For viticulturists [grape growers], the season is winding down, right? Well, sort of, because although, at least for some of us, our grapes are in, or almost harvested, there’s still work to be done in the vineyard once the crop is off, as the vines must be cared for in order to rest during the winter months. Good vineyard practice necessitates that post-harvest recovery is critical to ensure the vines’ health, as well as the continuation of high-yielding grapevines for the upcoming season(s).
But for the winemaker, the season is now underway at a frenzied pace. Once those beautiful grapes make their way to the winery, it’s all hands-on deck, and wineries in ‘n around Lodi become hubs of energy. This time of year is a delight for those of us who are enamored with the sights ‘n sounds of fall. There’s a delicious aroma that wafts on the breeze, whether you’re walking through a harvested vineyard, or have the privilege of strolling through a production facility.
If you love red wine, then here are a few basics. The juice ferments with the grape skins, taking the red color, tannins, and flavors from it. That beautiful color that you’ll see in a glass of red wine comes from anthocyanins (red pigments) found in those sinfully dark grape skins. The must, which includes the pulp and the grape skins, begin to ferment, whereas small, sugar eating yeasts consume the grape sugars and make alcohol and carbon dioxide (C02). During the fermentation process, the juice gets stirred frequently to submerge the skins.
Those beautiful skins are forced to the top by the C02, and form a cap, so winemakers use a wine cap punch down tool to break up the mass of skins and solids. They don’t want the cap to dry out, because then the juice wouldn’t have the needed skin to extract the necessary tannins and color. These floating caps are “punched down” to increase the skin-to-juice contact. Cellar workers often climb ladders and literally punch down and break up the purple cap multiple times a day. *It takes a fair amount of effort and can be physically demanding work.
Punch downs are usually reserved for high-end handcrafted red wines as they demand more time, effort and attention. Winemakers utilize this practice as it extracts the flavors more delicately and tend to produce complexity in the red wine. Once the fermentation process begins, it generally takes anywhere from 5 to 21 days to ferment most of the sugar into alcohol. This can be a critical time in the winemaking process, and the team pays close attention to the aromatic red grape skins.
Once this portion of the fermentation process [referred to as primary fermentation] is complete, the winemakers will drain the freely running wine from the tank. The remaining skins are pressed to extract the residual juice and wine. This pressed wine may be blended with the free run wine at the winemaker’s discretion.
This wine may be settled into barrels, or tanks, in order to continue with a second “fermentation.” Malolactic fermentation is a bacterial process which converts the sharp-tasting malic acid into a creamier, sometimes chocolatey or vanilla lactic acid. Barrel fermentation imparts some of the oak aromas and tannins to the wine. Wooden barrels can affect the wine noticeably, while unlined concrete and clay tanks can have a softening effect on the wine by reducing the acidity.
As red wine rests, chemical reactions occur within the liquid itself. Red wines will often taste smoother and nuttier as they age. The time from harvest to drinking can vary from months to well over 20 years, dependent upon good structure with high levels of acid, tannin or sugar. Winemakers will tell you that this depends upon the quality of the grape and the target of the wine style, and all of this can vary based upon the approach used in production.
A winemaker may blend grape varieties together or even different barrels of the same grape varietal to make a finished wine. Blending takes skill and experience as each winemaker is challenged to use their sense of texture on the palate rather than just the nose. If this all sounds simple, it’s far from elementary. The process is complex and any number of factors in the field can disrupt or change the outcome of the wine. But as anyone can tell you, once you taste, smell and feel the one—that special creaminess, smooth texture on your tongue, and that heavenly aroma in your nose, there’s nothing like the vintage that you saw from vine to wine. It’s unforgettable. Here’s to the 2021 vintage!
Ingredients: (4 Servings)
Mise En Place:
Measure out all ingredients before cooking process begins
Pictured with Roasted Rainbow Carrots and Cauliflower Puree
Enjoy with Nostra Vita's SeREDipity
Ingredients: (4 Servings)
4 Tbl. Butter (Unsalted)
1 ½ lb. Trimmed Leeks (thoroughly cleaned and thinly sliced)
2 tea. Salt
1 ½ lb. Yukon Gold Potatoes (peeled and cut into 2” cubes)
2 qt. Chicken Broth (or vegetable broth)
1 C Heavy Cream (plus extra to garnish)
½ C Sour Cream
¼ C Fresh Chives (chopped) to garnish
Mise En Place:
Measure out all ingredients before cooking process begins.
