Author Archives: Elisheva Gur-Arieh

My Pre-Harvest Assessment – 2020!

What’s going on with the weather,is this a part of the curse known as “Global Warming”? Whatever it is I don’t like it. First, the season started with unusually cooler weather with occasional rains which are very rare in May in this region. And now we have the longest heat wave and extreme fluctuations in the temperature. During the growing season I routinely check the temperatures in my vineyard. This year one day in June I measured 68 degrees as the maximum temperature; and just last week, on August 20th it was a blazing 117 degrees.

This heat wave is creating fires and power outages with devastating effects for everyone. Groups of fires are burning on all sides of the San Francisco Bay Area. The National Weather Service issued a “red flag” warning through tomorrow afternoon, Monday August 24, due to the extreme fire conditions created by dry thunderstorms, high temperatures, low humidity and gusty winds up to 65 miles per hour. This is happening in August, my friends.

First let me point out the distinction between climate and weather. Climate refers to general conditions that have a pattern of consistency for a specific region, while weather is better used for temporary conditions that might or might not be unusual. The questions are how these erratic weather patterns are affecting our grape crop this year and whether this pattern will be a way of life for the future. Don’t believe if anyone tells you that this is a temporary situation and the weather will normalize. Unfortunately, this is here to stay, and my prediction is that it will get worse.

Listen to this! According to the World Meteorological Organization our planet is on course to experience an increase in the average daily temperature of 5.76 degrees F by the end of the century. While for people our age the end of the century may seem like the end of the world, think about our great grandchildren, what kind of world they will be inheriting from us.

As for the effect of the weather on this year’s harvest, the rains early in the season created an insurmountable quantity of vegetation, covering our vineyards with ugly weeds and excessive amounts of shoots and leaves on the vines, requiring way more hand labor to make the vineyard normal looking.

Earlier in the season, before the onset of this heatwave, I would have predicted that harvest would be coming late this year. Veraison, the change of color in grapes which is a landmark in the development of the fruit on the vines, started at least one week later than normal. My earlier prediction was that harvest would begin at least 2 weeks late, towards the end of September. This heat spike has changed everything. It created a problematic situation, causing the fruit to overripen quickly and some to even dehydrate. From having an abundance of water in the soil early in the season, now the vines are yearning for water and I can’t supply enough.

The first varieties to undergo veraison were Syrah and Tempranillo, with Zinfandel a distant second while the last one was Cabernet Franc and all the others in between. I am anticipating that the Syrah and Tempranillo will be harvested around the middle of September. Let’s not forget the Sauvignon Blanc which is probably a week away from harvest.

Maybe I didn’t sound so positive about the prospects of this year’s harvest. This is far from what I truly believe. Every year we have challenges, some more difficult than others and some outside of our control. We face these challenges with confidence, hard work and a positive attitude. And we have been making great wines from year one in 2001. We will not change our course no matter what the challenges.



August 2020

“Thou shall not make but authentic wines” – The eleventh commandment

Recently I participated in a panel with six other winemakers to discuss our views on the different styles of wine. One of the winemakers in the panel, representing a well-known, high-end winery, specializing in producing Zinfandels stated that their style of wine is “authentic,” explaining that their varietal wines are always 100% of one variety. They would never blend in any other variety into their wines, nor would they use any “additives.” I found his latter statement somewhat strange since their wines did not taste like they were lacking sulfur dioxide, which one would notice right away.

Their wines tasted very alcoholic and somewhat sweet and “flabby,” indicating the lack of acidity. The winemaker made it very clear that adding tartaric acid to their wines went contrary to their principles of making wine. This would be considered adulteration. In the US, legally you are allowed to blend into a varietal wine up to 25% of other varieties while maintaining the varietal name of the wine. You are also allowed to add tartaric acid (the wine acid) to affect its pH.

