Winery of the week: Robert Mondavi Winery

Truthfully, we hardly visit any of the big name wineries in Napa especially with their affiliation with the corporate world. However, we were extremely and pleasantly surprised during our visit at the Robert Mondavi Winery. We thoroughly enjoyed  our behind the scenes tour with the new red wines winemaker, Nova Cadamatre

Archiving our moment here at Mondavi.
Archiving our moment here at Mondavi.

Robert Mondavi Winery is an integral part to the history of the Napa Valley that is why we picked it as our winery of the week for this week.

Red barrel storage at Mondavi
Never ending red barrel storage rooms at Robert Mondavi. Sensational!

One thing among the many that caught our attention and changed our tune of this Napa iconic winery was that the wines were phenomenal. A lot of care and attention is given to each wine no matter which category it falls under. Also, they do a lot to maintain their distinct presence and of course their lock down on some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in the Napa valley, namely the iconic To Kalon vineyards. This winery does seem timeless perhaps that is attributed to the finesse that encompasses the whole operation.  Although they try out new events, I am glad the corporation hasn’t ran this beauty into the ground and has maintained its integrity on the To Kalon series wines.

Veraison at the Mondavi Winery
Veraison at the Mondavi Winery

Offering multiple wine tasting options in a variety of locations, each tastefully decorated. Along the tour through the winery, artwork from the Mondavi’s personal collection adorns the walls . There are lovely tributes to Robert and Margrit Mondavi throughout the property. When we were visiting we happened to catch a few glimpses of veraison. Which always puts us in a great mood knowing that harvest is on the horizon.

The infamous To Kalon room, with lots of Oak Punch Ins.
The infamous To Kalon room, with lots of Oak Punch Ins.

Leaving their pleasantly surprised , we feel comfortable recommending that everyone visits Mondavi and checks this winery off their proverbial wine country tasting list.

Join us today for a fabulous bike tour exploring the Carneros region where Mondavi sources some of their best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Stay off of the busy Highway and enjoy the country roads of Carneros.

2013 Pre-Harvest Update

The 2013 vintage is shaping up to be a delectable and opulent vintage. Differing slightly from last year’s abundance, we have a more balanced crop load and an official early veraison date. We are all purple and on the way to ripening by August 9th, way earlier than last year and we won’t even go to the historical veraison date for the dreaded 2011 vintage, definitely gave us a couple of wrinkles and maybe a few grey hairs.

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Absolutely gorgeous is how we can describe the beautifully placed and highly sought after two clusters per shoot on the Cabernet Sauvignon canes and the lovely cascading clusters of Merlot peeking out among the leaves to absorb the sunshine. We started irrigating earlier than previous years due to the dry winter to ensure we would have sufficient canopy to last until the last pick , which this year looks like it will be the Petit Verdot in the Coliseum block.

Though this week we have been seeing cooler than usual temperatures, it isn’t affecting us negatively at all because we are hillside select and the heat radiates off of the rocks heating up the canopy and the grapes beautifully without causing sunburn, yay!

All growers place bets on the first pick, we have $10 in the pot for a mid September for Merlot. Cabernet Sauvignon seems to be maturing for an October pick like usual.

Here is to a great vintage, cheers!

Winery of the week: Palmaz Vineyards

Interested in exploring one of the newest appellations in Napa? This would be the Coombsville appellation consisting of some of the best hidden gems and delicious red wines all sourced from this cool climate in the Eastern hills of the southern Napa Valley.

Palmaz VineyardsIf looking for a heritage site home to one of the founding tradesmen and winemakers of the Napa Valley during the early 1800s , the old Hagen estate now currently known as Palmaz Vineyards  is a place to visit on your next tasting adventure in Coombsville.The winery and vineyards are subliminal and the food pairing that goes along with the tasting is stellar.

Founded by Dr. Palmaz, he purchased the land in the late 1990′s and developed it into a beautiful estate where efficiency is key for all of these small batch lots. From the vineyards to the bottling, great care is taken to not damage not even a single berry and to not over manipulate the wine  so that it retains its true expression from the vineyard. Meticulous farming and gravity flow are two key components that take these wines to the next level.