1. In medium soup pot, melt butter and add Leeks and salt over medium heat. Sweat for
2. Once Leeks are almost the consistency of paste, add potatoes and chicken broth to pot
and bring to simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes.
3. Once potatoes are fully cooked blend the soup until smooth (either immersion blender
or regular blender in batches – careful it’s hot!).
4. Re-add blended soup to soup pot and bring to medium heat.
5. Add heavy cream and sour cream and whisk until fully incorporated.
6. Salt to taste.
7. For Potato & Leek Soup: Add soup to hot soup bowl and garnish with heavy cream and
8. For Vichyssoise: Chill until completely cold. Served in chilled bowl and garnish with
heavy cream and chopped chives.
Enjoy with Nostra Vita’s 2019 Viognier!
It’s muggy out underneath the vines. I’m itchy, and my shoulders are on fire. We’ve been harvesting for the past four hours, and the crew has fallen into a steady rhythm: grab bunch, twist, slice stem with the grape knife, then drop the bunch into the bin. Continue to locate all the clusters under the leaves, remove all the bunches before moving onto the next grapevine, and periodically, dump your bin into the trailer moving along in the middle of the row.
Hand harvesting grapes is backbreaking work. You’re on your feet for 8-10 hours: walking, stooping, bending, sometimes on your knees, peering through vines with the aid of a headlamp strapped to your forehead, slicing through thick stems, and dodging spider webs, empty bird nests and sometimes, a field mouse or two. It’s dusty, dirty, and sticky. Occasionally a stray berry [or spider] slips down your sleeve, then you do the shimmy.
This past month, our team gathered at the Harney Lane vineyard in the Clements Hills to hand harvest our Chardonnay. We met at midnight, donned our headlamps, gloves and face masks before being handed our knives and picking bins. There was some instruction regarding what bunches the winemaker wanted, as well as instructions to remove leaves and other unwanted material from our bins. Then we went to work—for a long 8+ hours.
Most wine that we drink today is from machine-harvested fruit. A large machine moves along over the top of the vineyard row, shaking the vine trunk until the berries fall free into a hopper. Machine harvesters can operate 24 hours a day without a break, although they’re generally scheduled to run through the night, when the temperature is cooler, and the grapes are at their freshest. This mechanical process is far quicker and less expensive when compared with hand picking.
Still, it is indeed a memorable experience, at least it was for the Nostra Vita team. It built a sense of camaraderie, encouraged communication, and fostered a sense of humor. For our team, it enabled everyone to not only see where the vineyards are located but gave them some insight as to what it takes to go from vine to bottle. Our crew is outstanding. They never balked at continuing to work through the night, and even though I was ready to drop at several points during the early morning hours, everyone remained upbeat, in good spirits and kept pushing through into the daylight hours.
As the sky changed color, and we switched off our headlamps, there was a shared sense of accomplishment at working through the night, and a collective cheer rivaled the final cries of a lone coyote on a nearby hill. We were tired, dirty, sticky, and stiff, but the grapes themselves were beautiful, the bunches intact and undamaged. Making our way back to our cars, the production team headed out with the grapes for processing and by the end of the new day, the juice was safely ensconced in barrels and tanks inside the winery.
Our team did an outstanding job this year, and we couldn’t have done it without each ‘n every member: Robert, Kyle, Katie, Jan, Eloy, Miguel, Sergio, Victor, Anisa, Tim, Chad ‘n Brien. I’ve been told that the 2021 Chardonnay is fermenting nicely: clean, crisp, well balanced and dazzling—both in the glass and on the palate. But the best part is the sense of pride that each member of the Nostra Vita team shares. They’ll be able to tell you exactly how this special wine was made, and that they personally had a hand in creating it, just ask them!
