Tuesday, October 8, 2013

El Dorado Wine Grapes Target Artisan Wine Niche

Here in El Dorado County, news about worldwide wine consumption growth and California’s shrinking share (Wine Industry FinancialSymposium) was not too surprising to us.  We know about the limitations of producing wine grapes that are imposed by available, appropriate farm land.  We live this every day.

“We just can’t farm at the scale needed to compete with large multinational operations,”  said Elizabeth Standeven,  president of the El Dorado Wine Grape Growers Association.  “We see that the “artisan” wine niche seems to be expanding along with the broader world consumption increases, and our El Dorado wine grapes are primarily targeted at mid to upper level artisan winemakers.”

photo courtesy www.news.com.au
“Consumption is increasing around the world, especially in China and there are many producers around the world (Chile, Argentina, Australia, South Africa, and China etc) that are ramping production to try to meet demand.  Large multinational wine producers are trying to meet this demand with grape juice sourced from around the world bought in shipping container-sized lots at $1-$3 per gallon prices.”

“Yes, California’s ability to produce grapes is limited and will continue to be limited by available land, and increasingly water, and competition with other value crops (mostly nuts right now) for prime farm land,”  Elizabeth noted.

“And if at the end of the day our vineyard values go through the roof… well, yeah on that!  It might be the first time someone was ever able to make real money through farming.”

Monday, September 30, 2013

El Dorado Harvest Continues, Producing Grapes for Award Winning Wines

For most grape varieties in El Dorado County, harvest is well on its way to completion.  The rain during the end of the third week of September presented growers with some concern, but most vineyard owners got ahead of the weather.
Thomas Coyne Winery, Livermore, is one happy beneficiary of the 2013 El Dorado County grape harvest.

Bob Scharpf of Quartz Hill Vineyard sent this report: 

Petit Syrah, courtesy Snooth.com
“As luck would have it, I managed to get the Petit Syrah in the day before the rain. The brix was 28, pH 3.4 and acid .7. Coyne Winery was delighted to get it at this stage. Except for some sunburn, the grapes came in better than expected at this early date.


“Some Merlot was still hanging at that time in September, but it survived the rain with no problems. The remainder of the Merlot was picked on Sept 25-- high sugar, high pH, and low acid. Good for a full bodied wine.”

The Quartz Hill Vineyard grapes from past harvests have found their way into an award-winning wine at Thomas Coyne Winery.  From the winery website:

“2007 Petite Sirah, El Dorado - $20.00 (Released - May 2013) Silver Medal - Orange County Fair

The grapes for this wine were grown by Bob and Margot Scharpf in the Sierra foothills of El Dorado County. After crush, the wine was fermented and aged in American oak barrels for eighteen months. The wine is full-bodied with blackberry and pepper, followed by a rich oak finish.”

A sneak peak at the new winery
for Thomas Coyne in Livermore 
Thomas Coyne Winery produces award winning Rhone Style and Merlot wines.   They have a loyal following, and next week they are moving to a new location, still in Livermore, but now they’ll be at 2405 Research Drive. 


Quartz Hill Vineyard is a member of the El Dorado Wine Grape Growers Association.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Harvest Stories and Reports from El Dorado County Vineyard Owners

There’s a story that goes with every bushel of grapes harvested in El Dorado County.  The big story is that the grapes are wonderful this year, and members of the El Dorado Wine Grape Growers Association are counting their lucky stars.  When buyers pay up, they should be counting some good profits too.
Andy Standeven, who with wife Elizabeth Standeven, owns Shaker Ridge Vineyard, sent this recent harvest report and also a story that should help you understand a bit about the risk that family wine grape growers take every day.

Barbera harvest at Shaker Ridge
“On Wednesday, we picked 15 bins of beautiful-looking Barbera for 3 winery clients. All hands were on deck as we enlisted Elizabeth's mother to take our daughter to school, Elizabeth's father to drive a quad with bin trailer, and a retired neighbor to operate a forklift. Meanwhile, Elizabeth drove a tractor and Andy did fruit quality control and leaf removal, with 8 paid laborers picking grapes and dumping it into macro bins as fast as they could.

Barbera in bins
"Picking started at daybreak and continued in the hot sun, with few breaks, until 10 AM. Our first winery client's truck was loaded and drove off by 9:45 AM; meanwhile, we weighed fruit and hosed down bins and equipment until 1 PM when a second winery client picked up. We had arranged to haul fruit to the third winery, and our '89 Chevy pickup successfully delivered 2 bins over to that winery by 1 PM. But that would be the truck's last hurrah.