Upon our visit, our tour guide Doug, whom is also a resident of the cellar crew , gave us an in depth tour covering the many subterranean stories of Palmaz. He demonstrated their sustainable operations, showing us the carousel of tanks that move around by an almost glammed up crow’s nest where the controller sits during the crush.

Palmaz Vineyards

Hand selected and hand sorted, sorting roughly 8 tons per day is the name of the game for this wine making team and for this lucrative brand. Sharing an Argentine heritage, these bold wines pair well with the big BBQ that adorns the Tuscan patio on one of the few stories that aren’t subterranean in this winery.

Our favorite wine out of the tasting was the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, great tannins and will get better and better with age.

Delightful food pairing with the tasting.

Delightful food pairing with the tasting.

We love this hidden gem, nestled up against Mt. George and allowing us to glimpse one of the oldest original estates in Eastern Napa Valley.

Cheers to our next adventure!

Budbreak is Here! 2012 Well On Its Way

The 2012 vintage is off to a great start. Budbreak is just one to two weeks behind for growers and we are excited. After a whirlwind South America tour for our vacation while the vines are dormant we are rested and revved for what the 2012 vintage holds for us and everyone in the Napa Valley.

Cabernet Franc was the first to push out and it now has about an inch of growth. The Malbec followed , then the Merlot and the Cabernet Sauvignon is on its way and will catch up soon with the hot weather headed our way for the weekend and the rest of April.

The frost was tricky a couple of weekends ago, with the warm weather and then the sudden cold snap, farmers were racing up and down the valley to protect the new green tissue that frost loves to burn. I heard that in Carneros the temperature dipped to 30 degrees.

Love the new frost technology where you will get an alarm to wake you up if temperatures start dipping below 38 degrees. What did farmers do before that, they probably had their weather knee act up.

All the vineyards have been pruned, mowed, the wires tightened, all the projects that make it have a good strong start have been completed. Now the spray regimens will begin , we are starting out with a Stylet oil application.

Cheers to 2012!

Got Grapes? Winemakers Sure Hope So

Seems to be a  frenzy out there surrounding the sourcing of  wine grapes for the 2012 vintage. Hopefully there will be enough for even the home winemakers come September and October 2012. Even before budbreak winemakers are calling to secure fruit, a lot of us are just meeting up post fruit-set to really know how much fruit will be out there this year. We are speculating a full amount because Mother Nature hasn’t diminished the crop load by any percentage.

Like other growers we are basking in the newly expressed popularity, grower luncheons, and VIP treatment. I could use a fresh Mani and Pedi for those looking to butter this extreme hillside grower, there could be a 1/2 ton allotment in your future.

From past clients to new clients , everyone is eagerly securing fruit for this hopefully epic 2012, the big turn around from the previous 2009-2011 vintages. With speculations of rainbows, glitter, and sunshine to adorn this year’s vintage.

As pruning begins , most vineyards are trying to increase the crop load within reasonable circumstances , either a 3rd or even 4th kicker cane for cane pruning and extra extensions on spur pruned cordon trained vines. Rumor even has it that highly sought after Cabernet vineyards are trying to increase production. We wish we could but we are still hanging with our 2 tons per acre mantra.

Some wineries have complained saying that grape prices have risen sharply and what would that mean for already $100 plus bottles of wine? Our reply is that grapes seem to be commanding their true market value and growers are finally being offered an adequate or fair price for grapes instead of being offered lower than usual prices.

It is an interesting market and industry where the cycles are so high and low , and sometimes devastating. Three years ago we could barely sell Merlot grapes and our neighbor had to drop over 10 tons of Chardonnay on the ground because of the lack of demand. Glad to see those nightmare days behind us and dollar signs in the future. Not that we are greedy, it takes quite a bit of dinero to farm a hillside vineyard correctly and in a high-end manner. The prices we ask are in direct reflection of the quality of farming we are committed to and to continue our long-term relationships with our clients.

Rutherford Grill lunches, bottles of wine, and promising new contracts are the perks that some growers are receiving to take on new clients  as well as continue with current clients. All in all we are eager to see how the 2012 growing season turns out and the crop.

As we say , no rain is okay it is the late rain that will affect the crop size . We have Merlot , Malbec,  and a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon available but not for long.

Cheers!

