Tim’s Harvest 2011 Wrap-Up

December 14th, 2011

The view above the foggy valley floor from Continuum Estate's winery site

It has been quite a year at Continuum Estate. While it is still early days, I believe we are looking at a fine vintage, perhaps an extremely fine vintage.  The  2011 wines, some still in tank with others already put to barrel, have  real depth of flavor, a subtle nuance, and lower alcohols than normal. We are quite excited about 2011!

To better understand the year, let’s take a look at the conditions up on Pritchard Hill.

Here at Continuum Estate, our normal temperatures are more moderate than the valley floor with fewer high temperature days as well as fewer days on the cold side when compared to Oakville. Much of the reason for this is our wonderful altitude; at 1300 to 1600 feet above sea level we are protected from extreme temperature variations and are well above the fog line.  Since our arrival here in 2008, we have enjoyed four vintages.  2008 and 2009 were both normal, that is they were warm years with harvest taking place beginning in early September and finishing by middle to end of the same month. On the other hand, 2010 and 2011 have both been quite a bit cooler than normal and wetter than the last few years as, from 2007-2009, we were in a drought pattern. 2010 gave us challenges reminiscent of the late 1960’s and early 70’s with a late beginning to the year and a later harvest. 2011 repeated this pattern but with greater rainfall in the spring, a more uneven fruit set, and harvest about a month later than normal (two weeks later than 2009!) 2011 began with a wet winter and spring which continued on into mid-June with significant rainfall delaying bloom on Pritchard Hill. Overall precipitation for the season was more than a third above normal and these cooler/moister weather patterns delayed vine development dramatically. We found ourselves behind schedule by 3-4 weeks pretty much throughout the growing season.

As there were no high temperatures this year, Ryan Gerhardt and Continuum’s vineyard team had to be extra vigilant, continually managing canopy growth to balance the vine and its naturally low yields to ensure an even ripening process with optimum light and air flow surrounding the fruit. Overall, Continuum Estate set a smaller crop and was blessed by a balanced canopy and so was better able to ripen the fruit across our 42 acres of producing vines. On average, the estate fruit spent 130 days on the vine from bloom to harvest as compared to 125 days in 2010 and 129 in 2009. These extra days made all the difference, developing deeper flavors and richer character in the fruit. What really stands out in this vintage in relationship to our Pritchard Hill estate are the well drained rocky soils which allow the vines to enter into a period of water stress and begin the ripening process earlier than vineyards on the valley floor, thereby giving us the edge in flavor and achieving excellent ripeness in spite of the challenges thrown at our vines this year.

Harvest began on Pritchard Hill with the onset of stormy, rainy weather which dropped nearly three inches of rain between October 3rd and 11th. This heavy rain damaged some grape skins with bunch rot developing in a number of blocks around the estate. Dry and warmer weather between October 17th and 21st allowed the vineyard team to harvest about a third of our fruit with excellent ripeness. Other blocks still needed more time to gain sugar and flavor and so we waited as strong winds, low humidity and warm temperatures gave us excellent ripening conditions for the next week. Harvest began again on October 29th and continued until November 3rd with the remaining 2/3s of the crop having benefitted from greater hang time. Total yields at the estate were down from last year but overall the fruit was excellent with fantastic flavors and ripeness with lower brix levels. This season’s cooler weather may also mean lower yields for 2012.

At the winery Kurt Niznik, Carrie Findleton and our cellar crew sorted each vineyard block separately, carefully selecting twice so that only the best grapes went into our oak or cement tanks for fermentation. 2011’s growing season brought the return of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot from our estate, which had been severely reduced by the cool temperatures in 2010. These precious lots, which add so much to Continuum’s blend, are undergoing fermentation in small ¼ ton bins and smaller oak tanks.
Fruit at reception often was quite cool and fermentations began well and quickly. Slowly we are discovering the unique flavors of that each block of vines brings to the blend. All the new wines are showing well so far with 3BTOP being the current star. It looks to be a superlative vintage at Continuum Estate- ripe fruit and more importantly ripe tannins so necessary for a fine wine that is built to age. I think that this will be our best vintage yet!

Happy Holidays,

Tim Mondavi

Kurt’s view of harvest 2011: Never say Never!