That dear old '89 Chevy pickup
"A couple hours later, on the return trip to the winery with the final bin, the truck was overheated by the side of the road with a broken water pump. It was over 2 miles and some 600 feet downhill from the vineyard in an area with no cell phone reception. As Andy started to jog home, a Good Samaritan neighbor who he had never met offered him a ride home. We called the client, and they agreed to send a truck for the last bin when they could.

"We received word that the winery's truck was on its way as we finished up a birthday dinner celebration for our daughter, who had had the misfortune of being born at harvest time 9 years earlier. As the sun's last rays faded, we could be seen pitch-forking half a ton of fruit into the client's truck by the side of the road. As exhausted as we were, the winery client had it worse, with a 45-minute drive ahead and crushing that would likely keep them busy until close to midnight. All in a day's work at harvest time...”

Shaker Ridge Vineyard is located in the El Dorado AVA on sloping, rocky clay loam soils at the 1,500 foot elevation.  Andy and Elizabeth farm three acres each of head-trained Barbera and Primitivo, and one acre of traditional port varietals featuring Touriga Nacional.  They manage their vineyard for low yield and high quality.


Harvest time at Mellowood
Linda Neal, owner of Mellowood Vineyard located in the Fair Play region of El Dorado County, sends this report:

“We are into the thrilling thick of harvest. The grapes are ripening quickly as men, women and equipment are being pushed to the limit to get the fruit in at the perfect moment.

"At Mellowood Vineyard a bit of Syrah has been picked for blush, while the remainder will be picked this upcoming week (anyone have a bin dumper for rent?).

"The Zinfandel will be right on the heels of the Syrah.

"Hold the rain until after please!”

Both Shaker Ridge and Mellowood are members of the El Dorado Wine Grape Growers Association

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Early Harvesting Update from El Dorado County- Placerville area

Bob and Margot Scharpf of Quartz Hill Vineyard, El Dorado County, write:
"As most everyone knows, the harvest is early this year. I believe it is only the second time in 30 years that I have picked Sauvignon Blanc in August.
I also grow Pinotage,and it was picked on Aug. 28.
We are now into Merlot, and by mid September we may be picking Petit Syrah. "
Max Vineyard grapes at harvest
Richard Stading, Winemaker at Auriga Wine Cellars, writes:
"From our Max Vineyard, we've already brought in our Viognier, and the numbers are good: 26 Brix, Ph 3.30, T.A. .7, I’ll probably use this as a blending agent for a future Syrah. 
Quality is high, though the crop load is less than last year.
Zin and Syrah will follow in my harvest calendar, then Barbera, and usually Sangiovese last."  
Both Quartz Hill Vineyard and Max Vineyard/Auriga are members of the El Dorado Wine Grape Growers Association.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Harvest Report from Walker Vineyard, El Dorado County

Chardonnay just harvested
at Walker Vineyards
Walker Vineyard is a thirty-five year old, twenty-one acre vineyard in El Dorado County.  Ann Walker Johnson sends this report:
“We have harvested all of our Chardonnay (4 acres) with an approximate yield of 4 tons per acre. We are at 2100 feet elevation and the brix this year averaged about 26. The quality was great... we escaped sunburn! These are old vines (40 years) planted on their own root on a hillside where we enjoy the view of Pyramid Peak to one side and Mt. Diablo from the opposite side of the block.

“We do a night harvest for one of our customers. My dad and I hit the road in our Peterbilt after a night of picking and headed to Petaluma for the delivery. Something I'll always remember is my dad telling me parrot jokes to pass the time and keep me alert while driving!! Evidently he had a joke session with Fred Rouse of EID (he does our water probe reads) earlier in the week. Thanks Fred for the jokes.... nothing like contemplating a parrot going into a bar when you are making a delivery in the wee hours of the morning!

“Next to come off is our Merlot and the start of our Zinfandel. Shortly followed by some Barbera.”


 More about Walker Wineyard

Walker Vineyard is a thirty-five year old, twenty-one acre vineyard situated above the Cosumnes River Canyon at 2,100 feet elevation. Premium Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Petite Sirah, Merlot and Barbera are grown in well-drained granitic soils in the Oak Hill Agricultural District.  Many award winning wines are made from Walker Vineyard grapes.  The vineyard is a member of the El Dorado Wine Grape Growers Association.