When Napa lady grape growers escape to Argentina and Chile

We thoroughly enjoyed our tour of South America , especially the viticulture portion in Casablanca valley, Chile and  Mendoza, Argentina. These two countries, although neighbors, practice different viticulture and wine making techniques.

Ladies resting at Bodega Archal-Ferrer , beneath the Andes

The wines did not disappoint, some of the hospitality was gruff but all in all the Malbec was fruity, the Cabernet not super tannic, the Carmenere intriguing with a full body and a deep color, and the Torrontes crisp refreshing with a beautiful aroma on the nose of Jasmine.

Mendoza

Mendoza, a desert, has been producing wine since the 1800′s.During our stay, we visited a variety of wineries from big corporate-style to lovely small boutique wineries.

We ventured through Mendoza in two different ways visiting two valleys, a bike ride through Maipu courtesy of Mr. Hugo Winery and Bikes and a hired taxi in Lujan de Cuyo. Next time after this epic 2012 harvest we will hire a Limo and tour the              up-and-coming region of the Uco Valley, supposedly where all the extreme hillside vineyards thrive.

Touring Mendoza by bike and hired car were both excellent ways to experience this wine region from viticultural, enological, and tourist point of view. The landscape was gorgeous, vineyards paired with the Andes backdrop was impeccable as well as looking at the vines bearing purple or white fruit awaiting harvest, about 8 weeks away.

Malbec awaiting the 2012 harvest, shatter came through the region as well.

The highlights of Mendoza wines were from the following Bodegas: the Brut Rose from Trapiche, the Unus blend from Mendel, the Finca Bella Vista Archal-Ferrer, the Malbec Rose from Mevi, the veranda and the Australian guys imbibing Malbec next to us really enhanced our visit,  the Torrontes from Terrazas de los Andes, the Cabernet Sauvignon from Bonfanti . For lunches we couldn’t resist the Argentine beef so we pulled off the road at a random Parilla and dined on succulent huge Bife de Chorizo Argentine steaks, accompanied by Chimichurri and Salsa Criolla of course! Muy sabroso y jugoso.

Classic cut of Argentine beef

From a grape grower and winemaker perspective , there are quite a few differences between the methods we implement in Napa and the methods that have swept Argentina.

Vineyards

The vines are trained in all sorts of methods with Cordon trained/spur pruned dominating. Irrigation is standardized across all vineyards through anal irrigation controlled by the government. Essentially the government opens the waterways every fifteen days and you can either open your canal or close it to irrigate the vines.

Lots of vineyards have gone through a variety of ownerships or re-plantings, because of this transition a lot of the vineyards are dotted with 100 year old olive trees. Peach and plum trees also decorate vineyards especially in the Maipu and Lujan de Cuyo areas.

A 100 year-old Olive tree adorns a Malbec Vineyard

Winery

Asides from irrigation and trellis differences, another difference is the recycling of wineries. Since wine making has existed for so long in Argentina, lots of wineries have changed ownership and the new owners figure out how to configure the existing winery into their general plan.

A common theme and structural element that we observed at a variety of wineries was the use of huge cement tanks that were built into the walls , these tanks could supposedly hold over 500,000 liters of wine.One winery’s approach to producing high quality boutique wines was the installation of newer stainless steel tanks within the winery and installing air-conditioning units inside the huge industrial cement tanks and turning them into barrel storage. An incredible experience to go inside the chilled barrel ‘room’,  really gave it a submarine type feel with the big door being cranked shut.

Whereas we cellar or age the bottled wine in a case flipped upside down, in Mendoza, we found the custom to be different, where bottles are laid flat on top of each other, where someone has the ability to check the corks for any faults through the aging process. After this stage, the wine is then put into the 6 bottle cases.

 

Malbec Reserva during the aging and cork inspection process

Another difference is packaging, in Argentina and Chile wine is packaged into six bottle cases instead of twelve. Due to the hands-on nature of the wine industry within both countries, cases are six bottles because essentially it is easier to pick up a six bottle case instead of a twelve bottle case.

Casablanca Valley

Chilean wines were astounding , Sauvignon Blanc and Carmere dominated tasting menus. The wineries are bigger and boutique wineries haven’t come into full force,however, things are changing. Vineyards are kept immaculate up to our Napa standards unlike some of the Argentine vineyards.  One winery we especially liked was Bodega Viña Mar, their bubbles were delicious as well as their chilled Pinot Noir and room temp Carmenere .

