August 26, 2010

Stu’s view from the road

Filed under: News — burke @ 1:37 pm
Continuum Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

Continuum Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

Bucking the trend
It’s not news to anyone. It’s a challenging time in the fine wine business today. The upper tier, even here in Napa Valley, is under considerable pressure.

There are exceptions, of course. I’m delighted to report that Continuum is one of those. In markets like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, Continuum sold out of available wine this year in less than a month. One factor certainly is that our production is still very small. As strange as it may sound, our production in our first three vintages was restrained by our ability to source grapes of the quality we require. Our production was also held back by the very rigorous selection process we use in making our final blends. Using the 2007 vintage as an example, over 30% of everything we made was ultimately eliminated from the final blend. It did wonders for the distinctiveness of that wine. There are times, however, when I wish we could have made more!

There are a number of other reasons why Continuum continues to flourish in these difficult economic times. The first, no doubt, has to do with the quality of the wine itself. The 35 years that Tim Mondavi devoted to making wine at the highest level (in Napa and around the world) has been a huge benefit. In addition, there seems to exist at every level the unspoken notion that the Mondavi’s family’s legacy and reputation are riding on the success of their new project. There has been a ‘spare-no-expense’ philosophy in creating Continuum’s first proprietary blends that I have not witnessed in my 35 years in the wine business. The response to our first wines, as a result, has been encouraging. At the base of Continuum’s early success, therefore, has been the quality of the wine itself.

There is another major factor impacting Continuum’s early success. The fact is that Continuum Estate ushers-in the long awaited return of the Mondavi family to great California wine. As one individual put it… “This is the return to the fine wine business… and of the family who put that business on the map!” Ever since Continuum emerged onto the scene in 2008 (with the release of the 2005 vintage) there has been an outpouring of this kind of support. It’s come from writers, restaurateurs and consumers alike. This “welcome back” has impacted greatly what we’ve been able to achieve in a relatively short period of time.

Stu Harrison

August 4, 2010

Continuum Estate Video

Filed under: Videos — admin @ 12:10 pm

August 3, 2010

Dante’s cellar notes

Filed under: News — burke @ 2:56 pm
Dante Mondavi, Continuum Estate, Napa Valley, 2009

Dante Mondavi in an oak fermenter, Continuum Estate, 2009

Greeting from the Continuum Cellar!

                Working in the family business has taught me a lot and given me great respect for all the hard work of the preceding generations.  I have come to know that we are Mondavi’s and that wine is in our blood!

                I am extremely excited about our 2008 Continuum.  Working the last 4 vintages has given me the chance to witness the magical evolution of our wine from ripe grapes arriving at the cellar doors, thru fermentation, and finally to bottling; the 2008 is undoubtedly our brightest star yet.  The key factor in this evolution is the fact that the blend is now 70% Pritchard Hill grown.  Resting 1300-1600 feet in elevation above the valley floor, Continuum Estate has very rocky red volcanic soil with spectacular views.  The combination of the altitude, steep slopes and our intensive farming practices means we tend to have very low yields at two tons per acre.  These low yields are due both to the site and to our fruit thinning practices. The goal is to achieve greater uniform ripening and encourage more free hanging grape clusters. More filtered, less direct sunlight gives us more control in the vineyard and avoids over exposed or over shaded fruit.

                Our 2008 is very elegant yet powerful.  My grandfather‘s classic description fits the new vintage, “A sign of a great red wine is an iron fist in a velvet glove.”  In other words, a great wine should be soft and approachable today yet have the structure to age and stand the test of time. This is true of our 2008; it has real depth of richness and an amazing structure.  The final blend is 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petite Verdot and a small amount of Merlot to complete the wine. Bottling is still two months away but I can’t wait to share this new vintage with everyone!

                Our cellar team works hard and is very dedicated to creating a single wine to stand among the world’s finest.  Our winegrowing team is made up of my father TIm Mondavi who over sees all aspects of Continuum especially the cellar as he is director of winemaking, Kurt Niznik, our winemaker and Carrie Findleton, our cellar master.  I enjoy working with this fantastically talented group of people very much.      

                Let me take you on a little cellar tour to present a glimpse of what crush is like at the winery. The morning starts at about 6 am (it is a long day; if we’re lucky we leave by 8pm) with pumpovers, punch downs and barrel ferment rotations.  This aids the fermentations, keeps the tank healthy, keeps the yeast active and extracts color and tannin. All of our fruit is handpicked early in the morning and arrives at the cellar in small gray picking boxes. We have two sorting tables, the first of which our team uses to pick out any grape clusters which may be flawed.  We also match the grapes we are crushing whether Cabernet Sauvignon, or Cabernet Franc or Petite Verdot, for a consistent berry size with our de-stemming cage to ensure a clean de-stemming.  It’s pretty key to have the grapes come out one side and the stems the other.  It also keeps the boss happy, which was my first big lesson in 2007! 

               We then sort out any raisins or jacks (stems which may be attached to the berries) on the second sorting table.  Now comes the time to gently crush the berries (without crushing the seeds) and gravity feed the fruit into one of our fermenters.  We typically cold soak the first couple days before we begin fermentation. The cold soak period brings out the fruit flavor and color in the must without heat. Continuum has eight open top French oak fermenters, two cement fermenters and 15 barrel fermenters.  The oak fermenters tend to give the new wine a softer texture while the cement fermenters bring more mineral characteristics to the wine. Each of these different vats or barrels is stirred regularly to mix the lees (spent yeast cells) into the fermenting must and extract more flavor and texture as well as protect the new wine from oxidation. 

                 After 30 or more days of fermentation and maceration, we drain the new wine to 100% new French oak and basket press the pomace (leftover skins) into barrel as well.  The basket press slowly squeezes the pomace together until nearly all the wine is released.  Pressed wine has much, much more color, tannin, lees and a sweetness which only comes out when we squeeze the ity bity remaining raisins. I like to call it flavor country.  The large oak fermentor tanks hold a single 5 ton lot of wine; this new wine will fill 11 barrels in total, 8 of which are free run and 3 of which are pressed wine. All our vineyard lots are kept separate until blending and maloactic fermentations take place in barrel.   More or less at the end of the day I d have to agree with this famous quote

 “Wine is sunlight, held together by water.” – Galileo Galilei

Hope to see everyone at Continuum Cellar or at Continuum Estate soon!


Dante Mondavi

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