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Days like today are what I maybe consider one of the best parts of my job. A leisurely drive to see just how the 2016 vintage is shaping up with my long-time friend and vineyard manager, Peter Nissen, always makes me smile. Starting north of the winery in Calistoga, the Cabernet Sauvignon has just finished blooming and is set. The often difficult rocky soils appear replenished by late spring rains and our first normal rainfall since 2011. On our Yountville Estate, I was happy to see block #6 will be ready for replanting at the end of the month. However I did wish I had brought a picnic to sit among the oaks and enjoy the summery day. The Cabernet appears abundant especially in the younger plantings! As we were driving out, the Malbec planted last year made me dream about the wine I hope to create next year.

Cabernet Sauvignon in bloom at our Calistoga estate vineyard.

Malbec is one of five varietals used for winemaking in Bordeaux. It is usually used as a blending wine because it has a fruity, lush character. It is also widely planted in Argentina where is bottled as a stand alone wine. I haven’t yet decided what we’ll do with this Malbec once it’s harvested in a few years. Maybe we’ll create an individual wine club wine from it but, if we have enough, I would like to experiment with a special Meritage bottling using all five Bordeaux varietals currently planted in our vineyards. These are the things that inspire me to create!

Baby Malbec vines have a few years of growing to do before being harvested for the first time.

Continuing our drive south, we cruised into our Oak Knoll Estate. This southernmost ranch is usually where we start harvest every vintage. Chardonnay is the first varietal to bloom and this ranch shocked us all budding at the end of February, nearly a month earlier than normal. So imagine my surprise that these young clusters weren’t fully sized given their smaller than normal appearance. That being said, I am sure they will catch up and push into the winery early. Peter and I saw his crews finishing another round of leafing and suckering. Suckering is a term used where growth is removed from the trunk in order to make sure the vine keeps its energy focused on ripening the set fruit.

Suckering - before and after.

The last ranch we visited before lunch time was our Trubody Estate, where Peter and I discussed vine health, holding off on exposing fruit due to the predicted warmer than normal La Niña summer, and revisiting any necessary fruit thinning until verasion. Of course, we also spoke about his recent vacation in Africa with his wife, Ann, and looked through the most amazing photos from his trip. He gave me new ideas for my upcoming visit to see my brother in London and congratulated me on having my oldest son graduate from high school. It was a perfect day just hanging out old with an old friend – and I get to call it work! - Winemaker Kimberlee Nicholls

Ann & Peter Nissen on safari. Peter has been the vineyard manager at Markham for many years.