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Charles WollesonOne of our seasoned grape growers, Charlie Wolleson.

Have you ever had a time when you get a little over-confident and it bites you in the end? That’s kind of how the 2015 vintage felt to me. I could feel it was going to be an amazing vintage as we faced our fourth consecutive year of drought and the berry size was so small. Visual cues told us that there were below average yields in the vineyards, so there would be less fruit to contend with here in the winery. It should be a piece of proverbial cake, right? I typically get all amped up before I settle into the harvest and psyche myself up to get all my tasks accomplished in 12 hours. However, I was still running in circles a third of the way into harvest. Frustration began to build since there was no obvious rhythm. Things were ripening out of sequence. Yields were down 50% in some blocks, normal in some and then down again 20% in others.

Cleaning out wine tanksSafety first for Winemaker Kimberlee, Cellar Hand Carlos, Cellar Master Robert, & Intern Lily. 

The drought wreaked havoc, but that was only the beginning. In Lake County, directly north of Napa Valley, devastating fires hit not once, not twice, but three separate times and left our family, friends and co-workers fighting for their lives. We watched the Valley Fire flames and smoke fill the skies that fateful Friday night lights as my son played football with CAL Fire airplanes landing close by to refill their tankers. The following week, our El Molino football team was due to play the Middletown Mustangs, but instead rallied to deliver necessary supplies to those who had lost their homes. It has been truly touching to see the strength and tenacity that Middletown has shown all of us!

El Molino LionsEl Molino Lions JV & Varsity Football Teams being filmed by the CBS show "NFL Today." Footage will air November 1st. Photo courtesy Press Democrat, read the full story.

A cool weather system brought a necessary bit of rain showers to aid the firefighters in gaining control of the Valley Fire. AND, just when things started to return to normal, six days of 100°F heat descended upon Napa Valley. We were close to half way through, I had convinced myself I was in control and then it was bedlam here at the winery. Our normal harvest lasts somewhere around 8-10 weeks of everyday ‘crush’ with about a week on either side as we wind up/down. However this year, we did our crush in only FOUR weeks which totally compacted our tank space and ability to move forward once all the tanks were full. It’s definitely a game of strategy with tank management.

Cabernet Sauvignon cap during fermentationCabernet Sauvignon cap during fermentation.

Now that another year has passed us by, I can reflect fondly on the fruits of our labor. We were down by 20% overall in quantity. Good news is the quality is superlative as evidenced by my extended maceration (skin contact time) of nearly every single lot of Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s going to be wonderful to have to pick my favorites between the two dozen lots! Sauvignon Blanc has already been moved to our wood upright tanks. Chardonnay has been topped down and about 40% of the lots were inoculated for secondary malolactic fermentation (malic acid is the tart, apple acid which is converted into creamy, buttery lactic acid during this process). My production crew has worked long, tireless hours this crazy vintage and it is that comradery of working together in the trenches that I always miss most as harvest comes to a close and our family shrinks back to normal. And the harvest lunches - I will really miss them too!
- Winemaker Kimberlee Nicholls

Last of the 2015 grapes go in the hopperGOING, GOING, GONE! Last day of harvest 2015.