Every harvest is unique, but the harvest of grapes used in the production of méthode champenoise, or French-style Champagne is unparalleled. It begins early in the season—this year, July—and the grapes must be picked at their perfection. For méthode champenoise, the grapes must be low in sugar and high in acid, hence the ‘early’ in the harvest season.
What doesn’t change, are the early morning forays out into the vineyard. Well before sunrise, the winemaker is out in the Chardonnay, picking berries from various vines and sampling from multiple rows in an effort to get an accurate measure of both sugar and acidity. Each winemaker develops their own tried ‘n true method of vine sampling, but over the years, a seasoned winemaker “knows” when the berries are ready, and then the work begins.
Harvest is special and a year’s worth of work hinges on the outcome. It’s more than simply the yield, or tonnage, which is how a viticulturist often measures their success, well, that and price. But a successful harvest is a combination of factors: berry size, bunch size, acidity, aroma and, taste. Winemakers will tell you that they can fix minor flaws, but if it’s a good year, the grapes are liquid perfection and the taste, extraordinary. So, it all begins out in the vineyard, on those early morning berry hunts!
There is a chill in the morning air, and a comforting silence that greets you as you pull on boots, grab a plastic bag, and head out into the rows. Early morning smells fresh, and the coolness in the air soon retreats as the sun begins to rise, changing the colors of the sky from black to navy, then purple, pink to orange, and finally gold, then yellow. Sounds carry for miles, and you often hear a lone coyote, yipping; a calf calling out to its’ mother, and a tractor, roaring to life to begin its day out in the field.
Once the samples are taken, they are whisked off to the lab for testing. Our winemaker decides that although the tests indicate the grapes are ready, he will wait a day or two, because he tastes “green,” which he explains is herbaceous in character, and so the sampling will begin anew before sunrise tomorrow.
Harvest is a stressful time, and we hold our breathe until all the varieties are picked and crushed. There’s always something that can go wrong: insects, freak rainstorm [Yes, I said freak, but it happened one year.], summer heat, which can stress the vines, or a light crop, combined with a poor price. [This can mean the difference between breaking even or losing money.] Until the grapes are harvested, we watch the weather, walk the rows, and sample the grapes.
Folks often think that farmers control the land, they don’t, and it is the wise farmer who understands that they must work with nature, not attempt to control her. Farmers know that it is incumbent upon them to be ‘good’ stewards of the land. They must be able to balance the farm’s productivity with the social and ecological impact to the land. This takes practical experience, determination, persistence, and courage.
We picked this year’s Chardonnay crop on July 28, which means that in three to four years, our Serendipity label will grace the outside of a bottle, holding the fruits of this year’s labor. The vineyard came alive that night, as lights illuminated the vines, and workers tread up ‘n down the rows. It was an exciting moment for us, as this is the first year that all our Chardonnay grapes will be used for our own label. We crossed our fingers and took the plunge. Based upon what our winemaker tasted out in the field, the 2021 vintage will be exceptional, and now, we wait.
Winemaker Robert Indelicato samples the 2021 Chardonnay cuvée, which will ultimately be released in 2025 as the Serendipity Blanc de Blanc.
Ingredients: (4 Servings)
¼ Cup Local Honey
¼ Cup Plain Greek Yogurt
2 Tbl. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Tbl. Apple Cider Vinegar
2 Tbl. Balsamic Vinegar
2 Tbl. Dijon Mustard
4 ea. Peaches (ripe but firm)
1 Tbl. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
5 oz. Baby Arugula
½ Cup Blueberries
¼ Cup Goat Cheese crumbles
2 Cup Candied Pecans (store bought or here is a fun recipe to make them yourself)
Mise En Place:
Measure out all ingredients before cooking process begins
Enjoy with Nostra Vita’s 2020 Sauvignon Blanc
There's a line from a song that I used to sing that aptly describes how we're feeling at the winery. "Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got till it's gone."
We miss the hustle 'n bustle, the noise, sometimes a bit of chaos, but overall, we miss our friends, customers and the people. We miss chatting with our "regulars," checking in with our wine club members, swapping stories with our customers and just being a part of something, well, something wonderful. And here's the sad part, we didn't realize how much we would, miss it. How much we would miss all of you.