When your palette becomes overwhelmed by the fine wines of both Chile and Argentina , it is always a good idea to refresh with Chilean Pisco. Pisco, another alcohol sourced from wine grapes, perhaps Napa will get in on the game of Pisco production. Try out either a Pisco sour or a Pisco cocktail, might we recommend Pisco Berry or Pisco Aji for those brave souls that like a spicier digestif.

Refreshing our palettes with a delightful Chilean Pisco cocktail

Wishing everyone a warm winter and a wonderful start to spring,Cheers!

How will farmers thrive in 2012 and beyond? being a consumer as well as a farmer

Not only grape growers but farmers in general seem to be finding success by a new mantra “understanding of what customers want to [eat or] drink, what they want to hear, and what they’re willing to pay” (The New Yorker, November 21, 2011, “Sacred Grounds”) The new twist is the incorporation of social media and displaying the niche of the farmer . Not only the needs and wants of the consumer, but farmers are designing their marketing campaigns from a consumer’s point of view. Spinning a new story about the crop or showcasing a new attribute, for example the way the Pistachio and Pomegranate have garnered fame.  Following this new mantra can open the door for productive conversation, higher sales, and long term contracts.

Turning Pomegranates into a celebrity

Coffee has seen a cult status reemergence where farms and growers are being featured on the coffee labels. Coffee companies such as Stumptown , place particular coffee producers on their labels because they realize that savvy consumers will search out their product. Regarding other crops, ranches, farms, and growers are gaining a following or a fandom surrounding their product, farming techniques,  and story.  Similarly to the vineyard designates and particular vineyards that are highly sought after because of the prestigious fruit, scarcity of it, reputation, and infamous terroir.

Beautiful coffee "cherries"

Competition is as fierce as ever being a farmer, higher input costs, substantial quantities of product on the market, as well as superb quality across the board. However, there are still those people out there sneaking by with a sub-par product .  Take Cabernet Sauvignon  for instance, the grape market is flooded with Cabernet Sauvignon, but when one peers into the intricacies of it, there is a high supply of average Cabernet Sauvignon and a short supply of the primo stuff. i,.e. hillside or Rutherford bench. Finding new methods to stand out from the pack is essential to surviving this economy.

There is an appearance of new producers from non-traditional backgrounds, for example: women farmers and new enthusiasts ,showcasing their prestige and developing clever marketing campaigns. With passion and a knowledge of the market , quality products are being distinguished from the milieu of the barrage of products within the industry.Showcasing your passion and the TLC of tending to your crop , consumers empathize as well as adopt  your mission and your ideals.

Ladies giving TLC to their crops

Some of the new women farmers on the scene are Bossy Acres, Thomson Vineyards, and Aida Batlle  . Whether it is high-end Chardonnay, infamous micro greens and organic produce, and extraordinary Salvadoran coffee (she even has hillside coffee farms too), these producers are experiencing success with using various social media platforms to communicate to consumers, interact with actual and potential clients, showcase their story and point of view , and above all delivering a high quality product.

Returning back to grape growing which is so pertinent to us, we can’t wait to taste the wine made from our grapes and receive our positive and negative feedback to better farm it next year, continual improvement that’s key to an already flooded market . One must have a palette as well as calluses on their hands, knowing where the consumer is spending their money as well as what type of wine attracts them. For us , the consumer is namely the winemaker and the clients that purchase the $125/bottle  and we have to be able to talk to the talk and walk the walk to secure our sales in the current state of the economy and market.

Cheers!

Harvest 2011: Friend or Foe?

The whirlwind effect that took over Harvest 2011 will be difficult to forget. It was just shy of 2 months and shredded everyone’s nerves to the raw. Relationships were strained as some vines shut down and stopped ripening and Botrytis slowly engulfed the vineyards.

In addition to the usual stresses that embody the frenzy of harvest,  a fire erupted the day after we finished harvesting on November 1, 2011 , Soda Canyon fire. The ranch is safe and sound and will continue to produce beautiful hillside Bordeauxs.

