barrels, and planning our 2016 bottling schedule. Out in the vineyard, the vines are starting to lose their leaves and will soon be dormant. As for me, after the craze of crush, I’m ready for a little breather, too. I’ll be sitting here in California on the edge of my seat with a glass of Pinot in hand, waiting to see how and when this El Niño winter everyone is talking about plays out. We just had our first big storm of the season yesterday. But stay tuned: experts are saying there’s more on the way.Claiborne & Churchill Harvest Intern: Jake Nivison

From all of us here at Claiborne & Churchill, we’re wishing you and your family a wonderful autumn. Stop by and visit us soon, or plan on attending one of our upcoming events! Before you know it, these 2015 wines will be ready to pour, and we can’t wait to show you what we’ve been working on. 


Harvest 2015 with Winemaker Coby Parker-Garcia

Harvest is in full swing here at Claiborne & Churchill! This week, we tracked down Coby in the cellar and asked him all our winemaking questions about Harvest 2015.

Coby Parker-Garcia, Winemaker 

Harvest seems to be firing on all cylinders! How much have we picked so far?
As of this week, we are 95% done with picking everything. Pinot Gris from Laetitia came in yesterday. We also got Merlot from Vintage Cowboy, which will go into the Port. Last week, we finished picking Gewürztraminer, Estate Riesling, Riesling from Talley, and Pinot Noir from Wolff. We picked some Pinot Noir early for Rosé, too, to keep that low alcohol and good acidity. Everything is looking really good so far.

Any exciting new changes?
This year, we got Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from across the street at Greengate Ranch & Vineyard. That’s the first time we’ve gotten fruit from them, and we’re stoked about that. Also, recently Twin Creeks Vineyard was granted Estate status, which is really exciting. Now we can make Estate Pinot Noir using Twin Creeks fruit.

Any cool new winemaking gadgets you are using this year?
We have a new CO2 sprayer. It’s this tank that sprays carbon dioxide snow. It’s really fun to use.

What’s it for?
We add CO2 before and after fermentation. It’s a heavier gas, so it weighs down on top of the fruit to prevent it from touching oxygen.

Why don’t you want oxygen touching the wine?
Oxygen touches the fruit and juice throughout the winemaking process. It alters the color and flavor of the wine, and has the effect of aging it. We try to minimize that wherever possible. This CO2 helps us keep the wine from oxidizing.

Can you walk us through that process?
After the fruit comes in, we process it, and then we put it into three-quarter or one-and-a-half ton fermenters. Then, we spray CO2 on top, or we can gas a whole tank with CO2 before we put the fruit in. In those cases, we fill the tank with carbon dioxide so it’s filled with heavy gas. Then when the fruit goes into the tank, it hits CO2 instead of oxygen. That is really important in preserving the quality of the wine.

We’ve heard you can use CO2 spray, or use dry ice instead. Is that true?
Yes, but dry ice chills the fruit down. If you add enough of it, it will actually lower the temperature of the must. Even though the CO2 is cold, it won’t have the same chilling effect on the fruit. Dry ice is really good, but it’s expensive. Instead of using dry ice, we pick our fruit early in the morning or late at night. When the fruit comes in, it’s already really cold, so we don’t really need to make it colder.

Doesn’t wine release it’s own carbon-dioxide during fermentation?
Yes. For example, when we are doing punchdowns, manually pushing down the cap of the wine, CO2 will come up. But as fermentation goes on, that slows down. Toward the end, very little CO2 is being made naturally. That’s where it can become a problem. When oxygen reaches the wine at that point, it can create volatile acidity and other issues. You spray the C02 over the bin, and it’s like a blanket. It keeps the wine safe.

So, it’s super important.
Yep. Really important.

Have any winemaking or harvest questions for our winemaker? Comment below, and we’ll choose a few questions to answer in later posts!


Riesling: The World’s Greatest White Winegrape?

