Kuhlman Cellars Blog
Hang on to your hats folks – Bud Break is upon us early in 2016.
Bud break is when the grapevines wake from their winter slumber and begin the annual growth cycle, hopefullyculminating in a high quality winegrape harvest! It is also the time when all of us winegrowers become obsessed with weather forecasts, temperature predictions and storm tracking. It is a nervous time. Inevitably, the grapes wake up before the last frost occurs and those frosts destroy more grape clusters than pretty much anything else in Texas! Our average last frost date in the Fredericksburg area is March 26. However, that simply means 50% of the final frost events for the year occurred by that date. The 90% last frost date isn’t until about April 14. This is when, historically, 90% of the final frost events have occurred.
The grapes awoke early this year. This is because we had an overall mild winter, but also because we had a very warm February. Let’s put things in perspective. Our 2016 bud break was March 7. This is the earliest we have encountered at the family vineyard. And it is the earliest by a lot – last year in 2015, we didn’t achieve bud break until March 24! Bud break in 2014 and 2013 was March 21 and March 15th respectfully. Therefore, March 7 represents about 3 weeks earlier than 2015 and 1 week earlier than our previous record.
So far, the weather looks promising. Though the weather isn’t up to us. Instead, we work hard to keep the vines healthy and we stay prepared to take whatever actions we can to protect those tender buds in cases of cold weather. Site selection is critically important to help defend against frost. At the family vineyard, we have nearly 2 miles of clear valley spreading out south of the vineyard along with about 200 feet of elevation drop. This allows the cold air to simply flow out of the vineyard and not settle to impact the vines.
As we progress through the growing season we look to transition from risk period to risk period. We start with frost, proceed through hail and ultimately encounter mold / fungus and proceed on to four legged and two winged pests in the form of mammals and birds who want to eat our precious fruit. We don’t breathe easy until the fruit is harvested and in the cellar!
With some fortune and very hard work, 2016 will not only see the third family vineyard harvest, but also the first at the Estate. We will see, but hopes are high and optimism strong.
For those of you who’ve recently visited the winery, you may have taken note of the new vineyard and the growing vines. With all the rain, we have a wide range of growth!
Overall at the estate, we have five different vineyard blocks ranging from just under and acre to about 2.3 acres in size. This represents anywhere from about 800 to just over 2100 vines per block. Of the five blocks, we planted 3 of them back in April representing about 3300 vines total.
Block 2, just north of the winery building and the vineyard section you see when you first drive into the estate, is planted with Marsanne. Marsanne? This grape may be unknown to many folks, but we believe it holds good promise as we continue seeking the best varieties for our climate and soil.
So, what is Marsanne?
Marsanne is a white grape, thought to have originated near the town of Marsanne, France, located in the northern Rhone valley. While the name may not be familiar, white wines from Hermitage, St. Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage and St-Peray are often predominately Marsanne blends. In fact, Marsanne is the most widely planted white grape variety in the northern Rhone. Marsanne is also found in the southern Rhone valley, where it can be found in white Cotes du Rhone wines.
Interestingly enough, Austrailia has the most Marsanne vines in the world, accounting for about 80% of the worldwide total. Marsanne was brought there in the 1860’s and the oldest Marsanne vines in the world are found there dating back to about 1927.
There isn’t much Marsanne yet growing in Texas. A couple of growers up in the High Plains are growing it, including VJ Reddy and Tyler Oswald. Mike McHenry has a block of Marsanne up near San Saba.
Marsanne in the Vineyard
We selected Marsanne for our estate vineyard because of the expected viticulture characteristics. It tends to bud late in the spring, typically about 11 days later than Viognier, which is important when we are dealing with spring frost events. It also tends to have less disease issues, partly due to the looser grape clusters which promotes better air circulation. It also produces wines of great character and structure, something we like when considering blending with our other white grape planted in Block 4 (and sister vine to Marsanne) – Roussanne.