Aftermath of Soda Canyon Fire, Hossfeld Vineyards in the backdrop

 

The threat of Botrytis started early among the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir harvest leaving late ripening Bordeauxs and other varietals vulnerable. Thin skinned varietals such as the Burgundies and Rhones more specifically Petit Syrah literally rotted off of the vine in a three-day period.Our Merlot was gorgeous into October and then three dense foggy morning caused Botrytis to”bloom” as they say .

Merlot with Botrytis Bloom

Luckily, we assembled our crew and pulled it all off in a matter of 2 days before complete meltdown. Regarding the Cabernet Sauvignon , Cab Franc, and Petit Verdot, virtually unscathed from Botrytis bloom.

Pea-soup foggy morning during Merlot Pick

After the pea soupy foggy mornings the weather pattern shifted to a breezy, sunny, warm spell for roughly 10 days which dried out the Botrytis . The tainted berries fell off and the beautiful fruit carried on. It was a very resource intense vintage, commanding a long hang time, late Botrytis fungicide spray applications and selective or “clean”  picking throughout the harvest. Those growers that managed to deliver a decent tonnage fared well compared to others that had to make split second decisions before the crop rotted and quality was being compromised.

All in all, we only battled Botrytis , Aspergillus wasn’t an issue this year as in the previous 2009 and 2010 vintages. The late spray application of  fungicide to combat and prevent Botrytis  really did prolong the hang time for the other varietals . Although an extra expense to an already maxed out budget it was money well spent.

Getting the forklift involved for the Cabernet Franc Pick

Overall we survived magnificently, all grape varietals ripened to 25 -28 degrees bricks. The harvest was quick, in total we harvested over a 10 day period. It takes a lot of pre-planing and strategy to harvest this extreme hillside vineyard. As well as a lot of Gatorade, Coca-Cola, and Bud Light. Heineken is a popular beer for celebrating the end of that day’s pick. All grapes were handpicked and personally delivered looking as clean as clean could be in this type of year.

Hossfeld Lady harvesting those steep terraces

 

Weathering two storms, and a gorgeous two weeks of late sun for ripening. All the components that create high quality grapes came through at the end, leading to a better vintage than the previous two vintages, namely, 2009/2010. We are excited to see how the wines progress from this vintage. The color and flavor definitely arrived through the late hang,   as well as great PH and TA. Superb quality compared to other players this year.

A Grower’s Bliss

Rumor has it that some wineries are still taking in fruit as we speak, in hopes of recouping costs through selling it on the bulk market. Always a popular strategy and fruitful as well. In addition, to bulk wine futures other wineries are picking second crop in hopes of sweetening up the wine made from the primary crop. This is an interesting winemaking decision  and is most likely  probable due to the mild Autumn weather and the lack of rain .

Winterization has commenced at the ranch. Erosion control, addressing sick/dead vines, and cover crop projects are the last loose ends to wrap up before the winter.

Gator Full of Desiccated Vines

Cheers to everyone involved in the 2011 harvest , looks like we will actually have a 2011 vintage after all.

Harvest , Ahoy!: Finishing Projects and Prepping for Rain

After a gruesome couple of weeks manicuring the vineyard, we have dragged ourselves out of Dev 3 ( the big Cabernet Block) marking the finish line of this project . Just 3 foxy ladies  completing all 22 acres sans labor crew plucking green berries and dessicated clusters.

Why Hossfeld ladies have killer legs

That’s how we roll here,  especially when it comes to dropping extra fruit and green berry picking. It sounds almost insane, however, it can really  make a  big difference concerning grape quality.Those green berries can offset acid and chance a whole year’s worth of work by spiking the juice with a green jalapeno taste. This aids us in our rain contingency plan and increases all over cluster quality and flavor.

These green berries stick out like a sore thumb

It takes a cautious and intelligent hand to carefully inspect each cluster and pluck out that specific berry without juicing the cluster.  If you are going to be like a bear in the forest plucking blueberries then this task is not for you.  Luckily we have a Master’s in  Psychology, and two business degrees to round out this project and all projects in the vineyard , as well as in our culinary veggie gardens. At Hossfeld Vineyards we strive for substantial quality and overall excellence when it comes to these stellar hillside Bordeauxs. That’s why we go above and beyond to insure better quality and an excellent vintage.