For over 30 years in California’s Edna Valley, we have quietly produced what is considered one of the most dependably delicious Dry Rieslings this side of Alsace, France. Always erudite, educational and entertaining, our founding winemaker Claiborne Thompson shares what he’s discovered about what many consider to be “the world’s greatest white winegrape.”

Claiborne & Churchill Dry Riesling

Is Riesling a German word? Any idea what the root of the word is, or its meaning?
Its name is a bit of a puzzle. It’s possibly related to the German word reissen, “to tear, to carve, to cut,” but attempts to explain this connection are pretty lame.

Where does the Riesling grape originally come from?
It’s origin is no doubt to be found in Germany, specifically the Rheingau. There is a reference to “riesslingen” vines in a document from 1435, written by a cellarmaster with the amusing name of Klaus Kleinfisch (“Littlefish”) to his boss, the Count of Katzenelnbogen (“Cat’s Elbow”). The whole story sounds to me like a Mel Brooks comedy sketch.

Do you know how old it is?
Really old, probably going back to Roman outposts along the Rhine.

How did you get into Riesling?
Well, both my wife Fredericka and I have connections to Germany, and Riesling is the German grape par excellence.  I first visited Germany when I was 17, so my first wine experience was with Riesling. Fredericka’s mother is German (from the Rheinland), so she no doubt has a bit of Riesling running through her veins.

How does Alsatian-style Riesling differ from German Riesling?
When we started Claiborne & Churchill, we took our inspiration more from the (once German, now French) province of Alsace, across the Rhine from Germany. In Alsace, Riesling is king; it is the most planted varietal there, and nowhere else in France do they allow it to be grown. The Rieslings from Alsace tend to be drier, more structured and full-bodied than those in Germany. They are definitely not “sweet sipping wines.” (Having said that, it must be pointed out that these days German Rieslings are getting drier and drier.)

Claiborne & Churchill Estate Riesling

Where does C&C Riesling come from?
At Claiborne & Churchill we source our Riesling grapes from two regions: (1) our own Edna Valley, including our Estate Vineyard, and (2) Monterey County, specifically the Arroyo Seco area, where cold weather produces intensely aromatic grapes.

What are some typical aromas and flavors associated with wine made from Riesling?
One of the great things about Riesling wines is how they reflect a sense of place, of terroir if you will. But what all Rieslings have in common (if grown and made properly) is an abundantly floral and fruity aroma in the nose and a wallop of bracing acidity on the palate. In its youth you might find hints of apple blossoms, of peaches, of honey. As a Riesling ages it takes on more depth of flavor, and often develops a bouquet referred to by the off-putting word “petrol.”

What are the challenges to making it?
Riesling is a bit of a challenge to grow, because it is a late ripener and fairly susceptive to rot (including the precious “noble rot”). The grapes need to be pressed slowly and long, to get the best juice. Fermentation should be cold.

Claiborne & Churchill Dry Riesling

How long between pick, bottling, and release?
Riesling can be bottled relatively soon after it is made, but it needs a bit of aging before release. It is unfortunately true that most Rieslings are released too early (including ours) because people prize the youthful fruitiness more than the more profound flavors that the patina of age gives. Oh well, each to his own!

How do you most enjoy Riesling?
Riesling is famous for being the most versatile of wines and the most food-friendly. We enjoy it by itself as an aperitif wine (especially if it has a tiny touch of residual sugar), but it really stands out on the dinner table. I love it with poultry (Chicken in Riesling is a standard Alsatian dish), and fish, particularly shellfish. I think Dungeness Crab and Dry Riesling is a match made in heaven.

What other regions are making Riesling that you enjoy? (New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, etc)
Outside California, Germany and Alsace, good Rieslings can be found in Oregon and Washington, in the Finger Lakes region of New York , and in Australia. Each Riesling bears the hallmarks of its place of origin.