So far at the estate, the vines are growing well in our clay-dominated soil over a limestone base. The rain so far has allowed the vines to grow without supplemental irrigation, a rare treat here in Texas. However, the high rainfall we’ve had this spring is causing its own challenges with standing water and disease pressure. Of course, we won’t get any fruit from these vines this year, though we might get a small sample in 2016. Look for a true harvest in 2017 with wine released perhaps in 2018.
Also, feel free to come on out and walk the vineyards and look at these wonderful vines!
The other day, someone asked me how long it takes for a vineyard to produce wine.
For us, it took two years to find our family vineyard with all the appropriate physical and siting characteristics. We planted four years ago, and just this past year we took a small fruit harvest. We were so pleased last year in August 2014 to harvest that inaugural fruit! The wine currently sits in French oak barrels resting and aging. Our best guess today is the wine might be available in another 18 months. Perhaps late fall of 2016. Indeed, 7 years to produce wine!
The bottom line: there is nothing fast in growing wine!
So, why do we often find ourselves in such a hurry to be tasting wine? As we rush along from place to place, person to person, task to task, and appointment to appointment, what is the rush to get through a wine tasting and race off to something else?
For us, the best wines were always the ones we've shared with friends and family, often around the dining table with food. These are the times when we relax and slow down--savoring life and the rich experiences making everything worthwhile. In our tasting room, we often talk about the Four F’s: Food, Family, Friends and the Fellowship which naturally occurs when the first three are found together.
This is why our tastings are relaxed, seated experiences complete with food pairings and conversations. As Jeremy often says, “sip, savor and enjoy!” This, to us, is Vina Vita - The Wine Life!
Give us a call, come on out and visit us. Step off US290 and slow down during one of our easy paced, nearly hour long tasting experiences and enjoy our wine flight with unique chef designed food pairing bites. It's a great opportunity to taste wine at the speed of growing... enjoy!
We held our first wine pairing dinner on January 31st - what an incredible Vina Vita event!
Chef Chris Cook, the co-founder of the San Antonio Chef Cooperatives, delivered an incredible multi-course dining experience filled with creative flavors, textures and beautiful presentations. Each course was perfectly paired with a different Kuhlman Cellars wine resulting in gastronomy harmony!
To match the elegance of the food, the dining experience was further heightened by holding the reception in our production and barrel facility and dining in the tasting room. Of course, our awesome team was there to ensure each guest was served and attended to without want of anything.
We intend to offer these Pairing Dinners quarterly as we rotate the wine tasting pairing menu with the season. Therefore, please watch for the next dinner in April when we announce the 2015 Spring Pairing menu.
I’ll wrap up now, but please enjoy the short video and selected pictures from the event.
It was a team effort as we came together to bottle three new wines yesterday, the first bottling run in our new facility!
After a couple of years working with these wines, it really feels great to have them now safely snug in their bottles where they can rest until time for release. We bottled three wines:
- 2012 Texas Merlot, Texas High Plains
- 2012 Barranca, Sonoma County
- 2012 KanKar, Sonoma County
These wines are all uniquely beautiful and we will tell you more about them in the coming weeks. For now, we can share about the Texas Merlot: The Texas Merlot is a very nicely balanced red and is the same Merlot which forms the backbone of the 2012 Texas Red. We expect to release this wine first among the three. Unfortunately, we only bottled about 40 cases, and will only be releasing about 30 cases. Therefore, this special wine will first be allocated to the wine club and if any remains after their allocation period, we will offer it in the tasting room. As a teaser, please take a look at the beautiful label I've posted below!
This bottling run is also special for us, as it is the first bottling done at our new production facility. We backed up the bottling truck and everything worked perfectly! Bottling is a fun, but tiring day – we start with the wine ready in the tank(s) and cases of new, empty bottles. Then, everything progresses through the bottling truck and then the bottled wine with labels, corks and foils all perfectly applied come out the other side. Viola!
The important part of bottling is having the patience to let the wine rest sufficiently before release. This is sometimes the hardest part, because everyone is so excited to have it “finished” and the bottles all look so pretty and ready to go. But you have to wait and let the wine recover from the bottling process—it doesn’t like to be pumped around, pushed through nozzles, exposed to oxygen and then sealed in the little bottle space!