Similar to most jobs in the wine industry , grape growing conjures up this glamorous fairy tale glitteratti image. Along the lines of the fabulous life that surrounds  tending to the vines and growing the grapes that make the fabulous wines in Napa , Sonoma, etc., even though  growers aren’t the first to be thought of when tasting wine.  For all this glamor though, this industry makes you work for it , especially if you want to be a glamorous lady wine grower here in the Napa Valley. Thomson Vineyards can attest to this as well. You can’t be light-hearted or light on your feet, you have to be dedicated to producing the best possible grapes and cracking the proverbial whip at all times. Never let your guard down or your manicure chip at all costs.

Tired, sweaty, caked in fine dust or expensive terroir, and slightly sticky, the vineyard is well on its way to harvest. Just trying to keep as many leaves as we can on all the vines as we enter into October. A long hang awaits for Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot, Merlot and Malbec are  ripening a tad faster. Not looking forward to the potential rain in next week’s forecast, but we are implementing precautionary measures to keep quality up as we weather the potential storms that await until the end of Harvest.

Canopy is hanging in there, getting a tad tired

It’s 95 degrees today and we are basking in the sun and heat , picking our pumpkins and cheering on the grapes hoping to gain a couple of Brix today ( we can be hopeful!)

Below are our current stats if you want to check out our performance:

CS : 22 Brix

Merlot: 23.5 Brix

Cab Franc: 21 Brix

Malbec: 21

Petit Verdot : 20

Harvest always beckons the tourists

Cheers to the 2011 Vintage

Winemakers pre-harvest check-up

This is the time of year when winemakers come out to the vineyards to visit and make sure all the loose ends are all tied up and the fruit is on its way to ripening, hopefully , problem free. There seems to be an unspoken high-end viticulture check list (especially for hillside select farmers) that winemakers use when sizing up the vineyards during these visits.

Some check list items include:

  • Irrigation – always a point of contention between winemakers and growers.
  • Green thinning – not only green clusters but bountiful shoulders or wings ,usually found on Cabernet Sauvignon and some Petit Verdot .
  • Berry size and canopy management – small berries good, and give those vines another haircut if they still have tendrils at this point.
Nice shoulder on this CS cluster

Irrigation is a ‘hot’ topic between farmer and winemaker. It is the life force that keeps vines alive and healthy from bud break to harvest, however, there are a variety of schools of thought regarding when and how often one should irrigate.

Farmers keep it on the DL when irrigating the vines, winemakers usually don’t want to know or observe vines that are receiving too much water.It is back to the questions of to irrigate or not, it really depends on soil type and weather conditions. Stress is key to channeling the vines energy into the grapes but there can be too much stress, essentially, when vines start shutting down where leaves fall off and fruit never ripens.

Hillside and valley floor vineyards definitely command different irrigating and farming techniques. This year I have heard from multiple farmers from two distinct appellations ; Carneros and Calistoga, that  have only irrigated once this year. Dry farming is not always the answer but it is a method to gain more control over your vines access to water.

Irrigation is very important but it is also important  not to over water your vines. Two indicators of over watering include bigger than usual berries and lots of new growth during veraison.  Over watering can delay ripening and create huge berries thus increasing the juice-to-skin ratio creating washed out tasting grapes. If your vineyard is full of vines that are still producing tendrils and most of the canes  look  ‘hairy’  then you are most likely over watering the vines.

“Hairy” Cab Franc vine , give it a buzz cut

The problem with this scenario is that the  vine is still growing and not concentrating all of its energy into ripening the grapes which is crucial this time of year or earlier if you are growing Chardonnay or Pinot Noir grapes.

Table Grapes , watch out if your wine grapes look like this!

 

If your wine grapes look like grapes you find at the grocery store, then you probably have been watering too much.

An interesting comparison between wine grapes and table grapes is the level of ripeness that each varietal reaches before it is picked. Table grapes (e.g. Thomson Seedless)  are usually harvested at 17 Brix and have huge berries. Wine grapes (e.g. Cabernet Sauvignon) on the other hand, are usually picked at 25 Brix and have a small berry size. Winemakers and farmers strive for this smaller berry because  of the value in the juice-to-skin ratio needed in the winemaking process.

Gorgeous hillside Cabernet Sauvignon, winemakers’ crack

Finally the heat has arrived, looking forward to an earlier harvest compared to the first few predictions. Cheers to the 2011 vintage!