In general, I am very accepting of a diversity in wine styles. I understand why some winemakers make biodynamic wines, organic wines (although they would not taste like normal wines) or 100% varietal wines or whatever else there is, as long as I would find the wine somewhat pleasant to drink. What touched my nerve about this winery was that they claimed their wines were “authentic.”

Authenticity means rightfulness, trustworthiness. These are moral values that probably most of us subscribe and some of us practice. I have a hard time with the concept that a winery would take ownership to morality in making their wines while claiming everyone else’s wines, who don’t adhere to their style, are fake.

First, I thought that this winemaker was using the word “authenticity” as a metaphor or descriptor for their wines. But after questioning him I realized this was more an application of the principle of morality into the wine. Like saying that “it’s immoral to make wine any other way.” In some wine growing regions in the world they have laws that regulate the varietals that you can grow and blend into your wine. Like Brunello di Montalcino must be 100% Sangiovese, and not any good old Sangiovese, but a clone known as “Brunello” which means in Italian “the little brown one.” Undoubtedly, this is being done to gain a marketing advantage for wines produced in that area. This is a common practice used in many other regions in the world and I have no problems accepting this.

We are living in an era of multi-faceted divisiveness. We are divided racially, economically, culturally, by national origin, you name it. It seems like we, the people of this country, have nothing in common. Even wine, our last resort to bring people together, is being used as a divisive tool to separate people in the name of authenticity. Authenticity is a way of life and I have issues when people apply it to physical objects, foods or other commodities. To me this is like they are writing the eleventh commandment, “thou shall not make but authentic wines.”


Chaim Gur-Arieh

July 2020

The Culture of Aging of Wine

In my mind the aging of wine is definitely a culture. Just think about it. Is it so obvious that a wine will improve with aging? Quite the contrary. If you consider wine to be a food, like you should, the quality of all foods, without exception, will decline with aging. That is why food companies must indicate on their labels the expiration date of the foods they manufacture.

I think that the benefits of aging wine were discovered by accident in the old-world wine regions several hundred years ago. In that part of the world the weather during the wine growing season is inconsistent and unpredictable. For a period, you might get a hot spell with day and night temperatures ranging from 80 to over 100 degrees; and following that, the weather may turn rainy and cold with temperatures dropping to 50 – 60 degrees. In this kind of environment, during these extreme conditions, the ripening process slows down and some years winemakers are forced to harvest the grapes before they are fully ripe. This results in astringent wines with high levels of tannins and deficient in fruit flavors.

Necessity is the mother of invention. Our ancestors realized that if they age the wines for a few years in a moderate environment, the tannins soften, making the wine less astringent and giving way to a softer mouthfeel. In addition, with aging, the wines acquire flavor and aroma qualities that they didn’t have before. This occurs through chemical reactions between certain components present in the wine that promote the creation of complex flavors and aromas that can be fruity, floral, earthy, spicy, caramelly or minerally. This quality is unique and distinguishes wine from other foods.

The Culture of Aging Wine” was created for the purpose of making old world wines more pleasant to drink. Contrary to the climatic conditions in the old-world wine regions, the new world especially California, is blessed with a weather that enables the grapes to ripen consistently within the growing season. Depending on the style of the wine, which is determined by the winemaker, new world wines can be fruitier and softer than old world wines and do not require any aging to make them drinkable. It is not an obvious necessity to age new world wines, even though they may benefit from this process. My conclusion is that if our colleagues in the old-world wine regions had not created “The Culture of Aging Wine,” we would not have known that aging wines can also benefit the quality of the wine made in the new world.

Ninety percent of the wine produced in the new world is sold within one year of production, and 99% sold within five years. When aging wines, you need to contend with the age-worthiness of the specific wine, including the variety, the way the wine is crafted, the storage conditions, etc., but you also need to consider the packaging, namely the bottle and the cork. The quality of an aged wine varies significantly from one bottle to the next, especially depending on the condition of the cork. If you store a case of the same wine in a temperature-controlled cellar and you open the entire case after 10-15 years, you will be amazed to discover that every bottle will give you a different wine. In most bottles you won’t be able to pull the cork in one piece. In others the wine will penetrate through the cork and causing the bottle to leak. Obviously in both cases the wine quality is compromised which doesn’t make the aging of wines a positive experience.