September 30th, 2011

 

Harvest 2010: Picking 3BTOP Cabernet Sauvignon

After last year we thought for sure there couldn’t be another year that cold again any time soon. Never. Can’t happen.
Yet, here we are in the middle of the ripening season and this year has shaped up to be very similar to last year in terms of heat accumulation, or shall we say lack therof.
It’s the end of September, we haven’t picked a single grape yet and the weather forecast is calling for several inches of rain next week.
What to do? Without ripe grapes on the vine, nothing really. We must take what mother nature hands out and make the best of it. Fortunately the grape varieties that make up Continuum’s vineyard, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and petit verdot all have loose clusters and thick grape skins so rain doesn’t tend to harm the fruit as long as the wet weather is relatively short lived and followed by dry weather. We will have to be patient and wait for mother nature to play her hand before we get to play ours.
Last year, we feared that the cold year would leave us with wines of insufficient ripeness and depth. So far however, the 2010 blend is shaping up to be an excellent wine, although in the end there may not be as much of it as we had hoped. It shows as a testament to Continuum’s vineyard site that such a wine can be made in a far less than optimal year. You might say that our vineyard has good fundamentals.
So, even though things look ominous at the moment I feel confident that we have plenty of time to get our vineyards to optimal ripeness during October and come out of a late 2011 harvest with some more fabulous wine in our cellar.
We’ll just have to get comfortable with the idea of having our Thanksgiving turkey in the winery while we press off lots of cabernet, and opening Christmas presents between filling barrels with petit verdot. All part of the fun!

Kurt Niznik
Winemaker
Continuum Estate

Carrie’s pre-harvest cellar preparation

August 31st, 2011

Cellarmaster Carrie Findleton
Busy times here at Continuum Estate! As of September 1st the 2009 Continuum (our fifth release and my first vintage at Continuum Estate) will officially be in bottle. Meanwhile, the 2010 Continuum continues to rest and develop in barrel as our attention is now focused on preparing the cellar for the 2011 harvest. Our carefully selected new French oak barrels have arrived at the winery, our oak and cement fermentation vessels are being detailed, crush equipment prepared, basket press shined, and more frequent visits are made to our vineyards, the heart of our operation, to monitor the chemistry and flavor progression within our estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, and Merlot grapes.

In the cellar, we like to balance innovation with decades of experience and tradition. Each year Tim, Kurt, and I brainstorm on how to improve our winemaking protocols to allow us better control by focusing on quality and a sensitive approach to winemaking. This year we invested in a new gentler destemmer, which will allow for more meticulous sorting of individual grapes following the initial cluster sorting in the field and table sorting upon arrival at the winery. Secondly, after a highly successful two-tank automatic pump-over trial in 2010, we decided to extend and grow this trial for 2011 by converting a larger percentage of our fermentation vessels to automatic pump-overs. We continue to be amazed by the increased concentration of flavor, structure, and balance we achieved in 2010 using this method. Automatic pump-overs give us the ability to set criteria such as frequency and length of pump-over so that each individual lot is truly unique. We are very excited to see what we’ll be able to achieve using this technique in 2011.

Adding to the excitement of the upcoming harvest season is the arrival of our winemaking interns. This year we are lucky to have Troy Moya, who has worked at a number of Napa and Sonoma wineries over the last ten years, especially so with small artisan Pinot Noir producers. Troy brings with him a gentle approach to winemaking and attention to detail, an essential quality at Continuum. We are also joined by one of our vineyard team members, Luis Pelayo, who will share his years of experience working with our estate fruit both in the vineyard and winery. I feel we have a great winemaking team this year and am very much looking forward to the 2011 Harvest!

Cheers!

Carrie

Stu’s view: 2008 Continuum

June 30th, 2011

We’ve been in a very interesting place this past couple of years with our fledgling Continuum project. It’s clear now that launching a new and expensive wine in these times has been like launching an untested (albeit sea worthy) sailboat in a hurricane! Timing, they say, is everything.

Even so, the reception to Continuum has been exceptional, unparalleled in my 35 years in the wine business. The primary reason, I believe, is the real substance behind the project. The story of the Mondavi family returning to the fine wine business in Napa Valley (a business they were instrumental in creating!) is compelling. When you combine that with the quality of the wine itself (and the response to that wine by the critics) we’ve gotten off to a great start.

Our momentum began to build in earnest with the 2007 Vintage. That exceptional vintage for Napa Valley allowed a nice showcase for all Napa Valley wines, Continuum in particular. It took us only 3 months to sell out in our major markets, and through our on-line channel. We were delighted, given our relatively unknown status and price category, to have this kind of acceptance.

That being said, we approached the 2008 vintage with some trepidation. The reputation of the 2007 vintage was clearly a factor in our success last year. We were not sure how the market would react to our 2008, clearly in the shadow of its highly touted predecessor. The answer to that question came quickly. We were sold-out in less than 45 days of our March 1st release on our website. We had a similar reaction in the marketplace. And this is before the critics chimed in on the wine itself!