We will be releasing our 2014 Dry Riesling on May 1st 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Cellar Notes: Bottling 2014 White Wines

Making good wine is hard and exciting work, but getting these good wines safely into the bottle is something altogether different: hard and stressful work, you might say. Here at Claiborne & Churchill we can certainly attest to this; we’ve already bottled most of our white wines, having held three major bottling sessions in the first three months of this year!
Claiborne & Churchill Edelzwicker

The 2014 Dry Gewurztraminer, our most popular white wine, was bottled in January and has already been released to a thirsty wine club. February saw the Pinot Gris, the Dry Muscat, and the ever-popular Dry Rose ushered into bottles, and in March the Pinot Blanc, the Edelzwicker and the Dry Riesling (another signature wine) were bottled.

 

We now have a good handle on what the 2014 vintage has brought us, and we are very happy with how these wines have turned out. They taste fresh and vibrant, with beautiful aromatics, lush flavors, and great acidity. Sometimes a vintage brings quality to one varietal but not another, but the 2014s are all showing well in their youth, across the board!

Claiborne & Churchill Bottling

Why was the 2014 such a good vintage? Ironically, California’s drought had a lot to do with it. If the dry and warm summer brought us one good thing (besides perfect beach weather), it was quality in the vineyard. Vineyards tend to thrive under a little stress, in this case limited water. A dry springtime and ideal weather during bloom and berry set helped create solid wines and above average yields. Moreover, during the peak of the growing season we did not see any nasty heat spikes. June was a warm month, but July, August and September brought us pleasant coastal weather, ideal for our cool-climate varietals.


Meet Winemaker Coby Parker-Garcia

Where are you from?

I am a California native, born and raised here in San Luis Obispo.

How did you end up in the wine industry?

Growing up working in my family garden I realized my love for agriculture, and after extensive travel to Europe and South America I knew the wine industry was my true calling.

When it came time for college I decided to study Agribusiness Marketing with a minor in Wine and Viticulture at Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo. I worked on the campus vineyard, learning the ins and outs of growing grapes and also took an internship at Claiborne & Churchill Winery in 2002.  I would say this is where my love for winemaking grew and pushed my passion for wine even further.

Winemaker Coby Parker-Garcia

At what point did you become winemaker at Claiborne & Churchill?

Under the guidance of our owner and founding winemaker Clay Thompson, I learned traditional European winemaking techniques and was quickly promoted to the role of assistant winemaker in 2004.

I supplemented this education with additional enology classes at the University of California Davis. And in 2007, I was officially promoted to head winemaker.

Can you describe your winemaking style?

I like to say I take a hands-on approach to winemaking. Get in and get dirty. As a winemaker, my job is to highlight the best qualities of each vintage. Each vintage is different and brings something positive or unique to the table. My job is to showcase the vineyard and vintage in each glass of wine. My wines are not the biggest, boldest, or most tannic. They show extreme finesse. My style is to make balanced wine that accompanies food that show solid structure, elegance, and age ability”.

When you’re not making wine, how do you spend your time?

When I’m not knee deep in winemaking, I enjoy the outdoor lifestyle here on the Central Coast with my wife Katie and daughter Callie.  I like to surf, snowboard, mountain bike and grill on my downtime.


Q & A with Claiborne & Churchill Winery’s Clay Thompson: “Why Gewürztraminer?” And other good questions…

Gewürztraminer is a mouthful, in more ways than one. After 30 years of making, selling and championing wines from this lesser-known variety, Claiborne & Churchill Winery Founder, Clay Thompson, knows enough about its history, foibles and triumphs to be dubbed “The Godfather of Gewürz” by staff and all who know him. And with the recent release of C&C’s Alsatian-style 2014 Dry Gewürztraminer, this fascinating grape is most definitely on his mind.

Claiborne & Churchill Winery Founder Clay Thompson

What does this crazy German word Gewürztraminer mean?

