Back to the Vineyard!


Two weeks ago, one of our sisters accompanied Tom Eddy on another trip to the vineyard to see how the grapes are maturing and the results of the “green drop” mentioned in the last post.  Most of the grapes are now a lovely shade of purple with only a little green fruit remaining.  We are 6 weeks closer to harvest than at our last visit, but harvest will likely be in October if the weather stays favorable.  This will help to ensure the higher sugar content in late harvest grapes that is necessary for excellent chalice wine.

John Mattern has sprayed oil on the plants to deter the leafhoppers, but unfortunately, they are still thriving.  Nevertheless, the clusters of grapes range from very full, plump clusters to smaller clusters of healthy grapes, and some clusters with mostly pea-sized green grapes and a few normal ones.  These small green clusters are evidence of what is called “shatter” and results from abrupt weather changes when the fruit was setting.  These will not become part of the wine, but will be culled before harvest.

Some of the sisters will have an opportunity very soon to participate in pruning these “shattered” clusters so that they will not continue to consume resources from the plants, and will not have to be sorted out before the crush.  The Matterns elected to do a “thinning” drop rather than a green drop in areas of clusters of grapes that were so tightly packed on the vine that mold may have become a problem.  Until recently, temperatures have been warm, but not extremely hot, so they felt a thinning drop would provide the fruit with better air circulation which will preserve healthy grapes.

We also learned that, during the winter, when temperatures will drop below freezing, one of the methods used to protect the vines is to spray water on them from sprinkler systems fed from a pond maintained at the vineyard for this purpose.  (The irrigation for the vines themselves is a drip system.)  This water keeps the vines from dropping below 32 degrees in otherwise freezing temperatures.

This visit enabled us to determine how much of the harvest we will purchase, and samples of large, medium, and small clusters were weighed to help in estimating the yield from “our” rows of vines.  The sisters are looking forward to their vineyard trip to prune the vines.  We will let all of our readers know the results of that trip.

On another note, our next bottling of California Chalice Wine will be this Thursday, September 7.  We are excited to release this bottling, with our new labels!  We hope to be able to see some of the bottling process and tell you what we learn.


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.