I suppose if I had to give credit to any one factor in the success of the 2008 Continuum, it would be just that… the quality of the wine.  It is by some accounts (Tim’s for one!) the best of our first four vintages. In fact, Tim has been quoted as saying the 08 Continuum could well be one of the best red wines he’s ever made. And that’s saying something, when you consider his role in making Opus One, Mondavi Reserves, in Tuscany Ornellaia and Luce, Sena in Chile, etc. It’s an impressive list.

We’re fairly certain that our momentum will continue. We’re delighted that the 2008, for the first time, was made predominantly from grapes from our Pritchard Hill Estate. Vintages that follow will lead to a 100% estate grown wine by 2013. I think this increasing reliance on Pritchard Hill will further enhance the quality, and further underscore our very serious approach to our category.

Thank you for all your continued support of our Continuum.

We could not do it without you!

Stu

Marcia’s view from the hill

June 10th, 2011

Building the Continuum Estate winery road, June 2011

Cabernet Franc in bloom Continuum Estate, June 2011

We have had an amazing late spring here on Pritchard Hill. The weather has been quite cool and we have had very unusual June downpours. Our rainfall to date is 43 inches, a good 5 inches more than normal. This wetter weather has only proven to us how fortunate we are to be here on Pritchard Hill. With elevations between 1300-1600 feet., our estate vineyard temperatures tend to be a bit warmer, by about 5* , when it is cooler on the valley floor and a bit cooler, once again by about 5*, when it is hotter down below in Oakville. This certainly was an advantage with our 2010 vintage. Last year was a very cool vintage and many on the valley floor had trouble with ripening. Being above the fog line, with a bit more morning sun, certainly has its advantages.

Spring brings the vine’s flowering. This is one of the most important times of the year for our vines. A warm dry period encourages the vine shoots to put all their energies into flowering. This flowering forms the berries for our fall harvest and also sets the stage for the next year’s crop. This year the cool weather was a blessing for us as it delayed our bloom until after the downpours of last week. Now that the sun has come out and it’s warmth has covered the vineyards, we are just beginning to see flowering in our Cabernet vineyard! Perfect timing!

As we are walking the vineyards looking for flower, we are also watching to see how our new 19 acres of vines are doing. The bench graft vines are really doing well, it is exciting to see them progress starting to reach for the trellis. We are also in the process of field grafting Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot onto the root stock we planted last year. Our vineyard team, assisted by a crew of a dozen more can field graft a phenomenal number of vines: 4000 a day!!!! This is truly an art and a fabulous skill.

The first weekend of June also brought the 31st annual Auction Napa Valley. The generosity of the Auction attendees is really amazing. Over the last three decades the Napa Valley Vintners have raised and donated over $100,000,000. to charitable institutions throughout Napa Valley. From health and wellness programs at local hospitals to educational support and youth outreach and low income housing programs, the Auction has improved the quality of life for generations of Napa residents. Isn’t this a run on sentence?

Our 2011 Live Auction lot was a celebration of our Italian Heritage. Tours, tastings and private cooking classes with some of the finest chefs in the Bay Area with lots of Continuum! All this, and a fabulous dinner with the Continuum family at Tim’s house. We were thrilled that our lot raised $85,000. And was purchased by our dear friend Darioush Kahaledi of Darioush Winery in the Stag’s Leap District. We are looking forward to cooking and dining with him sometime soon.

This spring has also brought a crop of new reviews for our 2008 Continuum. Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar said our 2008 was “Large-scaled and voluptuous yet light on its feet, with lovely floral perfume to the flavors of black cherry, minerals and sexy caramel oak. Seems every bit as strong as the 2007 bottling, and perhaps even more refined.” We are thrilled with this wonderful review as well as an excellent one from Jim Laube at the Wine Spectator. ” A remarkable effort, offering riveting, expressive aromas of mocha, currant, mineral, herb, black licorice, tar and pebble, this is intense, structured, balanced, nuanced and firm, finishing with a gutsy richness and sophistication.”Of course, we also must thank all of you, our spring release was an enormous success. We sold out of the 2008 vintage in a mere six weeks! In fact this was twice as fast as last year!! Thank you!!!

Finally, the most exciting news here at Continuum is that we have started construction on the road to our future winery site. This means that our caves and fermentation room is truly on its way! For those of you who have visited us the phrase “red, rocky volcanic soil “has real meaning. As they dig away the bright red soil, rocks and boulders are everywhere. It is this rock that drains our soil, and gives our wines their unique depth of character and richness. These rocks will also be crushed, mixed with more soil and put back to establish the foundation for our road and for our future winery. This rock is important! When the road is completed, we will begin construction of the winery caves, hopefully in September.

Please do take the time to come up to Continuum and watch our progress, it is VERY exciting!

Thank you all for your continued interest and support! Keep spreading the word of Continuum.

Have a great summer!

Marcia Mondavi Borger