Clay Thompson: “Gewürztraminer” is actually TWO words. The first part (“Gewürz”) is a normal German noun, meaning “spice.” The second part (“traminer”) is not a normal noun but a variant of a place-name, a town called “Tramin,” located in the German-speaking area of Northern Italy.

What are Gewürztraminer’s origins?

For decades we’ve all been spouting the party line that the Gewürztraminer grape originated in Tramin/Termeno, and in fact there are thousand-year-old records of a wine there called “Traminer.” Now along comes DNA research showing that Traminer is actually a variant of a somewhat obscure grape called “Savignin Blanc” (not to be confused with Sauvignon Blanc), and its home is northeastern France and Southwestern Germany rather than northern Italy.

Claiborne & Churchill 2013 Dry Gewurztraminer

How and why did you get into Gewürztraminer?

My wife [partner, Fredericka Churchill] and I were always rather “European” in our wine preferences. We were both very fond of German and Alsatian wines, so when we got this wacky idea to leave our comfy jobs in academia and move to California “to start a winery” (as if that were a simple thing to do), we took our inspiration from those wines. In the summer of 1983 we went to Alsace and hiked along the “Wine Road” from village to village, tasting the wines and talking to the vintners. We came back inspired and in the fall bought eight tons of Gewürztraminer and Riesling grapes from a local vineyard and made the first vintage – 550 cases – of Claiborne & Churchill.

How does Alsatian-style Gewürztraminer differ from, say, German Gewürztraminer?

It’s generally agreed that the Alsace versions of this wine are more aromatic than their German or Italian cousins. But historically there is another major difference between Alsace wines and the German wines across the border. In a nutshell: Germans make ‘em sweet, Alsatians make ‘em dry. Everybody knows how lovely the delicate sweet Mosel wines are (and how cloyingly sweet the inexpensive versions like Liebfraumilch are). And everybody knows how firm and dry and well-structured an Alsatian Gewürz or Riesling is. For years we have explained our C&C wines in this way. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve said, “try it, it’s fruity but dry,” I could have retired long ago.

Gewurztraminer Grapes

Where does C&C Gewürztraminer come from?

In the early years, our Gewürz came from here in the Edna Valley, then from neighboring Santa Barbara and Monterey Counties, finally settling on the latter; especially the Arroyo Seco area, where a very cool microclimate produces wonderful aromatics.

What are the typical aromas and flavors associated with wine made from Gewürztraminer?

Some common descriptors are quite flattering (“damask rose” as one wine writer said of ours), and some, really weird (“cold cream”). The most common is probably lychee. Sometimes Gewürz goes through a grapefruity phase as it develops, and takes on rich and heady notes of ginger, allspice, and other baking spices.

Gewurztraminer Grapes

What are the challenges of making it?

As Gewürz ripens on the vine, the famous spicy flavors and aromas start to develop just as the acidity starts to drop. It is important to catch this moment and harvest it before the acid disappears, leaving you with a very flabby wine. In the cellar, fermentation should be temperature controlled (i.e. cold), so you don’t lose all those aromatic esters.

How long between harvest, bottling, and release?

At C&C, it is always the first wine to be bottled, soon in the new year. It can be released after a few weeks’ bottle-aging, although there is something very special about an older (five to ten years) Gewürz, when it has acquired the rich and complex patina of age.

How do you enjoy Gewürztraminer best?

I enjoy Gewürztraminer best in months that contain a vowel, preferably on days that contain a “d.” But seriously, it is not only a great aperitif wine, but is also a great wine to pair with spicy, exotic, foods like Thai, Indian, Szechwan, and Japanese. It also matches up well with those in-between dishes, like pork, ham, turkey and salmon.


Claiborne & Churchill 2013 Port Obispo and Flourless Chocolate Cake

We are excited to announce the release of our 2013 PortObispo!