Don’t despair! I figured out how I can make wines that can endure their aging process and at the same time also transform themselves to reveal qualities that were not there when they were still young. While some of these wines were outstanding to begin with, they became more complex and subtle. The factors affecting the age-worthiness of a wine are the variety, the viticulture practices and the winemaking techniques. Also consider the fact that since 2007 I have been using a cork that keeps its integrity for 30 years or longer. I am in love with my aged wines and completely sold on this beautiful culture of aging wines.



May 2020

Terroir (Revisited) and how it relates to the culture of aging wine

While I already covered the subject of Terroir in my January 2018 Winemaker’s Corner, I decided to revisit this topic since I feel that I left this article somewhat unfinished.  If you are interested in reading my first article, please visit my blog, which you can find on our website

The concept of Terroir, pronounced “terwah,” was derived from the French word “terre,” which means soil or land.  It is presumed that the land at which the grapes are grown imparts unique characteristics to the wine that distinguishes it from wines grown elsewhere.   While I do agree with the above statement, I have a few qualifications.  While the Terroir has the potential of defining the character of the wine, there are factors that tend to mask this character: 

Farming – In order to preserve the character of the Terroir, the farming techniques should promote uniformity in the level of ripeness of the fruit.  At harvest time if some of the fruit is under-ripe, while some is over-ripe, the effect of the Terroir will be diminished, making the wine more generic.

Harvest Decision – There are no objectively measurable parameters to determine the level of ripeness of grapes.  Many winemakers use the sugar level as a guide for harvest.  Often times this leads to premature harvest, which will mask the effect of the Terroir.  I make my harvest decision subjectively, by tasting the fruit.

Winemaking Style – The use of excessive levels of oak or making the wine highly alcoholic will tend to diminish the Terroir character of the wine.  

The title of this Newsletter promises to relate Terroir to the “Culture of Aging Wine.”  It is not so obvious that there is a connection between Terroir and aging of wines.

An interesting question that I am always asked is how Terroir affects the character of the wine.   In climates that are consistently warm, with large temperatures drops from day to night, usually the wines become fruitier.  These are the typical climates in “New World” wine regions.  Climates having inconsistently high or low temperatures, with lower temperature drops between day and night, the grapes will have a more difficult time ripening, resulting in wines that are less fruity, higher in tannins and more austere. This is the case in old world wine regions.

The culture of aging wines was created in the old world countries for the simple reason that old world wines are not so pleasant to drink when they are young.   As old world wines age, they become smoother, better balanced and develop more exciting flavors.  While new world wines may also benefit from aging, many people find them quite adequate to drink when they are young.  Ninety percent of the wines produced in the world are consumed within the first year of production.

If you are a winemaker in the new world and you are passionate about making wine, my advice to you would be to try to maximize the character of the terroir but also age the wine for a few years before offering for consumption.

Cheers, Chaim Gur-Arieh

Old Vines Make Better Wines – Myth or Reality

It’s quite common among wine drinkers to believe that “Old Vines Make Better Wines,” since this statement has been traditionally supported by many influential wine magazines and reviewers.  In my opinion, this is not a question that can be answered with a “yes” or a “no.”

I recently purchased 15 different brands of Zinfandel at price points ranging from $10.99 to $19.99.  I was surprised to find out that 10 of them had the “Old Vines” statement on their front label. The wines made with the “old vines” were not consistently dark and complex in character like you would expect.  Some of them were as jammie and fruity as the wines made from the so-called “young vines.”

Unfortunately, there is no legal or commonly accepted definition of “Old Vines.”  Since the name “Old Vines” gives the wine a marketing advantage, it behooves the regulators to establish a definition of “Old Vines.”  In my opinion, vines should be at least 50 years old before they can be considered “Old Vines.”