So we decided to put together a program that would allow our wine club members, our friends and customers to taste wine, unfortunately, not inside the cellar door at our bar. But taste some beautiful wines at a reasonable price, sharing our insights and, most importantly, giving you the opportunity to tell us which one(s) you love. Hence the Miss Tiery [pronounced "mystery"] Wine Box Challenge was born.
We've taken six wines (all red varietals), three per wine box challenge, added flavor profile cards, tasting cards, clues and, of course, a sealed envelope with the answers. You order the wine box [with three wines], which you can either pick up here at the winery, curbside, Thursday through Monday, 12 noon-5 p.m., or we can ship them to you, flat rate throughout California. Then hold your own virtual tasting with friends and/or family. Better yet, purchase one or two boxes for those friends. We had a family member buy seven boxes and she's holding her own virtual tasting with her own wine club.
Of course, you can also taste along with our winemakers, Robert Indelicato 'n Kyle Bloudoff-Indelicato, on Friday, May 8, beginning at 5 p.m. online. Visit either site: Facebook: @nostravitawinery, or Instagram: @nostravita_winery.
The wines are all beautiful: brilliant in color, heavenly aroma, and nicely balanced. We did a tasting here at Nostra Vita and everyone had their own favorite. So, I'm challenging each of you to do your own tasting and then tell us which one you favor!
Pour, swirl, note the color. Then smell, really take a deep whiff of that delicious bouquet. Do it again. Finally, sip, and focus on the wine's essence. What do you taste? Smell? It really gives you a new appreciation for what you're drinking. And if you're new to the wine tasting game, it helps you focus your senses and gives you the opportunity to determine what aromas and tastes you enjoy. It's not only fun, but educational.
If you decide to join in on the fun, here's a couple of insights from our winemaker on the wine in the first 3-bottle pack. See if you pick up on any of these fragrances and/or tastes. *Yes, I am indeed providing you with some clues.
•Blackberry notes, smoky, spicy, sweet bottle bouquet, bold. Food pairings: Pizza Rustica, BBQ ribs, grilled chicken, pulled pork, pork chops, grilled vegetables.
•Black cherry, plum, vanilla notes, soft with a long, chocolatey finish. Food pairings: Pizza, BBQ chicken, beef short ribs, roasted turkey.
•Blueberry, dark chocolate, good acidity, big tannins. Food pairings: Spicey chili, grilled eggplant, peppers or wild mushrooms, cheese based pasta.
And here's the most important part--have some fun. Relax. Enjoy the wine, and even if you can't be with friends or family right now, you can share this experience with them, even if it's in the virtual realm. We're all looking for a diversion, some sense of normalcy, so although we can't be together tasting wine, we can give you this opportunity to swirl, sniff, sip 'n savor some beautiful wines. All you have to do is take the challenge!
As the holidays approach, most of us agonize over what to get our boss, neighbor, co-worker, and we struggle to find that perfect gift. And while we’re all taught that it’s the thought that counts, turns out, psychology suggests that it is indeed the gift that counts, or rather, the experience. Experiences increase the feelings of relatedness, which makes people happier than simply giving them an object. So, what better way to create a shared experience than with an exceptional bottle of wine, or three.
You see, wine isn’t just a beverage; it is a sensory experience meant to be shared. Most of us remember a specific wine because of the memory that it evokes within us: celebratory family dinner, friends gathered during the holidays, or a quiet moment in front of a roaring fire. This holiday season, here’s an easy guide to help you take the guess work out of gift giving, and, give a relationship experience. Now you can relax, and simply remove the cork, pour, swirl, sip, savor and enjoy!