Port or “port-style” wines have always been a perfect accompaniment for a wide range of desserts and after-dinner snacks, from artisan cheese plates to savory cheesecakes and dark chocolate.  We classify our PortObispo as a California dessert wine, rather than a port since only sweet, fortified wines that are aged and bottled in the Douro region of northern Portugal can technically be named port -or- porto.

Claiborne & Churchill 2013 PortObispo

When it comes to port, there are various methods and styles to making this classic wine.   For instance: tawny ports age extensively in barrel, sometimes as long as 20 years. As it matures, the wine develops deeper, more complex characteristics while its color fades to a brownish, tawny hue. They range in sweetness, from sweet to medium dry.  Ruby ports, known for its deep, ruby color, traditionally spend less time in barrel so it can retain more of its natural color, and sweet, fruity characteristics from the grapes.

Though our PortObispo is produced in more of a traditional ruby port style than a tawny port style, it is definitely influenced by the California-style of winemaking.  Rather than, say, Touriga Nacional and Tempranillo, we picked late-harvest Pinot Noir from the Edna Valley and Merlot from Pozo Valley to make the 2013 PortObispo.

The ripe and juicy fruit is punched down several times a day, before and after fermentation to achieve maximum color and flavor. We then add wine spirits in sufficient quantity to stop the fermentation while the wine is still sweet (8.5% residual sugar/18.4% alcohol).  The wine then barrel ages for 15 months in neutral French oak before bottling.

The end result is a bottle full of delightfully sweet dessert wine.  Enjoy a glass of this smooth and balanced PortObispo with Stilton cheese or a flourless chocolate cake.  In fact, our very own Robyn Tanner was kind enough to share a recipe for you to try out.  Enjoy!

Flourless Chocolate Cake

FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE CAKE

Ingredients
1 lb. bittersweet chocolate, chopped (56% cacao semi-sweet chocolate also worked)
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
1/4 cup strong coffee
8 large eggs
Directions
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease 9 inch springform pan and line bottom with parchment paper. Melt chocolate, butter and coffee together in the microwave for 1 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently until smooth. Using a stand mixer, whip eggs together for 5 to 10 minutes on high until very thick. Gently fold the eggs into the chocolate mixture using a third of the eggs at a time. Combine until no streaks remain. Pour the mixture into the prepared springform pan. Cover the bottom of the pan with 2 large squares of tinfoil and rest inside a larger roasting pan. Pour boiling water into the larger roasting pan until it reaches half way up the sides of the cake pan. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted an inch away from the pan’s edge reaches 140 degrees. Do not overbake! Remove the pans from the oven and let sit together for 45 minutes. Remove cake pan from roasting pan and let cool on a wire rack for 2-3 hours. Run a sharp knife along the cake’s edge to separate it from the rim. Refrigerate overnight. Before serving, remove the cake from the springform pan, slice carefully and garnish with powdered sugar and strawberries.

Claiborne & Churchill Harvest 2014 Update

It’s early September and harvest is in full swing here in the Edna Valley. Because of the warm and dry winter and the early onset of bud break, we’ve been ahead of schedule all season! In fact, a small lot of Pinot Noir was the first to be harvested, making it the first vintage in twelve years we’ve processed red grapes before any of our white varietals. With that said, we still have about 85% of our Pinot Noir to bring in from the Twin Creeks vineyards this Friday! This will account for a good majority of our wine. (No doubt it comes as a surprise to many that Pinot Noir is our largest production wine with five different bottlings awaiting release for 2015.)

Claiborne & Churchill Pinot Noir

This 2014 harvest also marks the sixth official vintage of our “Claiborne Vineyard” Estate Riesling. At 4:30 am yesterday the crew started picking our 2 acre vineyard, which yielded a total of 5.8 tons. Though this wine might not be released until 2016, our 2012 Estate Riesling will be available later this month. We were privileged to have our friends in Fialta (@fialtamusic) use our Estate Riesling vineyard as a backdrop for footage in their new music video.  They were here at 5 am as the action was happening and crews were busy picking. Stay tuned for yet another great song and music video by one of our favorite local bands!

