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  • 11000 Shenandoah Rd.
    Plymouth, CA

Stories from the winemaker, new recipes, happenings around the winery, and more.


Jenae Plasse
February 21, 2013 | Jenae Plasse

See Inside the Mind of Mark

Ever wonder what goes on inside a winemaker's head (besides winemaking stuff of course)? Well wonder no more! Our winemaker, Mark McKenna, has started his own personal blog called Life Among The Vines.

Get more personal insight into Mark's winemaking philosophy, his awesome personality and even random thoughts from time to time. Then you'll see what really goes on inside that crazy mind of his.

Wait, did I say crazy? I meant BRILLIANT!

Follow Life Among The Vines

Time Posted: Feb 21, 2013 at 11:30 AM
Mark McKenna
January 15, 2013 | Mark McKenna

Harvest 2012 - What The Heck Was That??!

I’ve always loved a good story.  And believe you me the wine world is full of them.  As a young winemaker I took every opportunity I could to listen to older, more experienced winemakers, grape growers and winery owners wax on about harvests past, production techniques and farming traditions.  But, the story told over and over again that I never quite bought was “The Harvest When All the Grapes Got Ripe at the Same Time”.  It has several different incarnations, but, basically the plot goes something like this:
“Ahhh yes, Nineteen something, something  that sure was a year!  We waited and waited for the grapes to get ripe and boy when they finally did, it all happened at the same time AND the crop was enormous. Every tank, barrel, bin, coffee cup, and bucket was full of grapes. The winery was bursting at the seams.”
Having never really seen a harvest like this over the years I had come to believe that the old timers might be romanticizing the old days a bit.  Frankly I thought they were a little full of it.
Turns out they weren’t. 
2012 was the most intense, unpredictable, overwhelming harvest I have experienced in 17 years of playing with grapes.  What normally takes  8–10 weeks to accomplish we did in a little over 5.  Our cellar crew; Steve, Chris, and Steven worked day in and day out from dawn to dusk.  Fields where we expected 10 tons were producing 15 instead.  Vineyards that normally ripen 3–4 weeks apart from each other were ripening on the same day this year. Every tank, barrel, bin, coffee cup, and bucket was full of grapes. The resulting wines are now starting to show themselves and quality is looking really good. But boy, was it one for the record books and a story I will be telling years from now.
Just like the rest of the old guys……


Time Posted: Jan 15, 2013 at 11:03 AM
Mark McKenna
November 24, 2012 | Mark McKenna

Fall Colors


In many ways the end of harvest can be just as surprising as the beginning. After running for months thinking day and night about grapes in various states of ripening and fermentation, the crushpad suddenly gets quieter, the days get shorter, and the seasons turn (as they always do) to a new phase. But each turn of the seasons has its unique attributes to look forward to. The surroundings change, as does the work, as does the weather. The end of harvest and the turning of Fall to Winter brings with it the most striking colors of the year. And not just in the vineyards where the leaves turn into a riot of reds and yellows, but even in the winery itself.

One of the things we need to keep an eye on after the wines have gone to barrel is the progress of the Malolactic Fermentations. Where the primary fermentations are generally completed in a matter of weeks, malolactic can last months before struggling to a finish. We test their progress using a technique called paper chromatography. The resulting patterns are both informative and beautiful. For the months ahead we will taste and test our new wines, thinking about what they want and how to coax the very best from what harvest has given us. As the leaves fall we will do more chromatography, watching the wines evolve and enjoying the beautiful mixture of art and science that is winemaking. In a world defined by rushing about, taking time to notice the profound beauty that surrounds us every day here in Amador is one of the best parts of living a life among the vines.

Time Posted: Nov 24, 2012 at 3:47 PM
Mark McKenna
October 15, 2012 | Mark McKenna

Getting to Great Grenache

We take a lot of heat from fellow wine folks for two things – our sorting table and our commitment to making great Grenache. This picture is a perfect example of why the two go hand in hand. Grenache is notorious for ripening unevenly, meaning there is great variation from vine to vine and even cluster to cluster in how the grapes look, but more importantly, how ripe they are. In the picture above it's hard to believe those clusters are the same variety, never mind that they come from the same vineyard!!! Picked on the same day!!! The grapes on the left will make delicious Grenache, the grapes on the right we’d rather leave out.

To that end each and every harvest day, two to four of our cellar crew climb up on the back breaking, time consuming, torture device that we call the sorting table to dig through tons of grapes. This insures that only what we want makes it into the fermentation tanks. It seems at times tedious, until the end of days like this Grenache harvest, when you realize that sometimes what we do not put in the wine is just as important as what we do. Sure it’s tough (that’s why most wineries don’t do it), but, there are no shortcuts to delicious wine (Grenache especially!!).

A friend of ours was recently a guest of a Napa winery owner whose wines sell for well over $100 per bottle. When asked what the most important thing a winery can do to insure quality is, he answered without hesitation “Sort.” We don’t always agree with the Napa crowd, but, here we couldn’t agree more.

Time Posted: Oct 15, 2012 at 12:53 PM
Mark McKenna
September 20, 2012 | Mark McKenna

Arrest the Sauvignon Blanc!!

The 2012 harvest is starting to feel like the TWO harvests of 2012. There has been such a gap between the harvesting of the whites and the reds it feels like we started, stopped, and now get to start again. Not such a bad thing really, just another year with its own quirks.
While we continue to wait on the bulk of the reds, the whites we harvested a couple of weeks ago are beginning to complete their fermentations. Often fermentation ends when there is no more sugar to ferment, in other cases when we want to keep a little touch of sweetness in the wine we have to “arrest” the fermentation. There are a number of ways to do that, but the real trick is not how but when!! Because fermentation is a continuous process, choosing the right moment to stop it is like trying to hit a moving target. When it gets close, like we are with the Sauvignon Blanc today, we retest the brix (sugar levels) and taste the wine every couple of hours until we feel the balance is right. Then we chill it down rapidly and hope we got it right. We won’t know for several weeks after that if we got it just right but it does give us a reason to taste a lot of Sauvignon Blanc during that time. A touch stressful? Of course! Fun to drink wine at work? Most certainly!

Time Posted: Sep 20, 2012 at 2:51 PM
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