The vineyard is located in El Dorado County at

6060 Oak Hill Road
Placerville CA 95667

Monday, September 2, 2013

Little Smoke Gettin’ in El Dorado Vineyard Owners’ Eyes… or Their Grapes

Photo courtesy
Worried about buying or using grapes that might have smoke taint from the Rim Fire?   El Dorado grapes don’t seem to be affected.

Bob Clarke, whose 12-acre Latrobe Vineyards is 15 miles SW of Placerville,  notes:  “We are not having any problem with smoke in the Latrobe area. Our only bad day was on Tuesday, otherwise we have had very little smoke. We finished harvest of our Sauvignon Blanc on Monday so that is past us. Zinfandel to go yet but we should have no problem with smoke affecting our Zinfandel.”

Primitivo at Shaker Ridge
Elizabeth Standeven of Shaker Ridge Vineyard, located in the town of El Dorado which is 4 miles SW of Placerville (or 38 miles NE of Sacramento),  says, “I am hopeful that the smoke will not be enough to taint our wines. It has been a heavy lingering blanket some days, but most days it has blown off fairly quickly in the day. Based on our experience in the past with fires closer to us than the Rim Fire I am not expecting any problems.”  Shaker Ridge grows Barbera, Primitivo, Tempranillo, Touriga Nacional,  and Tinta Cao.

Greg Baiocchi of Baiocchi Family Vineyards, located in the Fair Play region of southern El Dorado County, declares, “We really have nothing to worry about at this point as the amount of hours where smoke to grape skin contact has occurred thus far has been minimal in El Dorado County.” Baiocchi Family Vineyards grows Tempranillo, Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Encore Careers and Family Satisfaction – More Reasons to Grow Wine Grapes in El Dorado County

When we first started this line of questioning among the members of the El Dorado Wine Grape Growers Association, the ready answers were those that you’d expect from those who have been farming as a family enterprise for some time.  But here below are some other views, from grape growers who looked at the prospect of “encore” careers – careers for the next stage of their lives.

Don Lahey, Kingsgate Farms, has been rewarded beyond his expectations… but cash is not the motivator.

“I certainly had no clear cut plans to grow wine grapes when I bought my property 20 years ago. There were a few things I knew: I didn't want to live in the Bay Area any longer, I liked the Foothills area and thought gardening would be a fun retirement activity. Little did I know how much work a vineyard would become, especially when almost all of the work would be done by me.

“The rewards have been more than I expected.

“There are constant challenges to growing grapes that keep me connected to daily weather, best practices and networking with neighbors and fellow farmers. The money we make is nice but it's not a big issue - it's not why I get outside every day regardless of the weather.

“Oddly, I'm not at all interested in the end results of the grapes. I don't drink wine but I certainly like the way the vineyard looks. I guess it's an extension of the past 40 years I spent in the product design business. I had a passion for design, and still do. There's a satisfaction in creating a graphic pattern with the vineyard that is pleasing every time I look at the grape rows.

“This life style sure beats sitting on the couch with a TV clicker in my hand,” Lahey said.

Early days in the Baiocchi Vineyard
Greg Baiocchi followed his heart from careers in business, music and skydiving to  El Dorado wine grape growing in El Dorado County.  Together with wife Sharon, he created Baiocchi Family Vineyards;  their first vintage was 2009.  Greg’s reason for starting a family vineyard is short, sweet, and resonates with so many other grape growers:

 “Passion, Passion, Passion to farm winegrapes that will craft premium wines, the kind of wines that I had become accustomed to drinking,” said Baiocchi.

 Paul Bush of  MadroƱa Vineyards enjoys a benefit that quite a few El Dorado wine grape growers mentioned – time with his spouse.

Paul and Maggie Bush and their children
“The ability to work with my wife, Maggie, every day is one of the highlights of owning a family business. The final decision is ours, both with the benefit and the risk. When a person tastes one of our wines, we have a sense of ownership from the grape to the final product. There are few businesses in this world as diverse and fully-integrated as the wine industry. And the ability to work in the vineyard in the morning, the winery in the afternoon, and then enjoy our own wine at the nicest restaurant in town that evening is an amazing feeling,”  Bush said.