I think that the generalization of “Old Vines Make Better Wines” can be fallacious.  I have seen some very young vines producing excellent wines.  The Syrah and Petite Sirah that I planted in 2001 have consistently been making excellent wines from the first harvest in 2004.  On the other hand, the Zinfandel that I planted in the same year has been a late bloomer.  It wasn’t until 2012 that these vines started producing some decent wines.

In general, the reasons why old vines have the potential for making good wines are as follows:

  • Old vines have deeper roots, which may have some positive or negative connotations.  The deeper roots go through different types of soil, with each type having some influence on the flavor of the wine.  This could have a positive effect on the complexity of the wine. 
  • As a vine ages, it loses its vigor restricting the amount of fruit bearing capabilities of the vine.  This might have the potential of producing more flavorful fruit that makes better wines.  We can accomplish this in young vines by dropping fruit or restricting the amount of water given to the vine during the growing season.

On the other hand, I will share with you some issues that I have regarding the “Old Vine” statements made on wine labels:

  • For an old vine to produce a great wine at an old age, it had to be producing good wines when it was young.  I don’t believe that getting older will make a mediocre vine produce great wines.
  • When I see a claim on the back label that a wine is made from a vineyard that is 100 years old, I ask myself if the entire vineyard is 100 years old.  I know from my experience that over the years a part of the vines will die.  Like in my vineyards that were planted 17 years ago, about 2% of the vines died, which were promptly replaced.   When my vineyards reach 100 years of age, maybe 50% will have died and replaced.  To be truthful, the claim should be as in the following example:  “About 50% of the vines used in this wine came from 100-year-old vines, with the other 50%, the age is unknown.” 

Obviously, nothing lives forever.  At some point the vineyard that was planted a long, long time ago, will lose all the vines from the original planting.  Should we still call this wine “Old Vines?”  I wonder!


Cloning – An Old Art in a New World

My winemaking career began in the year 2000 after my wife Elisheva and I decided to purchase 209 acres of raw land in the Shenandoah Valley AVA in El Dorado County. Within a couple of years, we built a winery and planted 20 acres of vineyards, which were expanded to 45 acres over the years. I consider myself a farmer and a grape grower as much as a winemaker.

One of my most significant achievements as a grape grower has been my success to grow Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in this region. I can attribute this success to two factors: changing the architecture of my trellis system to provide shading of the side of the vineyard facing the afternoon sun, along with the proper clonal selection of the Cabernet vines. I find the concept of clones and clonal selection most fascinating and decided to discuss this subject in this month’s Winemaker’s Corner.

A clone is defined as a genetically uniform group of plants, derived originally from a single plant by asexual propagation, mainly by grafting. All plants derived from one clone are expected to be identical.
On the other hand, when selections of vines of the same variety from different sources and locations are compared, one may find subtle to significant differences. These differences are magnified when a plant is relocated from one environment to another. In the beginning the new environment will seem hostile. In an effort to survive, the plant will try to acclimate, adjust and change. The changes that occur in the plant are known as mutations. Over time, mutations may accumulate creating a potential of affecting the fundamental characteristics of the plant, such as the size of the berries, the shape of the cluster, the color, the flavor profile, disease resistance, harvest time, yield and more. A selection of plants that undergoes this level of changes are known as “clones” of a variety.

A classic example of clone diversity is Zinfandel and Primitivo. They both originated from a Croatian variety known as Crljenak Kastelanski, which migrated to Italy to assume the name Primitivo and separately to America where it was called Zinfandel. These two clones having identical DNA’s, were separated for 200 years growing in very different environments. I grow both clones in my vineyard and can tell you that they are fundamentally different: Zinfandel has big and very tight clusters with large berries, while Primitivo has smaller and looser clusters with small berries. The flavor profile of the two wines is also quite different. Furthermore, Primitivo has a higher level of tannins and denser color than Zinfandel. They definitely don’t look alike.

