Visit to the Vineyard

As part of the transition to working with a team of new winemakers last summer, the sisters of Holy Assumption Monastery are becoming more involved in every stage of the wine-making process at Calistoga Orthodox Wines. We are now blessed to have winemakers Tom Eddy and Jason Gerard, who welcome and encourage the sisters’ involvement in and understanding of what it takes to produce our chalice wines.

Two weeks ago, in keeping with becoming more “hands on,” one of the sisters accompanied Tom and his assistant, Jason, to the vineyard where we plan to harvest the Malbec grapes that will make the 2017 vintage of our Premium Kagor Chalice Wine. The vineyard, located in Ukiah, CA, is owned and managed by John and Inge Mattern.

Naturally, our customers might wonder why Calistoga Orthodox Wines is not using Malbec grapes grown in our own Napa Valley. In the past we have tried to incorporate at least a small amount of Napa Malbec—the quality of which is excellent—into our Kagor, but the Napa grapes have become so expensive that we simply cannot use them and keep our chalice wine at a price churches can afford. We feel very blessed to have found a family-owned vineyard in Ukiah that offers a high-quality Malbec at a reasonable price.

As our sister learned on the way to the Mattern vineyard, Ukiah offers a different growing environment than Napa. North of the Napa Valley, the Ukiah Valley sits in Mendocino County and is a major center in the wine production industry. Mendocino County on the west borders the Pacific Ocean, while Napa County hits the San Francisco Bay on the south. The Napa Valley receives more marine air than the Ukiah Valley, exposing grapes to fog and cooler night temperatures. This marine air makes Napa an excellent location for grapes such as Chardonnay, but the hotter, dryer conditions in Ukiah are ideal for reds, including Malbec.

As a wine producer, what does one look for when visiting a vineyard? Our sister learned to notice the presence of leafhoppers, an insect that extracts chlorophyll from the leaves. A significant loss of chlorophyll affects the vine’s photosynthesis and thus the development of the fruit. While we did see leafhoppers at the Mattern vineyard, this is due in large part to the fact that the Matterns maintain an organic operation, so no pesticides are used on the vines from which we harvest our grapes.

And while the leafhoppers are a minor concern, this year the leaf “canopy” on the vines is immense, due to the wonderful wet winter that California enjoyed after years of drought. The canopy is so thick, in fact, that on the day of our visit, vineyard workers were removing leaves from the vines, so that the grapes can receive more direct sunlight and better air circulation. In the current hot conditions (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit on the day of our visit), we are not particularly concerned about mold affecting the grapes and with the great canopy this year our grapes are protected from early sunburn. Yes, grapes can get sunburned!

To help the fruit develop well, the Matterns will soon deploy what is known as a “green drop” in which some of the underdeveloped fruit on the vines is cut before the final stage of ripening. The remaining fruit thus receives more nutrients from the vine and reaches its maximum potential. We will be visiting the vineyard again after the green drop, to assess the amount of fruit remaining on the vines and determine how much of the harvest to purchase for our 2017 vintage. We are sure to learn more about the growing of our Malbec grapes with every visit to the vineyard, and look forward to sharing our deepening understanding of the complex process of wine production with you, our customers.