Patience, patience, patience.
Stay tuned for the release announcements.
We've begun the earth works for the new estate vineyard!
There are several steps taken to put the vineyard in, including several which happen before we ever plant a vine.
Before we begin, we layout the vineyard blocks and agree on the orientation of the rows and the placement of the irrigation pipes. Generally, we want the rows to run north / south so as to get the best sunlight as the sun moves from east to west. Irrigation lines need to account for elevation shanges to ensure each vine gets the same amount of water - we don't want only the vines at the bottom of the rise to get water!
We start the land preparation by eliminating whatever is currently growing on the site. For the last ~20 years, the estate pasture was cultivated for coastal hay production. Coastal is a durable and resiliant grass and it handles period of drought by going dormant and then waking up once rains come. This means the roots are strong and well developed.
Once the coastal is eliminated, we rip the soil to fragment it and provide air for the to-be-planted vines. This involves running a large dozer over the ground and pushing long ripping blades into the earth to "rip up" the soil. We captured a short segment of this ripping in action in the video below!
The next steps include installing the trellising, running the irrigation lines and planting cover crops. All of this has to take place prior to the vines planting in the late spring.
Stay tuned and come visit to watch as we progress through the establishment phase in preparation for planting the first vineyard blocks next spring.
We've anticipated this day for several years - ever since we bought the familty farm back in 2010 - we've thought about having our first harvest from the test vineyard!
Well, today we gathered with some family and friends and harvested the first few varietals. This includes the Tempranillo, Viognier and some of the Alicante Bouschet. As we will do moving forward, this was a hand harvest where we take each cluster from the vines using hand shears. This provides a gentle handling of the fruit and also allows us to select only the best clusters and leave any damaged or otherwise less than pristine fruit.
There was a big celebration from everyone as we met at the south end of the viognier row and had Reed and Diane, our vineyard manager and winegrower respectfully, take the first two clusters. Some of the clusters were Huge! Especially both the Tempranillo and the Alicante.
We were very pleased with the amount of fruit harvested! In fact the clusters were larger than we anticipated, so our total weight was a fair bit more than predicted. The quality also could not be better!
Once harvested we then took the fruit to be destemmed and then sorted to ensure only the best berries and no MOG (material other than grapes) made it into the fermenter. This is an intensively manual process as the team literally looks at every single grape to identify those flawed items and / or potentially foriegn objects and hand removes them. It is a lot of fun, and there is always good conversation to be had as your eyes and hands do the work, but leave your mind and mouth for friendly conversation.
The fruit is all co-fermented. This simply means we are not separating the different grape types, but are putting them all in the same vessel for fermentation. This is a classic old-world approach to winemaking and it suits our needs very well with the existing vineyard.
What will the sine be like when done? Stay tuned and be patient as it will be a few years before we know the real result of our labors!
We have started the production facility construction and in only 12 days, the crew made remarkable progress! They worked nearly non-stop until time for the July 4 holiday weekend. This time lapse video shows just how awesome the Barns and Buildings crew is as they go about their great work.
The facility is 50x72’ on the inside along with an incredible 22x72’ shaded front porch overlooking the to-be-installed vineyard blocks. Our tasting room will be inside the production facility so you can taste among the tanks and barrels.
Work remains, but we are optimistic the facility will be ready for 2014 Crush as well as our limited opening later this summer. Stay tuned!
We spent the day with Dan McLaughlin in Robert Clay Vineyards recently where we helped with netting the Merlot as well as checking progress on our 2014 grapes.
The vineyard looks great and the vines are healthy with a good canopy. They managed to avoid freezes (see their prior post about the all night heroics on April 15!) and hail so far this year, so we are getting excited about the potential for this year's crop!
The vineyard is located northwest of Mason and we hope to get about 3 tons of fruit from them this year. Fingers crossed for a continued good growing season!