Going back to our Cabernet project, I attribute our success to the selection of clones that are able to withstand the rigors of our hot weather. Most of the common clones of Cabernet find our weather too harsh, which prevents them from going through the process of normal ripening.

One final note: In addition to cloning, which is asexual, plants can also be created by sexual propagation by either man or Mother Nature. An example of a manmade variety through sexual propagation is Petite Sirah, created by crossing Syrah with an obscure variety called Peloursin. A more famous variety created spontaneously in nature by sexual propagation is Cabernet Sauvignon, a crossing of seeds of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. My question to you is this: Can we duplicate Cabernet Sauvignon by crossing seeds of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc? I think you know the answer. You can duplicate Cabernet Sauvignon sexually, as much as you can duplicate your son Joe. The only way to have Cabernet Sauvignon is by cloning. Get it?


Terroir… and AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas) Are they one and the same?

If you have been to any of my “Tasting with the Winemaker” sessions in our tasting room, chances are you heard me saying, “A wine has a sense of place.” What this really means is that a wine acquires some unique characteristics from the geographical place that the grapes are grown which can identify the region. The classical name for a “sense of place” is terroir, derived from the French word terre, which means land.
The concept of terroir (pronounced “terwah”), was created by the French and is the basis for the French wine appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) system. The AOC system presumes that the land from which the grapes are grown imparts unique characteristics to the wine that distinguishes it from wine grown in other regions. In old world wine regions, this concept is taken to such an extreme that wines are not identified by their variety but by the region in which the grapes are grown. As an example, in Burgundy, winemakers believe that they are producing a Burgundian wine that happens to be Pinot Noir and not a Pinot Noir from the Burgundy region.
The new world wine producing countries borrowed the concept of terroir from the French but interpreted it in their own way. In the United States we established the American Viticultural Areas (AVA’s) which are the designated wine growing regions. According to our rules, a wine has to be identified by the variety of the grape, provided it uses a minimum amount of this grape and the AVA in which the grapes were grown. At this time, we have 107 appellations and sub-appellations in California with the first being Napa Valley which was designated in 1981.
Conceptually, what creates the terroir are natural elements beyond the control of human beings. The major ones are climate and composition and type of the soil. Viticultural practices and winemaking techniques can either increase or decrease the expression of terroir in a wine. In winemaking, excessive use of oak, high alcohol levels in wine or blending for the purpose of modifying some attributes that are a part of the varietal identity are among those that will tend to mask the influences of terroir. On the viticulture side, in order to emphasize the effect of terroir, we need to create conditions in the vineyard that will promote uniformity.
The concept of terroir also carries a perception of exclusivity and quality. It is not a given that every wine made in a specific region will fully utilize the potential of the terroir. Terroir is like a god given talent that requires learning and discipline to achieve its prospects. Sometimes people misunderstand the concept of terroir. Terroir creates diversity as opposed to exclusivity. Just because a wine comes from an AVA that has a reputation of producing some top wines does not mean that any wine made in that region will excel.
Napa Valley, which is considered one of the premier wine regions of the world, got a break in 1976 because of the Paris Wine Tasting, better known as “The Judgement of Paris,”, which resulted in a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay beating several French well-known labels in a blind tasting. This is what put the Napa Valley region on the map. With its 16 sub-appellations, Napa Valley is a very diverse grape growing area. While St. Helena, Rutherford, Oakville, Yountville and Staggs Leap are considered moderately warm, Los Carneros, Mount Veeder and Atlas Peak have cooler climates. The question is why combine these sub-appellations which show distinctive differences in their Terroirs into Napa Valley? I thought that the idea of creating AVA’s was to establish wine regions with specific identities.
I think that I will stop right here. Since this writing is generating more and more questions that I know not their answers. As they say in French “cela suffit , merci” “That’s Enough, Thank you!”