Claiborne & Churchill Estate Riesling Claiborne & Churchill Estate Riesling

We now have 90% of our Riesling in and it’s only the second week of September! This is in contrast to last year, where we did not start picking until early October – just another reminder of this year’s early harvest. Heck, we might even wrap up harvest by the end of the month!

As we continue with our traditional winemaking practices, our winemaker Coby has also decided to implement whole cluster fermentation on small lots of our Pinot Noir and Syrah the last couple years. Happy with the results, he’s decided to whole-cluster ferment a larger percentage of this year’s fruit. The goal with whole cluster fermentation is enhanced aromatic expression, greater complexity and silkier smooth tannins. We look forward to the progression of these wines over the coming year.


Harvest 2014 Q&A with Claiborne & Churchill Winemaker Coby Parker-Garcia

What number harvest is this for you?
“This will be my 12th professional harvest, not including the two “learn by doing” harvests at Cal Poly.”

What music do you like to jam to during harvest?
It really depends on where we’re at during the season. If I’m out sampling grapes, something mellow. But if I’m doing punch downs or hard cellar work I like to listen to reggae or classic rock. And if I’m driving to go check out vineyards I enjoy listening to sports talk radio.

With such a warm dry winter and early bud break, how has it affected this year’s harvest?
This is definitely one of the earliest harvests in California history and Edna Valley history. It’s the first time we have ever picked Pinot Noir in August. Grapes are tasting very good at lower sugar levels, yields are average, high quality, no rot, and very good uniformity in the vineyard.

I would say the good thing about having such an early harvest is that you get it done sooner and life on the central coast during fall is some of the best weather. So we should be done harvesting all of our grapes by the end of September, which means that we will get to enjoy a little bit of October.

Winemaker_Coby

Are there any new wines in the works for the 2014 vintage?
We’re going to keep most of our portfolio the same with the addition of another Malbec. We are making a 2014 Malbec from Santa Margarita Ranch.

Which wine growing region has had the most influence on you?
I would say it’s a split between Burgundy and Alsace. These two regions are two of my favorite regions in the world, not only for how beautiful they are but the style of wines and the class of wines they produce.

What is your favorite beer to drink during harvest?
Anything that is cold and wet. Typically I like IPA’s however they can be a little big and a little bitter, so I would say Pacifico is probably one of my favorite beers to drink after a long day of work, it really quenches my thirst!

Common Harvest Terms

Veiw a list of Commnon Harvest Terms here.


San Luis Obispo Wine Country: Veraison of Pinot Noir

It’s mid July, and as we look onto our estate vineyards, we see our Pinot Noir clusters turning from a youthful shade of green to its classic purplish hue.  What does this mean in the world of viticulture?  Well, it’s a clear indication that veraison has started.  This French term means the “onset of ripening” in the vineyard.  From here on out, the sugars in the grapes (in the form of glucose and fructose) will start to accumulate, the berries will soften, and the anthocynins (which gives the grapes its red color) will continue developing within the skins.

What’s interesting is just how early verasion has occurred.  This stage of a vineyard’s annual growth cycle typically begins in the later part of July/early August.  Ever since our warm, dry winter the vineyards in the Edna Valley have been ahead of schedule all year.  So it wasn’t much of a surprise when we started noticing signs of versaison around 4th of July.

Though our young Estate Pinot Noir vineyard is looking healthy, we must continue working in the vineyard to ensure a bountiful harvest.  Our newly appointed Assistant Winemaker, Zack Geers, has been leaf pulling this week to give better ventilation and fruit exposure to each vine.  He has also dropped any excess clusters that might be bunched too closely together.   This is an important process, allowing for vines/fruit to acquire the right amount of nutrients and also reducing the risk of bunch rot.