The Red Wine Lover
• 2015 Petite Sirah. Deep purple with flavors of dark berries, spice and black pepper. Fresh, luscious and vibrant, this wine is big, bold, and tannic. $27
• 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon. Bright garnet color with aromas of black cherry, vanilla and blackberry. Full bodied, but with moderate tannins, it has a fruit-forward quality and leaves a lingering plush finish on the palate. $30
1. Engage your senses by serving in a Riedel wine glass, designed to complement this wine varietal. Sold by Amazon: Click Here
2. Wine bottle stoppers provide an air-tight seal to prolong and preserve opened bottles of wine. Sold by Amazon: Click Here
3. Decanting the wine from the bottle to the decanter oxygenates the wine and releases its rich aroma and flavor. This hand-blown lead-free crystal decanter is a wonderful addition for any red wine. Sold by Amazon: Click Here
The White Wine Lover
• 2017 Chardonnay. Fermented in French oak, it imparts a light, but flavorful spice, filling out he palate. Medium acid, full bodied, this wine isn’t your traditionally over oaked Chardonnay. $25
1. Keep your white wine chilled, while enjoying it in a marble wine cooler. Sold by Amazon: Click Here
2. The Vacu Vin Wine Saver removes the air from your wine bottle to keep wine tasting fresh for up to one week. Insert the universal wine stopper into the bottle and pump until you hear the patented “Click.” The “Click” signals an airtight seal. Sold by Amazon: Click Here
3. A combination wine bottle chiller, filter and pourer, this Wine Chiller Stick allows you to enjoy a glass of perfectly chilled wine at the optimal temperature. The chiller rod ensures that you won’t have to deal with wet wine bottles or the drips that come from using an ice bucket. Sold by Amazon: Click Here
The Sweet Wine Lover
• 2018 Orange Muscat. Beautiful, fruit forward, note the scent of lemon zest, peach and tangerine. The taste is soft, subtle and easy to enjoy. $17
1. Sip your Orange Muscat in a spill-resistant stemless tumbler, maintaining your wines’ perfect temperature from first sip to last. Sold by Amazon: Click Here
2. Open any wine bottle in just 3 seconds with the Brookstone Compact Wine Opener. The extra long handle provides greater leverage and works on all corks. Sold by Amazon: Click Here
3. It’s all in the bowl. The bowl helps to release the aromas of the wine and emphasize the fruit. Perfect for everyday use, and dishwasher safe, this collection from Riedel is for the no nonsense wine drinker who appreciates good wines at reasonable prices. Sold by Amazon: Click Here
The Dessert Wine Lover
• Bacio Dolce. Delicious Carignane dessert wine with notes of salted caramel, rich vanilla and luscious ripe strawberries. $45
1. Sip ‘n savor in an elegant, Port wine glass sipper. This is the perfect gift for the Port Aficionado. Sold by Amazon: Click Here
2. Display your favorite dessert wine in this beautiful glass decanter. Made of lead-free glass, this elegant decanter is thick, well balanced and topped with a solid glass stopper for an airtight fit. Sold by Amazon: Click Here
The Sparkling Wine Lover
• Serendipity Méthode Champenoise Demi-Sec. This is a magical addition to our Serendipity Sparkling Wine lineup. Sweeter, this finely balanced sparkling has effervescent bubbles with a smooth, creamy finish. Enjoy the crisp citrus notes with a lovely peach undertone. $28 *To be released 11/15/19
1. Now you can open that special bottle of sparkling wine for any occasion, or no occasion, seal and savor the next day, or even a few days later. The MiTBA champagne bottle stopper with built-in pressure pump keeps the bubbles and the fizz. Sold by Amazon: Click Here
2. These fine crystal champagne glasses have an etched bottom, which aids in generating bubbles. These flutes are specifically designed for sparkling wines. Sold by Amazon: Click Here
3. This 4-quart ice bucket has room to accommodate any 750ml champagne bottle to keep your bubbly chilled. Made from heavy gauge stainless steel, and finished with a two-tone satin exterior, it’s the perfect choice for serving your sparkling wine. Sold by Amazon: Click Here
The “Can’t Go Wrong Gift”
• A Nostra Vita Gift Card. You pick the amount and your lucky recipient picks the wine(s). This is the perfect gift for that special someone who knows what they like, and you get all the credit for giving them that gift! Win-win.
The “Gift that Keeps on Giving”
• Nostra Vita Wine Club Membership. Everyone is unique, and you can customize your experience with one of our three club levels. And at each level, you choose whether you’d like: all red, all white, all sparkling, or mixed. There’s no fee to join, so visit our website to learn about the levels and perks: www.NostraVitaWinery.com, or you can stop by and visit with us, taste the wines, and we’ll tell you all about our wines and the wine club.