The Cork and Wine – A Friend or a Foe

Cork has been the traditional closure for wine bottles. While cloth, leather and clay closures preceded cork, it became the closure of choice in the 1700 after glass blowers were able to manufacture wine bottles of uniform size, shape and design.

Some winemakers and other wine aficionados think that the choice of using cork as a closure for wine bottles brought fine wine into modern age, since it provided the ability of wine to age and evolve in the bottle …….. at least winemakers from the past and some that have strong traditional convictions think this way. Four centuries later, the majority of winemakers that claim to be creating quality wines are still using the cork, even after there is a clear and scientific understanding of the pitfalls of cork.

The proponents of cork list a number of important advantages for using cork. The most important advantage cited is that it allows the wine to be selectively oxidized on a micro level to aid the wine age and develop qualities that are not present when it is young. Other advantages cited are, that it is natural, originating from the bark of a tree, biodegradable, recyclable and created in nature from plants promoting biodiversity.

Some traditionalists say that “cork is a remarkable closure … having elastic and compressible qualities ideally suited for wine.” My response is that cork is the most “ununiform” among closures. There is a significant variation in the hardness of corks. Some are soft and allow more air to penetrate through and after prolonged aging these corks will be soaking in wine. Others will become fragile and break in the bottle while you try to pull them out. This results in an inconsistency in the quality of the wine from one bottle to the next.

The major flaw of cork is that during production it gets contaminated with a chemical known as TCA (Tri-chloro-anisole). TCA is created when the wood is treated with chlorinated phenolic compounds to inhibit the growth of fungi. TCA is responsible for the so called “wine taint,” which gives a very potent, repulsive flavor and aroma to the wine. The smell of wine taint can be detected in parts per billion. Statistically, it has been proven that 7 – 10% of wine is contaminated with TCA, equivalent to a bottle per case. Is there any other industry in the world that will accept a 7% failure rate?

There are many viable options to the cork. I have been using one since my 2007 vintage wines. Called Diam, this is a composite cork, made from cork matter that has been ground and pressed using a natural binding compound. It has uniform density so that it doesn’t allow the wine to penetrate through and soak the cork. The wine does not become tainted since all the TCA has been removed during the process.

While I was doing my reading for this newsletter, I ran across an article describing regulations that were enacted in 2006 in some of Spain’s top wine growing regions outlawing the use of alternative wine closures for wines produced in those regions. Quoting them: “Spanish lawmakers and wine producers are responding for what wine drinkers the world over have been telling us for a long time – cork is a sign of quality for wine.”

I say they got it all wrong! Whoever accepts a bottle per case of tainted wine is not thinking about quality!

Cheers, Chaim

Age-Worthy Wines – 2007 D’Arideaux Rouge – The Best

I am into my 18th year of winemaking. I went through 17 harvests and made about 200 different wines. Since I had been a wine collector for many years before I became a winemaker, it was very normal for me to want to set aside every year a few cases of the wine from my yearly production. Recently, I became curious about the state of my older wines and decided to run an inventory. To my surprise, I discovered that I have 50 different wines that are older than 10 years with at least one case left over. I have 20 wines that are 10 years or older with 20 cases left over.
I became very curious to find out whether these wines had any level of age-worthiness. I must point out that what I am looking in age-worthy wines is not whether the wine is enduring the aging process, but rather is it transforming itself and revealing qualities that were not so apparent when it was young. I decided to make these wines a part of my daily diet and during the last six months, most of the wines that I had with my dinner have been from my collection of Di Arie older wines, made at least 10 years ago. I also included from my collection some old world and California wines that go as far back as the early nineties.
It is common knowledge that the factors that affect the age-worthiness of a wine are the variety, the viticulture practices and the winemaking techniques. I always brought all these factors into consideration in my winemaking protocols hoping that my wines would be age-worthy.
It has been very exciting to open a bottle of wine from the distant past that originally had left a memorable impression on me and to find out that during this aging process it acquired some unusual qualities making the wine more complex and subtle. While most of the wines that I tasted benefited from aging, some reached their peak and started to decline earlier, while others continued their positive transformation all the way to my first vintage of 2001. In general, my Zinfandels showed a shorter life span than all my other wines, starting their decline before their 10th birthday.
I was so excited by this revelation that I decided to create a new category of wines on our website called “Age-Worthy Wines.” I have included three wines in this category: 2005 Sierra Legend, 2005 Southern Exposure Syrah and 2006 Proprietor’s Blend. These wines, which were outstanding to begin with, have transformed to become exceptional wines. I will keep these wines on the website until sold, and then replace them with others of equal quality that are at least 10 years old.
This leads me to tell you about this month’s Gallery Collection Club release. After tasting all these wines from the past, I got a brilliant idea to share with you one of my old gems. This month’s Gallery Collection release will be my 2007 D’Arideaux Rouge. This spectacular wine, which has gone through a positive transformation, is proving to be very age-worthy while not showing its age. In my opinion, this wine is not even close to reaching its peak of quality. While it still possesses a dark and dense red color and strong aromas of dark fruit, it became more complex, acquiring earthy, leathery and savory flavors.
I am very happy that I had the foresight to make enough of this wine so that I can release it to my Gallery Collection club more than 10 years after it was conceived.
Cheers & L’Chaim

2014 SandFire Red

With the release of a wine that I named SandFire Red we are celebrating the third anniversary of the Sand fire, which came very close to devastating our winery and our home in 2014.

On July 25, 2017, a day before my birthday, the pungent smell of smoke woke me up at 5:00 AM.  I rushed outside expecting the property to be engulfed with a fire like the one we had exactly three years ago, on my birthday.  But all I could see was a thick cloud of smoke.  Unlike the fire that started on July 25, 2014 raging a few feet away from our house, this time it was a few miles away on the south hills adjacent to Omo Ranch Road.

On July 26, 2014, I wrote in my diary:

“I refused to believe that the fire that started on Sand Ridge road and HW 49, 5 miles west of the winery, on Friday July 25, a day before my birthday, was going to affect us.  Friday morning we left the winery for a weekend of celebrations for my birthday.   We were hardly a day in the Bay Area when I started receiving text messages from my neighbor Mike that has a house straight west from our house.  At some point he texted me that with the help of “two giant bulldozers, 20 fire trucks and hundreds of firemen the fire was contained around his house and now moving towards ours.”   His next text message came as we were on our way to have dinner at the One Market Restaurant in San Francisco.  It said, “I can’t see your house, it is engulfed with flames that are 200 feet high.”   Needless to say that my birthday dinner was less than joyous.  By the time the dessert arrived his text message read, “We can still see the roof of your house behind the thick smoke.”

We could not wait until the next day.  We cancelled all the events that we had planned and went back to the winery to see the damage with our own eyes.  While both accesses to the winery from D’Agostini and Upton Road were blocked by police we were able to persuade them to allow us in.  When we arrived the fire had been contained about 30%.  We still observed about 100 helicopter sorties dumping water and chemicals on the surrounding areas of the house and the winery.  By this time there were about 190 fire trucks and in excess of 1000 fire fighters fighting this fire.

Bottom line: Except for about 20 acres of forest that burned down on the west side of the house, the house and winery were spared.  We had smoke damage inside the house with minor smoke damage in the winery.  Most of the vineyard blocks  were not touched by the fire.”

Our 2014 SandFire Red is a blend of Zinfandel, Syrah and Touriga Nacional.  The Zinfandel vineyard, that provided the grapes for this wine, is located far away from the fire, while the Touriga and Syrah are in the close proximity.  I purposely emphasized the smoky flavor and aroma in this wine to make it fit for the occasion.  After all, it represents a fire that burned 4240 acres of land  in our immediate neighborhood.