This morning's sunrise was distinct. As I peered out the kitchen window watching my partner make his way through the long row of vines, a fog bank settled over the tops of the grapes, creating a surreal scene. I could see his white cap bobbing up 'n down among the rows, taking samples of the bunches, fog giving him an eerie, mystical quality as he disappeared from sight. Grabbing my camera to capture the view, I dashed outside and noticed the change in the air--the smell and feel, it's harvest time.
There's a smell when a field is ready to be harvested. The air is crisp in the early morning, often laden with moisture, the berries glisten as the sun rises over the field, and the earth smells sweet 'n ripe, heavy. The grapes are beautiful this year--big, full, pleasantly shaped, no sunburn, no blotches, none are misshapen--each one nearly perfect.
As the sun peaks over the hills, warming the air, the fog lifts and the white hat returns with a bag of randomly selected berries. His clothes are sticky from the samples grapes that he's picked and with a smile he says, "They're ready." And now, the real work begins.
In Lodi, Chardonnay grapes are the queen of whites. The variety is California's most widely planted wine grape, with an estimated 93,000 acres reported in 2017. For our Serendipity Blanc de Blanc, Chardonnay is the key to this exceptional sparkling wine. During the last several weeks, we've made the rounds through the vineyard, randomly sampling the grapes and checking for the ideal level of acidity and sugar ripeness. Sparkling wine grapes must be picked earlier as they need a higher level of acidity and less sugar, so this morning at the perfect 18 Brix, we're ready to go.
Tonight at midnight, we'll begin the picking process--removing those beautiful bunches of grapes and transporting them to the winery where the grapes will be pressed, not crushed, to limit the contact between skin and juice. A pneumatic press, which has a large, plastic balloon will gradually inflate and gently break the grape skins. Juice will slowly drain into a pan beneath the press. The press turns, inflates again and again, ultimately leaving a pile of skins and seeds. This Chardonnay juice will retain the pure, Chardonnay characteristics, allowing our winemakers to create an exceptional wine--a wine befitting the name, Serendipity. Yes, tonight's going to be exciting!
When you live in the middle of a vineyard, you mark each season with milestones that are directly connected with your livelihood--grapes. We're excited because veraison [pronounced "verr-ray-zohn"] has hit the majority of the varietals planted in 'n around our home. Simply put, veraison is the onset of ripening of those delicious berries, and signals that we're headed towards harvest. It represents the transition from berry growth on the vine to berry ripening.
For viticulturalists, it means that the vine has shifted its focus from energy creation [through photosynthesis] to energy consumption, directing the vine into making those baby grapes sweet. Before veraison occurs, the wine grapes are small, hard, highly acidic, and green-colored due to the level of chlorophyll. As the chlorophyll is replaced by anthocyanins [changing the berry color from vibrant green to luscious red in red varietals], polyphenols develop to protect the berries from sun, wine and other stresses that generally occur in the vineyard prior to harvest.
During this period in the growth cycle, grapes begin to dramatically increase in size and the sugar level [glucose and fructose, which is measured in Brix] rises. Conversely, the acid level begins to fall, and continues to do so as the sugar level rises until the grapes are deemed to be perfectly balanced and ready for harvest. And while red grapes begin to change color, white grapes transform into a lovely golden shade of yellow, or even become somewhat translucent.
Once veraison occurs, grapes are usually harvested within 40-70 days, depending upon the style of the wine to be produced and the grape varietal. It's as if a switch is flipped in each grapevine, and the countdown to harvest begins. It's an exciting time for both growers and wineries.
Vineyard owners will focus their growing effort on either removing bunches in order to modify vine balance and ensure that the remaining bunches receive the needed nutrients and sugars from the roots. Or, the farmer may thin and/or remove leaves from the vine in order to improve the amount of sunlight and airflow that the bunches receive.
As you drive around the vineyards in and around Lodi, take notice of the change in the color of the vines as our beautiful grapes begin to darken [or glow]. Our hot sunny days mean that the grapes are enjoying the heat and developing those delicious, juicy berries--just ripe for the picking!